Ah Adam! Perfect nobility according to the Jewish philosopher Philo. Unique among all of mankind. You see Adam’s father was not mortal, but was God himself. God poured as much of his own nobility into Adam as his human body could handle. And what did he do with it? He chose evil; he chose to turn his back on his father; he chose death. Philo seems to be arguing that every person since Adam had a bit less of a chance at reaching for the virtues of God. After all our fathers are fallen just as we are. So, for Philo, Adam represented God’s perfect creation all full of potential. And Adam represented the most reprehensible betrayal. You know, according to Philo.
Luke 3:23-38 is a genealogy. And here’s our problem. We don’t really get genealogies. So, sometimes we try to force an unrealistic expectation on Biblical lists. We think they must be complete, with no gaps. And surely if two sources present the genealogy of the same person those genealogies should be the same. Right? But genealogies are not mere lists of an ancestral line. And if we approach them as such, we will run into all manner of difficulties. Okay, the genealogy here in Luke is vastly different than the genealogy of Matthew 1:1-17. Matthew’s list is broken into three lists of fourteen beginning with Abraham. Luke presents his genealogy as a list of 79 names with no nice equal groupings. Luke works from Jesus backward to Adam. And most of the names do not match. There are two main attempts to reconcile this incongruity. Some will suppose that Luke is calculating Mary’s ancestry, even though there is no real evidence of this, while Matthew follows the ancestry of Joseph. Others will suggest that Matthew is following the royal line through Joseph and therefore naming Jacob as his father instead of his biological father Eli. And in both views many will refer to adoption or Levirate marriages to count for some of the differences. No matter how we try to harmonize these two genealogies we are going to run into problems.
A genealogy was often theological; presenting a message about the line as a whole. Matthew seems intent on emphasizing the royal aspect of Jesus lineage; the fulfillment of Jewish scripture. He, therefore has no need to go back further than Abraham, the father of the Jews. While Luke may be emphasizing the human aspect and Jesus’ reach beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. So he goes all the way back to Adam, the father of humanity. The mention of David is important in both gospels. Jesus is the fulfillment of Davidic promise and prophesy. He is the Messiah; the descendant of David who will sit on the throne of David forever. In our attempt to reconcile these lists we may just miss the message.
Luke begins his genealogy with “When he himself began, Jesus was about thirty years of age.” The King James has “when Jesus began to be about thirty” which is awkward and most likely not the intent. However, there is not a subject for “began.” Began what? Most assume a beginning of ministry and this seems appropriate. So, at the beginning of ministry, it is important to gain an understanding of who Jesus was. And that was the purpose of a genealogy. He was about thirty, which was the age when the priests began their public ministry (Numbers 4:3). The main thought was probably that culturally thirty was when Jesus would have reached his maturity. Circularly, this was most likely the result of the Numbers 4:3 passage.
There is this statement at the end of Luke’s genealogy that practically shouts, “Adam, the son of God.” This is found in no other Jewish genealogy. Only in Philo is God described as the father of Adam. Because this is so unusual, this may very well be the main theological point of the genealogy. Jesus is of mankind. He is made in the image of God in the same way as Adam and all of his descendants. He is uniquely the Son of God in a completely different context. Adam was the ideal man until his rebellion; he was the pinnacle of God’s creation; formed to walk with God in intimate relationship. But he did rebel and that rebellion is like a disease that has infected all of mankind. It streams down through the generations. Jesus descends from Adam and becomes the new Adam; the complete, ideal man; all that Adam was intended to be.
It is within this being found firmly in the list of humanity, that Jesus can begin. He begins as a descendant of fallen mankind. He begins publically being the ideal man – the pinnacle of God’s plan – within the lineage of rebellion. And this beginning is our only hope. We have the disease. Jesus is the cure.