When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of... - Luke 3:23 (NASB)

There seems to be a widely held view among conservative theologians that Luke's record is actually tracing Mary's genealogy and not Joseph's. Why is that? Luke explicitly states that the lineage is through Joseph with no mention of Mary at all anywhere near the genealogy. I cannot see how Luke's original audience (who would not have had Matthew's genealogy to compare with Luke's) would have read the text and understood it to be Mary's family tree.

I understand that there are inconsistencies between the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 but it seems like rather poor exegesis to say that Luke is giving Mary's family tree when her name is conspicuously absent from the text and Joseph's name is explicitly mentioned.

Furthermore, Luke seems to stress elsewhere in his gospel that Joseph is the one who is descended from David:

... a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. - Luke 1:27

Luke mentions Mary but (unlike with Joseph) he does not include her as a descendant of David. Also...

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. - Luke 2:4,5

Again Luke stresses Joseph's Davidic line but, while mentioning Mary, he says nothing about her being a descendant of David. In fact, nowhere in his gospel does Luke give any indication that Mary is of the Davidic line.

Since it is such a widely held view (that Luke is describing Mary's family tree) there must be strong evidence to support it but I have not been able to find it through my own research. Can someone help me see what I am missing?

  • You might be interested in this article.
    – user2027
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 15:11
  • Kevin, can you give us some examples of people who contend that Luke is referencing Mary's genealogy? Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 17:30

6 Answers 6


While Luke indeed points out in his Gospel that Joseph was of the house of David,1 it is curious why this was of importance to the narrative, since Jesus was conceived without the seed of Joseph. This led many early Christian Church Fathers and scholars to propose that Mary is also of the house and lineage of David.2 From here several hypotheses emerged to explain this tradition, two which I'll address. But first we should look at what (if anything) we can glean about Mary's parents from history before analyzing the Gospel accounts.

Joachim and Anna

Early theologians and scholars believed that Mary was born to Joachim and Anna as a result of fervent prayers in their old age.3 The evidence of such an early account is clear in the pseudepigraphical Protoevangelium of James, which gives the following (summarized) account:

"In Nazareth there lived a rich and pious couple, Joachim and Hannah. They were childless. When on a feast day Joachim presented himself to offer sacrifice in the temple, he was repulsed by a certain Ruben, under the pretext that men without offspring were unworthy to be admitted. Whereupon Joachim, bowed down with grief, did not return home, but went into the mountains to make his plaint to God in solitude. Also Hannah, having learned the reason of the prolonged absence of her husband, cried to the Lord to take away from her the curse of sterility, promising to dedicate her child to the service of God. Their prayers were heard; an angel came to Hannah and said: "Hannah, the Lord has looked upon thy tears; thou shalt conceive and give birth and the fruit of thy womb shall be blessed by all the world". The angel made the same promise to Joachim, who returned to his wife. Hannah gave birth to a daughter whom she called Miriam (Mary)."4

Early Christianity taught that Mary was consequently presented to the temple and had made a vow of virginity (which would then be the reason for her protest to the angel in Luke 1:34). If this is true, the significance is that Jesus of Nazareth came "from both a royal and priestly family."5

While a pseudepigraphical work such as the Protoevangelium of James is not a reliable source for such historical information (the account is likely highly embellished), it does show the presence of similar myths in this time period and assumes the reader's familiarity with the characters, which lends credibility to the notion that these are the names of Mary's parents.6

Matthew gives Joseph's genealogy, while Luke gives Mary's

Καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Ἰησοῦς ἀρχόμενος ὡσεὶ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα, ὢν υἱός, ὡς ἐνομίζετο, Ἰωσὴφ τοῦ Ἠλὶ (Luke 3:23, NA28, emphasis mine)

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli... (Luke 3:23, ESV)

The NET translators point out concerning the translation of this text,

The parenthetical remark as was supposed makes it clear that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. But a question still remains whose genealogy this is. Mary is nowhere mentioned....

