who were Jesus’ ancestors? (Lamoureux on genealogies, part 2)

Today we continue with part 2 of a 6-part audio-slide series by Denis Lamoureux on biblical genealogies.

Jesus’ genealogy is found in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, and they are significantly–and I think it is fair to say, irreconcilably–different. They differ, however, as Lamoureux tells us, because as ancient genealogies, they serve a primarily theological function, rather than being an accurate record of ancestry.

The audio-slide can be accessed here, and an accompanying handout is here.

Lamoureux holds three earned doctoral degrees (dentistry, theology, and biology) and is associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta (full bio here). He is the author of I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution (see first of the audio slide series on this book here) which is a great introduction to his view of origins called “evolutionary creation.”

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  • DonaldByronJohnson

    On Matthew’s genealogy

    ESV for all verses
    Jer_22:24 “As I live, declares the LORD, though Coniah the son of
    Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet
    I would tear you off

    Jer 22:28 Is this man Coniah a despised, broken pot, a vessel no one cares
    for? Why are he and his children hurled and cast into a land that
    they do not know?

    Jer 22:29 O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD!

    Jer 22:30 Thus says the LORD: “Write this man down as childless, a man
    who shall not succeed in his days, for none of his offspring shall
    succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah.”

    1Ch 3:1 The sons of Josiah: Johanan the firstborn, the second Jehoiakim, the
    third Zedekiah, the fourth Shallum.

    1Ch 3:16 The descendants of Jehoiakim: Jeconiah his son, Zedekiah his son;

    1Ch 3:17 and the sons of Jeconiah, the captive: Shealtiel his son,

    Mat 1:11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of
    the deportation to Babylon.

    Mat 1:12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of
    Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

    In Matthew, sometimes “father” is used in a loose sense as Josiah
    was actually the grandfather of Jeconiah. In Jer 22:28-30 Coniah
    (Jeconiah) is given a negative prophecy that “none of his
    offspring” will “sit on the throne of David”. So I think the
    genealogy in Matthew 1 is given to show Jews that Joseph NOT being
    the biological father fulfills this negative prophecy. This negative prophecy about Jeconiah is often missed.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    On Luke’s genealogy, there is a very important word that is missing in the Greek text and that is the Greek article in front of Joseph; this omission or inclusion does not usually show up in English translations. Omitting the article before a man’s name was a Jewish way to refer to the mother or wife of the husband in a genealogy, as the husband’s name then became somewhat ambiguous, in contrast when the article is present. So I think that Luke is referring to Mary, husband of Joseph. This shows that Jesus is actually a descendent of David, thru Mary, and so can be Messiah, son of David.

    • ajl

      I think this is a good observation. I felt like Denis just did a little hand-wave to make the Mary apologetic go away. I think the argument deserves greater attention.

      Also, I don’t think that it matters much to tell you the truth. I think the intention of genealogies still hold true whether one author was working back through Joseph, or Mary. In either case, they aren’t giving an actual account of descendants, but rather communicating a theological point.

  • Dan

    I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution is the popularized version of his Evolutionary Creationism. For those with the money, the full version of EC is very worth it.

    • DonaldByronJohnson

      I think getting both are worth it, as ILJ is later; but his latest ideas are on his website as he updates it.

  • Alan S

    Interesting presentation. One thing I don’t understand: in the slide showing the genealogy in Matt 1, he shows three columns of 14 names, to make the point about gematria. However, in the last column, he turns the name of Jesus Christ, who is obviously ONE person, into TWO names, Jesus (13) and Christ (14). That seems like a strange thing to do; I’m sure it’s not his intent, but a critic could say that, by doing so, Lamoureux is artificially creating a list of 14 names, when in FACT there are only 13 names there. Can anyone shed some light on this? If Dr. Lamoureux is following these comments, could he personally provide some insights here?

    • Nancy R.

      If you read Matthew 1:17, you’ll see that the author of the text claims that “there were 14 generations in all from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the exile in Babylon, and 14 from the exile to the Messiah.” Matthew 1:16 states that “Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” So it appears that the writer of Matthew was stretching out the genealogy in the final third to make it 14 generations. Lamoureux is reporting what’s in the text.

  • mark

    I enjoyed the slide presentation on Mt 1 and Lk 3, but I’m not sure the presentation of Mt does justice to everything that’s going on. I have no quarrel with the 3X14 framework–after all, it’s explicitly stated by the evangelist at 1:17. What interests me is the third grouping of 14. Denis states that “in both [Matthew and Luke] Joseph is next to Jesus,” but that is certainly not the case in Matthew. To see this clearly it’s helpful to first look at another feature of Mt’s genealogy–his mention of women, four of them.

    Thus, in v. 5 Mt points out that the progenitor Salmon begot Boaz from Rahab, Boaz begot Obed from Ruth, and “David the king” begot Solomon from the [unnamed] wife of Uriah [known to us as Bathsheba].

    5 Σαλμὼν δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Βόες ἐκ τῆς Ῥαχάβ,
    Βόες δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωβὴδ ἐκ τῆς Ῥούθ
    6 Ἰεσσαὶ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Δαυὶδ τὸν βασιλέα.
    Δαυὶδ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Σολομῶνα ἐκ τῆς τοῦ Οὐρίου

    Notice that this genealogy follows the common idea at the time that the active agent in reproduction is the male, the progenitor who “begets” offspring. Thus, as in all steps of the genealogy, the male in these steps actively “begot” (ἐγέννησεν) a descendant “from” a woman–the woman did no begetting.

