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Christmas Contradictions? The Curse of Jeconiah and the Virgin Birth

Are Luke and Matthew’s genealogies really contradictory? What is the curse of Jeconiah? Does it really undermine Jesus’ claims to fulfil Old Testament prophecy? The answers to these questions may surprise you.

As Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world, many in our society continue to deny the reality of that wonderful event. Although many try to undermine the historical truthfulness of the Christmas story, God’s Word is more than up to the challenge.

The Historicity of the Bible

Unlike every other religion, orthodox Christianity stands or falls on its historicity. The events laid out in the Bible are understood to be actual historical events.

If they did not happen, Christianity is false; if they did, it is true.

This is because Christianity is not merely a set of ideas, sayings, guidelines or wisdom. It is all of those things and much more. Ultimately, it is centred on real historical events: the life, death, burial, resurrection and vindicated claims of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is why historians are constantly debating the facts about Jesus’ life and—believe it or not—whether the resurrection is the best historical explanation for the evidence we have from the time.

For example, check out the following debate between Dr Bart Ehrman, perhaps the world’s leading sceptical Bible scholar, and Dr William Lane Craig, a New Testament historian and analytical philosopher from Biola University.

If you have time, I also encourage you to watch this discussion between apologist Cameron Bertuzzi and Professor Gary Habermas—the world’s leading resurrection scholar.

In considering what I should write for Christmas this year, I was inspired by a recent sermon at my local church to take an apologetic and historical approach to the Christmas story. I decided to respond to several perceived contradictions in the Gospel genealogies.

While genealogies can be somewhat dull (unless you are a historical nerd like myself), I trust that the following article will give you a greater appreciation for God’s sovereign orchestration of Christ’s coming.

The Two Genealogies: Matthew versus Luke

One common accusation levelled against Christianity is the fact that the two genealogies (one in Matthew and one in Luke) that trace Jesus’ family line are explicitly contradictory. They appear to clearly refer to two different genealogical lines from Joseph back to King David.

So what is going on here?

Thankfully, a careful comparison of the two genealogies quickly resolves this issue. They are in fact two different genealogies; however, there is no contradiction because only one (Matthew’s) refers to Joseph’s biological lineage.

Let me explain.

The relevant passages both describe ancestry differently.

Matthew uses the term “begotten”, which refers to someone being an ancestor or descendent. Luke, on the other hand, simply uses the term “the son of” (or, more literally, “of”) to describe this relationship.

When we take into account another technical Greek grammatical factor (that I won’t go into now), this evidence strongly indicates that Luke’s Gospel is referring to Mary’s family line rather than Joseph’s.

Hence, the Lukan genealogy could plausibly read that Jesus was “the son of Joseph, the son [in law] of Heli”. It would seem, then, that Heli was Mary’s father (and Joseph’s father-in-law), whereas Jacob (Matthew 1:16) was Joseph’s father.

The fact that Mary is not mentioned in her own genealogy is actually unsurprising considering the fact that women were not typically included in genealogies in patriarchal Jewish culture (Joseph’s genealogy in Matthew, which includes Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bethsheba, is exceptional).

To summarise, distinguishing between Joseph’s genealogy and Mary’s genealogy easily explains the apparent contradiction between the two passages.

Joseph’s genealogy (recorded in Matthew) uses the more biological term “begot” to describe his relationship with Jacob, whereas Mary’s genealogy (recorded in Luke) uses the more legal term “son of” to describe Joseph’s relationship with Heli.

We could easily leave things here, but there is another deeper apparent contradiction that needs dealing with.

And this one gets really intriguing.

The Curse of Jeconiah: Did Jesus Fail to Fulfil Prophecy?

Although most of us will overlook it, careful students of the Old Testament will notice the significance of the mention of Jeconiah in Joseph’s genealogy. The Matthew-Joseph genealogy traces the kingly line through David, and each eldest son after him (from Solomon onwards).

But we encounter a slight complication regarding Jeconiah.

In Jeremiah 22, God proclaims a chilling curse over Jeconiah:

“Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days; for none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah.” (Jeremiah 22:30 NKJV)