The Line of Joseph in Matthew's Genealogy
Matthew's genealogy traces the line of Joseph, the stepfather of the Messiah. The line is traced from Abraham (v. 2), and continues down to David and Solomon (v. 6), and then to King Jechoniah (v. 11), who was one of the last kings before the Babylonian Captivity. It is the person of Jechoniah that is significant in dealing with the genealogy of Matthew because of the special curse pronounced on him in Jeremiah 22:24-30:
New International Version
24 “As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “even if you, Jehoiachin[a] son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. 25 I will deliver you into the hands of those who want to kill you, those you fear—Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the Babylonians. 26 I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die. 27 You will never come back to the land you long to return to.”
28 Is this man Jehoiachin a despised, broken pot,
an object no one wants?
Why will he and his children be hurled out,
cast into a land they do not know?
29 O land, land, land,
hear the word of the Lord!
30 This is what the Lord says:
“Record this man as if childless,
a man who will not prosper in his lifetime,
for none of his offspring will prosper,
none will sit on the throne of David
or rule anymore in Judah.”
Because of the kind of man Jechoniah was, God, through the Prophet Jeremiah, pronounced a curse upon him. The content of this curse was that no descendant of Jechoniah would have any right to the Throne of David (v. 30).
In the Matthew genealogy, it should be noted that Joseph was a direct descendant of Jechoniah (v. 16). This means, then, that Joseph, having the blood of Jechoniah in his veins, was not qualified to sit on David's throne. This would also mean that no son of Joseph would have the right to claim the Throne of David. So, if Yeshua were really the son of Joseph, this would have disqualified Him from sitting upon David's throne.
The point of Matthew's genealogy, then, is to show why Jesus could not be king if He were really Joseph's son. For this reason, Matthew starts out with the genealogy, and then proceeds with the account of the Virgin Birth, which from Matthew's viewpoint, is the way out of the Jechoniah problem. In essence, Matthew's point is this: if Jesus were really Joseph's son, He could not claim to sit on David's throne because of Jechoniah's curse. Then Matthew proceeds to show that Yeshua was not truly Joseph's son, for He was born of the virgin Mary (Mat. 1:18-25).
If, by Jewish law, the name of a woman could not be mentioned in a genealogy, but you wished to trace a woman's line, how would you go about doing so? The answer is that you would use the name of her husband. However, if the husband's name were used, that raises a second question. Suppose somebody picked up a genealogy to read, how would he know whether the genealogy is that of the husband or that of the wife because, in either case, it would be the husband's name that was used?
The answer to that riddle lies in a problem with the English language, which does not exist with the Greek or Hebrew language. In English, it is not good grammar to put the word “the” before a proper name. We do not use a definite article before a proper name; such as, the Matthew, the Luke, the Mary, the John; however, it is quite permissible in both Greek and Hebrew grammar. The Greek text of Luke's genealogy is very interesting because of this. In the Greek text, every single name mentioned in the genealogy of Luke has the definite article “the,” with one exception, and that is the name of Joseph; his name does not have the definite article “the” in front of it. What that would mean to someone reading the original is this: when he saw the definite article missing from Joseph's name while it was present in all the other names, it would mean that this was not really Joseph's genealogy; rather, it is Mary's genealogy. So, in keeping with Jewish law, it was the husband's name that was used. We have two examples of this in the Old Testament: Ezra 2:61 and Nehemiah 7:63.
The Line of Mary in Luke's Genealogy
Luke's genealogy traces the line of Mary and portrays how Jesus could claim the Throne of David. Luke begins his genealogy in the reverse order of Matthew's, going from the present back into the past. The line is traced until it returns to the family of David (vv. 31-32). However, the son of David involved in this genealogy is not Solomon but Nathan. The important point here is that Mary was a member of the House of David totally apart from Jechoniah. Since Jesus was Mary's son He, too, was a member of the House of David, totally apart from the curse of Jechoniah.
