In light of the Christmas season we are tackling “Christmas” related Bible Contradictions. For today’s post we will look at a question that the Skeptic Annotated Bible asked concerning the two genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew and Luke: “Who was Jesus’s paternal grandfather?”
Here are the two answers which the skeptic believes shows a Bible contradiction:
Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:16)
When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, (Luke 3:23)
(All Scriptural quotation comes from the New American Standard Bible)
Side Note: The Skeptic Annotated Bible uses the name “Heli” for Luke 3:23 whereas the NASB translate it as “Eli.” The Skeptic Annotated Bible is going with the King James Version pronunciation and there is no major difficulties here, its just an issue of pronunciation. I will use the name “Heli” because it better captures the sound in my opinion and the term would be used interchangeably when I quote the NASB.
Here’s a closer look at whether or not there is a contradiction:
- When dealing with skeptics’ claim of Bible contradictions it seems one can never be reminded enough of what exactly is a contradiction. A contradiction occurs when two or more claims conflict with one another so that they cannot simultaneously be true in the same sense and at the same time.
- There are so many possible ways in which this alleged contradiction can turn out to be not a contradiction in terms of different senses and different timing of when the names were fathers to Jesus.
- First it is a possibility that the name Heli and Jacob can be different names referring to the same person. Don’t we see in Scripture instances in which an individual can have different names? So it is possible that this father of Joseph who is also the son of Mattat/Matthan (variation of the name) might have two different names. I don’t necessarily think this is the case but I want to bring this possibility up as an example of possible ways this contradiction can be resolved. I bring this up because when the skeptic claims there’s a Bible contradiction, to make a claim of a contradiction is to say that that there are claims with no possible solutions of reconciliation since the definition of contradiction itself states that the claims of a state of affairs cannot possibly be true. Yet we illustrate how there are possibilities that the two claims can be true.
- Let’s say the names of Jacob and Heli are referring to different individuals which I am inclined to agree with. But here we don’t see that there must necessarily be a contradiction either. Remember that there are different ways to become someone son: One can be begotten physically by a human father and secondly one might legally become a father to someone legally whether through adoption or some other means. Thus, we might not necessarily have a contradiction here when we see different means of both men being fathers to Joseph.
- Point number 4 in the above is not just baseless speculation. Looking at Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23 in the Greek we see that it is possible that there might not necessarily be a contradiction between the two men being fathers in different ways.
- In Matthew 1:16 when it describes “Jacob was the father of Joseph” the Greek verb for “was the father” is ἐγέννησεν and speaks of literal and biologically fathering. Put another way, Jacob begotten Joseph.
- However when we look at Luke 3:23 it is more general: “Joseph, the son of Eli.” It doesn’t say “begotten.”
- Thus it is possible that Joseph had Heli as a father in another sense than the way Jacob was his father. Which means there’s not necessarily a contradiction in terms of it conflicting in the same sense.
- Nor does it mean there’s necessarily a contradiction in terms of the two claims conflicting at same time if Heli and Jacob were fathers to Joseph in different senses. From Luke 3:23 we can establish that Jacob was the biological father. But then something happened in which Heli became generally speaking the father; very likely it is through adoption. And that takes place in another time than when Jacob was the father to Joseph. So there’s not necessarily a contradiction in terms of timing of when the two were fathers either.
- The skeptic of course could say all the above might be possible but not necessarily plausible. Which should lead us to ask the question of whether any arguments can be given that this was the case historically, or something close to it. An early church figure who wrote on church history name Eusebius gives the following account:
Matthan and Melchi having married in succession the same woman, begat children who were uterine brothers, for the law did not prohibit a widow, whether such by divorce or by the death of her husband, from marrying another.
8. By Estha then (for this was the woman’s name according to tradition) Matthan, a descendant of Solomon, first begat Jacob.
And when Matthan was dead, Melchi, who traced his descent back to Nathan, being of the same tribe but of another family, married her as before said, and begat a son Eli.
9. Thus we shall find the two, Jacob and Eli, although belonging to different families, yet brethren by the same mother. Of these the one, Jacob, when his brother Eli had died childless, took the latter’s wife and begat by her a son Joseph, his own son by nature and in accordance with reason. Wherefore also it is written: ‘Jacob begat Joseph.’ But according to law he was the son of Eli, for Jacob, being the brother of the latter, raised up seed to him.
- The above quote from Eusebius is practicing the custom of levirate marriage. It can be found in the Old Testament laws in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and description of the understanding of this practice in Genesis 38:1-30. It is familiar even in Jesus’ days as some of Jesus’ enemies used this practice to try to argue against Jesus. This is described within the book of Matthew itself in Matthew 22:23-28 and in Luke 20:27-33. It is significant to note that both books that have genealogies also have accounts of the understanding of levirate marriages.
- While Church history is not infallible, yet here we do see that it adds to the plausibility that the explanation that I prefer of Heli and Jacob being fathers in different senses because of the different means and at different times.
- Again, we must not forget that the skeptic’s claim of a contradiction means they have the burden of proof that there is no possible and no plausible explanation in which Heli and Jacob can’t be fathers in different times and in different senses/means. The above answers here are defeaters to the skeptics’ claims.
No contradiction here.