Advocates that Luke gives a matrilineal genealogy argue that the parenthetical clause (ὡς ἐνομίζετο) is misplaced in this text and that it should instead be translated:

"... being a son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Eli."

One such proponent of this view in history was Thomas Aquinas,7 who argued that the text calls Jesus a son of Eli without explaining why (he likely presumed his readers' familiarity with Eli.8

Luke gives Joseph's genealogy, while Matthew gives Mary's

This view is much less common than the former, but it has been observed throughout Christian history. Clement of Alexandria expressed this early view, writing,

"And in the Gospel according to Matthew, the genealogy which begins with Abraham is continued down to Mary the mother of the Lord."9

Victorinus of Pettau also believed this, declaring,

"Matthew strives to declare to us the genealogy of Mary, from whom Christ took flesh."10

There is no support for this in the extant Greek manuscripts of Matthew, but proponents of this view believe the text has been corrupted and that Matthew originally referred to two Josephs: one being the husband of Mary and the other her father (this is also used to explain the discrepancy with the Lukan account and why the number differs on 14 vs. 13 generations), the idea being that scribes introduced the current reading in order to correct the (apparent) mistake.11


Readers familiar with this controversy would do well to note that I did not address the so-called levirate marriage theory (as well as several other minority perspectives). The levirate marriage theory essentially states that the geneology gives the legal, rather than physical, lineage due to Yibbum. I decided to only address what I believe are the main two scholarly perspectives.

So to summarize my answer, the presence of existing accounts of Mary's Davidic lineage in early Christian history led to the adoption of these views and the formation of later explanations (and legends) based on these accounts, a couple of which have been explained.

1 cf. Luke 1:27.

2 Jaroslav Pelikan. Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 24-25. Specifically, cf. St. Augustine and later in history, Annius of Viterbo, who both made similar propositions concerning the lineage of Heli/Joachim/Eliachim.

3 Specifically St. John Damascene, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Germanus of Constantinople, and St. Fulbert of Chartres.

4 Frederick Holweck, "St. Anne." In The Catholic Encyclopedia. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907). Retrieved January 15, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01538a.htm. An astute reader cannot help but see the similarity with the biblical account of the birth of Samuel, which casts significant doubt on its historical reliability. The translated text of the Protoevangelium of James can be read here.

5 cf. Aug., Consens. Evang., l. II, c. 2

6 For those who object to claims that these are the names of Mary's parents solely because "the source is pseudepigraphical," it should be kept in mind that such works often reflect an existing tradition and incorporate it into a legend (as likely happens here), but they do not generally originate the tradition. Rejecting the existence of historical figures because of later legends written about them is the equivalent of assuming Abraham Lincoln is a fictitious character on the basis of the movie, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (I must give credit to Mark Shea for this witty response to such a line of thinking).

7 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, p. IIIa, q.31, a.3, Reply to Objection 2.

8 The name here rendered 'Eli' has numerous alternate spellings in the manuscript tradition, but most of them are limited to a few manuscripts. Depending on the manuscript used and language being transliterated from, this name may be written as Eli, Heli, Joachim, or Eliachim. However, there are some who argue that 'Eli' in this text is not synonymous with Joachim / Eliakim (on historical grounds, not philological ones).

9 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 21. Also notable is that Irenaeus refutes this view in Adversus haereses, 3.21.9.

10 Victorinus of Pettau, Apocalypsin, 4.7–10.

11 Harold A. Blair, "Matthew 1:16 and the Matthaean Genealogy", Studia Evangelica 2 (1964), 149–154.


First, we have observed some Jewish customs of the time related to genealogy and kinship. The Old Testament is full of passages where grandparents or great-grandparents are seen as "Father" and also grandchildren and great-grandchildren regarded as "children". This custom was common report that when that person was a descendant of another. Thus, the Jews used the terms "parent or child".

