The first problem facing Bible translators is the differences in wording among manuscripts of the Scriptures. These differences have arisen because, even with the strongest determination to copy a text without error, a scribe copying a text of considerable length will almost inevitably introduce changes in the wording. It is understandable that mistakes can arise from inattentiveness brought on by weariness. For example instead of the correct reading, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand?" (Mark 4:21, RSV), several important manuscripts read "under the stand." This is obviously a scribal error in repeating the preposition "under" in the third phrase.
Sometimes a scribe’s error of judgment works havoc with the text. One of the most atrocious blunders of this kind is in the minuscule Greek manuscript no. 109, dated to the 14th century. This manuscript of the four Gospels was transcribed from a copy that must have had Luke’s genealogy of Jesus (3:23–38 ) in two columns of 28 lines in each. Instead of transcribing the text by following the columns in succession, the scribe of MS 109 copied the genealogy by following the lines across the two columns. *
- Bruce M. Metzger on Persistent Problems Confronting Bible Translators (1993)
The earliest writing material mentioned in the Old Testament is stone, and on it was written the Ten Commandments. Other materials included ink on plaster, clay, wood and as well as metal, and shards of pottery. The first manuscripts of the New Testament were on papyrus, a plant found along the Nile River. They were copied by hand on scrolls that were about thirty feet long and ten inches wide. The columns were usually 3 to 4 inches wide and scribes frequently wrote on both sides of the roll. Papyrus was used in Egypt as early as 3500 B.C. with the earliest existing reproductions of the New Testamen written on the leaves of papyrus then sewn together into a book with the columns of text called a codex. Until 1450 A.D. copies, versions, citations, etc. were hand written and subject to human mistakes. There are many variations found in the vast array of materials and they are referred to as Textual Variants and the reason there are marginal notes in most of Bibles published today. The text Professor of New Testament Language and Literature Bruce M. Metzger refers to is Codex 109, which has Luke’s genealogy of Jesus. By following the lines across two columns rather than following the columns. Almost everyone is made the son of the wrong father; and God is called the “son of Aram”; “Phares” is the source of the whole race. No doubt the labor that goes into making a translation of the Bible is both thrilling and arduous. It‘s exciting when translators regard the repayment, both devout and literary, that the interpretation will offer to their readers; it is draining when they deal with an assortment of problems, some of them outside the prospect of ever finding an answer.
The genealogies in the New Testament have long been a source of confusion for not only the secular community, but Christians as well. Even the contemporaries of Jesus had problems understanding it and were urged by other biblical writers to be discerning. Part of the dilemma is that all tribal genealogical records were destroyed with the Temple of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and in 70 A.D. Add to the mix that that people in Biblical times were known by several different names requires some scrutiny to get at what were probably the intentions of both Gospel writers.
As a general overview of the four gospels, Matthew precedes an account of John the Baptist by opening with the genealogy of Jesus, his birth, escape to Egypt, and his settling in Nazareth after the death of Herod. Mark opts to begin his Gospel with the Baptist. Luke has already commented on the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus then adds a trip to Jerusalem for the Passover that Jesus made when he was twelve. The apostle John has paved the way with a preamble in which Jesus is declared to be the Word made flesh. One idea that becomes crystal clear by reading these passages alongside each other is that all four Gospel writers are careful to point out that the ministry of John the Baptist is a fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah. 1 Their narratives illustrate that John the Baptist came to call the nation of Israel to repentance and that after many years of silence, God was once again speaking to his people through a prophet.
Since then the accepted Christian examination of the ongoing movement of God in the past dealings with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as fulfilling and completing the divine revelation confirmed in the Old Testament, is mirrored by the selection of formulas established with citations of scripture in the New Testament. As a result Matthew possessed the view that Hosea 11:1 as being confirmed or fulfilled by another event that was similar to it and happened at a later time.
