What’s in a Genealogy?
by Guy Richard
Everyone who has spent time considering the genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Luke will be aware of several differences between it and the genealogy that Matthew presents. For one thing, many of the names that Luke gives are different from the ones that Matthew gives. This is especially obvious for that part of the genealogy between Jesus and David (Luke 3:23–31). Scholars have suggested that these differences could be because Luke gives Mary’s genealogy, while Matthew gives Joseph’s genealogy, or because Luke traces the biological ancestors, while Matthew is instead focused upon the legal ancestors—those who reigned or would have reigned. Although I tend to favor the second of these explanations, I am far more intrigued by the other differences that I see between the two genealogies.
Besides the names, the two genealogies differ in some interesting ways. Perhaps the most obvious is their placement. Whereas Luke places his genealogy in chapter 3, just before his account of the temptation of Christ, Matthew places his at the beginning of his gospel. Furthermore, both genealogies begin and end at different points. Luke begins his genealogy with Jesus and descends from there to finish with Adam, while Matthew begins with Abraham and ascends to finish with Jesus.
My question is why? Why would Luke put his genealogy after the birth of Christ and before the temptation? Why would he go in reverse order from Matthew and go all the way back to Adam rather than stopping at Abraham? The question gets more interesting when we consider that the order of the temptations in Luke 4 differs from that given in Matthew 4 (the second and third temptations are reversed). Why would Luke end his genealogy with Adam and go right into his account of the temptation?
I think the answer is that Luke is trying to tell us something about Jesus. In the first place, he is trying to tell us that Jesus really is human. He actually has a genealogy with real ancestors. He is descended from David, Abraham, and Adam. In the second place, Luke is trying to link Jesus with Adam. The order of the temptations in Luke 4 is identical with the order of the temptations in Genesis 3 (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride). Luke ends his genealogy with Adam, and then goes into the temptation account to show that Jesus is that long-expected “seed” of Adam. He was tempted in the exact same ways that Adam was tempted, yet He did not fail as Adam did. Jesus overcame sin, temptation, and Satan. He won the victory and overturned Adam’s failure. Sin, guilt, shame, brokenness, and separation from God came from Adam’s failure, but forgiveness, acceptance, grace, and reconciliation come from Christ’s victory. That is the message: Adam failed, but Jesus has won the day.