Was Shealtiel or Pedaiah the Father of Zerubbabel?

If a teenage boy whom you just met told you that his parents were “David and Marie,” but then a few minutes later you overheard him tell a county clerk that he was the son of “John and Joanne,” you might assume that the teen had lied either to you or to the county clerk. The fact of the matter is, however, the teen could be telling the truth. It may be that most people recognize his parents by their middle names—David and Marie, but for more official business his parents use their first names—John and Joanne. Or, perhaps the boy had been reared by his grandparents because his parents had died in a tragic car accident when he was an infant. The boy may refer to his grandparents as “mom” and “dad” since they were the only “mom” and “dad” he ever really knew (experientially). In turn, the grandparents may refer to him as their “son.” In most all unofficial documents and casual conversations the terms “mom,” “dad,” and “son” are used. For nearly all official documents and in most formal conversations, the terms “grandparents” and “grandson” are used. These are two very real possibilities as to why a teenage boy may refer to his parents by different names. Assuming and alleging the worst about the teen without knowing all of the facts would be unfair and inappropriate.

The fact is, family ties are often complicated (and especially confusing to outsiders who are unaware of others’ family history). I met two teenage girls a few years ago who informed me that their mother was also their grandmother. I was puzzled initially. Then they told me (if I recall correctly) that their mother had abandoned the family several years earlier and that their dad eventually married their birth mother’s mother. In time, the girls began calling their grandmother “mom.”

There are many names and family ties in Scripture that can be confusing—even in the genealogy of Jesus. Abraham married Sarah, his half-sister (Genesis 20:12; cf. 17:15-16; 22:17). Their son, Isaac, married Rebekah, his second cousin (Genesis 22:20-23; 24:4,15). Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, married his first cousins, Rachel and Leah, who were sisters (Genesis 24:29; 29:15-30). Years later, Jacob’s son, Judah, committed sexual immorality with his own daughter-in-law (thinking she was a prostitute), and she subsequently gave birth to two sons—Perez and Zerah. In one sense, these boys were his sons; in another sense, they were his grandsons (Genesis 38:12-30).

Zerubbabel is another historical figure in the genealogy of Christ around whom there is some confusion. While the books of Ezra (3:2,8; 5:2), Nehemiah (12:1), Haggai (1:1,12,14; 2:2; 2:23), Matthew (1:12), and Luke (3:27) all indicate that Zerubbabel was the “son of Shealtiel,” the chronicler noted the following about his immediate ancestry: “[T]he sons of Jeconiah, the prisoner, were Shealtiel his son, and Malchiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah. And the sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei” (1 Chronicles 3:17-19a, NASB, emp. added). The obvious question is: “Why does 1 Chronicles indicate that Pedaiah was Zerubbabel’s father, if everywhere else in Scripture his father is said to be Shealtiel?”

Skeptics are quick to list 1 Chronicles 3:19 as a contradiction. The truth is, however, there are reasonable, potential solutions to this conundrum. First, it may be that Zerubbabel was sired by one brother and reared by another. Recall that Mordecai was a father figure to Queen Esther (he “had brought up” the future queen of Persia; Esther 2:7), though he was actually her cousin. Jesus, “being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph,” was, in reality, “of God,” not of man (Luke 3:23). Joseph helped to rear Jesus, and was perceived to be His biological father (Matthew 13:55), but in no way was he Jesus’ father in the normal sense. The fact is, sometimes a “son” is reared by a “dad,” who is not his father in the strictest sense of the word.

Another legitimate, possible explanation to the differences in the aforementioned verses involves a Law of Moses with which many are unfamiliar—the levirate marriage law. According to Deuteronomy 25:5-6,

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel (emp. added; cf. Matthew 22:24-26).

If Shealtiel had been married, yet died prior to siring a son, his brother Pedaiah may have taken Shealtiel’s wife to be his wife. If such was the case, their firstborn son (Zerubbabel) would be called after Shealtiel, not Pedaiah (even though, in the strict biological sense, Zerubbabel would be Pedaiah’s son).

Admittedly, the Bible does not explain why 1 Chronicles 3:19 differs from the other passages in Scripture that refer to Zerubbabel as Shealtiel’s son. What can be established, however, is that logical possibilities exist for the differences. In truth, without more information, it would be just as unfair to accuse the chronicler of lying about Zerubbabel’s father as it would be to disparage a teenager we meet in the community who refers to his grandfather as his “dad.” Surely we can see the rationality of restraint and the foolishness of jumping to unproven conclusions.

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