Thursday, May 5, 2011

Conversations with JW's: Genealogical Discrepancies

Every week or two I have been chatting with various Jehovah's Witnesses.  They bring me some of their literature to read, and the following week we discuss what I read.

It's usually a very intellectually stimulating time because new ideas are being communicated, different beliefs are colliding, and we are trying to be polite and articulate.
Like other faithful Christians, the Jehovah's Witnesses told me that the Bible is completely true.

I responded by saying that I haven't seen the evidence to support such an extraordinary claim. Then, I showed them a potential contradiction in the Bible, i.e. the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.

A week later, they brought to me a researched explanation of why the apparently discrepant genealogies are not in contradiction. I appreciated their effort, read their explanation, and formulated a response. It was the following:

The genealogies in Matthew and Luke refer to two different men as the father of Joseph, husband of Mary, the father of Jesus.

Here is a summary of your argument for reconciling this apparent contradiction:

1. If Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli (instead of his son), and
2. If Luke wrote that Joseph was the son of Heli using a Hebrew custom of referring to a son-in-law as a son,
3. Then, Luke's genealogy doesn't contradict Matthew's genealogy when they refer to two different men as the father of Joseph.

If points 1 and 2 are true, then I would agree that 3 is true, as well. Unfortunately, I don't know of any evidence for points 1 and 2. In fact, I know of an orthodox Jewish man who says that there was no custom like the one mentioned in 2, and he knows of not one example of this custom being used in the Old Testament.


Therefore, I cannot say that 1 and 2 are true, and thus, I cannot say that 3 is true. The Bible is apparently in contradiction with itself. Due to this reason, I disagree with the claim of my Jehovah's Witnesses friends that the Bible is completely true.

If anyone, Jehovah's Witness or not, can show me how they know that 1 and 2 are true, please let me know.


tom sheepandgoats said...

Okay to respond to two in a row? That won't be considered stalking?

Regarding point 1: It's a reasonable explanation, that Heli is the father-in-law, but it can't be proven. The two geneologies branch off after David, one following his son Solomon, one going through Nathan. Quite reasonable to suppose, then, that one traced Jesus lineage through Joseph and one through Mary. Being of the line of David was quite important to establishing Jesus' credentials as messiah, so that it's well to show that no matter which parent one traces him through, he is of that line.

I like to avoid statements like "the Bible is completely true," since one can't prove it. Instead, I say that it is reliable. Frankly, that's so of any historical document. They all will contain items unique to them, details not corroborated elsewhere, so that if one is inclined to be overly exacting, nothing will stand. This point has to do with historical grounding, and not the Bible's overall teaching. You could even view the discrepancy as a positive, since it evidently shows there was no collusion among the Bible's authors or editors. After all, it would have been an easy matter to tidy this up, so that the two accounts match.

Perhaps Heli being Mary's father will one day be corroborated through archeological evidence. But it doesn't seen likly. Mary came from a poor, humble family, as did Joseph, not the kind of people that historians chronicle, and early Christians were not given to monuments and such. A great many Bible characters, such as Pilate, were at one time mentioned only in the Bible, so that people inclined to dispute had ample ground for doing so. Over time, however, many of thses figures have been identified through archeology, which doesn't silence the critics, as one might suppose it would. They just latch on to the next uncorroborated name.

I did post about this subject, and a true-life drama that it triggered, in my return link: Richard Dawkins and the Lineage of Jesus.

Geoffrey Charles said...

Thanks for the response.

Your reasoning is speculative unless you have evidence. Do you have any evidence that 1 and 2 are true? Anything? I hope you don't think I'm being overly exacting.

After all, I could speculate, as well: Perhaps the genealogies were fabricated in order to convince unbelieving jews that Jesus was in the line of David. Maybe there was no need for the authors to collude because the readers of gospels often only heard (or, less often, read) about one of the genealogies, not both.

For you to conclude that there was no collusion between the Bible's authors and ediotrs is going a bit too far, I think. Other biblical texts and authors/editors are irrelevant. Perhaps a more modest conclusion is that the authors of Matthew and Luke did not copy each other's genealogies.

Until there is evidence, it is unreasonable to say that the genealogies in Matthew and Luke are both true. To do so reveals that one is acting upon theological bias.