Advent Midweek 2
Luke’s Genealogy: Son of Adam, Son of God
December 10, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The genealogy in Luke’s Gospel seems like a bit of overkill. We already have Matthew’s genealogy as our first encounter in the New Testament (and as we noted last week, we mostly just skip over it). But now Luke also includes a genealogy. What’s more, it’s a longer genealogy—as if we didn’t already have enough names that we can’t pronounce.
Why does Luke also include a genealogy? And why is his genealogy so remarkably different that Matthew’s?
To begin with, we must consider the nature of Luke’s Gospel. Of our four evangelists, Luke is the scholar, the researcher. Matthew and John were both of 12 disciples who followed Jesus. Mark (also known as John Mark), though not one of the 12, was nonetheless an eyewitness of the crucifixion and resurrection. Luke, however, tells us that he is compiling a collection of eyewitness accounts. There is little doubt that Luke gets his detailed account of the birth narrative of Jesus from the woman who treasured up all those things in her heart—Mary, Mother of God herself. He says it’s an eyewitness account, no? Who else was there?
The structure and content of Luke’s genealogy is also different from Matthew’s, showing that Luke includes his family tree for another purpose. With his genealogy,
Luke Presents Jesus, the Son of Adam, the Son of God
The first difference we can observe about Luke’s genealogy is that he buries it in what is now the third chapter of his Gospel. Luke is best known for his first and second chapters—every little boy or girl in Sunday School has had to memorize at least part of that story—but things get a little more fuzzy after that.
It’s interesting that Luke does not include Jesus’ genealogy at his birth, but after His baptism in the Jordan by John. Just prior to Jesus’ ancestry, Luke records these words: And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, in You I am well pleased” (Lk 1:22b).
Now when we come to this claim, we must avoid falling into what’s known as the adoptionistic heresy. The adoptionistic heresy is an old Christian heresy that claims that Jesus only became the Son of God when God “adopts” Him at His baptism. Until that time, they believe, Jesus was simply a regular man. But when He’s adopted as the Son of God, He’s never really the Son of God in any divine sense, but rather just a man with an extra measure of grace and piety—elevated above other men, but never equal with God the Father. In the adoptionistic error, Jesus never dies for the sake of sinners (because He’s not truly God), but rather dies in order to provide a good example for us to follow.
But Luke makes it abundantly clear that Jesus doesn’t become the Son of God, but is the Son of God from birth—even from His conception. The angel Gabriel announces to Mary, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the One born will also be called holy, the Son of God (Lk 1:35). Jesus’ sonship isn’t something that happens later in His life, a result of some spiritual adoption. He is the Son of God because of His holy conception. He is the Son of God because of the divine nature that is united with the human nature in the womb of the Virgin.
And so, Luke’s genealogy begins in a very unusual way for a family tree. And at the beginning Jesus was about thirty years, being the son, as it was thought, of Joseph (Lk 3:23). Jesus is indeed adopted—but not by His heavenly Father; He is His Son from eternity. Jesus is adopted by His earthly father, Joseph.
Another striking difference in Luke’s genealogy when compared to Matthew’s is an entirely different set of names. Moreover, the number of names from the time of the Babylonian captivity to Jesus is significantly more in Luke’s Gospel. Now, last week we established that ancient genealogies weren’t always father-son relationships, but often skipped a generation or more; Matthew obviously skips several generations to make a theological point in his groups of fourteen. So it shouldn’t cause us too much consternation that there are extra names.
However, the entire genealogy of Jesus going back to David is different in Luke. But this is easily accounted for when you see that where Matthew traces the royal lineage of David through his son Solomon, Luke diverges and traces the lineage from David through his son, Nathan. So from the stump of Jesse, David’s father, there are two branches of the family tree that reconverge at Jesus.
The more difficult discrepancy is that Matthew lists the father of Joseph as Jacob, where Luke’s genealogy suggests that Joseph was the son of Eli. This is one of the skeptics’, “Aha! Gotcha!” moments. A genuine contradiction, they think. But it’s not so difficult. Clearly Luke presents an entirely different household than Matthew, though both present the house and lineage of David.
The traditional explanation, which is supported by the text, is that Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph (Jesus’ legal household), while Luke gives us the genealogy of Mary. Luke’s text never says that Joseph is a son of Eli—some English translations put it in there, though—but only that he was of Eli. The tradition is that Mary was without brothers, making Joseph an heir of Eli, his father-in-law. This also agrees with Luke’s focus on Mary’s story leading up to the birth of Jesus, and not Joseph’s (as Matthew does). Likewise, if the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel are indeed an eyewitness account from his time with Mary, then certainly the genealogy he includes is Mary’s family history.
Luke’s genealogy differs once again from Matthew’s (as well as every other biblical genealogy) in that it starts with Jesus and works its way backward. Luke brings us all the way back to David, then to Abraham, but then just keeps on rolling on back to Adam.
First off, this genealogy affirms that Adam was indeed an actual, historical figure, and not a mythological figure of fairy tales. No mythological character has a family tree that morphs from fiction into fact, and there are scores of real people in this list.
But secondly, and more importantly, this is the theological aspect of Luke’s genealogy. By tracing Jesus ancestry all the way back to Adam, He is showing that there is not one soul on earth who is not part of this family tree. Matthew included you, the hearer, in the family tree of Jesus by a theological conclusion, but Luke is much more direct. Jesus is a son of Adam, as are you.
The Lutheran hymn writer Martin Franzmann wrote the following verse:
In Adam we have all been one,
One huge rebellious man;
We all have fled that evening voice
That sought us as we ran.
We are all in Adam’s family tree, and his sin and rebellion is a poison that’s trickled down to every branch, twig, and leaf of that tree.
Luke’s traveling companion, St. Paul, writes to the Romans, But death reigned from Adam until Moses, and upon those who were not sinning upon the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the One who is to come (Rom 5:14). Again he writes to the Corinthians, For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22), and again, So it also has been written, “The first man Adam became for a living soul;” the last Adam for a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 15:45).
By tracing the genealogy of Jesus to Adam, Luke is first showing that Jesus was born into the genealogy of sin. It was His will to join Himself to this sinful, rotting family tree—though He alone is a righteous branch. But by going backwards, Luke is also showing that a new genealogy begins with Jesus. He is a New Adam, a Second Adam, born into the first Adam’s family tree. This Second Adam brings live where the first brought death. This Second Adam enlivens with His Spirit, which He continues to breathe out in the forgiveness of sins.
There is yet one name in the list. Luke doesn’t finish with Adam, but concludes his genealogy by proclaiming that Adam is of God. And so a divine coincidence (that’s not all that much of a coincidence) is that Jesus is the Son of God both according to His divine nature—being conceived of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary—and also according to His human nature—descended from the first man, Adam, whose life was created by God.
As St. Paul so beautifully expounds in his epistle to the Ephesians, it was God’s intention from the foundation of the world to unite Himself to the humanity He created. On the sixth day of creation God made man in His own image, so that at the right time, God’s Son would be born as Adam’s Son.
And so the genealogy in the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel, situated just after the Father says from heaven, This is My beloved Son, isn’t just an historical bit of trivia, but the indication that, in Christ, the entire human family is being replanted—an entirely new genealogy is begun.
You are a part of this genealogy, not by flesh, but by the Spirit. You are a son of Adam, but Christ has also made you a son of God.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard