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And Jesus himself, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being
the son (as it was assumed) of Joseph,
the son of Heli, Bible

“about thirty.” According to the Law of Moses, no one could enter Priestly Service as a Levite until 30 years old, and then they served from 30 to 50 years old (Num. 4:3, 23, 30, etc.). King David changed the age a Levite or priest could serve from thirty years to twenty years old (1 Chron. 23:24-27). However, it is important to note that the Word of God does not say that David spoke by revelation when he made the change. In fact, it is noteworthy that the Bible says that the Levites were counted from 20 years old and older “by the last words of David,” as if this were a decree David made, and thus “his words,” not “God’s word.” Jesus started his ministry when he was “about 30” (Luke 3:23), but would have turned 30 before he carried out his duties as both priest and sacrifice, dying for our sins and interceding for us before God. Jesus began his ministry when he received holy spirit when he was baptized by John (Matt. 3:13-17; John 1:32-34). In the spring of his 29th year he went to Passover at Jerusalem (John 2:23). That fall, we believe Tishri 1, he would have turned 30 years old [For a Tishri 1 birth, see: Wierwille, Jesus Christ Our Promised Seed; Ernest Martin, The Star that Astonished the World]. The next Passover he would have been crucified, when he was 30 years old.

So what happened to the years of Jesus’ childhood and adolescence, and his life as a young adult? Where are the records that fill in the gap in his life from age 12 (Luke 2:42) to adulthood? The Gospels give us little information about Jesus before he started his ministry. Edersheim writes: “We feel that the scantiness of particulars here supplied by the Gospels was intended to prevent the human interest from overshadowing the grand central Fact, to which alone attention was to be directed. For the design of the Gospels was manifestly not to furnish a biography of Jesus the Messiah, but, in organic connection with the Old Testament, to tell the history of the long-promised establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth” (Edersheim, Life and Times, book II, p. 145). What we do know is that Jesus was the son of a carpenter, and as the custom of the time was, was trained as a carpenter and became one himself (cp. Mark 6:3).

All the stories about Jesus going to India and studying to become a yogi, or going to some other place to study ancient mystic ways, are erroneous assumptions. In fact, the people of his own hometown Nazareth had witnessed him growing up and quietly doing his work, learning as he went. The prophecy was that Jesus would be quiet and orderly: “He will not cry out or shout or make his voice heard in the streets” (Isa. 42:2 HCSB). He lived the way the New Testament tells us to live: “Now we…command and exhort such people to be busy working in a quiet fashion, and to eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:12). Jesus never flaunted his knowledge and led a quiet and obedient lifestyle, growing up in the builders’ trade of his father, which is why he is called both “the carpenter’s son” (Matt. 13:55) and “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3). Jesus’ quiet and unassuming early years is why the people of his hometown were so surprised when he suddenly showed up with great knowledge and power. According to Matthew 13:54 they exclaimed: “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these mighty works?” Had Jesus been gone for some 20 years, and studied mystic ways in some far off place, they would have not been surprised at his knowledge. In fact, Jesus had been studying all along, learning the Word, being obedient to it, and preparing his heart for his ministry.

“the son (as it was assumed) of Joseph.” Luke contains the genealogy of Joseph, tracing his ancestry through David via David’s son Nathan. In contrast, Matthew contains the genealogy of Mary and traces her ancestry through David via David’s son Solomon. Nathan and Solomon were full brothers, both being the sons of David and Bathsheba (1 Chron. 3:5; cp. 2 Sam. 5:14; 1 Chron. 14:4). The Gospel of Luke never mentions Mary for the simple reason that it is not her genealogy. Similarly, Matthew never mentions Joseph, the husband of Mary, because it is not his genealogy (the Joseph in Matthew 1:16 is the father of Mary, see commentary on Matthew 1:16).

Once we realize that Matthew has Mary’s genealogy and does not mention Joseph at all, and Luke has Joseph’s genealogy and does not mention Mary at all, two things happen: the genealogies makes sense (one genealogy for Mary and one for Joseph), and also many fanciful explanations for the two genealogies is eliminated. For example, some commentators have concluded that both genealogies belong to Joseph, saying that by custom Joseph had two different fathers, a real father, Jacob, and a levirate father, Heli. But that is clearly an assumption to solve a problem that does not actually exist, and it creates another and larger problem: it would mean that Joseph has two genealogies while Mary has none.

Most of the commentators who say that Matthew is Joseph’s genealogy and Luke is Mary’s genealogy realize that each parent should have a genealogy. However, they anchor their argument in their belief that Matthew 1:16 is referring to Joseph the husband of Mary (but it is not!), and based on that they say Matthew’s genealogy has to be about Joseph and Luke’s about Mary, even though Luke does not mention Mary. They answer the objection that Luke’s genealogy does not mention Mary by saying it does not have to since Luke chapter 1 made it clear that Mary was the mother of Jesus. Our rebuttal is that both Matthew and Luke make it clear that Mary is the mother of Jesus, but in the actual genealogical list, Matthew mentions only Mary while Luke mentions only Joseph.

Defenders of the position that Luke has Mary’s genealogy point out that the Talmud says Heli was the father of Mary, not Joseph, and therefore Luke must contain Mary’s genealogy. Our rebuttal to that line of reasoning is that the Talmud was written centuries after Christ, and the animosity between the Jews and Christians had been going on for years. It is well known that in the centuries after Christ the Jews did many things to try to prove that Jesus was not the Christ. As late as when the Gospel of Luke was written (likely 50-65 AD; more than 20 years after Jesus was crucified) the Jews were still aggressively promoting that Jesus was not the Christ, which is why Luke says that it was “assumed” he was the son of Joseph. The Jews did not believe he was the Son of God. The Jews also promoted that Jesus’ body was stolen from the grave by his disciples (Matt. 28:15-17). They also discounted many of the Messianic prophecies so that Jesus could not be said to have fulfilled those prophecies. For the Jews, whether accidentally or on purpose, misunderstanding the genealogy in Luke would be just one more way to show the New Testament was confusing and erroneous. It should be recognized that believers such as Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 230), who predates the Talmud, wrote that Luke gave Joseph’s genealogy, and so did a number of the Church Fathers.

Despite all the rhetoric (some of it quite ungodly, even involving name-calling) about the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, the solution is quite simple. God gave us a mathematical key in Matthew that, along with the Aramaic text, makes it clear that Matthew has Mary’s genealogy, which is why Matthew mentions Mary and not Joseph. Luke, on the other hand, mentions Joseph and not Mary because it is Joseph’s genealogy.


Commentary for: Luke 3:23