Another very common custom, and that is found today , is the son in law be regarded as child's father and/or father as father's son. This occurred at the time a woman took a man. In this act, the man came to be also considered as "son" of the Father in law.

A third Jewish custom of the time was to exclude women from any kind of score. This also extended to genealogies. When a woman appeared in the genealogy, was just as illustration or additional information related to a man in this genealogy, but they were not important in these parts. We see in several places that the count was always made to men. That is, if they were, for example, numbered 500000 men, the grand total of people could exceed 2 million, counting women and children.

Many theologians and Christians consider the genealogy of Luke as referred to Mary. That is, in fact, this genealogy is of Mary and not Joseph. So Heli is not the father of Joseph but Mary's father, as it appears in the genealogy.

Six points to note about this statement :

1 - The differences between Luke and Matthew are very large , indicating that these are different people (Joseph and Mary) If Lucas had the evil intention of forging a genealogy, he would have made a like Matthew, but it is totally different after passing through David. This shows that he was describing the family of another person, if possible, to Maria .

2 - Luke wants us to show that Joseph is not a part of that genealogy because it brings complementary information to it

"Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was {the son} of Heli" Luke 3:23

Luke emphasizes Jose as part of the information that people thought about him being the father, not Joseph as being part of this genealogy.

3 - Luke gives great emphasis to events with Mary early in the book and still giving enough importance to women (Mary Magdalene, the other women, etc) throughout the book.

This is further evidence that the genealogy refers to Mary. The first 3 chapters give full emphasis to the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus and the events surrounding Mary. Throughout the course of the story ends in the genealogy. Logically, if Luke relates all initial events involving Mary, ending in the genealogy, it must be Mary .

4 - Luke , chapter 1 verses 30-32 shows us that biologically Jesus was also the Son of David.

"And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David" Luke 1:30-32

5 - One possibility is that when Lucas put "son of Heli" he was referring to Jesus. Take a look: Jesus, as it was thought to be the son of Joseph, son of Jesus = son of Heli (Heli's Grandson). Why is there this possibility? Because Joseph is there to complement the illustration and Genealogy in relation to think that he was the father, not Joseph is the son of Eli. Because only Jesus had no biological father, replaces the title by the grandfather. It also does not include women. So do not put Mary as the daughter.

6 - What Luke has put Heli (the father-in-law) Joseph's father, according to what explained above about marriage and genealogy. According to custom, the son was taken as a child. If the genealogy does not include women, would be feasible that the son-in-law was placed as a son. In this case, there is no contradiction.

7 - In some translations of the New Testament, we find "as was supposed" and others "son by law":

ενομιζετο – nomizo - See that in the Greek dictionary, the word is primarily translated "use by legal right."

και αυτος ην ιησους αρχομενος ωσει ετων τριακοντα ων υιος ως ενομιζετο ιωσηφ του ηλι

Lk 3:23 And He, Jesus, when beginning, was about thirty years old, being a son (as to the law) of Joseph, of Eli, of Matthat, of Levi,

I.e., the same word may mean he was the son of Joseph "by law" or "as was supposed".

But the Greek allows another alternative translation, which solves the problem.

  • 1
    Regarding point 4. The angel makes no mention at all of Mary being the biological daughter of David, let alone being emphatic about it.
    – Kevin Aenmey
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 16:16
  • @Kevin Aenmey It's true. I've edited the answer
    – vs06
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 22:18

The dead give-away is that the genealogy in the Luke narrative passes through Nathan, who was the son of David. That is, the key assumption of "whose lineage is whose?" is that patrilineage, and not matrilineage, is the basis of the Davidic Covenant and right to the throne of David. We see that Mary is descended from Nathan, who is not in the line of the Davidic Covenant.

Luke 3:31 (NASB)
31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David . . .

