Were Jesus’ Grandparents a Gay Couple?

Were Jesus’ Grandparents a Gay Couple? September 15, 2015

The question is facetious, but I presume readers are aware of the genuine issue that lies behind the question. If not, I will sum it up briefly: The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both provide genealogies for Jesus. They contradict one another in after David except for a brief convergence around Zerubbabel.

So why propose – even in jest – this solution to the two male parents of Joseph who were purportedly distant cousins of one another?

The reason is because this proposal is more straightforward, and fits what the texts say better, than those which have been proposed by conservatives trying to defend Biblical inerrancy by harmonizing the genealogies.

The most common ancient approach was to posit a series of Levirite marriages, so that a woman’s husband died without producing children, and the dead man’s brother married his widow in keeping with Jewish Law. The most common modern approach is less convoluted and simply ignores what the text says, pretending that one of the genealogies is Mary’s rather than Joseph’s.

It is certainly a much more straightforward (if indubitably anachronistic) to have Jacob and Heli be a gay couple who both provided sperm in order for a woman to conceive a child for them, and so either could be the father.

Why avoid this simpler solution? Simple: because the same ideology that drives them to force a resolution to the contradiction also drives them to not want to appeal to this particular explanation. And it is important to notice this, that what drives the attempts at harmonizations is a particular ideology, one that ultimately will eschew a simple solution for a more complex one in order to maintain conformity to that ideology. Because ultimately it is that ideology and the defense of it that matters most, and not the elimination of problems in the Bible for their own sake.

As for the differences in the genealogies considered from a scholarly perspective, there is a relatively straightforward explanation why they differ. Luke may have known that Jeconiah had been told, according to Jeremiah, that none of his descendants would sit on the throne of David. Yet Matthew’s genealogy has Jesus descended from Jeconiah! And so this could well have motivated Luke to “fix” the problem.

What is probably most interesting in this is its relevance to the Synoptic Problem. The three options are that Luke knew Matthew’s Gospel, that a genealogy like Matthew’s was in Q, or that both independently inserted genealogies. The last option seems too coincidental. The first seems problematic to me given how Luke diverges so substantially from Matthew, especially in the infancy stories, although I am open to being persuaded. The Q hypothesis has rarely made a genealogy part of that source. Are there other options? Which of the above seems most likely to you, and why?


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  • Gary

    Interesting, projecting modern culture to solve inerrancy problems. Mary’s perpetual virginity, because Joseph was an old, old, old, widower, with no access to the miracle of Viagra. Brings to mind, the Clinton definition of “what is “virginity””.

    • Joe

      Mary was not a perpetual virgin. That is a lie of the Roman church.

      Nor does the Bible specify Joseph’s age.

      And there are no “inerrancy” problems, only people who reject and suppress the truth of God.

      • Gary

        I guess perpetual virginity is not inerrancy, but certain people’s interpretation. But all inerrancy is based upon certain people’s interpretation. I guess Bill had his own interpretation of sex. Depends upon what “is” is. Or “seed” is, for that matter. Or cigar is. Or, ad infinitum…

      • That’s the sound of a true fundamentalist. Any faith other than mine is a “lie”.

        • Joe

          There is only one truth: God’s truth, and I trust in His truth. Truth is not relative, nor are there multiple paths to God.

          • That’s certainly a possibility. The problem is, as this post points out, assuming that God’s truth is the only truth, how does one know what that truth is, when the Bible contradicts itself.

          • Joe

            The Bible does not contradict itself. There may be apparent contradictions, but not any of those “contradictions” have withstood the test of tine when the Bible is read in historical and cultural context, and when one examines the original languages, and when the reader humbles himself and dumps the presuppositions that the Bible is full of contradictions.

          • Somehow, Joe, I rather doubt you’ve read the text in it’s original historical cultural contexts nor examined the original languages. Such study only makes the contradictions clearer.

          • Joe

            I did not say that I had studied the Bible in the original languages, but I am working on it. It is a lifelong process. I have, however, studied historical context on many so called “contradictions”, and not one of the contradictions stood up.

          • Even the genealogy contradiction stands up, not to mention the variant timelines, and alternate versions of stories that have grossly conflicting details, such as the death of Judas, the crucifixion sayings, the birth stories, and the tomb stories.

            You haven’t even made any kind of argument that the genealogies are not contradictory. You’re just asserting that they are not. It’s bit like walking into a room and insisting that black is white. You can assert all you like, but no one is going to take you very seriously without a reasonable argument for your position.

          • Matthew Green

            Joe, do you seriously believe all of these ridiculous and far-fetched rationalizations for why the Bible doesn’t contain flaws like discrepancies? I mean, do you really accept the nonsense put forth by people like the late Gleason Archer and Norman Geisler?

