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Cainan in Jesus' genealogy

Nov 01, 2013

Opinions vary as to whether Luke gives Joseph’s or Mary’s genealogy. As I wrote previously, Eusebius, the bishop-historian of Caesarea, believed that Luke was writing about Joseph’s genealogy. This would seem to follow the traditional Hebrew custom of transmitting the male line rather than the female line.

On the other hand, the Hebraic scholar, John Lightfoot, takes an opposing position, arguing that Luke traces Mary’s genealogy. He writes,

“Joseph is not here called the son of Heli, but Jesus is so; for the word Jesus, viz. huios, not huiou, must be understood, and must be always added in the reader’s mind to every race in this genealogy, after this manner: Jesus (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, and so the son of Heli, and of Matthat, yea, and, at length, the son of Adam, and the Son of God. For it was very little the business of the evangelist either to draw Joseph’s pedigree from Adam, or, indeed, to show that Adam was the son of God… For when declaring that Jesus was the Son of God, do we think the same evangelist would, in the same breath, pronounce Adam the son of God too?... This Jesus, who had newly received that great testimony from heaven, ‘This is my Son,’ was the very same that had been promised to Adam by the seed of the woman. And for this reason hath he drawn his pedigree on the mother’s side, who was the daughter of Heli, and this too as high as Adam, to whom this Jesus was promised.

“In the close of the genealogy, he teacheth in what sense the former part of it should be taken; viz. that Jesus, not Joseph, should be called the son of Heli, and consequently, that the same Jesus, not Adam, should be called the Son of God. Indeed, in every link of this chain this still should be understood, ‘Jesus the son of Matthat, Jesus the son of Levi, Jesus the son of Melchi;’ and so of the rest.”

The terms “son” and “father” do indeed have meaning beyond a single generation, for the terms are often used in Scripture of a grandson or grandfather, as, for example in Daniel 5:2, where Nebuchadnezzar was said to be the father of Belshazzar. In fact, Belshazzar’s father was Nabonidus, son of Nebuchadnezzar, as history shows.

Likewise, Jesus is called the son of David, when in fact, a thousand years separated the two. When we add to this the metaphorical meaning of the terms, such as “our father Abraham,” it is not hard to see how broadly the terms were used.

The biblical genealogies, too, sometimes appear careless in the use of these terms. For example, in Genesis 36:2 we are told that Esau marries wives from Canaan. The KJV gives a literal rendering of the Hebrew text, saying,

2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite.

Anah was Aholibamah’s father, not “the daughter of Zibeon.” Here the NASB clarifies the passage, saying,

2 Esau took wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah and the granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite.

In other words, Oholibamah herself was both the daughter of Anah and the granddaughter of Zibeon. Zibeon is thus said to be the father of Anah. The term daughter is used as loosely as it is in the first statement, which tells us that Esau’s wives were “daughters of Canaan.” Many generations had passed between Canaan and Adah and Oholibamah, yet they are labeled his daughters.

Cainan, Son of Arphaxad

In Luke 3:35, 36 we read,

35 … the son of Heber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech.

Who is this Cainan? He does not appear in the genealogy in Genesis 10:24,

24 And Arphachshad became the father of Shelah; and Shelah became the father of Eber.

The Genesis account says:

Arphachshad (or Arphaxad)
Shelah (or Salah)
Eber (or Heber)

Luke’s list says:


There was, of course, an earlier Cainan (or Kenan) in Genesis 5:12. This Cainan was the fourth patriarch, beginning with Adam. But he died long before Noah’s flood, so he could not have been born after the flood as a son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah.

The answer lies in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. This translation began around 280 B.C. and had long been completed by the time of the first century. It had become the standard Scripture for virtually all Greek-speaking people.

Unfortunately, the translators took some liberties with the Hebrew text, adding a hundred years to the age of the patriarchs when they begat the next generation. And so, whereas the Hebrew text tells us that Adam was 130 when Seth was born (Genesis 5:3), the Septuagint says Adam was 230 when Seth was born.

It seems that their purpose was to project Adam further into the past in order to gain greater prestige from antiquity. There was competition between Egypt and Babylon over who was the greatest civilization, and each claimed to be the first in existence. Such a falsification of history was ingrained in Egyptian culture. So it appears that the Greek-speaking rabbis of Egypt were caught up in the same mania, not wanting to show their own origin to be of a much later date. So by adding a century to the patriarchs, they managed to extend biblical history back another 1500 years.

