Luke XIV: Luke 3:21-38
As you read the Bible you should bring your questions to the text and seek answers. But you should also remember that the Bible itself poses questions to you by how it is shaped and framed. So for example, “Why does Luke give us this genealogy of Jesus here? And why is it so different from Matthew’s genealogy (Mt. 1)?”
Assessing the Lists
Part of assessing what Luke is up to is noting some of the obvious differences between his genealogy and Mathew’s. First note that while Matthew works his way forward in history from Abraham to Jesus, Luke works his way backward from Jesus to Adam. This accounts for part of the difference in lengths: Luke lists 77 names; Matthew lists 42 generations (three groups of fourteen, Mt. 1:17). Both are attributed to Joseph (Lk. 3:23, Mt. 1:15) – though because of some of the other differences, some commentators suggest that one of them is actually Mary’s genealogy. Matthew is clearly interested in highlighting the “Jewish royalty” of Jesus (e.g. “book of generations,” royal line of David, ends with Abraham), and in an interesting contrast, notes several of the famous women in the ancestry of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba (Mt. 1:3, 5, 6). Luke, on the other hand, is tracing the story of the “sons of God” (Lk. 3:22-23ff). The most significant difference between the two genealogies is how Mathew’s traces Christ’s lineage through David’s son Solomon, while Luke traces it through David’s son Nathan (Lk. 3:31) and thus between them there are nearly forty names different, and perhaps as many as half of Luke’s names are not found anywhere else (seven have no historical precedent at all). Modern higher criticism tends to adopt a patronizing tone at these sorts of conundrums and pats Luke and Matthew on the head, explaining that this is mere mythology, or overt mistakes, or tries to cover historical sloppiness with a so-called deeper “spiritual/theological meaning.”
Trusting God’s Word
First off, we should accept this and similar challenges in Scripture as from the Lord. Scripture is not merely an easy, feel-good pat on the back. Scripture is God’s Word, and we do not flip through God’s word casually like a magazine in a grocery checkout aisle. No, on the contrary, God’s Word is living and active, and it is examining, questioning, admonishing, and correcting us (Heb. 4:12, 2 Tim. 3:16). In other words, these difficulties are not defects; they are design features. It’s very likely that the gospels were written in the order we have them, and that Luke was well aware of Matthew’s gospel when he compiled his (cf. Lk. 1:2). There is good internal biblical evidence that the New Testament canon was nearly universally acknowledged by the death of the last apostles (2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Tim. 4:13, 2 Pet. 3:15-16), and there is good extra biblical evidence of all four gospels by the second century. In other words, we have reason to believe that Luke gave his genealogy knowing full well that it would present questions to his readers, and yet he has written this gospel so that we might know the certainty of those things we have been instructed in (Lk. 1:4). If you think about it, certainty is always the sort of thing that requires time and energy to develop, and usually over the course of many years. Are you certain there was a man named George Washington? Are you certain that 2+2=4? Are you certain that your family loves you? Ordinarily, these claims are tested and proven through various trials, challenges, and ongoing life experience. You remain certain of their veracity because when they are tested, they stay true. Luke (and the Bible as a whole) wants you to learn to trust God like that. Faith in God is not merely a supernatural jolt – it is certainly supernatural and a gift from God (Eph. 2:8), but it remains a truly human faculty. It is we who do the trusting, the testing, the confirming. We are high and glad Calvinists who believe in God’s exhaustive sovereignty over every atom of the universe (e.g. Mt. 6:26-32, Rom. 8:28), and we also believe that this means every human being chooses to truly study, explore, question, and believe the truth (Josh. 24:15) or else chooses not to and fades away into folly and darkness (Rom. 1:20-21, Eph. 4:17-24). In other words, having questions, doubts, or difficulties with the Bible or in your walk with God is frequently a sign of health. Corpses don’t have problems.
Jesus Is For Everyone
Luke says that Jesus was baptized when all of the other people were baptized (Lk. 3:21). We might expect Jesus to have a special baptismal service, and John’s slight objection to baptizing Him probably indicates that John was expecting that too (Mt. 3:14). But Jesus comes to be baptized precisely because He comes to be one of us, to join Himself to us. In fact, Luke’s genealogy underlines the fact that Jesus is related to us. Just as every human being is related through Noah and back to Adam, so we are all related to Jesus through that ancestor (at least!). We noted last week that John’s sandal strap reference meant that Jesus is our nearer kinsman redeemer, our closer brother, ready and willing to sacrifice for us. The way the levirate marriage custom worked, it was the living brother’s job to raise up an heir for his dead brother (Dt. 25:5-10). Given the context, Luke has given us the long (achingly long) list of dead brothers, brothers who have died and have failed to raise up a living heir for Adam. But there’s more: At the very moment that Jesus is baptized to stand in solidarity with our sinful, dead race, God speaks announcing that this is His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased (Lk. 3:22), and the Spirit descends in the form of a dove. “You are my beloved Son” is a reference to Psalm 2: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you,” and therefore it is God’s announcement that this is the Christ, the Messiah, the King of Israel. It is probably also an allusion to Genesis 22 where Isaac is called Abraham’s “beloved son.” The dove is an unmistakable allusion to Noah and the flood. At the end of the flood narrative, Noah released the dove and it never came back (Gen. 8:12); here, we have the return of the dove upon Jesus. Putting all of this together: Jesus is the new Noah (who is also a new Adam) come to carry the whole dead and dying world through the flood of God’s righteous judgment into a new world reunited with God in heaven.
J. Gresham Machen believed Matthew’s genealogy was a legal reckoning while Luke’s was genetic. Julianus Africanus (c. A.D. 200) thought that Luke’s was the legal line while Mathew’s was the genetic line. Many others have speculated that one of the genealogies is a maternal lineage, through Mary. Augustine, agreeing with our earlier read of John’s reference to the sandal of Jesus, pointed out that Joseph was like a levirate husband to Mary, given that Jesus was not his biological son. Augustine, along with many others, suggested that perhaps Luke’s divergent genealogy is accounted for by several other levirate marriages. At this point, that doesn’t seem provable, but it certainly resonates with the rest of the themes in the text. Luke puts his genealogy here to further demonstrate that Jesus is our faithful brother come to raise up heirs to dead Adam. His mission is to join Himself to us in order to carry us through the flood of God’s wrath for our sins. Luke shows us Jesus as the friend of sinners, the friend of the unknown, the friend of the dead who sticks closer than a brother, and lays His life down for them. And Luke points us to the fullness of God’s pleasure in this mission to reconcile all things through Christ and raise the sons of Adam.