          • Joe

            I did not claim that I, or any other man, is inerrant. I say that the Bible is inerrant, not man.

          • Matthew Green

            Joe, I never said that you believed that any man is inerrant. I asked you if you seriously buy into the ridiculous “explanations” that are put forth by Christian apologists. Curiously: why do you believe that the Bible is inerrant?

          • Joe

            I did say you did, but you seemed to imply it. I don’t agree with every apologist, but I believe that some are spot on.

            I believe the Bible is inerrant, for one, because of the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, for the manuscript evidence of more than 24,000 copies with less than 2% textual variants (which do not change the meaning of the passage), that it was written by more than 40 authors over a 1500 year period in various locations with complete consistent, with historical and archaeological evidence to support it. No other historical document has anywhere near that authenticity, and yet those documents are rarely challenged as authentic. It is only the Bible that is so often challenged and has withstood the test, further affirming its truth and inerrancy.

          • Matthew Green

            Joe, I have heard this argument before. I read it when I was a teenager and a fan of Josh McDowell. He used to argue that the Bible had to be inspired because over 40 authors, working over vast times and distant places, would not accidently produce a work of such harmony. However, I have come to conclude that *all* of McDowell’s arguments are silly and that the Bible is a very flawed book. It’s not as though I simply haven’t done my homework and speak ignorantly. I have read a number of books, some by McDowell, one by Gleason Archer, quite a few of them by Norman Geisler. I used to be fans of these authors and I now believe that they were/are well-meaning but full of crap. It was publications like *The Skeptical Review* which opened my eyes to the flaws of the inerrancy doctrine. It’s interesting how McDowell never debated Farrell Till when Till was live.

          • Neko

            You sound just like the Roman church!

          • Joe

            You are mistaken.

          • Gakusei Don

            Joe, when I read people claiming they follow “God’s truth”, I see: “There is only one truth: my view of God’s truth, and I trust in my view of His truth.”

            It’s like the Buddhist saying: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” Nothing is more dangerous than someone who believes they know “God’s truth”. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the first two people who come across the injured man would claim to be following “God’s truth”.

          • Joe

            I did not say that I know all truth, for that would be me claiming to be God. But I do know the source of all truth: Jesus Christ and what He has revealed to us in His word in the Bible. It solely by the grace of God that I follow God’s truth.

            Jesus said, if you abide in His word, you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

            It is far more dangerous for someone to say that we can’t know the truth of God, for then we would be without hope and there is no way to know what is truth and what is not.

          • The problem, Joe, is that you are making blanket statements about scripture with no evidence to back up your statements and without even the consensus of biblical scholarship behind you. That scripture entails contradictions is common knowledge among biblical scholars; it’s hardly an area of contention.

          • Joe

            I was not the one claiming contradictions in the first place, so I do not believe that the burden of proof lies on me.

            I did not say that I have the perfect refutation of every single apparent contradiction. My point was that when people read the Bible that they have presuppositions. I admit I have presuppositions. My presupposition is that the word of God is true, clear and inerrant, without true contradiction. And if an apparent problem arises, it is the readers responsibility to first examine themselves to see if they are coming from a presupposition that discards the truth of God without thoroughly examining all aspects of the scripture.
            “That scripture entails contradictions is common knowledge among biblical scholars”

            Then I would question the authenticity and motivation of these “biblical scholars” and these “contradictions” that they make claim to. Those who claim problems with the Bible are often of liberal leaning, that does not believe that God has spoken to us through His word, or that the word of God is subject to multiple interpretations, or that we cannot know truth (which in itself is a fallacy).

          • Joe, the “burden of proof” for contradictions is easily met just by reading the text:

            Matthew 1:16:

            “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.”

            Luke 3:23

            “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli,”

            That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The contradictions are numerous and easy to see by a simple reading of the text.

            Why do you have the presupposition that the text is in inerrant? Even the text itself doesn’t make that claim.

          • Joe

            That is not a contradiction. That is a reference to direct lineage versus indirect lineage. A great-great-great-great grandson of Abraham is still considered a “son” of Abraham in a particular perspective.

            The Bible does claim to be inerrant:
            All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
            2 Timothy 3:16

            Since God is perfect, all that He “breathes” out is perfect, without flaw, inerrant.

            You may be able to provide an apparent contradiction that I don’t have a response to (that is easily done, since I am not an expert apologist), but if you truly research those apparent contradictions with a humble heart, examining cultural and historical context, and examining the original languages, and allow Scripture to speak for itself, those apparent contradictions will not prove to be true contradictions.

          • Of course it’s a contradiction. Even if lineages were created using “indirect” connections, Matthew and Luke still contradict each other. In Matthew, Jesus is descended from David’s son Solomon. In Luke, Jesus is descended from David’s son Nathan. That’s not the only discrepancy. Do you have any other ancient examples of recording “indirect” lineages? You are altering the plain meaning of the text in order to confirm your bias.

