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Why are the genealogies of Matthew and Luke so different?

February 3rd, 2013

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, I’m sure you will know the feeling. You are reading the Bible, trying to squeeze all you can out of God’s word and hear his voice clearly, then all of our sudden your style of reading changes. Whereas moments before you were reading and re-reading verses in deep concentration, now you are skimming over whole pages, and if you have a more traditional translation, trying to remember what ‘begat’ means. Thats right! You’ve hit a genealogy.

Now some people are very fond of family trees, and so it seems are several of the Bible’s authors, not just in the Old Testament either. Two of the four gospel writers decide to devote good space to Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38.

Now, while these passages don’t make for the most rivetting reading, they are incredibly important. They ground the biblical events in history. When a biblical author includes a genealogy, what they’re saying is: ‘This really happened! These are real people who exist in the flow of history, not in the land of fables and fairy tales!’ And regarding the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth (‘begat’ by Joseph and Mary), that is a noble and vital goal.

Except of course, if you get the genealogy wrong!

And that is the accusation that has been put to Matthew and/or Luke by many critics. Their evidence seems pretty conclusive. Matthew and Luke’s genealogies do not square up with each other. Okay, from Abraham to David, they’re consistent, a couple of alternative spellings here and there, but nothing overly problematic, but then they veer away from each other wildly. Matthew begats (I have no idea if I’m using this word correctly anymore, but its a great word!) Jesus from the line of David’s son, Solomon. Luke, from David’s son, Nathan.

This inconsistency has been picked up by a number of the new atheists of the last few years and their concern is a serious one: If the gospels can’t even agree on Jesus’ family tree, how can you really trust them on anything?

It’s a very good question.

However, it does have an answer.

In fact, it has several answers, given by Christian scholars since the early church. Granted some are more plausible than others, and I am not going to give a complete overview. I will however leave you with 3 that I have found helpful in thinking through this difficult issue:

1) Genealogies are not what they seem!

The first is less an answer, more an observation. It would be true to say that nobody really understands the genre of genealogy in the ancient world. Reading lists like those in Matthew and Luke 2000 years later, It looks very simple, like they are writing the ancient equivalent of a modern family tree. Unfortunately, its not quite that straightforward. In ancient genealogies, it was accepted both in and out of the Bible to skip whole generations in genealogies (‘son of’ could mean ‘grandson of’ or even ‘great great grandson of’), and even more confusingly, there are precedents in ancient literature for authors to throw people into these lists who weren’t actually blood relations (with no apparent damage done to their scholarly credentials). As John Nolland sums it up:

‘Ancient genealogies were used for a complex variety of purposes, not all of which can be reconstructed successfully by historical inquiry from such a distance… A complex history of societal function is here reflected, a function largely determined by ancestry but also affected by factors to which we no longer have more than speculative access.’ (Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 35a, Luke).

So there!

While this is helpful to keep in mind, if taken too far, it does seem to drain the genealogies of any of their historical significance. But what can be said is that we must make sure we approach all Biblical genealogies with humility, understanding that there may be elements of these lists that are beyond us, but still confident that they are, at least, largely historical in nature. So, with that in mind, what of our two genealogies?

2) Luke casts doubt on his own genealogy himself!

In Luke 3:23 says:

‘Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph the son of Heli… etc, etc’

Now, this could be taken to mean that Jesus was only supposed to be the son of Joseph, but this supposition was false. As Luke has already been at pains to reveal, Jesus’ true father is God. However, it would also be very possible to read it in the original Greek, as ‘the rest of this list is a little suspect, but these were the best sources I could find, so they’ll have to do!’

This would preserve Luke’s integrity as a historian as he is revealing a potentially shaky source. It also preserves the infallibility of Scripture as it was indeed supposed that Joseph’s father was Heli. However, this supposition was incorrect, it was in fact Jacob (Mt 1:16)

While this is possible, it does seem again to make the inclusion of the list a little pointless! Therefore, I would like to suggest the alternative that I go with…

3) Matthew’s genealogy is the genealogy of Joseph, Luke’s genealogy is the genealogy is the genealogy of Mary!

This is, of course, a very neat solution to the problem. Joseph’s dad was Jacob, who was a descendant of Solomon. Mary’s dad was Heli, who was a descendant of Nathan. Job done!