As hapax notes, there are two family trees written about the ancestry of Jesus in the second part of the Bible, one in Matthew that outlines his descent from Abraham, and one in Luke, which reverses the order. 2 3 While Matthew’s background is confined to the Abrahamic line , Luke’s goes back to Adam. Some theologians suggest that it’s a mnemonic device and that “Matthew or his source divided the generations from Abraham to Jesus into three groups of fourteen; fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to Jesus.” 4 Several names were omitted to maintain proportion including the names of kings Ahazail, Joash, and Amaziah that were removed from the second list of fourteen between Jehoram and Uzziah. Further exclusions many have arisen in Matthew’s third list of fourteen, since Luke, who offers a dissimilar line between Zerubbabel and Joseph, records nineteen names for the same period.
Deliberately created around a predetermined number Matthew’s lineage is probably meant to depict Jesus heritage as one from a succession of kings. Bruce M. Metzger points out that, “in fact it is a new David: the sum of the numerical value of the Hebrew name “David” (d + w + d = 4 + 6 + 4) is fourteen, and Jesus is frequently called “son of David” throughout the gospel of Matthew.”
Even though lineage was traced through males during biblical times four women are named in Matthew’s list. 5 Luke never mentions them but what’s even more surprising is that three of the women are non Israelites: Rahab the Canaanite, Ruth the Moabite and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. By bringing them up in his narrative Matthew foretells the inclusion of Gentiles in the midst of Jesus’ disciples. 6
Metzger discusses Luke’s lineage back to Adam through Abraham saying that because the author of the Gospel’s intention is to show that Jesus is not only the fulfillment of what has been prophesied thus far for Israel, but also that Jesus is the savior of the world. He explains:
The genealogy in Luke 3: 23-38 has variations in different textual translations. * According to most Greek manuscripts (followed by the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament), there are 11 x 7 generations from Adam to Jesus ( that is, from Adam to Abraham, 3 x 7 generations; 3 x 7 generations; from Isaac to David, 2 x 7 generations; from Nathan to Salathiel (preexilic) , 3 x 7 generations; from Zerubbabel (postexilic) to Jesus, 3 x 7 generations). Other Greek manuscripts, the Latin Vulgate and Syriac Peshitta record 76 generations and some Latin manuscripts list 72 generations.
After David, both authors seem to agree on two names Shealtiel / Salathiel and Zerubabel. Innumerable attempts to resolve the conflicting genealogies for both texts have been attempted however none of them has ever achieved widespread acceptance. Most theologians agree that the inconsistent lines of descendants are intended to act as literary devices for Matthew and Luke to meet the overall purposes of each author. They conclude that they are not written with the intentions of being interpreted like contemporary chronicles of ancestry adding that the genealogy of Jesus is important because of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah declaring that he would be a descendent of the house of David. 7
To highlight these conclusions are two places in the Bible where the subject of genealogy is mentioned, both in a highly critical sense. Timothy mentions “endless genealogies that promote speculations” and Titus cautions the reader to “ avoid…genealogies…for they are unprofitable.” 8 9
Contrasted against the larger context of this commentary Metzger mentions that the references to myths may be about the “...various emanations (“aeons”) between God and humankind. In gnostic belief.” He also notes that because Titus 1: 14 is tied to Jewish myths and 1 Timothy 1:7 disputes the assertions of those who would wish to be teachers of the Law, “the genealogies referred to may be based on biblical sources but elaborated on in the same way as the Book of Jubilees or more generally aggadah.
Just as it’s impractical to compare modern pedigrees with ancient genealogies it is also unrealistic to compare censuses taken two millennia ago with ones taken today. During ancient times most people, especially underprivileged Jews, did not travel far from their place of birth. Writers of other historical documents outside of the Christian community support the Biblical version of Joseph and Mary returning to their homes for a census. 10
Berry ,George Ricker. The Original Bible, The Greek New Testament (1981) :
Accessed July 24, 2005.
Metzger, Bruce M. Bibliotheca Sacra 150 Persistent Problems Confronting Bible Translators (July-September 1993): p. 273-84 .
Accessed July 24, 2005.
Oxford Companion to the Bible, Russell Fuller and Bruce Metzger, author; Bruce M. Metzger, edited by Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 245.
Sanders, Phil. The Making of Ancient Books (Adapted from Neil Lightfoot’s chapter in How We Got the Bible)
Accessed July 24, 2005.