Friday, November 14, 2008

Get in Line with Jesus

From what I have discerned in the Old Testament, family lineage was extremely important. Who your father was determined what lot you had in life; everything from where you owned land to who you were allowed to marry. In the case of the Jewish tribe of the Levites, it even determined what your job was.

There are several chapters in the Old Testament which consist of little more than lineage information, most of which concentrate almost exclusively on male offspring, with only occasional mention of specific women, and of the women mentioned, usually only a reference of the mothers. This is consistent with the primarily patriarchal culture of the Biblical times.

The anticipated Messiah was expected to be of the lineage of the great king David based on prophesies within the Scriptures. Thus, when Jesus arrived on the scene, it would have been important to know to which family lineage Jesus belonged.

Get in Line with Jesus
In 2 Samuel 7:8-16, God gives Nathan the prophet a message to tell king David which culminated with the line that "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever." There were no ifs, ands, or buts. There were no conditions. This was God's promise. (Note: David's son Solomon later records that there were actually conditions to this promise in 1 Kings 8:25, but for some reason this passage is largely ignored.)

Of course, the kingdom of David has long since passed away. This leads believing-scholars of the Scripture with the task of redefining the word “forever”. It has evolved, away from meaning continuously lasting, to meaning lasting for eternity from some undefined starting point. The much-sought-after Jewish Messiah was supposed to herald the start of this forever-kingdom. So if Jesus was the Messiah, it meant that many Jews would have expected him to have ties to the Davidic line.

Well, lucky for us, both Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) present lineages tying Jesus to David! Unlucky for them, they don't match. Not even loosely. Below are the lineages with all the extraneous text removed.

According to Matthew According to Luke
  1. David
  2. Solomon
  3. Rehoboam
  4. Abijah
  5. Asa
  6. Jehoshaphat
  7. Jehoram
  8. Uzziah
  9. Jotham
  10. Ahaz
  11. Hezekiah
  12. Manasseh
  13. Amon
  14. Josiah
  15. Jeconiah
  16. Shealtiel
  17. Zerubbabel
  18. Abiud
  19. Eliakim
  20. Azor
  21. Zadok
  22. Akim
  23. Eliud
  24. Eleazar
  25. Matthan
  26. Jacob
  27. Joseph
  28. Jesus
  1. David
  2. Nathan
  3. Mattatha
  4. Menna
  5. Melea
  6. Eliakim
  7. Jonam
  8. Joseph
  9. Judah
  10. Simeon
  11. Levi
  12. Matthat
  13. Jorim
  14. Eliezer
  15. Joshua
  16. Er
  17. Elmadam
  18. Cosam
  19. Addi
  20. Melki
  21. Neri
  22. Shealtiel
  23. Zerubbabel
  24. Rhesa
  25. Joanan
  26. Joda
  27. Josech
  28. Semein
  29. Mattathias
  30. Maath
  31. Naggai
  32. Esli
  33. Nahum
  34. Amos
  35. Mattathias
  36. Joseph
  37. Jannai
  38. Melki
  39. Levi
  40. Matthat
  41. Heli
  42. Joseph
  43. Jesus
Besides David, Joseph, and Jesus, they don't really match at all. The lists share Shealtiel and Zerubbabel roughly in the middle, but there is no guarantee that these are supposed to be the same people because Shealtiel is listed with different fathers between the lists. So just like there is more than one John in the world, this may just be a coincidence.

At the end of Matthew's lineage, he notes how neatly that there were three sets of 14 generations in the lineage; 14 from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the time of exile in Babylon, and 14 from the exile to Jesus. In Luke's lineage, there are 42 generations between David and Jesus. Quite a staggering difference that blows to pieces Matthew's sense of symmetry.

Also at contrast, Matthew's list seems to be a who's who of Bible figures. Solomon, the son of the woman David had an affair with, killed her husband, and then married, the rest of the succession of the kings of Judah, etc. Matthew seems to have followed the royal bloodline of David. Luke's list beyond David is made up of many people that you can't trace in the Bible. There are some famous names, but they are obviously not connected with the same famous people, like Eliezer and Shealtiel. Some names appear in the Bible only in Luke's list, like Jorim and Matthat.

Biblical scholars explain this discrepancy between the two lists by saying that Matthew presents the lineage of Joseph, while Luke presents the lineage of Mary. This explanation is only semi-plausible due to several issues.

First, we see that the texts appear to be describing the lineage of sons and fathers. In Matthew we see “...Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” In Luke we see “[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, ...” It would have been very easy for Luke to have said “this is the lineage of Mary” if that was what he was recording, but he didn't.

There is one school of thought that Joseph was Heli's “son” just as Ruth was called a daughter of Naomi when she married Naomi's son in Ruth 1:11. However, I am less inclined to believe this approach based on the fact that Ruth was a woman, and the Old Testament tended to treat women as though they were owned by the husband and fell under the husband's lineage upon marriage.

Second, the culture was primarily patriarchal. The lineage of a woman would not have meant much as far as bloodline inheritance. Under the Law given by God, all inheritance was according to the male's lineage with the exception of the case where a father dies without any sons. Only in that case could the inheritance be given to a daughter (Numbers 27:1-9). So for Luke to record Mary's lineage from David doesn't make sense according to the culture and legal understanding of the time. This is just circumstantial evidence, but it is worth considering.

Third, there are many lineages recorded in the Bible. These lineages seem to represent the most important bloodlines to God. Matthew's lineage is built largely on previously written lineages in accordance with this trend. Luke's lineage from David is a lineage which is not traced anywhere else. Again, this is just circumstantial evidence, but it is worth considering.

Fourth, there is still the big discrepancy between the number of generations that passed from David to Jesus in the two lists. Although this is rather weak, as people do have kids at different ages.

Fifth, and probably foremost, according to God's Law, Biblical bloodline inheritance comes from the father. (See Deuteronomy 25:5-6 for an exception of a surrogate father for a widow.) God was Jesus' Father. It would not have mattered what Joseph's lineage was (Matthew), because Joseph was not the father. It would not have mattered what Mary's lineage was (supposedly Luke), because Mary was not the father.

Because God was not born downstream of David, you can't call Jesus of the Davidic lineage. This makes both of these contradicting lineages pointless. Even Jesus agrees with me on this one! In Mark 12:35-36, Matthew 22:41-46, and Luke 20:41-43, Jesus mocks the idea that He is of the Davidic lineage.

So, in summary, what can we say about these lineages? They appear to contradict each other. They are totally pointless to have in the Bible. And ultimately, they were probably fictitious creations used to help persuade prospect converts that Jesus was the Messiah.

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