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NLT Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, and Jesus’ Genealogy (Luke 3:23-38)

Another difficult topic is reconciling the Luke account of Jesus’ genealogical record with Matthew’s account. The following is how the study Bibles treat the issue.

NLT Study Bible:

3:23-38 This genealogy reverses Matthew’s order (Matt 1:1-17). Luke lists Jesus’ lineage back to Adam, possibly to show Jesus’ connection with all humanity as the Son of God (3:38). Matthew’s genealogy descends from Abraham to Joseph, highlighting Jesus’ status as the rightful heir of David’s throne and the recipient of God’s promises to Abraham. The great differences between the two genealogies have led some to propose that Luke’s genealogy is that of Mary (see note on 3:23), who was probably among Luke’s primary sources.

ESV Study Bible:

3:23-38 The Genealogy of Jesus Christ. Whereas Matthew (see notes on Matt. 1:1-17) traces Jesus’ lineage from Abraham to emphasize Jesus’ Jewish heritage, Luke traces it back to Adam to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes of all people (cf. Acts 17:26). In addition to some minor differences and gaps (see note on Matt. 1:17), the genealogies in Matthew and Luke differ significantly in the period from David to Jesus, even naming different fathers for Joseph (Jacob in Matt. 1:16; Heli in Luke 3:23). Both Matthew and Luke are evidently depending on detailed historical records, and various suggestions have been proposed to explain the differences: (1) An old suggestion is that Matthew traces Joseph’s ancestry while Luke traces Mary’s ancestry. But very few commentators defend this solution today, because 1:27 refers to Joseph, not Mary, and taking 3:23 as a reference to Mary’s ancestry requires the unlikely step of inserting Mary into the text where she is not mentioned but Joseph is mentioned. (2) The most commonly accepted suggestion is that Matthew traces the line of royal succession (moving from David to Solomon; Matt. 1:16) while Luke traces Joseph’s actual physical descent (moving from David to Nathan, a little-known son mentioned in 2 Sam. 5:14; Luke 3:31), and both lines converge at Joseph. Then there are various explanations for the two different people named as Joseph’s father (Jacob in Matthew; Heli in Luke). In most proposed solutions, they are thought to be different people and a second marriage is assumed (sometimes a levirate marriage; see note on Matt. 22:24), so that Joseph was the legal son of one but the physical son of the other, and thus there are two lines of ancestry for the two men. (3) Some commentators have suggested that Heli was Mary’s father, but that there were no male heirs in the family, so Heli adopted Joseph as his “son” when Mary and Joseph were married (cf. 1 Chron. 2:34-35; Ezra 2:61; Neh. 7:63; also Num. 27:1-11 for inheritance through daughters when there is no son). Although the genealogies in Matthew and Luke differ in their organizing principles, both of these genealogies emphasize that Jesus was the “son of David” (Luke 3:31; cf. Matt. 1:6). Luke further emphasizes the virgin birth (cf. 1:34-35) with the phrase “being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph” (3:23).


The ESV Study Bible certainly deals more extensively with the topic. I found it interesting that the NLT Study Bible’s proposed solution is considered generally rejected by the ESV Study Bible. It is refreshing to see a study Bible lay out all of the possibilities, leaving the student to decide which answer seems to fit best. I hope the ESV Study Bible is this extensive in its treatment of other difficult texts. My personal opinion is that Matthew is recording the royal lineage of kings, tracing them to Jesus, while Luke records the actual historical lineage of Jesus. While there may be some difficulties with this view, I find this view to make the most sense of the differences between Matthew and Luke’s accounts.

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