[asa] Nativity story- geneology issue?

From: Dehler, Bernie <bernie.dehler@intel.com>
Date: Mon Dec 07 2009 - 15:41:05 EST

I was wondering if anyone has some commentary on this (I have an inter-religious meetup group where we will be discussing the nativity stories). See excerpt below:

http://theflamingheretic.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/genealogy-of-jesus-in-matthew/

[ It sounds to me like an example of how the Bible is not inerrant in history. I'm not sure, but I think this is the author:
http://divinity.wfu.edu/faculty-atwood.html . No- I didn't yet check Murray's last link; kind of interested in personal feedback that people have with this topic too. I suspect a YEC would say there is no error or contradiction; but an evolutionary creationist would agree with the excerpt that real history wasn't intended. ]

Excerpt below:
3 X 14 Generation: Matthew was impressed that there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David; fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian Exile; and fourteen from the Exile to Jesus. This makes for a nice matrix of three times fourteen, but you may have noticed a problem. Matthew actually lists thirteen generations in the first section, fourteen in the second, and only thirteen in the last one. There have been many ingenuous attempts to explain this, but none of them are convincing. It appears either that a name was somehow lost in transmission or that Matthew miscounted. There is another problem for historians in Matthew's genealogy. Fourteen generations would normally account for about 280 years, assuming the traditional figure of a generation being 20 years. At most fourteen generations would have been 560 years if each of the fathers was about 40 years old when his son was born. That is a relatively short time for the history Matthew !
 refers to. It is interesting that the genealogy of Jesus that Luke gives in chapter 3 has 56 generations for the same period of time. In other words, it is likely that Matthew's listing of ancestors was not complete. The fourteen generations was probably symbolic rather than historical. In Jewish numerology, the associated with the name David was fourteen.

Luke also gives a genealogy of Jesus, but his comes after the account of Jesus' birth. It is a long and boring process to examine each of these lists in detail, but scholars are paid to do tedious tasks that few have the desire to do. Scholars have discovered that the names in Matthew and Luke are quite different. The two gospels agree most closely on the names from Abraham to David, which are listed in the Book of Ruth. Matthew and Luke also agree that David was an ancestor of Jesus, but Matthew traces Jesus descent from the kings of Judah, beginning with Solomon. In contrats, Luke claims that it was David's son Nathan who was the ancestor of Jesus. Thus, almost every name after David is different in Luke than in Matthew. We know that there were people alive during and after the Babylonian Exile that claimed to be descendents of David, but few of those lists have survived, and both genealogies agree that one of Jesus' ancestors was Zerubbabel, who lived during the Exile.

However, the lists provided by Luke and Matthew disagree almost totally after the name Zerubbabel. They even disagree on the name of Joseph's father. The differences in the genealogies are so great that for many centuries biblical scholars proposed that Matthew is telling us about Joseph's ancestors while Luke has given a list of Mary's ancestors. Some biblical literalists today make this claim. The trouble is that Luke's list of ancestors clearly ends with Joseph, not Mary.

The discrepancy between the genealogies in Matthew and Luke is disturbing only if you insist that there can be no errors of fact in the Bible. If you accept the idea that Matthew and Luke were working with the resources they had to write an account of the life of Jesus that was true and meaningful rather than factually accurate, then it is less disturbing. Even with our modern record keeping and methods of scientific research, it is hard to establish an absolutely reliable family tree for any of us. Every Scandinavian I know is somehow descended from Erik the Red.

Matthew was not trying to provide a precise family tree of Jesus; he was telling us that the birth of Jesus was part of the history of God's covenant with Israel. The three sections of his genealogy correspond to three important epochs in Israelite history. There was the age of the patriarchs and judges, which included the Exodus. There was the age of the Davidic monarchy, which ended with the destruction of the Temple. And there was the age of the Babylonian Exile and restoration of the Temple. Therefore, Matthew was showing that Jesus had inaugurated a new age in which the Temple was no longer needed. Jesus was more than a descendent of David for Matthew; he was the turning point of history. Jesus fulfilled the promise given to Abraham that his seed would be a blessing to the whole earth.

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Received on Mon Dec 7 15:41:54 2009

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