Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in Matthew & Luke
A recent question I received: “I started reading Matthew this morning and it stood out how prominent Joseph appears in the beginning chapters compared to in Luke. Was there a reason Matthew emphasizes the one earthly parent and Luke the other?"
Answer: That’s a great and accurate observation.
Probably it’s due to this: the original readers of those two Gospels were two different groups with two different sets of things that were significant for their understanding of Jesus.
Matthew was written to Jews (it’s why the Gospel quotes the Old Testament so much), and it seeks to prove to the Jews of the A.D. 40s that Jesus was and is the Davidic (descended from David) king who had come to save His people, not temporally through an earthly kingdom, but eternally through an eternal kingdom. Joseph is key to that claim of Jesus’ being king, because Joseph is a descendent of David, and thus his (adopted) son has legitimate claim to the throne of God's people, per God’s declaration to David in 2 Samuel 7:16 (in which God had said the only legitimate kings over His people would be David’s descendants). Matthew’s genealogy is structured by this purpose, too, displaying that Jesus is not only of the house of Abraham, but of the house of David (and, thus, He is a legitimate heir to David's throne).
Luke, on the other hand, is writing to Theophilus, who appears to be a gentile, Roman governor who is a Christian (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 24:3, 26:25). One of Luke’s lessons to Theophilus is that Theophilus, in his position of civil power, should use his civil power for the protection of women, the weak, the overlooked, and the poor (instead of trampling on them, as Rome and its society typically did). Thus, Luke emphasizes those groups throughout his Gospel, and shows how God exalts and honors these groups, both in the Jesus’ preamble (check out Zechariah’s and Mary’s speeches in chapter one, with regard to their emphasis on God’s remembering the humble, the hungry, and the otherwise lowly) and in Jesus’ treatment of the people in those categories throughout the rest of the Gospel. Thus, Mary is more prominent than Joseph in the birth narrative of Luke.