    All this holds good until we reach the climactic v. 16:

    16 Ἰακὼβ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας,
    ἐξ ἧς [Μαρίας] ἐγεννήθη Ἰησοῦς
    ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστός.

    16 Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary [the fourth woman]
    from whom [Mary] was begotten Jesus
    who is called Messiah [Christ].

    Jacob is #11, and “begets” Joseph, #12. We need a #13 before we get to the obvious #14, Jesus.

    So whom does Joseph, #12, “beget” as that #13? No one. Joseph, unlike his ancestors, is not an actor in the process but is passively identified as “the husband of Mary.” Joseph fills a space in the genealogy but he marks a sharp break in the line of descent, because he does not “beget” anyone, as in all the preceding generations the progenitor “begets” the next male in line. Nor is Joseph said to have “begotten” Jesus “from Mary,” as is the case in those entries in which the mother is mentioned:

    Ἰωσὴφ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰησοῦς ἐκ τῆς Μαρίας

    Instead, Joseph is identified as Mary’s husband but when it comes to the generation of Jesus, again uniquely in this genealogy, we switch from the active [ἐγέννησεν] to the passive [ἐγεννήθη]: Joseph didn’t “beget Jesus from Mary,” Jesus “was begotten” by an unnamed agent [unnamed for now]. Is this passive construction a “divine passive,” a pious Jewish way of referring to God by indirection, to avoid direct use of the Divine name? Most likely yes, because the mystery agent doesn’t remain a mystery for long. In v. 20 we are told that the generator, the unnamed agent, is the Holy Spirit. Joseph is included in the genealogy because, as the adoptive father, he is regarded in Jewish practice as a true father. Thus our final series of 14 ends:

    12. Jacob “begot” Joseph the husband of Mary,
    13. from Mary “was begotten” Jesus [by the Holy Spirit]
    14. who [Jesus] is called Messiah.


    11. Jacob begot
    12. Joseph the husband of Mary
    13. the Holy Spirit who begot through Mary
    14. Jesus who is called Messiah

    As Denis says, Mt felt free to manipulate the genealogy for his own purposes–he plays fast and loose with normal genealogical structure–to make a theological point, but also an historical point. Identifying Jesus as begotten, not by Joseph but by the Holy Spirit, is not only a theological statement but, on its face, is also an historical statement. This however gets us into the Christology as well as the intentionality of the evangelist.

    Luke takes a different tack, with the same end in view.

    • Andrew Dowling

      What do you mean by “also a historical point?” Meaning he’s trying to present the genealogy/virginal conception as historical fact? (I don’t necessarily disagree that’s the authors’ intentions, just trying to understand the point)

      • mark

        Exactly. Luke puts it quite baldly at 3:23–“being the son, as was supposed, of Joseph son of Eli …” Any interpretation of these passages, it seems to me, must start from the presumption that the evangelists are intending to state historical fact. Which is not to say that they are necessarily intending to communicate Marian dogma as we know it today.

        Let me also mention another important point. Denis points out that Matthew’s readers would have been familiar with this “style” of using genealogies for theological purposes. That means that those readers would certainly have noticed when Matthew broke the paradigm. In a broader sense, this is something we see repeatedly in the early Christian writings. We’re cruising along, comfortable with what we see as the writers’ use of “fulfillment” narratives–“new” Adam, “new” David, “new” Moses, “new” Israel, “new” whatever–and then, if we’re paying attention, we realize that the writer has just dropped a bombshell that destroys that comfortable paradigm.

        Which is, of course, the point about Jesus. He breaks all barriers, all boundaries, shatters all categories. Even as the early Christian writers are striving to understand Jesus and communicate him through the categories that are most familiar with them, they’re totally honest in also telling us that Jesus is much more than that. IMO, Larry Hurtado’s work does an excellent job of getting that across.

      • Jim

        What chance is there that along with making a theological point, both of the gospels writers regarded their gospel as being, at least in part, somewhat historical as opposed to purely theological? They probably didn’t have access to real genealogies (I don’t know if archeology has uncovered any genealogical records of “common folk” in Judea from that era?), but maybe part of their construction was based on some sort of previously existing traditions?

        • Andrew Dowling

          “but maybe part of their construction was based on some sort of previously existing traditions?”

          It’s not impossible, but given the literary flourishes and motifs (the use of the numbers 7, for example) employed, I would doubt that the genealogies are not by and large the authors’ (or the community which they represented) creations and thus, they knew they wern’t historical in the strict sense. I know Hurtado tries to argue they are older tradition but I don’t find his arguments convincing.
          That said, I don’t think we can judge the evangelists’ intentions by modern standards of factual historicity. People wern’t reading (mostly listening) to the Gospels to hear modern history lectures.

  • Excellent analysis by Denis Lamoureux, as usual! Consider, also, that in light of the virgin birth, a literal interpretation of the New Testament genealogies tells us nothing of Jesus’ true origin which is better accounted for in John 6 (the story of “the bread from heaven”), John 3 (the discussion of being “born from above”), or Hebrews 6 (the comparison to Melchizedeck). For more along these lines, see “The Word Made Flesh”:

  • This is pretty interesting.

    It seems to be one of those instances where disrepancies between the accounts seem to be reconciable with the Chicago statement of inerrancy since the authors did not intend to write history.

    To my mind the insurmountable argument against Chicago inerrancy is the existence of Biblical atrocities .