Commentary for: Matthew 1:16   

and Jacob fathered Joseph the father of Mary,
of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

“father.” The Greek is anēr (#435 ἀνήρ), and means “an adult human male.” Anēr is generally assumed to mean “husband” in this verse, but that cannot be the case. For one thing, the list of the three sets of 14 generations that go from Abraham to Christ (vs. 2-16), makes this impossible. If Joseph is the husband of Mary, there would only be 13 generations in the last list of “14 generations.” Also, the Aramaic text reads differently in this verse than it does in verse 19, and in verse 19 Joseph is unmistakably referred to as the “husband” of Mary. The difference in the vocabulary indicates a difference in the relationship.

The Gospel of Matthew contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his mother Mary. In contrast, the Gospel of Luke contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his adopted father, Joseph. There has been a lot of controversy about the genealogy of Jesus because at first reading, both Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23 seem to indicate a genealogy that comes through Joseph, which is confusing. For one thing, Joseph ends up with two different fathers, “Jacob” (Matt. 1:16) and “Heli” (Luke 3:23), and Mary, who is the blood link between David and Jesus, ends up having no genealogy in the Bible.

Different scholars have tried to explain how both genealogies can be Joseph’s. For example, some say that Joseph himself was adopted as a child, and thus had both a “natural” genealogy and an “adopted” genealogy. Others say that both genealogies are Joseph’s, but the contradictions between them are simply a matter of poor record keeping in those days. Other scholars assert that both genealogies are about Joseph, but the people in them had multiple names, so that the two genealogies actually refer to the same people. All these theories, and more, have been set forth to explain why Joseph seems to have two genealogies in the Bible, but they all have serious problems, which is why there are so many different theories and why none of them have been widely accepted.

As we study the genealogies, it becomes clear that Luke contains that of Joseph. Luke’s genealogy shows the ancestry of Jesus coming through King David via his son Nathan (Luke 3:31). Nathan, who is not as well known as Solomon, was one of the four children that David fathered by Bathsheba (1 Chron. 3:5). Nothing is known about Nathan’s life except that he did have children and descendants who then multiplied in Israel, and so he is mentioned in Zechariah 12:12 as having a clan. The genealogy in Luke reads in a straightforward manner from God through Adam to Joseph the supposed father of Jesus, ending with Jesus. More evidence that Luke contains Joseph’s genealogy is that Mary is never mentioned, but the name “Joseph” appears in it three times. It often happened in the biblical culture (and modern cultures as well) that children were named after an ancestor (which was why Zachariah’s relatives wanted to name his child after him; Luke 1:59), so the fact that two ancestors in Luke’s genealogy have the name “Joseph,” but none do in the genealogy in Matthew is good support for Luke containing Joseph’s genealogy.

In spite of the fact that Luke seems to give the genealogy of Joseph in a very clear and straightforward manner, some scholars assert that the genealogy in Luke is Mary’s, not Joseph’s. The main reason they say Luke has Mary’s genealogy is that they believe, and rightly so, that Mary should have a genealogy in the Bible. They then assert that because Luke says that Joseph “was thought” to be the father of Jesus (Luke 3:23), Mary is in the genealogy in Luke even though she is never named in it. But the fact is that Mary is not named in Luke, and arbitrarily trying to make Luke contain Mary’s genealogy just so Mary will have a genealogy in the Bible is not the way to solve a biblical problem. Scholars recognize this, which is why that “solution” to the genealogical problem is not widely accepted. It seems clear that if Luke did have Mary’s genealogy, as many believe, that Luke would mention Mary and not have a cryptic statement that Joseph was the supposed father of Jesus. We believe that the Gospel of Luke can be taken at face value, and that it records the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph.

