Problems With Origins

Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David (Luke 3:27-31 ESV)

One of the issues Bible students (including professors) have with the genealogy in the Gospel of Luke is what’s in it.  The genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew has its own problems, but Luke’s is ‘special’.  No one else has it, no one.  Anywhere.  And that includes Chronicles which is known for genealogies.  His list of names is longer, and has more people listed no where else than any other genealogy in Scripture.  Granted, getting Hebrew names into Greek is so difficult that spelling and pronunciation are usually left to the reader more than the author; the author just gets the reader close.  That being said, there are still extreme problems with Luke’s list.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE PROBLEM

I’ve not read one commentary that was able to come up with a solution, all I have read says no one knows Luke’s source.  But they have also been careful to say it is still valid.  There are serious problems for Luke’s Gospel if this list is not valid.  But most commentators fall back on a very good point.  If Luke’s list were truly problematic, this would have been brought out long before it was canonized.  So those much closer to both Luke and his sources seem fine with the list, and these people, the ones from Jewish origins especially, would have been pretty picky about genealogies, and their accuracy.  Or at least that’s the claim.  The claim makes good sense.

THE ESSENCE OF THE PROBLEM

But here’s my issue with Luke’s list past a certain point: According to 1 Chronicles 3:10-19, Zerubbabel was not a descendant of David’s son Nathan, but of Solomon.  On the other hand, Zerubbabel is said to be the son of Pedaiah not Shealtiel in that same list.  The list in 1 Chronicles traces through the kings of Judah, while Luke’s list avoids that list completely.  Since one of the theories for Luke’s list is that he traces Mary’s lineage rather than Joseph’s, I find it interesting Mary and Joseph would share an ancestor prior to David in Zerubbabel.  But I find it even more interesting that the lineage then diverges again, which doesn’t make sense to me.  At that point, the lists of ancestors should be the same and they’re not.

THE CONTEXT OF THE PROBLEM

So Luke not only uses a different set of names for Jesus’ lineage from Joseph to Zerubbabel, but also from Zerubbabel to David.  1 Chronicles 3 provides a partial list beyond Zerubbabel, but then we have to rely only on Matthew.  Rather than judge Luke’s list as ‘spurious’, I think his list actually illustrates another important point, often lost.  It seems that genealogies in the Hebrew Scriptures demonstrate a lot of diversity between them as well.  And this is not an issue for most scholars typically because these records were phonetic or partial or based on standards now lost in obscurity.  So, why not place Luke’s genealogy in the same basket.  Genealogies were not as rigorously accurate in Scripture as some assume.  They were based on lists perhaps for land distribution, or family registries for tax rolls, or based on what records survived the first destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  The reality is we don’t know with precision what they are based on, so we can’t go back and ascertain their degree of precision.

CONCLUSION OF THE PROBLEM

Therefore, in the face of such ignorance, we have one important goal as we fuss about the various differences between Luke and any other genealogical list in Scripture.  We must strive to ‘get over’ any problem we have with those differences, and focus on Luke’s point.  His point remains that Jesus, like every human being ever to exist, traces their ancestry through Adam who originated with God.  Jew and Gentile alike share ancestry with Jesus.  Whatever else can be said about Luke’s list of names, that much is not in dispute. And there we should rest, and cease our striving.  I think that once again, infallibility trumps inerrancy.

So, what’s your view through the knothole?

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Matt Brumage

Educated for Christian ministry, but currently working in the business world.

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