Question and Answer

The Genealogies of Jesus

Question:

The New Testament gives Jesus' genealogy ending with Joseph but Joseph was not his biological father. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost. Mary was his biological mother, so why wasn't she mentioned?

Answer:

One possible response to your question is that the genealogy in Luke is actually the genealogy of Mary. Some Reformed scholars have held to this interpretation. For example, William Hendriksen says, "It is not true that the genealogy presented in Luke 3:23-38 is necessarily that of Joseph. On the contrary, it is probably that of Mary" (Commentary on Luke, p. 225). The same view was held by J. Norval Geldenhuys ("That Matthew gives the family tree of Joseph and Luke that of Mary also fits in beautifully with the contents of the first chapters of their Gospels," NICNT Commentary on Luke, p. 152).

In fact, the view that Luke's genealogy is of Mary is perhaps the most popular view among evangelicals in general. "Matthew 1:1-16 gives the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph.... Luke 3:23-38, on the other hand, seems to record the genealogical line of Mary herself..." (Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 316). "[in the two genealogies we have] two different lines of ancestors, one traced through His legal father, Joseph, and the other though His actual mother, Mary" (Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, p. 385).

My own opinion, however, is that both genealogies trace Jesus' birth through Joseph. That view is very ably expounded and defended in Chapter VIII of J. Gresham Machen's The Virgin Birth of Christ and is favored by many modern New Testament scholars as well.

Matthew's account focuses on Jesus' claim to be the Son of David. This is also true of Luke's account. Matthew mentions Mary ("the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born"). Luke does not, by name, though Luke 3:23 does imply the virgin birth ("Jesus ... being the son [as was supposed] of Joseph"). Such indirection strongly suggests the other-than-human origin of Jesus. And, interestingly, the beginning and end of Matthew's genealogy record 'miracle' conceptions (Sarah and Mary).

The question is, why the prominence given to Joseph? He was the representative of David's line, hence Joseph was Jesus' legal rather than his biological father. God purposed to preserve David's line because of his plan to send his Son Jesus to be the Redeemer. Because Joseph was Mary's husband, Jewish law regarded Jesus as his son. In other words, it was God who "implanted" Jesus in David's line. This was not by way of an act of Joseph, but of God.

These two genealogies present difficulties, but to face these difficulties is for another time!

I hope I have shed some light on this subject. Thank you for writing.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.

The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.

You will receive an answer by email. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

Return to Formatted Page