Mary does have a genealogy in the Bible, and it is in the Gospel of Matthew. However, it can seem like Matthew records the genealogy of Joseph. However, if Matthew’s genealogy is about Joseph, then there are some significant problems in the biblical text. One is that Joseph would then have two contradictory genealogies in the Bible while Mary had no genealogy. An even larger problem, however, would a mathematical one. If Joseph is counted as the “husband” of Mary (Matt. 1:16), there are only 13 generations from the carrying away to Babylon to Christ, and not 14 generations, as Matthew 1:17 says there are: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, and from David to the carrying away to Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the carrying away to Babylon to the Christ are fourteen generations.”

The first set of 14 generations, from Abraham to David, are: 1) Abraham, 2) Isaac, 3) Jacob, 4) Judah, 5) Perez, 6) Hezron, 7) Ram, 8) Amminadab, 9) Nahshon, 10) Salmon, 11) Boaz, 12) Obed, 13) Jesse, 14) David.

The second set of 14 generation, from David to the carrying away to Babylon, are:

1) Solomon, 2) Rehoboam, 3) Abijah, 4) Asa, 5) Jehoshaphat, 6) Jehoram, 7) Uzziah, 8) Jotham, 9) Ahaz, 10) Hezekiah, 11) Manasseh, 12) Amon, 13) Josiah, 14) Jeconiah

When it come to the last list of 14 generations, however, if we count the generations as they are translated in most Bibles, there are only 13 generations although Scripture says there are 14 generations. 1) Shealtiel, 2) Zerubbabel, 3) Abiud, 4) Eliakim, 5) Azor, 6) Zadok, 7) Akim, 8) Eliud, 9) Eleazar, 10) Mattan, 11) Jacob, 12) Joseph (the husband of Mary), 13) Jesus.

The problem with the list is obvious and has been pointed out by many commentators: it has only 13 generations, not 14 like Scripture says. Some scholars have tried to solve the problem by doing such things as counting names twice, but that hardly does justice to the text.

It was very important that Matthew portray a pattern of three sets of 14 generations. We know that because if we count the actual generations, there were more than just 42 people (3 times 14) from Abraham to Christ. To make the pattern fit, some people had to be left out of the Matthew’s list. When the genealogy in Matthew is compared with the other genealogies in the Bible, it is clear that there are people missing from Matthew’s genealogy. For example, in Matthew 1:8, between Jehoram and Uzziah, there are actually three unmentioned generations. Jehoram begat Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:25), who begat Joash (also called Jehoash; 2 Kings 11:2, 21), who begat Amaziah (2 Kings 12:21). These three names do not appear in Matthew, and there are some other unmentioned names as well.

Although there are some names missing from Matthew’s list, it was not essential to give every name in a biblical genealogy of kings. Many genealogical lists in the Bible have names missing for various reasons. What was important to Matthew is that he set forth the genealogy of Jesus in a pattern of three sets of fourteen generations from Abraham to Christ. Therefore, to have only 13 names in the last set of 14 tells us something is very wrong. But if we closely examine the list, we see that it does have 14 names, and thus 14 generations if each name represents a generation.

Mary is not usually counted in the list of 14 because she and Joseph are usually thought of as husband and wife and thus in the same generation. However, there is good evidence that “Joseph” is not only the name of Mary’s husband, but also the name of her father as well. That would not be unusual in the biblical culture, because Joseph was a common name. For example, in the Roman Catholic Bible, which includes the Apocrypha, there are 16 different people named Joseph, not counting Mary’s father, who would make 17.

If the “Joseph” in Matthew 1:16 was the father of Mary, not her husband, then there would be 14 generations from Babylon to Christ, just like Scripture says there is: 1) Shealtiel, 2) Zerubbabel, 3) Abiud, 4) Eliakim, 5) Azor, 6) Zadok, 7) Akim, 8) Eliud, 9) Eleazar, 10) Mattan, 11) Jacob, 12) Joseph (the father of Mary), 13) Mary, 14) Jesus.

