Monday, March 8, 2010

Skeptic Month: Jesus' Jumbled Genealogy

We are in the midst of Skeptic Month here at Pastor Kip. The first two challenges we dealt with (here and here) were extraordinary events to say the least, but they could be explained away as being miracles. I’d like to shift gears now and deal with some direct contradictions and alleged inconsistencies that bolster the skeptic’s claim that the Bible is not the inerrant word of God.

The first we’ll consider is the problem of Jesus’ lineage. This is an important issue with Christianity because, in order to lay claim to being the Messiah, Jesus had to have descended from the royal lineage of David. So, both Matthew and Luke determine to lay out the foundation of Jesus' ancestry.

Problem is, they don’t match. And it’s not even close.

Both genealogies trace Jesus’ ancestry from Joseph back to David. In Matthew 1:17, Jacob begat Joseph and there are 28 generations from David to Jesus. In Luke 3, Joseph is the son of Heli and there are 43 generations from David to Jesus.

The conventional fundamentalist wisdom is that the genealogy in Luke is best seen as being the lineage traced through Mary, even though Mary is not mentioned. This is explained away as typical Jewish misogyny – women weren’t normally mentioned in genealogies – and where Joseph is said to be the son of Heli, it could just as easily mean son-in-law of Heli in the original language.

That’s all well and good, except it is traditionally agreed that Luke was a Gentile writing to Gentiles. Would he be so careful to observe Jewish tradition in this manner and risk confusing his Gentile audience? Moreover, Matthew was most definitely Jewish and was writing to Jews to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah – and his genealogy mentions four different women.

And that still doesn’t address the issue of the dramatically different numbers of generations.

In the notes on this passage, the venerable Believer’s Bible Commentary offers this advice:
What attitude should the Bible student take toward these difficulties and seeming discrepancies?

First, our foundational premise is that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Therefore, it cannot contain errors.

Second, it is infinite because it reflects the infinity of the Godhead. We can understand the fundamental truths of the Word, but we can never fully comprehend all there is in it.

So, our approach to these difficulties leads us to conclude that the problem lies in our lack of knowledge rather than in the Bible's fallibility.

Basically, there are two rules when it comes to Bible difficulties:
  1. It’s the Bible and it’s inerrant.
  2. If you happen to stumble upon an error or contradiction, see rule 1 and stop thinking about it, reprobate.


Kristin said...

I am trying to remember about Biblical geneologies. I think that they do it in 'who's who' form, meaning they would skip generations who weren't noteworthy? Different tribes of Israel might have different noteworthy people as well. Also, sometimes people are known by multiple or different names and not everyone knows the same names as everyone else.

Pastor Kip said...

I've read that about the apparently unorthodox pattern of Biblical genealogies, but that feels to me like a cop out.

The chain-link listing of "so-and-so begat so-and-so" doesn't allow for those kinds of gaps, does it? Certainly not of this magnitude . . .

Kristin said...

I don't know if it's a oop out or the best we can come up with.

I'd have to be a lot more learned on the subject in order to understand fully. But, I suspect that, like other 'discrepancies' apparent in the Bible, it irons out under the proper study.

I know that there are some issues with timeline if you use the Biblical geneaologies to try to establish a no-gap timeline. It is difficult to use them except as a sort of who's who.

I do know that I'm more interested in Jesus's paternity than I am in who he was descended from. I know prophesy is involved and all of that, and that's well and good. But, I just don't emphasize that as much when looking at Christ?

Perhaps it is something that WOULD speak greater volumes to someone else.

OJB said...

The Bible writers (whoever they were because we just don't know) made this stuff up to try to make the Jesus myth fit in with the Old Testament prophecies. But they don't quite get it right, did they? Another big embarrassment for the Bible. It's like a work of historical fiction: contains a few real places and events but mostly just made up. You really have to be living in some dream world if you think the Bible is true.