A favorite tactic of Bible skeptics is to point out seeming discrepancies or inaccuracies in the Bible text.
One of the first things they point out is that it looks like Joseph has two different fathers when you compare Matthew and Luke’s genealogies.
First of all, we need to remember that the Jews were meticulous record keepers, especially when it came to genealogies. These records were easily accessible during the time Jesus was on earth and thereafter. Yet, there is not a single objection to either writer’s account. In fact, the genealogical record is actually confirmed in Scripture when the Jews object to Jesus calling Himself the bread of heaven.
And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? – John 6:42
The question of “two fathers” is easily reconciled. It may look like the skeptics have a point until a careful examination of these two verses is done.
And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. – Matthew 1:16
And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.
Both writers mention Joseph in their record of Jesus’ family tree, but Luke includes a parenthetical phrase to help us understand what he means. The phrase “as was supposed” means that Joseph, by all outward and natural appearances, is the father of Jesus. Luke mentions this to point out that this was an improper supposition.
Joseph was not Jesus’s blood/biological father. He was His adoptive father. The lineage that Luke records is that of Mary, the daughter of Heli, Jesus’ mother. The Jewish historians often did not concern themselves with the term “son-in-law.” When Joseph married Mary, he was then considered to be a son of Heli. Luke’s lineage, as we will discuss in a later post, traces the bloodline of Jesus all the way back to Adam. Luke’s audience was Gentiles who needed a Savior that was for more than just Jews.
Joseph was the legal father of Jesus through adoption when he married Mary. Therefore, Matthew records the branch of Jesus’ family tree through him. This is the legal or royal line that the Jews (Matthew’s primary audience) would have had interest. We will learn more about the details of Matthew’s record in a later post as well.
After all, the reason they called it a family tree is that it has branches!