            And as I said the genealogies are merely the tip of the iceberg. Did Judas die from hanging or falling? Did both thieves scorn Christ on the cross, or just one? Was he crucified in the third hour or the sixth hour. Who appeared to women at the tomb, two angels or one young man? How many women were there, one or three? Why are so many narratives in Mark, Matthew, and Luke verbatim copies of each other, while others add, subtract, or alter detail?

            There are many more, which are easily understood with the simple explanation that writers make mistakes, mix fact with legend, and invent details to suit agendas. Such practices are quite common in ancient writings.

            There are three problems with your reference to 2 Timothy. You have invented a meaning for “God-breathed” which is not implied by the text; you are presupposing that 2 Timothy, itself, is without error; and perhaps most importantly the verse is clearly referring to Old Testament writings – look at the context. These are the writings that Timothy has been taught since childhood. No New Testament texts had been written when Timothy was a child.

            Having a humble heart does not entail presupposing inerrancy in set of ancient writings that do not even claim to be inerrant.

          • Matthew Green

            Beau, I find it interesting that Joe advises having a humble heart when doing Bible studies. That he puts the words “Bible scholars” in scare quotes, questioning their competency or motives, indicates to me that he has anything *but* a humble heart. I would think that if he has a humble heart, he would at least be humble enough to read the works of scholars who are better educated than he is and have Ph.D.s and years of research behind them.

          • Yes, I need to practice better patience with commenters like Joe. Joe is working under the presupposition that the Bible is supernaturally endowed by God with inerrancy and perfection. It is probably a belief that he has nurtured since childhood, and so is not easily shaken. Even when confronted with the fact that Bible doesn’t even make such claims of itself.

          • Matthew Green

            Joe, are you a presuppositionalist when it comes to Christian apologetics?

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    I do not think there is any contradiction, Luke’s line is for Mary and Matthew’s is for Joseph. That translations do not show this is apparently because the translators apparently do not know the Jewish idioms used in the 2 lines and also because they do not take into account the negative prophecy about Coniah.

    • You may have been told that, but it simply isn’t true, and is at odds with what Luke’s Gospel actually says.

      • DonaldByronJohnson

        Sorry, I think you are wrong. I can explain but it is your blog and I do not want to do so unless invited.

        • Feel free to explain, as I would very much like you to. But I suspect you are just going to draw on one of the ad hoc fundamentalist claims, such as that it was the custom to treat the mother’s genealogy as the father’s etc. If so, then when you explain your view, I expect you to actually provide historical evidence of the practice, and not just cite those conservative Christians who claim this.

          • DonaldByronJohnson

            First, I will try to show that Matt’s genealogy is for Joseph. Matt in general gives the perspective of Joseph on the birth of Jesus..
            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

            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?

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

            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.”

            3:15 The sons of Josiah: Johanan the firstborn, the second
            Jehoiakim, the third Zedekiah, the fourth Shallum.

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

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

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

            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.

          • DonaldByronJohnson

            On Luke being the genealogy of Jesus through Mary:
            The Jewish Talmud
            refers to Mary, using her Jewish name of Miriam, as the daughter of
            Heli. The references are Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 2:4; Sanhedrin
            2J:3; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 44:2.

            So what is going on in
            the genealogy in Luke 3?

            Jewish genealogies
            refer to the father, patrilineal descent is the norm. However,
            sometimes one needs to refer to a mother, in this case a method using
            the way Greek grammar works is used when writing the genealogy in
            Greek. In Greek there exists an article (in English, “the”)
            which is always definite, this article is used to refer to a father
            in a genealogy, as the use of the article makes sure the reader
            understands that the noun is definite and therefore unique (that is,
            “the John” can only refer to John). However, the ABSENCE of the
            article can then be used to refer to the mother, as the absence is
            the contrast to the use of the article to indicate the father. In
            the Greek text of Luke all the names have the article except for
            Joseph. This does not show up in most translations, as a definite
            article in front of a name is not used in English and this
            grammatical Jewish idiom may not be known.

            example, a typical translate is ESV Luke 3:23 Jesus
            when he began his ministry was about 30 years old. He was the son (so
            it was thought) of Joseph, the son of Heli,

            better translation would be: Jesus when he began his ministry was
            about 30 years old.. He was the son of Mary (so it was thought of
            Joseph) , the son of Heli,

          • Mary is not mentioned at all in the verse that you pretend to offer a better translation of. You provide no evidence whatsoever that leaving out the definite article had the significance you claim. And the Talmudic passages you mention likewise fail to support your claims. Are you getting all this second hand from somewhere and not fact-checking it, or are you trying to pull a fast one and hoping that we won’t know or fact-check?!