One Old Testament requirement for kingship was that of being a member of the House of David. In the days of Jeremiah, there was the added requirement that one had to be a member of the House of David apart from Jechoniah. Zedekiah, who reigned after Jechoniah, was not the son of Jechoniah. In the case of Yeshua, through Mary, He was a member of the House of David, totally apart from Jechoniah. In this manner, He fulfilled the first Old Testament requirement for kingship.
However, Yeshua was not the only member of the House of David apart from Jechoniah. There were a number of other descendants who could claim equality with Yeshua to the Throne of David, for they, too, did not have Jechoniah's blood in their veins. At this point, it is important to note the second Old Testament requirement for kingship: divine appointment. Of all the members of the House of David apart from Jechoniah, only One received divine appointment.
We read in Luke 1:30-33:
New International Version
30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
On what grounds, then, could Jesus claim the Throne of David? First, He was a member of the House of David apart from Jechoniah; and secondly, He alone received divine appointment to that throne.
So while Matthew's genealogy showed why Yeshua could not be king if He really were Joseph's son, Luke's genealogy shows why Yeshua could be king. Luke, in contrast to Matthew, does not begin with the account of the Virgin Birth. Only later does he record the genealogy, for he does not need, like Matthew, to get around the Jechoniah problem.
The final question is: “On what grounds can it be said that Luke's account is actually Mary's genealogy?” While there is much evidence to support this, it will be necessary to limit it to only three lines of argument.
First, the Talmud itself refers to Mary as the daughter of Heli. It is obvious, then, that in longstanding Jewish tradition, Mary was recognized to be the daughter of Heli as mentioned in Luke 3:23.
Secondly, although most versions translate Luke 3:23 as follows: being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli.
That same Greek phrase could easily be translated in a different way. While all of the names in Luke's genealogy are preceded with the Greek definite article, the name of Joseph is not. Because of this grammatical point, that same verse could be translated: being the son (as was supposed of Joseph) the son of Heli. In other words, the final parenthesis could be expanded so that the verse reads that although Jesus was supposed or assumed to be the descendant of Joseph, He was really the descendant of Heli. The absence of Mary's name is quite in keeping with Jewish practices on genealogies, and it was not unusual for a son-in-law to be listed in his wife's genealogy.
The third argument is the obvious viewpoint of the two genealogies. Matthew is clearly writing from the viewpoint of Joseph. Mary plays a very passive role in Matthew's account. Matthew records only the angelic annunciation to Joseph concerning the coming birth, and only Matthew records the warning of the angel to Joseph to flee from Bethlehem before Herod's soldiers arrived for the slaughter. In the context of Matthew's Gospel, it is Joseph who is emphasized, and the genealogy gives Joseph's line.
Luke, however, is obviously writing from the viewpoint of Mary. In Luke, Joseph is the one who plays the passive role. Luke alone records the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, whose parents were related to Mary. Luke alone records the angelic annunciation to Mary and ignores the one to Joseph. Luke also is the one who records the innermost thoughts of Mary as she ponders things that are said to her by shepherds and prophets. Even when Yeshua is twelve years old, only Luke records the words of Mary to Yeshua and not those of Joseph. Mary is the active player, while Joseph is the passive player. So from the context alone, it would appear that Luke is giving Mary's lineage, because his whole perspective is focused on Mary.
In conclusion, then, both from the Talmudic reckoning and from the reckoning of biblical theology, Jesus indeed has the right to sit on David's throne.
In these genealogies, we are given four specific titles of Yeshua. In Matthew 1:1, He is called the son of David, and the son of Abraham. In Luke 3:38, He is called the son of Adam, and the son of God. These four titles give us the fourfold portrait of the Messianic Person.
First, by saying Yeshua is the son of David, this means He is a king through Mary.
Secondly, by calling Jesus the son of Abraham, this means He is a Jew.
Thirdly, by giving Yeshua the title, the son of Adam, this means that He is a man.
And fourthly, by giving Him the title, the son of God, this means Jesus is God.