‘Tis the season to be reading the nativity passages found in Matthew and Luke. One of the more perplexing features of these narrative sections is the presence of two different genealogies for Jesus in Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 when we might expect to find matching records. Recently, one of our church members asked for my thoughts on an interpretation that addresses these genealogical anomalies and since I thought others would be interested in the discussion I decided to share it here.
First an overview of the interpretation in question followed by my (emailed) response to the inquisitor.
Jeremiah 22:30 records a curse on King Jehoiachin (referred to as “Coniah” in Jer 22:28 and “Jeconiah” in Mat 1:11-12). The pronouncement reads “Thus says the LORD, ‘Write this man down childless / A man who will not prosper in his days / For no man of his descendants will prosper / Sitting on the throne of David / Or ruling again in Judah’.” Interestingly, it turns out that Jeconiah is included in Matthew’s genealogy but omited from Luke’s, a variant some suggest is due to the Jeconiah curse. The thinking goes something like this:
- The reason we have two genealogies is that the gospels record two ancestral lines: Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry through Joseph but Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry through Mary.
- The respective genealogies are identical from Abraham–David. At that point, Matthew moves from David to Solomon but Luke moves from David to Nathan. Jeconiah descended from Solomon (not Nathan) which is why he appears in Matthew (1:11-12) but not in Luke.
- Jeconiah was cursed to be without a Davidic heir. Jesus is a Davidic heir through Joseph and Mary; however, the virgin birth preserved Jesus from Jeconiah’s curse which would have been passed down through Joseph but not Mary.
[Name]: I spent a good part of my morning re-reading the paper(s) you passed on to me and doing some additional reading on my own. I feel like my head is about to explode and I still don’t think I can offer much clarity. In short, several interpretations exist concerning the differences between Matthew & Luke’s genealogies, but I’m not convinced the differences are due to the curse on Jeconiah in Jer 22:30 because:
- If descent from Jeconiah disqualified someone from being the promised Messiah, we have to explain why Matthew would include Jeconiah in the Messiah’s genealogy at all. Remember, there would be a period of time when Matthew might be the only gospel account people had access to—they wouldn’t have been able to compare Matthew to Luke—and it must be that Matthew saw no problem with presenting the Messiah as descended from Jeconiah. Also, since Matthew’s gospel is more “Jewish” in nature, I would expect Matthew to be the one to drop Jeconiah from the genealogy on account of an OT curse.
- It’s doubtful that Luke’s genealogy is actually a record of Mary’s line since we have no clear indication of that in the text. Anyone who read Luke on its own would naturally assume that the genealogy is through Joseph since he’s the parent who’s mentioned at the start. The comment in 3:23 that Jesus was “as supposed, the son of Joseph” is an unlikely way to point to Mary’s genealogy (as some have inferred); the simplest explanation is that Luke was reminding his readers that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit & was the son of God (Lk 1:35). Luke wasn’t alluding to any problems in the Davidic line.
- We may need to allow for a little poetic license (i.e. hyperbole) in the Jeconiah curse in Jer 22:30. First, the curse says “Write this man down childless” but Jeconiah obviously wasn’t childless (1Chr 3:17). Second, the curse may be limited in scope since Jeconiah “would not prosper in his days.” A limited curse makes good sense contextually since many people would have preferred to see Jeconiah restored to the throne in place of Zedekiah his uncle whom the Babylonians installed. Third, a narrow time frame for the curse makes sense because the curse would be oriented to the coming exile. The curse was a promise that no one in Jeremiah’s day (young or old) would see a rightful Davidic king on the throne again because Jerusalem would be conquered & the people would go into exile.
The Jeconiah curse is a good observation and it’s worth considering if it played a part in the way Jesus’ genealogy was presented in the Gospels. However, the more I look into it the more convinced I am that we should consider other options. I’m afraid this only muddies the water but it’s the best I can do at this point.
Sorry it took me so long to get back to you on this. Keep reading! –JM