The only problem is that Luke 3 does not seem to leave that option open to us. Or does it? There was a tradition laid down in the Old Testament, by which if a woman had no brothers, upon her marriage, her father could adopt her husband, so that he could have a male heir in his family, and therefore continue his family line through the husband of his daughter (see Numbers 27:3-8, Ezra 2:61, 1 Chr 2:34-35) . Therefore, if Mary had no brothers, her father Heli would have been likely to adopt Joseph according to this biblical  tradition when they got married. If this happened, Joseph would have had two family lines- one by birth, which is what Matthew uses and one by adoption- which Luke uses.

Of course, this may leave you scratching your head, wondering why God made it so complicated. But complexity and apparent misunderstanding were always going to be on the agenda the minute that God ordained that he would speak through human authors, living in specific cultures. This is why it is so important that we become students of God’s word, and appreciate it as both a cultural artefact and a divine revelation. If we miss either of these, we miss the Bible!

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Are you who you say you are?

September 21st, 2012

Was there a time in your life that you were closer to God than you are today? If you’re like me, your spiritual drift didn’t happen on purpose. Like a small puncture in a tyre, your spiritual passion slowly slipped away. Instead of being a fully devoted follower of Christ, you’ve unintentionally become a full-time mum, or a full-time student, or a full-time career pursuer – and a part-time follower of Christ.

Maybe like so many, you’re a member of a church, but you’re secretly ashamed of your past. Perhaps you’ve heard about the love of God, but you’re still not convinced that God totally loves you. Or though you’re convinced God exists, your prayer life isn’t what it should be. Perhaps like many well-meaning Christians, you know what God wants you to do, but you still do whatever you want. Or you genuinely want to trust God as your provider, but you find it so hard to actually do it. Possibly you believe in heaven and hell, but sharing your faith with others is still way too intimidating for you. Or you may believe in God but don’t see much need for the church.

This Sunday we launch a brand new preaching series, ‘I believe in God, but…’,  in which we’ll address many of these struggles. We’ll take an honest look at the contrast between how we live and what we claim to believe with the aim of closing the gap between our behaviour and beliefs.

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Do you want to get more out of the Bible?

August 17th, 2012

This week Jonathan will be starting a mini-series called ‘Message Sent’. Its going to be all about reading the Bible. There are probably few things that cause Christians to feel guilty than the topic of ‘reading the Bible’. Sometimes it’s a matter of putting aside time, sometimes it’s a matter of enagaging with a book in an electronic age and sometimes it just doesn’t seem to make any sense. All of these things could make Jonathan’s new series a particularly unpalatable proposition!

However, the intention is not to initiate a church-wide guilt trip or even a new ‘I-must-read- my-Bible’ dutifulness. This series will be about falling in love with God’s word, while providing practical help as to how to actually get more out of the Bible.

Therefore, to accompany this series, we are going to be using the Churchcentral blog to give you a series of Bible reading notes on the book of Acts. We’ll work through the whole book in small manageable chunks, helping you understand any tricky bits, giving you some questions to focus your reading, and even providing further study tips.

To start you off, here are two resources that we would recommend to help you in your study of God’s word and which we refer to in the reading notes every now and then.

Good resources

1)     Bible gateway.com- this great website allows you to view a passage in any version of the Bible you want. The best thing about it though is the search facility that means that you can find out whenever a word or phrase is used in the Bible to help you in your study of God’s word.

2)     Phone apps- If you’ve got a smart phone, you can get the Bible on your phone. There are loads of apps like this, here are two good ones (there are many more):

- Bible (lifechurch.tv)- this is a free app that includes the Bible in pretty much every version you can imagine. The only drawback is that it has to connect to the internet, but you can download most versions (but not NIV) so you can use them whenever you want.

- NIV Bible (Tecarta, INC)- This costs £5.49 and is only the latest version of the NIV. However, it doesn’t need to connect to the internet and has excellent note taking features. It also allows you to do detailed searches for individual words and phrases to help you find that elusive verse or to help you study a theme that appears throughout the Bible.

- ESV study Bible (Crossway)- a bit more expensive (about a tenner) but this has a brilliant study guide to make sure you don’t get the wrong end of the stick. Its also packed full of helpful articles by Bible scholars like John Piper.

So, if you find it difficult to get into God’s word, or maybe you’ve got stuck in your Bible reading, why not go through Acts with us over the next couple of months? We’ll be kicking things off on Monday.