          • DonaldByronJohnson

            I will bow out as I need to investigate further.

          • Matthew Green

            Also, “He was the son of Mary (so it was thought of Joseph), the son of Heli” makes no grammatical sense. If we remove the parenthetical insertion, then it says “He was the son of Mary, the son of Heli”… Huh? So Mary is the son of Heli? And if this translation is better, what sense would it make to insert the phrase “So it was thought of Joseph”? Exactly *what* was thought of Joseph?

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      What advantages does this view have over the gay grandparents view as far as evidence goes?

    • The problem here is, Luke’s gospel doesn’t even mention Mary in the genealogy. Any explanation that posits Luke was writing her genealogy has to insert her into the text where Luke very conspicuously omitted her.

      • … not only do they have to insert Mary, they have to remove Joseph.

        • Matthew Green

          The discrepancies between the genealogies isn’t even the worst of the problems. Luke has Jesus’ parents living in Nazareth before Jesus was born and returning to their home after Jesus was born whereas Matthew has Joseph and Mary moving to Nazareth for the first time after Jesus was born. I have seen a number of “explanations” for this and they’re so far-fetched and silly.

  • The Eh’theist

    Here’s a related question I always wondered about in my believing days. Why use the phrase “seed of David” to describe Jesus when the narrative makes it extremely clear that no seed (of the sort lately received in glass jars by John Oliver) had any role?

    It would seem to suggest that by emphasizing a virgin birth to fulfill prophecy, the use of the phrase “seed of David” would show that the related prophecy wasn’t literally fulfilled. So the use of that particular wording never made sense either.

    • It seems quite clear that Paul, in talking about Jesus as “of the seed of David according to the flesh,” does not think that Jesus was virginally conceived.

      • The Eh’theist

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I was thinking of John 7:42, given that the other Gospels predated it, it seemed odd that there was the emphasis on seed, given the potential difficulties it could present to Jewish readers who were familiar with Matthew and Luke, especially in light the efforts to construct the nativity narratives and to link to the Isaiah prophecy.

        Paul I always understood to be more of a literary reference to Jesus’ Jewish identity to the mixed church in Rome, to tie in with his teaching on the role of the Jews and the inclusive nature of the church. Your approach is much simpler.

        • The Gospel of John doesn’t seem to have a virginal conception, either. It is interesting that only Matthew and Luke have it – I wonder whether there was something in Q, however slim, along those lines, or whether alternatively this is an indication that there is a more direct dependence between those two Gospels…

          • The Eh’theist

            I’m not sure, I always found source theories tended to chase their own tails if pursued too far, so I was never a strong advocate for a particular view. It was interesting to me that the author of John, who seems clearly to have included that part of John 7 to defuse any lingering issues about Jesus’ place of origin and whether it disqualified him from being the Messiah, would include in such an apologetic section a reference that could be seen to contradict something highlighted so strongly in other gospels.

            Thinking about it now, it’s entirely possible that the author of John wasn’t familiar with the other two Gospels, which would eliminate the problem, or that he simply found the opportunity to link to another OT reference too good to pass up and took a measured risk that someone would pounce on the possible discrepancy. I can come up with different answers now as I work with different assumptions these days than I did back then. 🙂

            I’ll stop hijacking and simply offer good wishes in the faint hope that you don’t wake up tomorrow to discover parts of the internet proclaiming that you are “teaching” that Jesus had gay grandparents (I’m assuming someone won’t be able to pass up the opportunity to tweak Christian outrage meters at your expense. Sorry.)

          • Asking a relevant question is never hijacking! And feel free to start a rumor about my “teaching” that – it could be fun! 😉

          • Matthew Green

            James, I’m no scholar but I have to ask: according to ancient Jewish thinking, what is the source of “seed”? Does it come from the father, mother, or both?

          • The prevailing thought, unless I am mistaken, is that the father provided the seed, which was planted in the mother, in a manner that was presumed to parallel what is seen in agriculture.

  • John MacDonald

    John Shelby Spong supposes that Paul might have been a closet homosexual. This would have been the “thorn in Paul’s flesh (see 2 Cor 12:7)” that Paul talks about, and explain the animosity Paul had toward homosexuals.

  • Luke’s “fix” of the Jeconiah problem sounds quite plausible to me. Both genealogies are probably inventions intended to connect Jesus to the patriarchs.

    • Matthew Green

      I’m curious about something: I had thought of Matthew’s genealogy as the “legal” one and Luke’s as the “bloodline” one. I thought Matthew’s story of Mary being a virgin when Jesus was born was his attempt to have Jesus legally able to claim David’s throne without being a bloodline descendent of Jeconiah. So my question is: could Jesus be *merely* a legal descendent of David, through Jeconiah, in order to assume the throne or did he have to be a blood descendent of Jeconiah?