Contradictions – Jesus’ Grandfather

On a fairly regular basis members of my congregation recommend books and other reading material to me.  I like this, because it lets me know what they’re reading.  Of course I have a list of books to read that is several miles long, but I’m always happy to hear of new things.  Sometimes, what is brought to my attention is an attempt to undermine Christianity, most typically through undermining the Bible.

So it is that I came into possession of a list of Biblical contradictions in a book a member is reading.  I’ve taken it on myself to start going through the list, item by item, to research the matter.  Is it really a contradiction?  Are there explanations that eliminate the contradiction?  I thought I’d start sharing them with you, in case you run across them someday as well!

#1 – Who is Jesus’ paternal grandfather?  Matthew 1:16 claims Jacob was Joseph’s father.  Luke 3:23 claims that Joseph was the son of Heli.  Sounds like a pretty major contradiction, doesn’t it?

Possibly, but not necessarily.

First, we need to determine if we’re pretty confident that we have a good translation of both texts and there aren’t reasons to suspect one or the other.  Yes, we have great copies of these texts and there is nothing in any of the copies to suggest that there was some early alteration of them, intentional or otherwise.

So now we need to deal with the genealogies.  Firstly, we note that Matthew pretty much starts his Gospel with Jesus’ genealogy, while Luke provides his later, between Jesus’ birth and baptism.  David’s genealogy begins by introducing Jesus as the son (heir) of David, while Luke’s genealogy begins with God the Father claiming Jesus as his Son.   Further, the genealogies are structured differently.  Matthew begins with Abraham and works forward to Jesus.  Luke begins with Jesus and works back to Adam.

It seems clear from these structural differences that the authors have different purposes in mind in providing them.  Matthew is intent on showing Jesus as the re-establishment of the Davidic kingship, an expectation of the Messiah.  Luke is showing Jesus as the new Adam, the Son of God who is without sin.

But, higgledy-piggledy, either Heli or Jacob was Joseph’s dad, right?  Of course.  Depending on what you mean by dad.  Remember that the Jews had a provision that if a man died married but without an heir, his brother was responsible to marry the widow and produce an heir for his dead brother.  This was the levirate law.  This was dictated for God’s people in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, but it is common in various places and times in human history.  This could be an explanation for two different names – one being the name of the actual man who fathered Joseph, the other being the name of the dead brother.  Since we don’t have any more information on either figure, it’s impossible to sort out.  But it doesn’t have to be a contradiction.  There are logical explanations for why two different men might be both considered to be Jesus’ paternal grandfather.

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