Nathan was not part of the lineage of the Davidic Covenant, through whom the promise of an eternal throne, eternal dynasty, and eternal kingdom through the "son of David" was to come. Nathan and Solomon had the same mother, Bathsheba, but it was Solomon who was anointed as the King of Israel, and therefore through Solomon was the legal entitlement to the throne of David continued (1 Ki 1:28-31).

In other words, Mary's descendancy provided no legal basis or legal right to the throne of David, because she was descended from Solomon's younger brother, Nathan. She was still genetically descended from King David, but her lineage through Nathan provided neither legal right nor regal entitlement to majesty. That entitlement was for the lineage of Solomon, through whom Joseph was descended (and not Mary). Joseph's lineage therefore was descended from Solomon according to the following passage:

Matthew 1:6-7 (NASB)
6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa.

Joseph, however, was also descended from a later descednent of Solomon, who was Jeconiah (Matt 1:11), who received a curse from ever having a descendent to sit on the throne of David (Jer 22:24-30 and Jer 37:1). The gospel narratives however indicate that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and thus was not the genetic son of Joseph, although Joseph was his father by marriage to Mary. Thus by Joseph's marriage to Mary, Jesus had received the right to the throne of David without "inheriting" the curse of Jeconiah (through whom Joseph was descended). In like manner, Jesus was still the genetic descendent of David (through Mary) and therefore was genetically the bona-fide "son of David."

Last but not least, the account in Luke takes us back to Adam, through whom the human race fell into sin. The narrative in Matthew however goes back to Abraham (and stops there), since Jesus was the promised son (Promised Seed) of the Covenant to Abraham, and then to King David (promised son).

In other words, the genealogy of Luke (concerning Mary's lineage) takes us back to the garden of Eden, where the promise was made to Eve that her seed (and not Adam's) would crush the head of the serpent. The genealogy of Matthew (concerning Joseph's lineage) takes us only back to Abraham and then through David, through whom Covenants were made that their son (Promised Seed) would sprout in the "Promised Land," from where he would rule forever and by whom the nations of the world would be blessed.

In conclusion, the key assumption of "whose lineage is whose?" in the Matthew and Luke accounts is that patrilineage, and not matrilineage, is the basis of the blessings of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. That discrimination enables us to differentiate that the genealogy in Luke belongs to Mary and that the genealogy in Matthew belongs to Joseph.

  • Have you considered this possibility?.
    – user2027
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 15:15
  • @Sarah - Thank you for the reference. My question would be: How would Jesus receive legal title to the throne of David, were he (Joseph) descended from Nathan, who was not in the royal line of kings? That is, 1 Chr 28:5-6 is the initial fulfillment of the David Covenant (2 Sam 7:12), which identified Solomon as the exclusive heir to the throne. How would you otherwise see Jesus as inheriting the throne of David? I do not think that mere biological relationship to David was sufficient, but that one be in the line of those anointed through the line of Solomon. (?)
    – Joseph
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 0:01
  • Quite in keeping with your concern, the article I linked to suggests that the lineage in Matthew is of Mary, Jesus Biological mother, (rather than that of Joseph as has been traditionally thought). The Aramaic word is "man" and Mr. Younan demonstrates that this can mean "husband" or "father." He explains that in order for there to be 14 generations this has to be understood as father, not husband. Thus the lineage of Matthew is more logically of Mary. The account in Matthew does then trace Jesus biological lineage through the line of David and of Solomon through Mary his mother.
    – user2027
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 13:01

The genealogy in Luke's gospel had better be Marys; if not we have a real problem. As the Bible tells us in Genesis the concerning the seed of the woman: there is no man involved in the birth of the savior. He is God's son.

The genealogy in Matthew's gospel is a symbolic and legal matter. As the Bible records in Jeremiah 22 that the seed of Jaconiah or Coniah will never set on the throne of David, so that genealogy is canceled out as far as the Messiah coming down through Solomon from David. The real genealogy is in Luke's gospel from King David through Nathan to Mary. The seed of the woman. Keep in mind that it is the throne of David not the throne of Solomon. If the genealogy is flipped we have some serious problems with scripture.