How to get Rich

February 3rd, 2012

Most of us spend our entire lives trying to get rich. We work and scheme and worry in pursuit of this ever-elusive goal. And yet while we accumulate more and more stuff (and the worries that come with it), we never feel rich.

But what if we’ve already achieved that goal, and we don’t even realise it? What if the thing we’re chasing is already in our hands? And yet we never stop to consider how to be rich. Enticed by our culture, we focus so much on achieving an ever-increasing standard of living that we never realise when, in fact, we become rich.

So, this Sunday we’re going to be launching a four part series exploring a passage of Scripture written specifically to the rich, in order to help us learn how to be rich. In part one of the series, we’ll discuss the seemingly preposterous question: “What if you are, in fact, already rich?” Because the reality is that if you have a place to live, food in the cupboards and clothes to wear, then by the world’s standards you are rich.

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Nehemiah: Bold Leadership

December 8th, 2011

Here’s the third crucially important lesson from the story of Nehemiah:

Protecting your spiritual integrity requires bold leadership.

If the story of Nehemiah teaches us anything, it teaches that clear standards by themselves aren’t enough. The people made all these vows, but then promptly disregarded them! So how can we guard against falling into the same trap?

Well, that’s where bold leadership comes in. If we’re in a position of leadership – parents, bosses, if you carry any leadership in the church – when we see the shadow of someone just about to cross a line, we need to be bold in addressing it.

We also need to be under bold leadership. We need to be in a church where the Bible’s clearly taught; where its standards are upheld. We need to have people around us who will speak up if they see that we’re in potential danger. We need to have friends in our life like Nehemiah – people who won’t condone or turn a blind eye to behaviour that’s just wrong. Do you have that? If you don’t, won’t you give someone permission to be like that with you?

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Nehemiah: Protecting Spiritual Integrity

December 7th, 2011

Here’s the second crucially important lesson from the story of Nehemiah:

Protecting your spiritual integrity requires clear standards.

If we’re serious about finishing well, especially in those areas where we’re susceptible to fall, we’ve got to have clear standards. A standard is deciding how far, and how much, and when, and who. It’s deciding in these areas, “Here’s what I’ll do, and here’s what I’m going to refuse to do… and that’s how I’m going to live.” A standard’s like an immovable object against which you can measure your progress. It’s something that gives you a point of reference because it doesn’t change. It’s not vague… It’s very tangible.

  • How many nights will you be away from your family?
  • How many hours of TV or computer?
  • Who are you going to date?
  • How far’s far enough?
  • How long are you going to stay?
  • Are you going to drink?
  • If you travel a lot with work, you need clear guidelines that you’ll stick to.

 

Maybe you’re thinking, “This is all a bit heavy. You’re really starting to load me down here!” But God’s saying, “I’m not loading you down. I’m trying to protect you because I love you and care deeply about what happens to you.” We need clear standards… we all do.

 

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Nehemiah: Potential to Drift

December 6th, 2011

The story of Nehemiah teaches us three hugely important lessons. Here’s the first one:

No matter what God has done for you, in you, or through you – you have the potential to drift right back into the same mess he saved you from.

How many of you have done this: Your life’s a wreck, you come to God, things start going well, and you decide you don’t need him again?

It’s a dangerous game! Because each time you disobey God you redraw the lines of what’s acceptable… and before you know it, you’ve completely lost sight of him. I’ve seen it so many times – friends of mine who’d experienced so much of God; and now it’s as though none of it ever happened, it’s as though they never knew him.

Maybe you you’re thinking that could never happen to you. You think you’re the exception. You’d never turn your back on God. But you know something? This story illustrates in a powerful way that no-one’s outside the realm of drifting. The fact that you’ve seen God do something incredible is a great kick-start to get you going. But that’s not enough to ensure you finish well; it doesn’t guarantee a good ending.

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Treasure

October 21st, 2011

Some of you may have heard people claim that money is the root of all evil. It’s not. It’s also the root of all kinds of good things. So it’s not altogether bad. You can do good or bad things with your money. You could put it to good use and provide for single mums and widows and those in need; or you could use it badly and blow it all at the casino. It’s just an opportunity. And you can use it well or badly. So money isn’t evil. But the love of money, which leads to greed, is the root of all kinds of evil, just like Scripture says.

