When was Bezae’s Lukan genealogy harmonized?

At eighty Greek words — roughly half the size of the Pericope adulterae — Bezae’s distinctive harmonization of the Lukan genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38) stands as one of its longest variations from the mainstream text. By comparison, the longest so-called “Western non-interpolation” at Luke 22:19-20 involves thirty-two words, while the Sabbath worker episode at Luke 6:5 consists of just twenty-eight words. Yet from Luke 3:23-31, Bezae’s text replaces the forty names from Joseph to David in Luke’s genealogy. In their place, we find the twenty-five names between Joseph and David in Matthew’s genealogy.

No other of Bezae’s variations suggests more clearly the work of a determined editor! In fact, the process of harmonization required the Matthean order to be reversed to accommodate Luke’s reverse-chronological design! So Bezae’s Lukan genealogy must be regarded as evidence of the secondary nature of its distinctive text. After all, to suggest otherwise, we must explain why the mainstream text would have introduced genealogies that do not agree. Yet while the motive for a change on Bezae’s side seems obvious enough, it is not so obvious when such a change might have occurred.

Our investigation of synoptic harmonization must naturally begin in the second century. But while our second-century sources mention the two genealogies, they are notably quiet on any conflict between them. While Justin Martyr does not cite Matthew’s genealogy, he refers to the Lukan genealogy in connection with Jesus’s descent from Adam, explaining why Jesus called himself “Son of Man”:

“He called himself Son of Man either because of his birth by the Virgin who was … of the family of David and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham, or because Adam himself was the father of those above-named patriarchs, from whom Mary traces her descent.” (Dial. 100.3) 1

Now Justin mentions nothing here of any conflict between the genealogies. More striking though is the apparent reason why, namely, that Justin sees the Lukan genealogy, not as an account of Joseph’s lineage, but rather as the account of Mary’s illustrious descent through David and the patriarchs to Adam. Clearly there is no other genealogy to which Justin could be alluding than the Lukan text.

Justin confirms this understanding in the Apology, where he refers to Mary’s descent from Judah, the father of the Jews:

“For by the power of God He [Christ] was conceived by a virgin of the seed of Jacob, who was the father of Judah, the father of the Jews, as we have shown; and Jesse was His forefather according to the oracle, and He was the son of Jacob and Judah according to lineal succession. (1 Apol. 32) 2

It is clear then that Justin could perceive no conflict raised by the Lukan genealogy, which he believes to represent Jesus’ lineage through Mary.

Irenaeus is similarly aware of the Lukan genealogy, citing it with its Matthean counterpart in support of his doctrine of recapitulation. He first cites the Matthean genealogy (which he regards as giving Joseph’s lineage) to argue the impossibility that Jesus could have been born physically of Joseph, because Jeremiah had cursed Jeconiah’s descendants, barring them from the throne:

“For Joseph is seen to be the son of Joachim and Jechonias, as also Matthew explains His origin. Now Jechonias and all his descendants were disinherited from the kingdom. So says Jeremias …” (Haer. 3.21.9) 3

Irenaeus then cites the Lukan genealogy to argue that Christ is descended from Adam and thus is able to rescue the whole of fallen humanity:

“Luke shows that the genealogy of our Lord, which extends to Adam, contains seventy-two generations, and so he joins the end to the beginning and points out that He [Christ] it is who recapitulates in Himself all the nations that had been dispersed from Adam onward.” (Haer. 3.22.3-4)4

In neither case does Irenaeus mention any discrepancy between Luke and Matthew.

Yet of all second-century writers, the one that we would most expect to have attempted a harmonization is Tatian. but It seems rather that Tatian omitted the genealogy altogether from his harmony. According to Theodoret of Cyrrhus (d. 457), this was not due to any inability to reconcile the synoptic texts, but from a prejudice against Jesus’s Davidic heritage.

Most striking though is the silence of Celsus on the conflict, even though according to Origen was aware of both genealogies:

“he [Celsus] asserts that the ‘framers of the genealogies, from a feeling of pride, made Jesus to be descended from the first man [i.e. according to Luke], and from the kings of the Jews [i.e. according to Matthew].'” (Cels. 2.32; ANF 4, 444)

Yet amazingly Celsus seems to have said nothing of any discrepancies between the two genealogies, though he seems to know both! In fact, Origen takes Celsus to task for his neglect of this obvious problem:

“in finding fault with our Lord’s genealogy, there are certain points which occasion some difficulty even to Christians, and which, owing to the discrepancy between the genealogies, are advanced by some as arguments against their correctness, but which Celsus has not even mentioned. For Celsus, who is truly a braggart, and who professes to be acquainted with all matters relating to Christianity, does not know how to raise doubts in a skilful manner against the credibility of Scripture.”

Origen dismisses Celsus’ comment about Jesus’ social status:

“the carpenter’s wife could not have been ignorant of the fact, had she been of such illustrious descent.”

