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Matthew 1:16 (NASB)

16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

Luke 3:23 (ESV)

23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,

The problem here is that Matthew names Jacob Jesus's Grandfather and Luke names Heli. What is going one here? A mistake? A misunderstanding of Jewish genealogies?

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You have to remember that in Jewish culture the word "son" is often meant more properly as "descendant" and "father" is often more properly "ancestor". – user32 Sep 2 '11 at 21:39
How many grandfathers do you have? One? – Heath Hunnicutt Feb 17 '12 at 22:35
@HeathHunnicutt the issue isn't Jesus's Grandfather, it is the identity of Joseph's father; I could have made the wording in the questions clearer. The question becomes, how many fathers do you have? – aceinthehole Feb 19 '12 at 16:25

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John can be seen to present Christ as King, Servant, Man, and God (in that order). See E.W. Bullinger's wonderful book Number in Scriptures for more on this topic (the chapter on the number seven).

As Bullinger puts it, a king must have a genealogy, and a man should have one. You'll notice that Matthew's genealogy starts with Abraham and goes down to Joseph, while Luke's genealogy proceeds up from Joseph to Adam and God. Matthews lineage describes the royal lineage through Solomon, while Luke's lineage describes the natural line through Nathan (Solomon's older brother, the third of four sons to David and Bathsheba - see I Chronicles 3:5). The first (Matthew's) is legal, the latter (Luke's) is natural.

Both lines eventually meet when Joseph, the son of Jacob (Matthew) marries Mary, the daughter of Heli (Luke). Luke 3:23 refers to Joseph as being the son of Heli out of the Jewish legal sanction and customary practice to refer to the son-in-law as son.

To summarize, Matthew's is the genealogy of Joseph, son of Jacob. Luke's is the genealogy of Mary, daughter of Heli.

Source: EW Bullinger's Number in Scriptures

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The genealogy in the gospel of Matthew is definitely the genealogy of Joseph, and the genealogy in Luke's Gospel is most likely that of Mary. This coincides with the primary audiences of the two books (Mathew the Jews, and Luke the Gentiles). Mathew would want to show according to Jewish tradition that Jesus was both a Jew and a Son of David. Luke was trying to show that Jesus was the promised redeemer that would crush the serpent's head for all of Adam's children.

For more information:

Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

That St. Luke does not always speak of sons properly such, is evident from the first and last person which he names: Jesus Christ was only the supposed son of Joseph, because Joseph was the husband of his mother Mary: and Adam, who is said to be the son of God, was such only by creation. After this observation it is next necessary to consider, that, in the genealogy described by St. Luke, there are two sons improperly such: i.e. two sons-in-law, instead of two sons. As the Hebrews never permitted women to enter into their genealogical tables, whenever a family happened to end with a daughter, instead of naming her in the genealogy, they inserted her husband, as the son of him who was, in reality, but his father-in-law.

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+1 very interesting. I think i'll read Clarke's commentary more often – deps_stats Sep 3 '11 at 2:12

Raymond E. Brown says, in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 236, that while Luke's list may be less classically monarchical than Matthew's, there is little likelihood that either is strictly historical. On this view, there is no mistake and no misunderstanding of Jewish genealogies. Brown notes that many try to reconcile the two very different genealogies by saying that they are indeed historical, but that Matthew's is the genealogy back through Joseph and Luke's goes back through Mary - in spite of Luke 3:23!

Luke 3:23: And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli

Joachim Jeremias, in Jerusalem, page 290, says both gospels give the ancestry of the carpenter Joseph, and both try to show his Davidic origin, noting that ancient and modern attempts to see one as Mary's genealogy have all failed. On page 296, Jeremias reports that the custom of using the names of the twelve patriarchs as personal names did not arise until after the exile, so when Luke cites the names of Joseph, Judah, Simeon, and Levi as descendants six to nine, it is an anachronism that proves at least that the pre-exilic portion of Luke's genealogy has no historical value.

On the evidence of Raymond Brown, Joachim Jeremias and many others, the genealogies in both Matthew and Luke are portrayed as that of Joseph. Therefore it can be said that in Matthew, Joseph's father was Jacob, while in Luke his father was Heli. Brown says (page 176) that Matthew's Joseph is shaped in the image of the patriarch Joseph, another son of Jacob, because both interpret dreams and save the family by going to Egypt. There are many parallels between Matthew's flight to Egypt and the Old Testament sojourn in Egypt.

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Genealogies presented in Matthew and Luke can be seen as being in contradiction when you believe that Greek was the original language of the Gospels. Such contradiction doesn't exist in Aramaic manuscripts and it can be showed that contradictions in Greek manuscripts come from poor translating from Aramaic ones.

Recomennded scholarly reading:

  1. "Use of 0rbg in Classical and Contemporary Aramaic Thought" by Paul David Younan.
  2. Exploding the Myth of a Flawed Genealogy in Matthew by Andrew Gabriel Roth.
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And then on the other hand, there is a way to read the genealogies in Greek without any contradiction whatsoever, as many expositors have done. – Simply a Christian May 6 '14 at 17:17
@H3br3wHamm3r81, of course, you don't need to stick up with's_razor – Grzegorz Adam Kowalski May 27 '14 at 10:46

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