Various passages in the Bible differ as to the names of individuals or as to genealogies. If the Bible is trustworthy, why do such differences exist?
A primary reason why the Bible has differences in the names of an individual is that the Jews often referred to certain individuals by more than one name. In his book entitled Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, John W. Haley, M.A., states on page 314, “In numerous instances, apparent ‘discrepancies’ are produced by the change of a person’s name on account of some trait of character which he has developed, or of some change in his condition and prospects.”
Prominent Old Testament individuals who are referred to by several names include Abraham, who previously was named Abram; Jacob, who is subsequently named Israel; and Jacob’s brother, Esau, who is also called Edom. In the New Testament, prominent examples include some of Jesus’ apostles. Simon Peter is called Simon, Peter, Cephas, Simon Bar-jona, and Simon son of Jonas. Likewise, Matthew is also named Levi; and Thomas is also called Didymus.
Furthermore, the names of individuals sometimes differ between the Old Testament and the New Testament. These individuals include Noah (Noe), and the prophets Isaiah (Esaias) and Elijah (Elias). However, the explanation for these differences is relatively simple, according to Allen Bowman, Ph.D. On page 122 of his book entitled Is the Bible True?, he says, “The [King James Version] gives the Hebrew forms of such names in the Old Testament and the Greek forms in the New.” And, on page 81 of their book entitled Inerrancy and Common Sense, Roger R. Nicole and J. Ramsey Michaels note, “[M]any names, particularly those that are transcribed from another language, can be appropriately spelled in a variety of ways.”
Those who use more modern translations of the Bible than the King James Version should see fewer differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament with regard to the name of the same individual. Bowman notes on page 122 of his book, “Later translations avoid the difficulty by . . . using the Old Testament form of each name throughout the Bible.”
The Bible also has differences in genealogies for some people, most notably the genealogy of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38. Matthew records a very different ancestral tree for Jesus than the one that is recorded in Luke.
Haley says there are two principal theories pertaining to the ancestry of Jesus. However, one of these theories seems considerably more credible than the other. In regard to the more credible of the two theories, Haley states on page 326 of his book,
[This theory] seems supported by several early Christian writers. . . . It is indirectly confirmed by Jewish tradition. . . . [A]ccording to received Jewish tradition, Mary was the daughter of Heli; hence, that it is her genealogy which we find in Luke. . . . This theory shows us in what way Christ was the “Son of David.” If Mary was the daughter of Heli, then Jesus was strictly a descendant of David, not only legally, through his reputed father, but actually, by direct personal descent, through his mother.
A number of biblical scholars, including Gleason L. Archer, support this theory. On page 61 of the book entitled Inerrancy, which was edited by Norman Geisler, Ph.D., Archer declares, “[I]t was understood by the church fathers that Matthew refers to the line of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, whereas Luke gives the lineage of Mary, His mother.”
Furthermore, Geisler and Thomas Howe, M.A., on page 385 of their book entitled When Critics Ask, assert,
Matthew gives the official line, since he addresses Jesus’ genealogy to Jewish concerns for the Jewish Messiah’s credentials which required that Messiah come from the seed of Abraham and the line of David. . . . Luke, with a broader Greek audience in view, addresses himself to their interest in Jesus as the Perfect Man (which was the quest of Greek thought). Thus, he traces Jesus back to the first man, Adam. . . .
That Matthew gives Jesus’ paternal genealogy and Luke his maternal genealogy is further supported by several facts. First of all, while both lines trace Christ to David, each is through a different son of David. Matthew traces Jesus through Joseph (his legal father) to David’s son, Salomon the king, by whom Christ rightfully inherited the throne of David. . . . Luke’s purpose, on the other hand, is to show Christ as an actual human. So he traces Christ to David’s son, Nathan, through his actual mother, Mary. . . .
It should be noted that the passage in Luke which includes the genealogy of Jesus seeks to make it clear that Joseph was Jesus’ legal father, but not his actual (i.e., biological) father. Luke 3:23, in the New King James Version of the Bible, refers to Joseph as “being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph.”
We have attempted to briefly explain why several name differences and genealogy differences occur in the Bible, and believe that generally other such differences can likewise be satisfactorily explained.