If Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, with both his parents of the lineage of David, and John the Baptist's parents of Levi's tribe, Luke 1.5, how is it possible that John and Jesus could be related, Luke 1.36?

  • Is there a denomination that believes they were related? What are their reasons?
    – SLM
    Feb 24, 2021 at 14:18
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    @SLM Is this a denominational issue? I would be surprised to hear of any Christian denomination that disbelieved Luke 1:36.
    – Lesley
    Feb 24, 2021 at 15:42
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    As another mentioned, the word translated "cousin" may also mean of the same nation, rather than some blood relationship. This is the argument against the brothers of Jesus being of the same mother and different father. Anyway, they could be related coming from Jacob centuries before. So, wondering who/why believe they are related?
    – SLM
    Feb 24, 2021 at 18:04
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    Since even above there are too many different views to reach a useful conclusion any time soon, can you say why this matters? Feb 25, 2021 at 21:44
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    @BenCrowell. Oops, you've taken away my faith in the Bible. Joking aside, usually seeming discrepancies have a valid explanation and more digging is required to clear the muddle, but I'd have to do some digging before I'd attempt to clearly explain the discrepancy away for you. Until then, because of the miracles I've experienced and the positive changes Jesus and the Bible have brought to my life, I'll continue to choose to believe the Bible is the Word of God. For me, its not just a book on a shelf but a lively, energetic book with daily positive relevance, not a fable.
    – user10859
    Feb 26, 2021 at 18:01

4 Answers 4


According to the Bible, Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) and Mary (mother of Jesus) were related. Luke 1:5 says that Zechariah belonged to the priestly division of Abijah and his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Luke 1:36 says that Elizabeth was a relative of Mary. Here is an extract from an article that explains how this is possible - https://www.gotquestions.org/Mary-lineage.html

An argument sometimes put forward by those who deny the credentials of Christ is that, if Mary was Elizabeth’s “cousin,” then Mary must also have been a Levite. Some translations, such as the KJV, do state that Mary was the “cousin” of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36). However, the English word cousin does not have to imply a close relation, and other versions of the Bible translate the word as “relative” (NKJV, NIV, ESV, CSB, BSB).

Even if Elizabeth and Mary were close relatives, it was still possible for them to be of different tribes, as women were identified with their father’s tribe, not their mother’s. Elizabeth’s father was a Levite, making her a Levite by birth, but her mother may have been of Judah. Conversely, Mary’s mother may have been a Levite and kin to Elizabeth’s family, while Mary’s father was of Judah. Luke’s genealogy shows that Heli, whom we assume to be Mary’s father, was a direct descendant of Judah, not Levi. In addition, the angel Gabriel affirmed Jesus’ Judean lineage, telling Mary that “he will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David” (Luke 1:32, NLT). David was of the tribe of Judah.

The Bible does not say if Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin, aunt or other relation. We do know, however, that Elizabeth was getting on in years when she became pregnant while Mary was a young woman. Regardless of how Mary and Elizabeth were related, Jesus is a descendant of David and Judah:

Hebrews 7:14: For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah....

Revelation 5:5: And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

  • This argument assumes Elizabeth is a directly descended daughter of Aaron (Luke 1:5), yet does not assume the same standard when applied to Mary being a directly descended daughter of David; Christ son of David son of Abraham (Mat 1:1). The word "cousin" is syngenes, which is also "kinsman" of the same nation (RSV, ASV, YLT) at Luke 1:36.
    – SLM
    Apr 23, 2021 at 20:34

From this article:


The Bible doesn’t explicitly describe Elizabeth as Mary’s “cousin.” Instead, the term “relative” or “kinswoman” (sungenis, συγγενίς) is used. Many scholars seem to agree that the use of this term indicates that Mary and Elizabeth were cousins.

Could they be cousins yet be from different tribes? Here is an article about matrilenear descent in Israel:


If the reckoning of a person's tribal affiliation is matrilinear, then intermarriage between a man of one tribe and a woman of another must choose the tribe of the mother. Thus if Elizabeth's father was of Judah and mother of Levi, then Jesus and John could be first cousins. If the intermarriage were further back, then second or more distant cousins. We have no records concerning this, so it is conjecture.