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. We're looking for a bit more in answers. One of our distinctives is that we ask answers to show their work on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. Please expand this after reading more about our site.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 3:27
  • 3
    If it were Mary's genealogy, and it is important (and it is), then why didn't the NT explicitly tell you that it was her genealogy? Yes, there is a big problem. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 15:01

Those verses that mentions Joseph as descendant of David does not imply that Luke traces the lineage through Joseph. It means he describes both Mary and Joseph as Davidic.

The first thing to note in the text is the “the son (as was supposed) of Joseph”, and the second thing to note is that the original text does not have the words “[son] of… [son] of”. Luke traces the lineage through David's son Nathan via Mary. Luke's presentation should be understood as:

Luke 3:23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son as was supposed of Joseph-son-of-Jacob, [but in fact] of Heli, …. [ ] of Nathan, [ ] of David, ….. [ ] of Seth, [ ] of Adam, [ ] of God.

Joseph was son-in-law of Heli, not son. When Luke says “of Heli” he means: “Jesus, son of Mary, daughter of Heli”. This explanation is taken from this site which assumes the curse of Jeconiah remains. Though there are good evidence that the curse on Jeconiah was lifted. Also see arguments that Mary was a Levite.



You need to check this site out. It shows the fulfillment of many more Biblical prophesies by making the argument that Mary was descended through Ephraim who had the birthright from Joseph who had the birthright from Jacob. Birthright is the right and inheritance to preside. Legally Jesus' lawful father is Joseph, who is a descendent of David which would fulfill the prophesy and give more purpose to Joseph being chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus. This also would fulfill the birthright which would be the right of ruler over all of Israel not just Judah. It was Rachel weeping over her children during Herod's rule not Leah who is the mother of Judah. Rachel is the mother of Joseph.Ezekial prophesied that the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph would become one in thine hand.

  • In Judaism, adoption gave all the same legal rights to the adopted children as was to be given to the biological. Thank you for this resource.
    – user6053
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 2:45
  • 1
    @user6053 -- adoption does not give the children the same rights as if they were biological. A child adopted by a kohen cannot become a kohen. Example: Eli, the High Priest, adopted Samuel, but Samuel never eligible to do the work of a kohen. If the adopted child's lineage is known, he or she maintains the tribal position of his/her biological father. Do you have any sources that back you, or are you speculating? Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 16:18
  • 2
    @VickyBell -- The NT tells us almost nothing of Mary's geneology. The closes we can come is Luke 1:36, which tells us that Mary's relative was a woman named Elizabeth, and Luke 1:6 which tells us that Elizabeth was a daughter of a kohen (i.e. a priest, which would put her into the Tribe of Levi). Without knowing more about how they were related, we can't conclude that Mary was also a kohen's daughter, I see no other genealogical evidence in the NT which would state otherwise. Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 16:23
  • @bruce james The only reason to worry about the Genealogy is to verify that Yeshua is a descendant of David. In which case I am only referring to the right of inheritance which also is what every body else is here verifying whether they realize this point or not. Yeshua's genealogy must come through David or he isn't the rightful heir to the throne. There are several solid answers in the thread attesting to it.
    – user6053
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 0:00
  • @user6053 Correct.The Messiah must be a descendant of David and a member of the tribe of Judah. Tribal lineage is determined by the father (Num. 1:18, 2:2, 36:7). By giving us the patrilineal line for Joseph, the NT attempts to prove Jesus was a patrilineal descendant of David. Paul acknowledges this view. Rom. 1:3; Heb. 7:14. But as soon as the NT gives Joseph's genealogy, it abandons the proof by saying Joseph did not father Jesus. Matt. 1:18. This switch suggests in interpolation of the Gospels by those Church leaders who wanted to deify Jesus more than provide his creds as Messiah. (more) Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 14:27

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