A genealogy is key to understanding someone’s identity. Today, Stephen Nichols explains how the two biblical accounts of Jesus’ genealogy complement each other and help us gain a deeper knowledge of our Savior.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining me today on the Ask Ligonier podcast is Dr. Stephen Nichols, one of our teaching fellows here at Ligonier. Dr. Nichols, why are there different genealogies for Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke?
DR. STEPHEN NICHOLS: Well, we have to ask the larger question here: If we’re thinking about the two genealogies, why are there four Gospels? And each of the Gospels, whether it’s the Synoptics, which are very similar, or John—whether we think about the three or we think about the four—each of them are filling in the dimension of who Christ is. And so, we don’t pit them against each other, but we see them as complementary. We certainly don’t see them as entirely repetitive; we see them as complementary to each other. So, that’s the larger question: Why are there four different Gospels? Well, now we can get into the question of, So then why are there two different genealogies?
First of all, let’s put ourselves in this place in time and in culture. Your genealogy is your identity. Who you are is who you are the son of. And that’s both literal, and even in the case of say, Barnabas, it’s figurative. He is the “son of encouragement”—it’s a way of saying that Barnabas is the embodiment—he is the personification of encouragement itself. This name “son of” is really important. It actually gets to your identity. We don’t really think that way as, especially, Americans in the twenty-first century. So, we need to grasp the importance of genealogy for identity.
Now, let’s apply this to Christ. So, we come to Matthew, and what do we find? We find three very key moments in the genealogy. We find that first of all, He is the son of Abraham. So, as the son of Abraham, He is the seed of Abraham. That takes us immediately back to Genesis 12, Genesis 15, and the covenants that God made with Abraham. He is the son of David—that’s another pivotal moment in Matthew’s genealogy. Well, same thing. We go back to David. We go to the covenant that God makes with David in 2 Samuel 7, and now, this is the Davidite. He is the heir, the seed of David.
And then we also find the deportation. And this is fascinating because now Jesus is going to be the embodiment of Israel in exile and restoration, which is at the deportation. So, the way Matthew uses these moments as the structure of the fourteen generations is Matthew’s way of saying Jesus now is the new Israel. He is the Abraham. He is the Davidite. He is the One who has been exiled, and He is the One who is the restoration of God’s people.
One other fascinating thing that sets Matthew’s genealogy not only distinct from Luke but from these other genealogies—three women are mentioned, and all of them have something to say. It’s Rahab, and we know her story. And it’s Ruth—she’s a gentile too. And it’s Mary. So, this is also saying something about who Jesus is and why Jesus came.
When we go to Luke, Luke does the reverse: it starts with Christ and goes backward. And of course, Luke includes David, includes Abraham. Luke follows the traditional genealogy—it’s all mention of men, so there’s not a mention of a woman in the genealogy. But then Luke takes us back to Jesus being the son of Adam. Well, now we’re back to Genesis 3:15, aren’t we, in the promise of the seed to come. And Jesus, as Paul is going to call Him, is the eschatological Adam, the last Adam—and not “last” in terms of chronology. There have been sons and daughters of Adam born after Jesus was born in the incarnation. Ultimate is the idea. And so, Adam was the first Adam; Jesus is the ultimate Adam.
You put these two together and what we have here, as they are woven together, we have here who Jesus is and why He came. And that’s what the Gospels are doing as a whole, and the strategy of these genealogies fits right into that perfectly.
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