But it is clear from this that, like Justin, Celsus understood Luke’s genealogy to be that of Mary and Matthew’s to be that of Joseph. In fact, Celsus apparently considered it so self-evident that Luke recorded Jesus’ genealogy through Mary, that he does not bother to mention it. Yet Origen does inform us that in his time the discrepancies between the genealogies had been “advanced by some as arguments against their correctness.”

It is not until the third century that we find the issue of the genealogies being raised in the surviving literature, when according to Eusebius, Julius Africanus noted the problem and suggested the custom of Levirate marriage as a possible solution. But although Eusebius claims that Africanus is “refuting the opinions of others” (Hist. eccl. 1.7.1; NPNF 2.1, 91), it is hard to rely totally on his evidence, given his mistaken claim that Africanus received his answer “from tradition,” when Africanus himself contradicts this very statement, admitting namely that

“we can urge no testimony in its support [the Levirate marriage solution], we have nothing better or truer to offer.” (Hist. eccl. 1.7.15; NPNF 2.1, 94)

It seems then we cannot assume that Bezae’s harmonized Lukan genealogy arose in the second century. If an individual as hostile to Christianity as Celsus apparently saw no conflict, then neither can we assume that Bezae’s editors necessarily saw a conflict. Like Celsus, they may have viewed the two genealogies as belonging to Mary and Joseph.


  1. St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho (trans. T. B. Falls; Selections of FC 3; Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2003) 151.
  2. St. Justin Martyr, The First and Second Apologies (trans. L. W. Barnard; ACW 56; New York: Paulist Press, 1997) 45-46.
  3. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies. Book 3 (trans. D. J. Unger; ACW 64. New York: The Newman Press, 2012) 101-102.
  4. St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Against the Heresies. Book 3 (Unger, 104. Irenaeus mentions just seventy-two generations in the Lukan genealogy. Most witnesses include seventy-seven or seventy-eight generations.

4 thoughts on “When was Bezae’s Lukan genealogy harmonized?

  1. Peter,
    So, if I understand you, the lack of controversy about the differences between the accounts in the 2nd century leads to the assumption that the change was made later. Do we ever see a period where the differences are significant enough to warrant such a change? If not, how can we account for the change or determine that it didn’t happen early, recognizing that early assumes a 2nd century date for Bezae, which I am not convinced of.


    • Hi Timothy,

      As always, great questions here!

      Yes, the discrepancy between the genealogies apparently becomes a significant apologetic issue at the end of the fourth century.

      – We can see evidence of this already in Eusebius’ Church History (recall also that Eusebius is our source for Julius Africanus).
      – Ambrosiaster devotes six of his 120 or so questions on the Old and New Testaments to problems concerning the genealogies of Jesus. (As I have suggested elsewhere, Ambrosiaster seems to share some common interests with whomever introduced the tendencies found in Bezae’s distinctive text.)
      – Augustine implies that inconsistencies in the genealogies were a problem raised by the Manichaeans in his diocese. If this is so, we can then see Bezae’s Lukan genealogy as an attempt to forestall such anticipated criticism.

      On the other hand, concerning the second century:

      – If critics like Celsus are representative in taking for granted that one genealogy is Mary’s, there would be no reason for a text such as Bezae’s to harmonize away this crucial part of the record.
      – Similarly, Tatian’s alleged reason for excluding the genealogies was not that they disagreed (which we’d expect him to have fixed), but their mention of David.

      Of course we are likely missing significant parts of the second-century record. But what we do have does not seem to favor the second century comparatively as time frame when the issue was pressing enough to have produced such an elaborate effort at harmonization.


  2. Pete,
    So it appears that in regard to Bezae’s unique readings we are moving towards a date in the 4th century. If I remember correctly, this coincides with the proposed layers idea. The text of Bezae that is early seems to be the mainstream layer and the Alexandrian layer. This would seem to infer that the exemplar may have been at a ‘normal text’ under Aland’s classification system. I have not compared Bezae directly with any of the early Unicals or papyri. I look forward to seeing further posts. I also hope to find the time to compare Bezae directly with aleph, A, B, and C to confirm that the non-western portions are normal.


    • Yes, I would suggest that the 4th century cannot be ruled out as a date for Bezae’s distinctive text on the basis of currently available evidence. This is why the comparative research you suggest on Bezae’s text is so crucial. (In fact, this is the thrust of my PhD research here at Münster, focusing on Mark.) An important preliminary step is to extract readings that are versional, since these are assumed to have entered the tradition together. Readings apparently unique to Bezae may also be extracted. Anything left over will likely reflect Bezae’s Greek base.

      It is interesting to observe that Text und Textwert suggests that Bezae’s Greek base in Matthew looks a lot like some Family 1 MSS (vol. 1, p. 25) and in Luke like Ξ (vol. 1, p. 26). For a small part of John, we have a glimpse of this layering in my brief article: https://peterlorenz.me/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/lorenz-analyzing-textual-stratification-in-codex-bezae-in-john-41e2809342-2015.pdf. But more interesting than the article are the results that I’ve posted online: https://peterlorenz.me/layer-composition-in-bezae/.

What do you think?