Author: John Gilchrist
Category: World Faiths, Unreached People Groups, Orality
Muslims have asked me umpteen times about the genealogies of Jesus Christ. One of them persistently asked me recently, “can you answer the two geneologies [sic] of Jesus?” Like many Muslims I have encountered, my friend uses differences in Luke and Matthew’s accounts to dismiss Jesus Christ and the Bible.
One thing my friend balks at, while Jesus Christ has two genealogies, Prophet Muhammad has none in the Qur’an or the Hadith. So much for Muslims’ claim the Bible has been corrupted because it lacks mentions of Muhammad. Islam’s own sources fail them. So much for Muslims’ claim Islam is an Abrahamic faith. Muslims can’t even trace their beloved prophet’s lineage to Abraham. Even Islamic sources that were concocted centuries after the demise of Muhammad raise more questions about Muhammad’s genealogy than they provide Muslims with answers. There is even an unresolved mystery surrounding when Muhammad was actually born. Isn’t it about time they explain?
Authoritative Muhammad biographies claim Muhammad’s father, Abdullah, was married to his wife, Amina, the year before the year of the elephant. Muhammad’s paternal grandfather, AbdulMuttalib, was also married the same day to Hala. AbdulMuttalib’s wife gave birth to a son, Hamza, the same year—the year of the elephant—Muhammad was born. Abdullah died before his son was born. Muhammad and Hamza were supposed to be the same age. Hamza was killed at Battle of Uhud in 625 CE when he was 59 years old, which was quite a discrepancy because Muhammad was supposedly to be the same age as Hamza. He died at the age of 63 in 632 CE. How did Muhammad end up 4 years younger than Hamza if he were born the same year as Hamza? Mark you; Muhammad’s father died the same year Hamza was born. Was Muhammad in his mother’s womb for four years? Instead of explaining these discrepancies, Muslims attack Jesus even when he has two genealogies that make perfect sense.
Muslims study the Bible in order to find ammunition to attack the Bible and true mission of Jesus Christ. Let us use their questions to bring them to the Light of the Gospel and a little dose of reality regarding Islam.
I enlist John Gilchrist to answer my friend’s Muslim question. You can read John’s entire answers HERE.
1.10 The Genealogy of Jesus in the Gospels
Muslim: The genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels give very different lines of descent. How do you explain this contradiction? Also, some of the women mentioned among his ancestors were very great sinners – how could the perfectly pure Son of God have been descended from such an impure ancestry?
Very often Muslim arguments against the Bible reveal little more than a serious lack of awareness of what Christianity is really all about. In answering these two objections Christians not only have an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings but also to witness to the Muslims who raise them of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It needs to be emphasized again and again that every Muslim argument against the Bible should be seen as an open door to witness to its essential message.
The Two Different Genealogies
The Hebrew line of Jesus’ descent is recorded in both Matthew 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23-38. There is no difference between these two records from Abraham to David but thereafter they diverge considerably. Matthew traces the line of Jesus’ genealogy through David’s son Solomon while Luke takes it through his son Nathan. From there on the two accounts are very different. Muslim writers have summarily concluded that they are contradictory and cannot be reconciled. The following points should be raised in reply whenever Muslims raise this issue:
1. Every Child has Two Genealogies
It is hardly necessary to say that every man on earth has two lines of ancestry, one through his father and another through his mother. The one obvious thing about the two genealogies in the Gospels is that each is traced to a common source, David, and from there consistently to Abraham. What the two lines reveal, upon a close study of their context in each respective Gospel, is that Joseph, the legal guardian and registered father of Jesus (although not his natural father) was descended from David through Solomon while his mother Mary was descended from the same ancestor through Nathan. Thus there is no contradiction between them.
2. Matthew and Luke Clearly State their Lines of Descent
It is not a convenient assumption that these two Gospel writers are recording the paternal and maternal sequences of Jesus’ ancestry respectively. Matthew makes it plain that he is recording the line of Joseph (Matthew 1:16) and throughout the first two chapters of his Gospel we find Joseph to be the central character. Each appearance of the Angel Gabriel recorded here is to Joseph. In Luke’s Gospel, however, Mary is always the central personality and only the appearance of Gabriel to her is mentioned.
3. Luke Deliberately Qualifies his Genealogy
Luke himself states specifically that Jesus was the son, "as was supposed", of Joseph (Luke 3:23) and it is in this little expression that the key to Jesus’ genealogy in his Gospel is found. Unlike Matthew he mentions no women in Jesus’ ancestry and, to maintain the general practice of outlining the masculine order only, Luke records Joseph as the supposed father of Jesus. He very carefully qualified Joseph’s role so that it would be clear that he was not recording the genealogy of Jesus through his representative father but rather his actual genealogy through his real mother Mary. The Four Women Named in Matthew’s Genealogy
Muslim writers have often tried to discredit the absolute purity of Jesus as the Son of God by referring to the four women Matthew names in his record of Jesus’ ancestry. They are Tamar, who committed incest with her father Judah from which Perez was born as a forefather of Jesus; Rahab, the prostitute and Gentile woman who helped Joshua and the Israelites at the conquest of Jericho; Ruth, the wife of Boaz who was also a Gentile; and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah who committed adultery with David and from whom Solomon was born.
It is obvious that Matthew has deliberately named the very four women who disturbed the genealogy of Jesus by having moral or ethnic defects. He, clearly, did not think he was undermining the dignity of Jesus in doing so. Had there been any stigma attaching to such an ancestry he would assuredly have named some of more famous Hebrew women from whom Jesus was descended like Sarah and Rebecca. Why, therefore, did he specifically name the four women who supposedly unsettled the "purity" of his ancestry? The Apostle gives the answer himself. He records that, when the Angel Gabriel came to Joseph, he said of the child to be born:
You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21
It was precisely for people such as incestuous Tamar, Rahab the harlot, Ruth the Gentile and Bathsheba the adulteress that Jesus came into the world. He descended from the holy portals of heaven and took human form in a sinful and decaying world so that he could save his people from their iniquities and make his salvation available to all men and women, Jew and Gentile alike. In another passage recorded in the same Gospel we find Jesus making his purpose very clear:
Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice". For I came not to call the righteous but sinners. Matthew 9:12-13
Jesus did not come to set an upright example for pious, religious people to follow. He came, primarily, to save all who turn to him from their sins and to make it possible for them to receive the Holy Spirit so that they might have power to live genuinely holy lives. Here it is obvious how effectively an argument against the Bible can be turned into a very good opportunity for witness. Whenever a Muslim challenges the Bible on a point such as this it is essential that we look not only for ways of refuting the objection but also for openings to share what our faith is really all about.