Jeconiah

Christmas Contradictions? The Curse of Jeconiah and the Virgin Birth

22 December 2022

6.7 MINS

Are Luke’s 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[1] and one in Luke) that trace Jesus’ family line are explicitly contradictory.[2] 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.[3] Luke, on the other hand, simply uses the term “the son of” (or, more literally, “of”)[4] to describe this relationship.

When we take into account another technical Greek grammatical factor (that I won’t go into now[5]), 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).[6]

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).[7]

But we encounter a slight complication regarding Jeconiah.

In Jeremiah 22, God proclaims a chilling curse over Jeconiah[8]:

“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)

I assume you can see the problem.

Jeconiah’s curse clearly states that none of his descendants will ever sit on David’s throne or rule in Judah. And yet, according to God’s Covenant, King David’s “seed” would reign on David’s throne “forever”.

“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”
(2 Samuel 7:12–13,16 NKJV)

How do we resolve this?

On the one hand, Jesus is supposed to be the fulfilment of this promise to King David. He is the seed of David who would establish David’s kingdom forever.

On the other hand, Jeremiah clearly states that no descendent of Jeconiah — who is clearly in Jesus’ lineage — could sit on David’s throne, even though the royal kingly line passed through Jeconiah, who was the eldest son of Josiah (see 1 Chronicles 3:15).

To paraphrase William MacDonald, Jesus could not be a son of Joseph, because he would then have come under the curse of Jeconiah.

Simultaneously, though, Jesus had to be the son of Joseph, or else he would not have inherited the rights to the throne of David.[9] So He had to be both the son of Joseph and not the son of Joseph at the same time.

What a dilemma!

Resolving the Issue

You might have guessed by now, but this is where the two genealogies come in.

Because Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph — and hence not his “seed” — Jeconiah’s curse does not transfer to him. It is void.

Because of the miraculous nature of the virgin birth, he is not a biological descendant of Joseph, only of Mary. Luke’s account makes this explicit when it states that Jesus was the son “as was supposed” of Joseph (Luke 3:23).

And yet he is still a legal descendent of Joseph and, consequently, of King David. And, hence, he is a rightful heir to the throne of David.

However, this only solves half of the puzzle.

If we just had Joseph’s genealogy in Matthew, we would have no evidence that Jesus was, in fact, a biological son of David. Yes, he would have avoided the curse of Jeconiah, but at what cost? He would have no longer been a biological son of David, only a legal one.

In this case, He would not have fulfilled the most basic requirement of the Davidic Covenant (“your seed after you, who will come from your body”).

Hence, He could not be the true Messiah and the one to reign on David’s throne forever.

This is why the fact that both Joseph and Mary were descendants of David was critical.

According to the Lukan genealogy, Mary’s lineage also comes from King David, although it is traced via Nathan — a younger son of David — rather than Solomon, who became king. Mary’s line bypassed Solomon — and hence, avoided the curse of Jeconiah. And yet, her lineage can still be traced back to King David (albeit not from the kingly line).

So, Mary’s lineage fulfilled one criterion for Jesus to be the Messiah (biological descent), while Joseph’s lineage fulfilled the other (descent from the kingly line)!

MacDonald summarises:

“Jesus was the legal heir to the throne through Joseph. He was the real Son of David through Mary. The curse on Jeconiah did not fall on Mary or her children since she did not descend from Jeconiah.”[10]

Isn’t that amazing?

If either of these genealogies had existed without the other, there would have been serious issues with Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. But as it stands, Jesus was a biological descendent of David through Mary and a kingly descendent of David through Joseph.

Isn’t it awesome how God works all of human history for His purposes? What, at face value, appears to be a problematic contradiction is really an incredible way for God to demonstrate His power and meticulous providence through the Christmas story.

The complementary nature of the two genealogies in Matthew and Luke is a testimony to the accuracy and divinely inspired nature of the Word of God.

Merry Christmas!

___

[1] When compared with the Old Testament, it becomes clear that Matthew’s genealogy is not exhaustive; however, this causes no problems as the term “begotten” can just refer to a descendent, so not necessarily an immediate father. See MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, p. 1113 and Blomberg, Historical Reliability, p. 57.

[2] Some have tried to argue that the two genealogies actually refer to the same line and that the discrepancies can be explained with reference to certain legal quirks. However, while it is possible, this seems improbable as the line diverges directly after King David—the Luke account traces Jesus’ line via Nathan and Matthew’s account follows Solomon. See Blomberg, Historical Reliability, p. 57–58.

[3] Ibid, p. 57.

[4] Luke 3:23–38, The New Greek/English Interlinear New Testament, trans. Robert K. Brown and Phillip W. Comfort, eds. J.D. Douglas and Jonathan W. Bryant.

[5] As William MacDonald highlights, “In the original language, the definite article (tou) in the geneitve form (of the) appears before every name in the genealogy except one. That one name is Joseph. This singular exception strongly suggests that Joseph was included only because of his marriage to Mary.”: Believer’s Bible Commentary, p. 1318.