That Matthew contains Mary’s genealogy and Luke contains Joseph’s genealogy makes sense because Mary’s genealogy in Matthew does not mention Joseph, her husband, who was not part of her genealogy anyway, nor does Joseph’s genealogy in Luke mention Mary, who had nothing to do with his genealogy. In Mary’s genealogy in Matthew, four other women are mentioned, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and “Uriah’s wife,” emphasizing the role that women play in a genealogy. Joseph’s genealogy in Luke does not include any women, but does include two of his ancestors who were also named Joseph.

There is still one important thing to resolve. Most versions translate Matthew 1:16 to say that Joseph was the “husband” of Mary, not the “father” of Mary. However, we believe that “husband” is a mistranslation. The Greek word translated “husband” is aner, and means an adult male. Usually when aner is used with the phrase “of [a woman’s name], such as in “Joseph, the aner of Mary,” it refers to the woman’s husband. But there is good evidence that in this verse aner should be translated “father.” First, translating it “husband” creates a contradiction in the Word of God because then there are not 14 generations from Babylon to Christ. Second, it creates a confusing situation in the Word because both Matthew and Luke then refer to Joseph’s genealogy, such that Joseph ends up with two different fathers.

Thankfully, the Aramaic text of Matthew has good evidence that Matthew 1:16 should read “father.” In the Greek text, both Matthew 1:16 and 1:19 use the word aner (“man” or “husband”). Matthew 1:19 clearly refers to Joseph as the “husband” of Mary because it speaks of Joseph thinking of divorcing her. However, the Aramaic text of Matthew does not use the same word in Matthew 1:16 and 1:19, but has two different words, and thus makes a distinction between the two men. In Matthew 1:16, the Aramaic word is gavra, which means “mighty man,” “father,” or “husband,” while in Matthew 1:19 the word is bala, which is “man” or “husband.” Thus the Aramaic text preserves the truth that there is a difference between the “Joseph” of verse 16, the “mighty man” of Mary, and the “Joseph” of verse 19, the “husband” of Mary.

Once we realize that “Joseph” is the name of both the father and the husband of Mary, the Word of God fits together perfectly. Both the genealogies of Mary and Joseph are in the Bible so that everyone could see they were both descendants of David and thus Jesus was indeed, “the Son of David.” Scripture also shows in other places that both Joseph and Mary are from David (Joseph: Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:27; 2:4. Mary: Acts 2:30; Rom. 1:3). Luke contains the genealogy of Jesus via his adopted father, Joseph, and never mentions Mary, who was not part of Joseph’s genealogy. Matthew contains the genealogy of Jesus through his mother Mary, and never mentions her husband Joseph. Joseph has two ancestors also named Joseph in his genealogy, while four other women are included in Mary’s genealogy. Last but not least, the three sets of fourteen generations mentioned in Matthew are all complete when we realize Joseph in Matthew 1:16 is Mary’s father.

In closing, it should be mentioned that each of the Four Gospels emphasizes a different aspect of Christ’s life. Matthew portrays Jesus as the King, Mark as the Servant, Luke as the Man, and John as the Son of God. Thus it perfectly fits that Matthew traces Jesus’ royal bloodline and emphasizes Abraham who was promised the land and David the king, continuing the royal line down through David’s son Solomon. Luke, on the other hand, emphasizes the human side of Jesus, including being adopted by Joseph, and records his genealogy all the way back to Adam, the first human being.

“Mary.” The first time her name occurs in the NT. Here she is said to be of royal birth, and her father’s (and thus her) line is traced from none other than King David himself. Yet there is another, unspoken truth that needs to be weighed. Her “relative” was Elizabeth, who was a daughter of Aaron, the Priest (Luke 1:5). Elizabeth had to be related to Mary through Mary’s mother, who may have even been the sister of Elizabeth’s father (Edersheim, Life and Times, book II, p. 149). Thus, in Mary we see the meeting of the King and the Priest, Jesus himself being the ultimate fulfillment of those offices.


Commentary for: Matthew 1:16