Monday, November 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Geneologies

It's that time of year again.  Advent.  A time to celebrate the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  My fifth 90 day Bible challenge has had me reading through the gospels and my husband preached on Christ's incarnation yesterday, so I'm primed for this post.  Remember when I confessed to you that my eyes used to glaze over when reading through geneologies in the Bible?  Can you relate?  Those names are becoming more familiar to me now and instead of letting my mind wander while reading lists of names, I've begun paying attention.   Guess what?  I discovered something that is not new at all, except that it's new to me.  Theologians have been discussing the two geneolgies of Christ for over a thousand years.

Mathew 1 and Luke 3 give two completely different geneologies for Christ.  They both show Him in the tribe of Judah and heir to the throne of David, but other than that there aren't many similarities.  They both say they are the geneologies of Jesus through His earthly father, Joseph.  Mathew lists only 27 generations (actually refers to 28) between David and Christ, whereas Luke lists 42.  That's a big difference!  But it's not only a difference in number of generations.  If you try to slide the missing 15 generations from Mathew's account into Luke's, they still don't fit.  Mathew traces the geneology of Jesus through Solomon.  Luke's geneology goes back to David's son Nathan, instead.  While there have been many explanations proposed, I'll touch on the ones I like that make sense to me.  With a few of my own musings thrown in, just for fun.

The most popular theory on the geneologies of Christ is that Mathew gives Joseph's geneology, whereas Luke gives Mary's.  This theory is not recent and seems to have been supported by Origen, Irenaeous, Tertullian, Athanasius, and Justin Martyr.  It would be strange for the geneology of a woman to be listed in the Bible, unique even, but then Mary is unique in all of history.  She was the one and only mother of the Messiah.  (Interestingly, Luke's gospel also gives the birth narrative from Mary's point of view.)  Then why didn't Luke just come out and say he was giving Mary's geneology?  Maybe he assumed since Mathew's account was already circulating that the church would immediately recognize his own as Mary's.  (It is debated whether Mark or Mathew was the first gospel written, but it's accepted that Luke was written after Mathew.)  It could be that Mary didn't have any brothers, so Joseph, as Mary's betrothed, was her father's heir and therefore considered as his son.  Mary and Joseph may even have lived with her family, further solidfying Joseph's role as Heli's descendant and heir.

And why does Mathew give a skeleton outline of a geneology, while Luke's is exhaustive?  Mathew was writing to the Jews to prove Jesus was indeed the long awaited Jewish Messiah.  He emphasized the kingship of Christ by tracing the kings of Judah from David to the captivity.  He also seems to give the numbers of generations that he gives for a reason (I didn't find anyone who commented on this, but I'm such a numbers person I can't believe it is without meaning.)   

"So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations."  Mathew 1:17

He's missing one according to my count, I count 14 from Abraham to David, 14 from David to captivity, and 13 from captivity to Christ.  Not sure if this was an oversight on his part or a trascription error later, or what.  But what's interesting to me is that Mathew emphasizes the number of generations that he's giving, even though Luke's geneology leads me to believe that Mathew's is only a skeleton.  I don't really know what Mathew has in mind.  14 x 3= 42  What's the significance of 42?  Maybe nothing.  If you multiply the number of man by the number of God (6x7), you get 42.  I realize that's a stretch.  I mean who thinks about those kinds of things?  It could have simply been a mnemonic device.  Mathew seemed to group things in numbers, especially the numbers 3 and 7.  Or what about symmetry?  Fourteen generations from God's covenant with Abraham, really the beginning of the Jewish nation, until David, God's annointed.  Then fourteen generations of the nation of Israel rebelling against God until judgment (captivity).  Then fourteen generations of captivity (national, yes for Israel never really regained her freedom, but also, or perhaps mainly spiritual captivity), until Israel's Messiah, God's Anointed, finally comes.  Fourteen generations of promise.  Fourteen generations of rebellion.  Fourteen generations of captivity.  And now the fulfillment of the original promise was here.  I think I get it.  I think I get Mathew and why he gave the geneology of Christ the way he gave it.

Now for Luke.  Luke was probably a Gentile (Greek), though that's debated.  At any rate, he doesn't seem to have the same audience in mind that Mathew has.  Luke emphasizes that Jesus is the savior for all of mankind, not just the Jews.  Luke gives explanations of Jewish customs and feasts, that a Jewish audience would have no need of.  Luke is also quite thorough compared to the other gospels.  For example, he includes 18 parables not found in any other gospel.  In Luke 1:3, he gives the purpose of his gospel, to write "an orderly account". 

"Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in oder a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed."  Luke 1:1-4

Luke was a physician, a profession requiring careful observation.  Precise details were important to Luke.  He's thorough, consulting multiple eyewitnesses.  His gospel is chronological.  No skipping generations for him.  In fact, Luke takes Christ's geneology all the way back to Adam, emphasizing more the humanity of Jesus, where Mathew emphasized His kingship.  Both were important.  Both were necessary.  Mathew and Luke are both right, but they're emphasizing different aspects of Christ's incarnation.

Immanuel means "God with us", God in flesh.  To redeem His people, God had to become man.  He also had to temporarily lay aside His kingship, only to pick it up again later, forever.

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  Philippians 2:5-11

So Christ only laid aside His kingship temporarily.  God had promised David that his kingdom would be established forever, and Jesus was and is the fulfillment of this promise.

"When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom... And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you.  Your throne shall be established forever."  2 Samuel 7:12, 16

Mathew was writing to a Jewish audience, so he emphasized the Jewish prophecies about the Messiah, that Jesus was the long-awaited, once and future King of Israel, the son of David who will rule forever.  Luke's gospel presents Jesus as Savior to the Gentiles, so he emphasized the humanity over the Jewishness of Jesus.  He goes back to Genesis 3, showing that Jesus is that promised seed of Adam who would crush the Serpent's head.  They're both right.  Jesus is King of the Jews and He's the Son of Man.  He's the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the World.  Let's remember to thank God this Advent season for including both of Christ's geneologies in His Word.

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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.