Can The Genealogies Of Jesus Be Trusted?

“Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli,”. (Luke 3:23)

One of the evidences that demonstrate that Jesus is truly the Christ, the Son of God, comes from His genealogy. Throughout the Old Testament, God had prophesied the specific bloodline through which He would one day bring His Messiah into the world. This was so that when the Messiah finally came, the people would be able to recognize Him.

Jesus’ genealogy (recorded by Matthew and Luke) clearly demonstrates that He is the promised Christ. He is both the Son of David, and the Son of God.

Or is He?

Many suggest that the genealogies of Jesus cannot be trusted.

What are the facts?

First of all, there is no doubt that the genealogies of Jesus are accurate in regards to their being free from tampering. The genealogies were public knowledge in the first century, being stored in the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem. We have evidence of ancient Jewish historians testifying to the existence of these records:

“After Zerubbabel, Matthew relies on extrabiblical sources of which we know nothing. But there is good evidence that records were kept at least till the end of the first century. Josephus (Life 6 [1]) refers to the “public registers” from which he extracts his genealogical information (see also Josephus, Ag. Ap. 1.28–56 [6–10]). According to Genesis Rabbah 98: 8, Rabbi Hillel was proved to be a descendant of David because a genealogical scroll was found in Jerusalem. Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 3.19–20) cites Hegesippus to the effect that Emperor Domitian (AD 81–96) ordered all descendants of David slain. Nevertheless, two of them, when summoned, though admitting their Davidic descent, showed their calloused hands to prove they were but poor farmers. So they were let go. But the account shows that genealogical information was still available.” (D.A. Carson, Matthew (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 165 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

Second, Matthew and Luke clearly relied on these public records when writing their account of Jesus’ bloodline. If they had tried to “fudge the facts” regarding the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth, then the enemies of Christ would have quickly and effortlessly discredited the new faith by going to the public records and showing the people that the Apostles were lying. They could not do this; and indeed, the evidence demonstrates clearly that the Jews and Romans considered these genealogies of Jesus to be accurate. Speaking of how the evidence of Jesus’ genealogy favors His being the descendant of David, Keener observes:

“At any rate, the report is also appropriate for Matthew as biographer: there is little doubt that Jesus’ family historically stemmed from Davidic lineage. 9 All clear early Christian sources attest it (e.g., Rom 1: 3); Hegesippus reports a Palestinian tradition in which Roman authorities interrogated Jesus’ brother’s grandsons for Davidic descent (Euseb. H.E. 3.20); Julius Africanus attests Jesus’ relatives claiming Davidic descent (Letter to Aristides); and, probably more significantly, non-Christian Jewish polemicists never bothered to try to refute it (Jeremias 1969: 291). Jesus’ relatives known in the early church seem to have raised no objection to the claim of their family’s background (Brown 1977: 507). Thus Matthew opens and closes the genealogy with a title for Jesus significant but rare in his Gospel: “Jesus Christ” (1: 1, 18; against Fenton 1977: 42).” (Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 114 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Finally, notice Cooper’s excellent comments regarding the accuracy of these genealogies:

“Matthew’s opening words are these: Biblos geneseos Iesou Christou – The Scroll of the Genealogy of Jesus Christ. It is, in fact, a document which he has copied verbatim, and the document is the official record of Jesus’ ancestors. It was a most important document, and for many reasons. Such genealogies were legal family records proving bloodlines, birthrights and entitlements of inheritance, landholdings, tenancies and so on. They proved whether one could serve in the Temple, or inherit a public office. They were, in short, important for any number of reasons, and they were kept securely. Doubtless, they could also be checked against a central repository of records in the Temple to avoid fraudulent claims. And this is what Matthew’s Gospel opens with. It is the scroll (the biblos) containing the official record of Jesus’ ancestry. Being a tax collector, Matthew would have known exactly where to find it and how and where to check its authenticity. Thankfully, there is every evidence to suggest that he copied it accurately, and it is his accurate copying that explains the fourteen generations in the third and last section. Let me explain…..“It seems never to have occurred to the critics that in two hundred years no one is on record as ever having charged Matthew with error here until Celsus came along. Not even the Pharisees, who were doubtless the custodians of official records such as this, ever expressed a doubt as to Jesus’ true lineage or the authenticity of His family records. That they were familiar with the very wording of the document which Matthew reproduces for us is very evident from an exchange between themselves and Jesus recorded in John 8: 41. There they cast in His teeth the fact that Joseph was not His father by saying, “We were not born of fornication!” That Joseph was Mary’s husband, but not Jesus’ father, was not just a matter of gossip and local scandal. Nor was it something that the Gospel writers had conspired to make up. It was a matter of public record, which the Pharisees had clearly looked up for themselves, and that very same record is what Matthew presents us with in the opening of his Gospel. His opening document is thus entirely authentic, historically attested, and its names properly counted. Furthermore, if the Jewish Mishna is anything to go by, then it seems that the scroll of Jesus’ ancestry survived up to at least the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple archive in AD 70. At the end of the 1st century, one rabbi, Simeon ben Azai, tells us: “I have found in Jerusalem a book of genealogies, and therein is written: That so-and-so [peloni-a rabbinical euphemism for Jesus, avoiding the use of His Name] is a mamzer [bastard son] of a married woman, to confirm the words of Rabbi Jehoshua.” 2 The rabbi clearly consulted this record of Jesus’ family before AD 70, because no Jews were allowed near the site of Jerusalem after its destruction. The Temple archive no longer existed, so there would have been nothing for the rabbi to find. Hence, it must have been before the year AD 70 that he saw the scroll, most likely in AD 66 after the Christians of Jerusalem had fled to Pella. The scroll would have been in the Temple archive, which means that the Christians could not have taken it with them anyway. All of which is astonishing enough when we consider what the critics have been saying all these years.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity of the New Testament Part 1: The Gospels, 1030-1063 (Kindle Edition))

The genealogies of Jesus are trustworthy, and they form another powerful evidence regarding the identity and Name of the Son of God.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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