That’s perhaps why Scripture has a whole lot to say about money, wealth and possessions. It speaks of money on more than 800 occasions. And roughly 25 percent of the recorded teaching of Jesus was about what we do with our money.

One very illuminating passage of teaching from Jesus is found in Matthew chapter 6, where he says that you can’t serve both God and money. Now, for some of us, money is our functional god. It’s more important than the real God. You need to choose: Is Jesus my God; or is it money, possessions and wealth?

Jesus goes on to say that your treasure follows your heart; meaning if you want to see what you really love, value and esteem – then just look at where you spend your money. For example, I’m a dad. I can’t say to my kids, “I love you. I just don’t provide food.” They’d say, “No, you don’t love us because your money follows your heart.”

As we’ve been working through the Old Testament book of Nehemiah this term, we’ve seen how the people of God rose to the challenge facing them and were making phenomenal progress. However, as we’ll see this Sunday, the whole work was threatened by disputes among the people over money. The hearts of some were more devoted to money than God and people. And the consequences were potentially devastating. However, Nehemiah’s wise leadership pointed the way forward for them… and for us today.

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Happy Music

October 14th, 2011

Have you ever noticed the ‘happy music’ interludes in a movie? It’s the moment when music begins to play, and you begin to watch the characters in the film start to make positive forward progress. It’s the moment where things are going right: The couple’s falling in love; or the project is advancing in some way; or the sports team is learning to work together. It’s the happy music moment.

Now, if the story of Nehemiah was to be turned into a movie, I’m convinced that chapter 3 would be the happy music moment. Nehemiah has come back to Jerusalem. He’s come to inspire the people and lead them in rebuilding the walls. He gathers them all together and says, “Come let us rebuild the wall”. Everyone rises up in response to this and they believe that they can do it. And it’s at the moment when they say, “Let us start rebuilding” that the music would begin to build. This is the high point of the story so far. It’s the happy music moment of the book.

However, there’s another thing that I’ve noticed in films. Have you ever noticed that it’s always straight after the happy music moment that something goes really wrong in the story? That’s what builds the tension that makes you want to keep watching. But it also reflects something about real life. It reflects something in particular about the Christian life. The Bible describes how we have an enemy (the devil) who is furious when he sees the work of God advancing. He’s happy to see it in disarray and lacking in faith and purpose. But whenever he sees God’s people beginning to gain fresh impetus it strikes fear and fury into the enemy camp. And so he lashes out and attacks God’s work.

And that’s exactly what happens to Nehemiah. Straight after this exhilarating moment where everyone is working together and the project is advancing, we jump into chapter 4 and the people of God are hit with opposition and trouble in many different forms.

What we’re going to see as we work through this passage on Sunday are some pretty amazing parallels with our context. The tactics used to undermine Nehemiah are very similar to those used against us today. We can learn a tremendous amount not only from noting the different lines of attack that Nehemiah faced, but also from seeing how he overcame them.

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How to eat an Elephant

October 7th, 2011

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! It’s a principle that Nehemiah applies to the task of rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem. It was a mammoth task. You’re looking at a wall that’s 15 to 20 feet high, 3 to 4 feet wide, upwards of 2½ miles in circumference that has been broken for 141 years. Once it’s rebuilt, then the gates must be set in place. Once that’s completed and they could ensure safety, then they’d rebuild the houses and the businesses, and then people would move in.

It must have seemed an impossible task to Nehemiah. But lay this brick here and that brick there? That he could do. And so he broke down the project, gathered all the workers around him, and assigned them each a bite-sized task to complete.

Often the things God asks us to do seem huge, almost unmanageable. Take, for instance, Jesus’ commission to all of us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” How am I going to do that? I have to be at work tomorrow. And besides, airlines tickets are expensive!

If God said “Go into all of Birmingham and preach the gospel,” does that seem more manageable? No! It still seems huge, doesn’t it? But I did a little figuring, and if everyone who attended one of our sites last Sunday were to introduce just one person to Jesus every year (and those people did the same!) it would take a mere 12 years for the entire city to become Christians! Now, for the cynics among us, I do realize the “yeah, but…” weaknesses in the way I estimated and calculated this. But no matter how you slice it, it’s a whole lot more attainable!

We’re going to learn this Sunday how Nehemiah’s wise leadership got a seemingly impossible task done in record time. There are huge lessons (and encouragements) for us as we seek to do something great for God in our city.

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