Twice in the past 48 hours someone has asked me about the genealogy of Jesus in the book of Luke – and how it traces Jesus right back to Adam. The question is then, “If Adam was not a real, historical person, why is He in Jesus’s genealogy?” Or, conversely, “How do you know who in Jesus’s genealogy was real and who wasn’t real?”
I have stated before that I do believe Adam is *real* in some sense, in that, possibly there really was some person back in the history of Mesopotamia who God used as the starting point for revelation about Himself, revelation that would become the lineage of the Jewish people. This *real* person was mythologized, and honestly I don’t know that the genealogy leading back to him is historical, hardcore fact or not. My guess would be…not.
But to someone earnestly asking the question of “if Adam isn’t a *real* person, what do you do about him being in Christ’s genealogy in Luke?” I guess I’d have to offer this – your problems are a lot bigger than what to do with Adam in the list of people in Luke. Behold:
The entire genealogy found in Luke leaves itself wide open for all sorts of conjecture and concern and critique on a much broader level than the fact that it leads back to a possibly mythical or mythologized figure, because it’s completely a zillion miles apart from Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. The question you first have to ask is: which genealogy can be trusted at all? Over the years people have tried to explain away the discrepancies between the two genealogies as “well, one is Mary’s genealogy, and the other is Joseph” but I think that’s really creative damage control, damage control that actually doesn’t control for the damage at all. Both genealogies SAY they are the genealogy of JOSEPH, not Mary.
And they disagree right from the start –
about who Joseph’s dad is (Matthew says “Jacob” while Luke says “Heli.”) It just gets worse from there. Luke takes 19 people to get back to Zerubbabel, while Matthew only takes 10 people – but that is where the genealogies first agree on something, that Joseph is a direct descendant of Zerubbabel. They both say Z’s dad was Salathiel, but then they disagree on Z’s grandfather’s name (Matthew says his name was Jechonias while Luke says his name was Neri).
The real problem starts at that juncture, however – because even if someone wants to say that one of the genealogies is from Mary, and the other from Joseph, what really-really-really doesn’t make sense nor work is that while they both led back to Zerubbabel and Salathiel, neither one of them agrees on a single name after that point until David. Luke takes 20 people to get from Neri to David, while Matthew takes 14 people to get from Jechonias to David, with not a single common person in the lists until David. This just isn’t solved in the least by construing these genealogies as being from each of Jesus’s earthly parents.
An additional, but small problem that results from this is that Matthew’s genealogy is too short to be workable in a time frame that Luke’s geneaology takes (see http://www.errancy.org/matthew-genealogy.html)
Another problem, of particular interest to the query about who in the genealogy is real or not real, is that Luke inserts Cainan into the genealogy between Shem and Abraham, which is not present in the Hebrew Bible’s rendering of Genesis (although it is found in the Septuagint.) Is the Septuagint accurate on this point, or did Luke copy an error from the LXX? (see http://www.errancy.org/cainan.html)
Now on what I think might be a more refreshing note, I see a parallel between how Genesis has what has often been noted as “two” creation stories (the first is Genesis 1:1-2:3, the second is Genesis 2:4-25), and the fact that Jesus is given “two” beginnings, two stories of his genealogy, in the gospels. Just as each creation account in Genesis is concerned with expressing a different angle of divine truth, so also the genealogy of Jesus in each book is concerned with Jesus’s lineage in two different facets: one is concerned with Jesus as the descendent of Abraham and David, and the other, as a descendent of both man and God. Thus one genealogy tracks back to Abraham and stops, and the other one tracks to Adam (man) and then to God. As always, the concern/question I have with the scriptures very often has little to do with “did this really happen/is this person really real” as much as it has to do with “What is the Holy Spirit inspired message in this story?” One approach ultimately runs up against the inevitable “errancy” found in the scriptures, an “errancy” I believe that was put there as a signpost from God to say, “It’s not the letter of this that matters, but what’s hiding in the message underneath the letters.”
(End note: This of course can take us right back to an earlier posting about what the Bible means when it talks about being descended from someone to begin with, and the allegorical language employed there: Adam and Eve, and Original Sin )