The Septuagint also added Cainan to the genealogy after the flood, saying in Genesis 11:12, 13 (Septuagint),

12 And Arphaxad lived a hundred and thirty-five years, and begot Cainan. 13 … And Cainan lived a hundred and thirty years and begot Sala…

The Hebrew text reads,

12 And Arpachshad lived thirty-five years, and became the father of Shelah.

This insertion added another 230 years to the genealogy list in Genesis. Not only did the Septuagint add a century to the life of Arphaxad before his son was born, but it makes Cainan his son, who lived 130 more years before Sala was born.

Needless to say, I studied this carefully in 1991 before writing Secrets of Time, in order to obtain a proper timeline of history. I discovered that the Septuagint’s timeline would place the death of Methuselah 14 years after the Flood. If that were true, then he would have been on Noah’s ark, and there would have been more than eight souls on the ark, contradicting 1 Peter 3:20.

The Septuagint also violates the Law of Time by destroying the principles of Blessed Time and Cursed Time, which I explained in Secrets of Time. For this reason, I do not agree with the Septuagint’s chronology, nor its genealogical addition of Cainan as a son of Arphaxad.

The addition of Cainan in Genesis 11:12 is not the only place where the rabbis took liberties. Compare Genesis 10:2,

2 The sons of Japheth were Gomer and Magog and Madai and Javan and Tubal and Meshech and Tiras. (NASB)

2 The sons of Japheth, Gamer, and Magog, and Madoi, and Jovan, and Elisa, and Thobel, and Mosoch, and Thiras. (Septuagint)

Note that the Septuagint adds Elisa (or Elisha) to the sons of Japheth. Likewise, in Genesis 46:20, the Septuagint adds five grandchildren to the sons of Joseph. The conclusion in the Septuagint is given in Genesis 46:27,

27 And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in the land of Egypt, were nine souls; all the souls of the house of Jacob who came with Joseph into Egypt, were seventy-five souls.

The Hebrew text says there were just seventy, rather than seventy-five. So which text is correct? Were Joseph’s grandchildren alive at the time to be included in this census when Jacob and his family moved to Egypt? Keep in mind that they all moved to Egypt when Joseph was 39 years of age. Joseph had come to power at the age of 30, at which time he was given a wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera (Genesis 41:45).

If Asenath had given birth to Manasseh in the following year, when Joseph was 31, then he not have been more than eight years old when the family moved to Egypt. Ephraim could not have been more than seven. How is it that Manasseh already had five children of his own at the tender age of eight?

Some say that the Septuagint must have been using earlier Hebrew texts as the basis of its translation. However, no such texts have ever been discovered, and if they did indeed exist, we may legitimately question their accuracy. It is more likely that the rabbis provided a flawed text to Ptolemy, the Egyptian king who requested a Greek copy of the Scriptures. The rabbis were known to be quite possessive of the Scriptures, as the Talmud reflects. There are Talmudic writings that call for the death penalty for any non-Jew who dares to study the Scriptures.

Nonetheless, the Septuagint is a useful tool, in that it provided a Hebrew-Greek dictionary for the apostles in the first century. Paul quotes from the Septuagint most of the time in his epistles, because, though imperfect, it was the text most familiar to his audience. Likewise, when Luke wrote his gospel, he quoted the genealogy as it appears in the Septuagint.

The problem, then, is how to maintain the inspiration of the gospel when Luke quotes an uninspired and translation whose text has been altered by men. The rabbis were extremely careful about altering the Hebrew text, but it appears they had no such qualms about a Greek text, which they knew would be used mostly by a non-Jewish audience.

Lightfoot’s conclusion is that Luke was accurately quoting the Septuagint text when he listed Cainan in the genealogy. If he had tried to make any correction to conform to the Hebrew text, it would have caused controversy among his Greek readers, who would have consulted their own copies of the Septuagint and then would have taken issue with Luke.

“If St. Luke should not also have inserted it, how readily they might have called his veracity into question, as to the other part of the genealogy, which had been extracted out of tables and registers not so familiarly known!” (Lightfoot, Commentary, Vol. III, p. 61)

“It is one thing to dictate from himself, and another thing to quote what is dictated from others, as our evangelist in this place doth. And since he did, without all question, write in behalf of the Gentiles, being the companion of him who was the great apostle of the Gentiles, what should hinder his alleging according to what had been dictated in their Bibles?” (Lightfoot, p. 63)

So what can we say about the number of generations from God to Jesus? If we remove Cainan from the record, we come down from 77 to 76 generations total. Jesus is seen to be the son of 76 generations, the final being the Son of God.

This is part 11 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke

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Dr. Stephen Jones

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