Who was Joseph's Father?Copyright (c), 2004, All Rights Reserved
Q. Who was Joseph's father?
The alleged contradiction is that Luke says Joseph's father was Heli, and Matthew says that Joseph's father was Jacob. Here are the two verses cited as evidence for this alleged contradiction:
Sometimes, in genealogical records, the name of an ancestor is given in place of the father's name (e.g. Matthew 1:1 "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David,"). However it is apparently not this type of usage that makes the accounts of Matthew and Luke different, for the lists themselves are quite different from David to Jesus:
Matthew's account lists the genealogy of Joseph as descended from the Kings of the Jews. Matthew presents the Messiah as the King of the Jews. Luke's account has none of the Kings of the Jews, but begins with Nathan the son of David.
Some commentators argue for Luke's account as giving the genealogy of Mary, but there is no evidence for this and the text itself says "Joseph, the son of Heli", so that this is clearly not the genealogy of Mary, but Joseph.
Lack of Opposition by the Jews
If there were a contradiction in the genealogical lists of Matthew and Luke, the ones most likely to know this (the Jews) are the same ones who would be the most likely to use it against the Christians. Many Jews opposed belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and went from city to city to oppose the Christians. However, there is no record of any Jewish writer (or any other nationality) from the early enemies of Christianity arguing that these genealogical tables were incorrect. The easiest way for a Jewish enemy to discredit Jesus, was to show that he was not a son of David, and this could only be done by showing the genealogical records to either be wrong, or contradictory.
The primary purpose for the genealogical record being included in the texts of Matthew and Luke are for the purpose of demonstrating that Jesus was descended from David. The evidence of history is that many Jews were converted and recognized these records as credible.
Most Ancient Explanation
The oldest mention of any question concerning these two genealogies is in the account of Julius Africanus (~200 A.D. - ~245 A.D.). In his account ("The Epistle to Aristides"), Julius hands down the tradition from the family of Jesus, how that Joseph was the son of Matthan, but also the legal heir of Heli.
In this account, the name Melchi is apparently used to refer to Matthat (see the following statement, where Melchi is referred to as in the same position as Matthan -- i.e. 3rd from the end). Here then is the account given by Julius Africanus (from the "Master Christian Library", Ages Software):
Here is a chart showing the relationship:
The Skeptic's Charge Against Matthew's Veracity
It is apparent that the number of generations from David to Joseph listed by Matthew and Luke are not close. It is also apparent that Matthew has omitted some names that we know of. For example, we know from 2 Kings that three generations (Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah) have been omitted from Matthew's account between Joram and Uzziah. These types of omission are referred to as "mistakes" by the skeptic with the goal being to attack the credibility of the witness. However, it is not a mistake, and can be demonstrated that the Jews often referred to descendants of a man as being "sons". In just that manner, Jesus is referred to as the son of David (Matthew 1:1).
A good reason to omit names was to aid in memorization. In this approach, the lineage could be broken up into divisions with similar (and memorizable) lists. The statement given by Matthew implies just such an arrangement:
These names can be broken up into three lists of 14 names each as follows:
The skeptic cannot prove that the tradition handed down by the early Christian writers is not true, nor can it be shown that it is improbable. Neither can any witness be brought forward which can show an account which can be demonstrated to be more accurate. Thus, the skeptic has no basis for declaring the two accounts to be in contradiction.
-- David A. Duncan