[6] Ibid, p. 1113.

[7] Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, Blomberg, p. 58

[8] Called “Coniah” in this passage (NKJV), but also called Jeconiah and Jehoiachin in other places.

[9] MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, p. 1113.

[10] Ibid.

___

Painting: Paolo Veronese, Adoration of the Magi/Wikimedia Commons

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16 Comments

  1. Kaylene Emery 22 December 2022 at 8:48 am - Reply

    So much more than an article. More like a theology class ! Such a learning fest with the conclusion in understanding that His understanding does not stop at the end of the semester. I am still in awe that He has invited me…..He invites everyone to learn from Him and there are no ‘ class requirements’.
    Such a pleasure to rest n digest between meals. Thank you Cody.

  2. Vincent Bowyer 22 December 2022 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Our God is an Awesome God! Cody, when you write “What, at face value, appears to be a problematic contradiction is really an incredible way for God to demonstrate His power and meticulous providence” you hit the nail on the head. The depths and wonder’s of God’s Word.

    Isn’t this also an encouragement for us to delve ever deeper into the Word? We are to study the depths. And then move even deeper. After all, this is Almighty God’s living Word to us.

    • Cody Mitchell 1 January 2023 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Vincent. You are absolutely right—we serve an awesome God!

  3. Stef Mainey 22 December 2022 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Dear Cody,

    Your maturity, your wisdom and your diligent research are such a blessing to the Body of Christ. What you have shared here is a springboard for me to share with my elderly father who is not a believer (as yet). May the Lord bless you abundantly in your new journey in 2023. You will be greatly missed by all at CD, but I know that the Lord has mighty plans for you that will be far-reaching! Thank you for being a faithful witness to the Gospel. You give great hope for the generation being trained for righteousness and as warriors!

    Kindest regards,
    Stef.

    • Cody Mitchell 1 January 2023 at 3:43 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Stef, for your kind words! I so appreciate your encouragement!

  4. Leonie Robson 22 December 2022 at 10:36 am - Reply

    Awesome!
    Thank God for your depth of knowledge, you wonderful young man ❤️
    I can only marvel at what God will do in your life and through your life to others.
    Love and blessings from Leonie and Ivan ❤️❤️
    Happy blessed Christmas to you and your beautiful family.

    • Cody Mitchell 1 January 2023 at 3:43 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Leonie! I appreciate your kind words!

  5. Stephen 23 December 2022 at 8:50 am - Reply

    Explained well Cody …a masterpiece to help us all

  6. Ian Moncrieff. 30 December 2022 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    From the comments above, and my thanks and appreciation added, the time you have spent on putting this together in a very readable way, says “Well done – worth every minute of your hard work”.

    • Cody Mitchell 1 January 2023 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      I really appreciate it, Ian. Knowing that it has been helpful makes it all worth it!

  7. Catherine Lovell 3 January 2023 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Dear Cody,
    You have underlined again how G-d pays attention to detail (even when we miss it!). Some years ago I was led to create a picture that included genealogies as a visual prayer for Israel. It included the twelve tribes around the cross and the lineage of each tribe, especially for Jesus/ Yeshua. It wasn’t exhaustive and I didn’t notice the differences in Matthew and Luke- thank you! What you have written can inform our prayers and evangelism, especially for those of Jewish descent. Praise and thank G-d!

    • Cody Mitchell 4 January 2023 at 3:47 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much, Catherine! I’m so happy that you found the article encouraging.

  8. Kon Michailidis 6 January 2023 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    With regards to the curse on Jehoiachin (aka Jeconiah aka Coniah) given in Jeremiah 22:24 we can make too much of that.
    Zerubbabel who is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah was the grandson of Jeconiah. He returned from exile and was the governor of Judah.
    Dr Michael Brown writes in his commentary on Jeremiah 52:
    ‘The curse spoken over Jehoiachin in 22:24 is clearly reversed in Haggai 2:20-23. In Jeremiah 22:24 God says that even if Jehoiachin were a signet ring on his right hand, he would cast him off. In Haggai 2:20-23 , speaking of Zerubbabel, Jehoiachin’s grandson and the governor of Judah, God says that he will make him like his signet ring.
    But what exactly caused this dramatic turn of event? Though the text is silent, the most likely answer is that Jehoiachin repented in captivity – a position espoused in rabbinic literature based on a comparison between Jeremiah 22:24 and Haggai 2:20-23. The rabbis even point to this as proof of ‘the power of repentance, which can nullify a decree and nullify and oath’.
    .

    • Cody Mitchell 9 January 2023 at 9:37 am - Reply

      Hi Kon, thanks for that interesting perspective on the Curse of Jeconiah—Dr Michael Brown is certainly a respected scholar in this field. His certainly seems like a plausible alternative explanation. This is often the way with these questions: there may be several possible explanations, and we may never know exactly which is the correct one. Certainly, however, even if Jeconiah’s curse was never overturned, it poses no problem for Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah (as my article argues).

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