A late date and anti-Marcionite context for Luke-Acts not only has the power to explain why Luke may have rejected Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus, but even more directly why Luke’s genealogy of Jesus is so different from Matthew’s. (The common belief that Luke records Mary’s family line and Matthew Joseph’s is a simplistic rationalization that defies the textual evidence.)
Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham and is traced through Solomon. Luke’s bypasses Solomon and traces back to Adam and God himself.
There’s another fact worth keeping in mind too. The writings apparently penned by Justin Martyr around the mid-second century c.e. insisted that Jesus had no genealogy and that this fact was one of the proofs of his divine origin. Justin also expressed his conviction that it was Mary who belonged to the blood-line of David, while the canonical gospels instead trace Joseph to David, and Mary is only brought in to the family tree by marriage. See my table of Justin’s knowledge of canonical and noncanonical gospels for references. (Most scholars nevertheless believe that Justin knew some form of our current gospels that he called “the memoirs of the apostles”.)
As in my last post, I’m playing with the model that our canonical Luke-Acts was the product of a second-century anti-Marcionite cause. Marcionism was a form of Christianity that some authors suggest was more widespread and dominant in the early second century than what we might call “proto-orthodox” Christianity. One of its beliefs was that Jesus came from a hitherto unknown or “Alien” God and not from the God who created this world. The God of this world, the creator of Adam and giver of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, was believed to be a capricious, often cruel and blind God who was unaware of his subordinate place to the higher unknown God.
If Luke as we know it was written as a response to Marcionism (Tyson and others) then we can readily understand why it traced the genealogy of Jesus back to the God of Genesis, the creator God of the Jewish scriptures. This genealogy was a rebuttal of the Marcionite doctrine that Jesus was sent by another God who was higher than this “biblical” God.
But why would Luke’s genealogy bypass Solomon, and most notably avoid any mention of the famous women in Matthew’s genealogy?
One of Marcion’s beliefs was that the God of the Jewish scriptures was often an immoral God, capricious and inconsistent. Matthew’s genealogy highlighted the role of women tainted with racial or moral dubiousness. Solomon was the son of murder and adultery, and despite this he was honoured as the rightful heir to David by the creator God of this world.
Luke’s genealogy appears to be a response to this — in the context of taking up the challenge of Marcionism — and thus proclamation that Jesus line could not only be traced back to the Creator God of Genesis but also that it could be done so legitimately and honourably. The genealogy was a statement that the God of Jesus and this world was a righteous God and not as the Marcionites portrayed him.
Matthew’s genealogy appears to have originated among Christians — perhaps adoptionists like Mark — who believed that Jesus was of human origin although he later became God (at the resurrection or at baptism) or temporarily possessed by the Spirit of Christ (until his death on the cross). There are indications of these positions in our current Pauline epistles (e.g. Romans 1:4) and the Gospel of Mark (e.g. Mark 1:11), and these were all well-known variations of Christian beliefs out of which the “orthodoxy” with which we are familiar eventually emerged.
If Jesus was understood to be the illegitimate son of Mary — an accusation not unknown in the gospels — then was this genealogy responding with, So what? She was nevertheless married into a line which was sustained by Bathsheba who adulterously conceived Solomon; by Ruth who was a gentile and who teamed up with Boaz through a the euphemistically labelled custom of “uncovering his feet” when he was asleep; by a Rahab, a gentile prostitute; and by Tamar, a daughter of Judah when she turned to prostitution.
I wish I could recall where I originally read this interpretation of Matthew’s genealogy — that it belongs to an early form of Christianity that believed Jesus at least started out as fully human and only later became Christ or possessed by the Spirit of God.
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