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?


6 Answers 6


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


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.


Eusebius (260-340 AD), who is called the father of church history, covers this topic in his classic work titled " Ecclesiastical History" in book 1 chapter 7:


On the discrepancy which is supposed to exist in the Gospels respecting the genealogy of Christ.

As the genealogy of Christ is differently given to us by Matthew and Luke, and they are supposed by the generality to disagree in their statements ; and as every believer, for want of knowing the truth, has been led to apply some investigation to explain the passages, we may also subjoin the account which has come down to us. We refer to the history which has been handea down on these passages by Africanus, in an epistle to Aristides, respecting the harmony of the genealogy of the gospels. After having refuted the opinions of others as forced and fictitious, he sets forth the account that he had ascertained himself, in the following words. " It was customary in Israel to calculate the names of the generations, either according to nature, or accord ing to the law; according to nature, by the succession of legitimate offspring ; according to the law, when another raised children to the name of a brother who had died childless. For as the hope of a resurrection was not yet clearly given, they imitated the promise which was to take place by a kind of mortal resurrection, with a view to perpetuate the name of the person who had died. Since then, there are some of those who are inserted in this gene- alogical table, that succeed each other in the natural order of father and son, some again that were born of others, and were as- cribed to others by name, both the real and reputed fathers have been recorded. Thus, neither of the gospels has made a false statement, whether calculating in the order of nature, or accord- ing to law. For the families descended from Solomon, and those from Nathan, were so intermingled, by substitutions in the place of those who had died childless, by second marriages and the raising up of seed, that the same persons are justly considered, as in one respect, belonging to the one of these, and in another respect belonging to others. Hence it is, that both of these accounts being true, viz. of those who were reputed fathers, and those v>'ho really were fathers, they come down to Joseph with considerable intri- cacy, it is true, but with great accuracy. That this, however, may be made evident, I will state the series of generations. If (in the genealogy of Matthew,) you reckon the generations from David through Solomon, Matthan, who begat Jacob the father of Joseph, is found to be the third from the end. But if, with Luke, you reckon from Nathan the son of David, in like manner, Melchi, whose son was Eli, the father of Joseph, will be found to be the third. As Joseph, then, is our proposed object, we are to show how it happened that each is recorded as his father ; both Jacob, as deduced from Solomon, and Eli from Nathan ; also, how it happened that these two, Jacob and Eli, were brothers ; and more- over, how the fathers of these, Matthan and Melchi, being of different families, are proved to be the grandfathers of Joseph.