  • Matthew gives Jesus' descent patrilineally, but equally you just swap mother and father in your argument, whichever way tribal descent was reckoned.
    – OrangeDog
    Feb 24, 2021 at 22:20
  • Matrilineality seems neither relevant nor correct here. The WP article says that it probably wasn't the practice at the time.
    – user14061
    Feb 24, 2021 at 22:57
  • @BenCrowell - Reading the article, I find it difficult to determine which position is ascendant. I would not say probably but instead possibly. Some theory of descent, whether matrilinear or patrilinear and its relation to whether someone belongs to a given tribe based on mother or father is required to solve this problem. Feb 24, 2021 at 23:05
  • @PaulChernoch. re matrilinial line. Persons received the first Canaan land inheritance after the Exodus, as per their place in a tribe which was determined by a Son of Jacob, indicating a patrilineal inheritance right. Did their rights, determined by their fathers at some time switch to their mothers? When?
    – user10859
    Feb 28, 2021 at 15:50
  • @user10859 - That is the musical question. Many people believe that it did switch in the first century AD, or possibly earlier, but not all agree. Mar 1, 2021 at 0:55

Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) and Mary (mother of Jesus) were not related. Being not related by blood, however, is not to say the two did not know each other.

Luke 1:5 tells us that Zacharias (father of John the Baptist) married Elizabeth who was a daughter of Aaron.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. Luke 1:5

So, we know Elizabeth was a daughter of Aaron, of the Levitical priestly line.

And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel. Num 3:9

What about Luke 1:36?

And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. Luke 1:36

The word translated "cousin" is syngenes. It means this.

of the same kin, akin to, related by blood

in a wider sense, of the same nation, a fellow countryman -source-

So, they are related in the sense of being Jewish.

And what do we know for a certainty with Mary's tribe?

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; Rom 1:3

Absolutely. Mary was of Judah.

So, clearly Elizabeth was of the Levitical tribe and Mary was of the Judah tribe. They were not related, except as being part of the same nation.

PS. I would guess that those who want Elizabeth and Mary to be cousins has more to do with the question about Jesus' brothers, than about the OP. FWIW.

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    That doesn't really prove they aren't related. We know the Israeli tribes intermarried from other passages. And people aren't referred to as "25% of the Tribe of Judah, 75% of Levi", but are accounted to one tribe or the other wholly. So the question becomes, what standard is used to ascribe a tribe to someone? Father's tribe? Mother's tribe? some other method? If so, it would be very easy for two people of different tribes to be closely related. Thank you for sharing about the alternate meaning of syngenes! That means it's possible they aren't directly related.
    – Jamin Grey
    Feb 25, 2021 at 21:36
  • @JaminGrey My understanding is if a woman marries into a different tribe, she becomes of that tribe. But in the case of Elizabeth and Mary, the bible is very clear to say Elizabeth is a daughter of Aaron. Mary is a daughter of David. I don't find examples when a woman from say, Levite, marries into the Dan tribe that she is then specifically called a daughter of Dan.
    – SLM
    Feb 26, 2021 at 0:03
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    You put this: "of the same kin, akin to, related by blood" run together with this: "in a wider sense, of the same nation, a fellow countryman", as though they belong together. They are separate definitions of the same word, one or the other, not together. So unless you have another reference indicating which one, either could equally be the case. As far as the issue of tribes, it could just be that a female ancestor of Elizabeth was of Judah, but married into Levites. This would mean Elizabeth and Mary were related through this female ancestor, perhaps a Great-Great-Grandmother. Feb 26, 2021 at 7:41
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    If Elizabeth was not related to Mary, the latter would never have taken the risk of staying away from home for say, three months following the Annunciation. Mary was a sensible woman and knew well that it would be difficult to convince the neighbors that she had conceived of the Holy Spirit while she was serving a good old woman in the hills. Feb 26, 2021 at 9:13
  • Fixed the "run on" definition of syngenes. Mary visited Elizabeth during Mary's first 3 months and Elizabeth's last 3 months, but appears to have left before John's birth. Mary's pregnancy would be more "worrisome" from 3-9 months on, if Mary was in fact worried.
    – SLM
    Feb 26, 2021 at 15:33

If I may interrupt so many sapient apologists, my view is that Mary had to be related either to Elizabeth or Zechariah.

No one makes a long and possibly dangerous journey to visit a fellow pregnant countrymen one does not know.

By the way Benedict XVI affirms on his treaty about Jesus Christ that both were indeed related: Jesus Von Nazareth. Beiträge zur Christologie -ISBN 978-84-9055-939-0 for the Spanish edition-

All chapter 2 discuses about this, specially on page 66 is said that Mary and Elizabeth have a blood bond.

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    – agarza
    Feb 26, 2021 at 17:07
  • @jmcollantes. Agreed, Highly unlikely that one takes a long journey to visit and live for a while a stranger.
    – user10859
    Feb 26, 2021 at 18:15
  • @agarza edit done, thanks! Apr 23, 2021 at 15:47

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