In Matthew chapter one it gives the ancestry of Jesus. In Luke chapter 3 it gives the ancestry again but it is different. I have been told that Luke is actually Mary’s ancestry and Matthew is Joseph’s ancestry. If this is true, then why does it say in Luke at the start of the ancestry that Joseph was the son of Heli and in Matthew it says Joseph was the son of Jacob? Are they skipping generations? We’re Joseph and Mary related? Why doesn’t it say this is the Mary’s ancestors?
Thank you for your question. You have hit upon some questions that are sort of complex to explain:
Both Matthew 1 and Luke 3 contain genealogies of Jesus. But as you noted, they are different. Luke’s genealogy starts at Adam and goes to David. Matthew’s genealogy starts at Abraham and goes to David. When the genealogies get to David, they split with David’s sons: Solomon (Joseph’s side); and, Nathan (Mary’s side). The genealogy in Matthew is for Joseph (his legal father), and the one in Luke is for Mary (who was also of the royal Davidic line). It was customary to mention the genealogy through the father even though it was clearly known that it was through Mary. Thus by both His mother and His earthly father, Jesus had a right to the throne of Israel. You can think of this as though the genealogy in Luke is Christ’s real line, while the one in Matthew is His reputed line.
As you noted, Matthew says that Joseph’s father was Jacob, but Luke says that Joseph’s father was Heli. Mary’s father was Heli, but men in ancient times often regarded their sons-in-law as their own sons. So, we can interpret that Joseph was “the son of Heli” to mean that he was his son-in-law, as the husband of his daughter Mary (as in Ruth 1:11, 12). Joseph’s name is only introduced instead of Mary’s, in conformity with the Jewish custom in such tables.
This also has to be considered in light of the fact that Matthew gives the descendants of David down the royal line (i.e. who was heir to the throne at any given time), but Luke gives the particular line to which Joseph belonged. Actually, these two passages and explanations complement each other:
Matthew 1 clearly explains that Joseph is Mary’s husband. Matthew recorded this for legal purposes, to show the Jews that Christ was the Messiah. It was the custom of the Jews to trace and record the father’s descent. The Jews simply saw Christ as legally Joseph’s Son (John 6:42).
Joseph’s lineage was also given to show that Jesus was, in fact, born of a virgin. If Joseph had been Christ’s natural father, then Christ could never have sat on the throne of David, because of a curse God placed on one of Joseph’s ancestors. This ancestor, Jechonias, is mentioned in Matthew 1:11-12. He is also referred to as Coniah in Jeremiah 22:24-30. Verse 30 states, “Thus says the LORD, Write you this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.” This man was so evil, that God cursed him and his descendants. Jeconiah (as his name is spelled in the Old Testament) did go on to have children (I Chronicles 3:17). But, this curse was fulfilled because none of his children went on to rule from the throne of David.
So how could Christ, a descendant of David, qualify to rule from the throne? This is how Luke 3 complements the Matthew account. Mary’s lineage did not have this curse as Joseph’s did. And Mary descended from Nathan—one of David’s sons! (see Luke 3:31). God honored Nathan, and made him the ancestor to the promised King—Jesus Christ—who would sit on David’s throne forever (Luke 1:31-33). This fulfills God’s promise of establishing David’s throne for eternity!
According to Israel’s law, if a daughter were the only heir to the father, she would inherit all his possessions, inheritance and rights—but only if she married within her tribe (Numbers 27:1-8; 36:6-8). Since Mary had no brothers who could be heirs to her father, she was able to transmit David’s royal inheritance—and the right to the throne—to her husband upon marriage. This made Joseph heir to Heli, giving him the right to David’s throne. This inheritance was then passed to Christ.
The genealogies in Matthew and Luke were both recorded to show Christ’s right to the throne. Matthew’s account showed that through Joseph’s genealogy, Christ was a legal descendant of Jeconiah (Coniah), but could not sit on and rule from the throne because of the curse. This account also proved how Christ was born of a virgin woman, because the curse would have passed onto Christ if Joseph were, in fact, His natural father. Of course, Christ was really the Son of God—begotten by the Holy Spirit!
Luke’s account showed that through Mary’s genealogy, Jesus was a descendant of Nathan—David’s son. This allowed the inheritance to pass to Joseph, who in turn passed it onto Christ. This firmly shows Christ to be completely human, yet a true descendant of David. This allows Him to claim the throne legitimately as a true human descendant of David, and as the adopted heir of the kingly line of Joseph.
I hope this helps.