The Generations of Jesus’ Human Nature

The Word of God in the Old Testament promised that the Messiah would be born in the Davidic line. Genesis 49:10 points to this promise in general: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” Isaiah 11 begins, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him.” But more specifically, God promised that the coming Messiah would be an actual, physical descendant of David. In II Samuel 7:12, the prophet Nathan speaks to David this promise of God: “And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.” Jesus Christ was to be born of the line of David, i.e., He was to be an actual, physical son of David in David’s generations.

There is another promise in the Old Testament that must be considered briefly before we go to Matthew 1 and Luke 3 and deal with the genealogies there. And that promise is this: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14). God promised that Jesus Christ would be virgin born. Jesus would not have a human father. This promise certainly was fulfilled and Scripture attests to the fulfillment in Matthew 1:18-25. The child Mary conceived was “of the Holy Ghost.”

Now, we can approach the difficulty of the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. Apparently both genealogies are Joseph’s. That is the first difficulty. The second problem of reconciling the genealogies in some way, if indeed they are Joseph’s, because they do not agree. Also, there are other problems that come up if we find that both genealogies are not Joseph’s. It is with these difficulties that we must deal.

There have been many different interpretations of these two genealogies. I think it best that we center our attention on three possible interpretations. I will mention first the two that are mistaken positions and the third will be what I consider to be the correct one.

The first possible interpretation of these genealogies has been held by such men as J. Gresham Machen (The Virgin Birth of Christ) and F.F. Bruce. Such men believe that both genealogies present Joseph’s ancestry. Matthew 1 gives the line of succession of the throne of David, while Luke 3 traces Joseph’s actual descent from David by another branch of the family than that which produced the kings who followed David. The idea behind this interpretation is that the kingly line became extinct and the living collateral line inherited the throne.

There are others who take both genealogies to be of Joseph that think that Matthew 1 traces the actual line of Joseph and that Luke 3 gives the legal line of Joseph through Levirate marriages. This assumes that Heli (Luke 3) and Jacob (Matt. 1) were brothers and that when Jacob (Joseph’s real father) died, Heli became his legal father according to the Levirate marriage system.

The other erroneous view holds both genealogies to be Mary’s. The basic reasons given for this view are: 1) that Matthew 1 speaks of the generations of Jesus Christ (1:1) and, therefore, the genealogy must refer to Mary; 2) that Luke 3:23 should be translated properly according to the original language, so that it is demonstrated that the genealogy is actually Christ’s. Thus, the two genealo­gies could be Mary’s considering both sides of her family.

The basis of this view is intimately associated with an unusual interpretation of Luke 1:34. Mary’s question, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” is taken to mean, “How can the savior be born, when there is not a male in the line of David?” This interpretation is wrong on a number of counts. First, Matthew 1 states categorically that there was a man in the line of David, viz., Joseph. Secondly, it is obvious in the context of Luke 1 that Mary’s intent in her question was that she did not know a man sexually to bear a son. The angel answers her question in the next verse, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Thirdly, this interpretation assumes that Mary knew that she was the last in the line of David and knew that Christ would be born of her. This contradicts her surprise at the announce­ment of the angel that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Finally, had Mary been able to know that she was the end of the line of David, surely others would have known as well. And had the Jewish nation known that Mary would be the mother of the promised Messiah, they would have treated her royally. We must not forget that the Jewish concept of the Messiah was perverted from the Scriptural view. They looked for one to come that would conquer their physical, national foes, one who would feed their stomachs with milk and honey, one who would make their sinful living a paradise on earth.  With that corrupt perspective, they would have been overjoyed to know that Mary was the mother of the one which they thought would make their earthly lives heavenly.

So, Mary’s question does not force us to make the genealogy of Matthew her own. There was a male descendent of David in Joseph her espoused husband.

The proper view of these genealogies is that Matthew 1 gives Joseph’s line and Luke 3 presents Mary’s. Both Mary and Joseph were descendants of David.

Matthew 1 must be taken as the genealogy of Joseph. We read through the list of names that one man “begat” another. “Begat” can be taken only in the sense that the one begotten was the natural son of the mentioned father. In verse 16 we read, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” There is no mistake here; Joseph’s genealogy is given.

Some have argued that Matthew 1:1 begins, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ,” and therefore the geneal­ogy is of Mary. But that term “genera­tion” does not refer to verses 2-17, rather to verses 18-25. Verse 18 picks up that exact term “generation” referring to the origin or conception of Jesus and the narration of the virgin birth proceeds.

Really the genealogy of Luke 3 is the more difficult one, although, the difficulty is only apparent. Let us look at verse 23 of that chapter and get a proper translation from the original. The proper translation should read, “And Jesus Himself, when beginning, was about thirty years old, being a son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Heli.” With this translation, the genealogy cannot be of Joseph, since he is mentioned as the “supposed” father. It would be senseless to continue his genealogy in this chapter. Rather Mary’s line is given here. There surely is no problem with the fact that her name does not appear in the genealogy itself. The previous two chapters have already given the needed information. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. It naturally follows that her genealogy is given.

The significance of these genealogies for us is many-fold. I will only list a few of the more outstanding features of their significance. First, as we understand properly these genealogies, we are again impressed with the verbal-plenary inspir­ation of God’s Word. This Word which we have is infallible and inerrant. God never contradicts Himself and never confuses us with His revelation. God’s Word is clear and perspicuous. Secondly, God always fulfills His covenant promise to us. God promised that David would have a son who would rule an everlasting kingdom. Never was this promise stated as though it must be realized through the royal line, even though this would be the expected way. But God fulfills His promise of the Messiah and of the establishment of His everlasting covenant through the line of David’s son Nathan. And here we see the sovereignty of our covenant God fulfilling His covenant with His elect people. And indeed it is greatly significant that as we grasp with our hearts that God has always been faithful down through the ages past, that surely He will remain faithful unto us and our children in remembering His covenant unto a thousand generations. Thirdly, God is faithful to us graciously as He was to our Lord Jesus Christ. It would have been sufficient for God to have sent Christ through the virgin Mary; but He sent His Christ not only to be an actual descendant of David but God graciously gave the honor and glory of the royal Davidic line to Jesus legally by means of the line of Joseph his father by legal adoption. That is in particular the reason for Joseph’s genealogy being given in Matthew 1.

That Jesus Christ “is become the head stone of the corner, this is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”