Matthan and Melchi, having married in succession the same woman, had children, who were brothers by the same mother, as the law did not prohibit a widow, whether she became such by divorce, or by the death of her husband, to marry again. Mat- than, therefore, who traces his lineage from Solomon, first had Jacob, by Estha, for this is her name as handed down by tradition. Matthan dying, and Melchi, who traces his descent from Nathan, though he was of the same tribe, but of another family, having as before said, married her, had a son Eli. Thus, then, we shall find the two of different families, Jacob and Eli, brothers by the same mother. Of these, the one Jacob, on the death of his bro- ther, marrying his widow, became the father of a third, viz. Jo- seph ; his son both by nature and calculation. Wherefore, it is written, Jacob begat Joseph. But according to the lav/, he was the son of Eli, for Jacob being his brother, raised up seed to him. Wherefore, the genealogy traced also through him, will not be rendered void, which, according to Matthew, is given thus — " but Jacob begat Joseph." But Luke, on the other hand, says, " who was the son, as was supposed, (for this he also adds,) the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of Melchi." For it was not possible to ex- press the legal genealogy more distinctly, so that he entirely omits the expression, " he begat,''^ in a generation like this, until the end ; having traced it back as far as Adam, " who was the son of God," he resolves the whole series by referring back to God. Neither is this incapable of proof, nor is it an idle conjecture. For the re- latives of our Lord, according to the flesh, whether to display their own illustrious origin, or simply to show the fact, but at any rate adhering strictly to the truth, have also handed down the following accounts : That robbers of Idumea, attacking Ascalon, a city of Palestine, led Antipater away captive together with other booty, from the temple of Apollo, which was built close to the walls. He was the son of one Herod, a minister of the temple. The priest, however, not being able to pay the ransom for his son, Antipater was trained up in the practices of the Idumeans, and afterwards in great favour with Hyrcanus the high priest of Ju- dea. He was subsequently sent by Hyrcanus on an embassy to Pompey, and having restored the kingdom to him, which had been invaded by Aristobulus, the brother of the latter, Antipater himself had the good fortune to be nominated the procurator of Palestine. Antipater, however, having been treacherously slain, by those who envied his good fortune, was succeeded by his son Herod. He was afterwards, by a decree of the senate, appointed king of the Jews, under Antony and Augustus. His sons were Herod and the other tetrarchs. These accounts of the Jews also coincide with those of the Greeks. But, as the genealogies of the Hebrews had been regularly kept in the archives until then, and also of those who referred back as far as the ancient proselytes ; as for mstance, to Achior the Ammonite, and Ruth the Moabitess, and to those that were intermixed with the Israelites at their depar- ture from Egypt ; and as the hneage of the Israelites contributed nothing to Herod's advantage, he was goaded by the conscious- ness of his ignoble extraction, and committed all these records of their families to the flames. Thinking that himself might ap- pear of noble origin, by the fact that no one else would be able to trace his pedigree by the pubhc records, back to patriarchs or proselytes, and to those strangers that were called georas.* A few however of the careful, either remembering the names, or having it in their power in some other way, by means of copies, to have private records of their own, gloried in the idea of preserving the memory of their noble extraction. Of these were the above- mentioned persons, called desposyni,-!" on account of tlieir afiinity to the family of our Saviour. These coming from Nazara and Cochaba, villages of Judea, to the other parts of the world, explained the aforesaid genealogy from the book of daily records, as faithfully as possible. Whether, then, the matter be thus or other- wise, as far as I and every impartial judge would say, no one certainly could discover a more obvious interpretation. And this, then, may suffice on the subject ; for, although it be not sup- ported by testimony, we have nothing to advance, either better or more consistent with truth. The gospel, altogether, states the truth." At the close of the same epistle, this writer, (Africanus,) adds the following : " Matthan, whose descent is traced to Solo- mon, begat Jacob, Matthan dying, Melchi, whose lineage is from Nathan, by marrying the widow of the former, had Eli. Hence, Eli and Jacob were brothers by the same mother. Eli dying childless, Jacob raised up seed to him, having Joseph, according to nature belonging to himself, but by the law to Eli. Thus, Jo- seph was the son of both." So far Africanus ; and the lineage of Joseph thus being traced, Mary, also, at the same time, as far as can be, is evinced to be of the same tribe, since, by the ^Mosaic law, intermarriages among different tribes were not permitted. For the injunction is, to marry one of the same kindred, and the same family, so that the inheritance may not be transferred from tribe to tribe. And this may suffice, also, on the present point.


Pére Binet, S.J., The Divine Favors Granted to St. Joseph, ch. 1:

The Evangelists* would appear to give Joseph two fathers; but the contradiction is only apparent. St. Luke says he was the son of Heli, who, however, died childless; while St. Matthew calls him the son of Jacob, because, according to several commentators, Jacob, brother of Heli, espoused his sister-in-law Esta as the law of Moses commanded, by whom he had Joseph, who was thus the son of Jacob by nature, and the son of Heli according to the law.

*Mt. 1:16: "Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary"
Lk. 3:23: "Joseph, who was of Heli"

Cornelius à Lapide, S.J., explains this in detail (Commentary on Luke 3:23):

As was supposed, the son of Joseph, which was (here, and before each of the following names the Arabic puts in “the son”) of Heli, which was of Mathat. From this passage Porphyry and Julian the Apostate accused Luke of being incorrect, because Joseph was not the son of Heli, but of Jacob, as S. Matthew says (ch. 1); and because S. Luke gives the other progenitors of Joseph and Heli names entirely different from those given them by S. Matthew.

Besides, Jesus was not the son of Joseph, but born of the Virgin Mary.

The solution given by some to this difficulty is that Joseph was by nature the son of Jacob, but by law the son of Heli. By the old law (Deut. 25:5) a surviving brother had to raise up seed to his dead brother, and the brother who had died childless was held to be the legal father of these sons. Now Jesca, says Euthymius, married Mathat, and by him had Heli, then she married Mathan, and by him had Jacob. Heli died without issue, and his brother Jacob married his wife in accordance with the law, and Joseph was his son by her, being, therefore, naturally the son of Jacob, but legally of Heli. So Justinus, S. Jerome, Eusebius, Nazianzen, and S. Ambrose explain it. But, on the other hand, Heli and Jacob were only uterine brothers, and the law on the subject of raising up seed to a brother only applies to full brothers, sons of the same father; for they alone kept the name and heritage of the father, Besides, the introduction of Jesca is beside the point. For though her sons, Heli and Jacob, be connected through her, yet they would have no connection through Mathat and Mathan and the rest of their ancestors up to David.


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.


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.
  • 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.
    – user900
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 17:17
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81, of course, you don't need to stick up with en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor Commented May 27, 2014 at 10:46

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