|Manuscript depicting Eusebius|
The Facebook group Unfundamentalist Christians posted McGrath's musings, and a trolling apologist posted the following video in response:
The video is typical of apologetics in the scriptural sleight-of-hand it offers. First, most conservative apologists suggest that all we need is Scripture to understand God, Jesus, and Christianity -- the Protestant sola Scriptura, taken to a sometimes-absurd extreme. Yet note what this "explanation" does: it cites the fourth-century church historian Eusebius to make sense of the discrepancy, thereby conceding the fact that Scripture alone does not answer this question.
Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 1.7.1-12) is actually quoting here a letter he read from an Africanus to Aristides, which posits that in Jewish law if a man dies childless his brother would take charge of his son. Therefore Jacob "begat" Joseph (Matthew) but Joseph was also the "son of" Heli (Luke) his uncle (the translator of the Loeb's Ecclesiastical History, Kirsopp Lake, calls this an "obscure argument").
This is why, we are led to believe, Matthew used the word "begat" but Luke only used the phrase "the son of." Of course, this is a specious argument already for a number of reasons. First, that distinction is not specific to this instance (the parentage of Joseph), but runs throughout the two genealogies. In point of fact, Luke doesn't really say "the son of," but rather just "of," since he lists a line of men in the genitive case, implying that each is the father of the previously listed man in the same way that Joseph was the father of Jesus (and even here, Luke says Joseph was "thought to be" the father of Jesus). Thus Luke traces the genealogy from Jesus, "son of Joseph" back to Adam, by way of sons. Matthew in contrast starts with Abraham and uses the "begat" format (ἐγέννησεν), instead tracing the lineage by way of the fathers.
So the notion that Luke is specifically avoiding using the term "begat" here is dishonest, for he uses it nowhere else in his genealogy. It's a completely irrelevant point, meant only to wow those who don't in fact know their Bibles very well, and treating it as though it means something is a false witness of the first degree.
Aside from that, the entire rationalization is mere conjecture, Eusebius' protestations to that score notwithstanding, for this bit of obscure Jewish law still doesn't explain why the two fathers of Joseph, supposedly brothers, had different fathers in the two genealogies. But not to worry! Eusebius (again, via Africanus) has an explanation for this too, as the video points out. You see, the two men were half-brothers, and had different fathers. Where's the evidence for this? Nowhere, except in Eusebius' authenticating language:
οὐδὲ μὴν ἀναπόδεικτον ἢ ἐσχεδιασμένονἐστὶν τοῦτο. τοῦ γοῦν σωτῆρος οἱ κατὰ σάρκα συγγενεῖς, εἴτ' οὖν φανητιῶντες εἴθ' ἁπλῶς ἐκδιδάσκοντες, πάντως δὲ ἀληθεύοντες, παρέδοσαν καὶ ταῦτα. (H.E. 1.7.10-11).
"This is not an unproven or offhand thing. But those relatives of the savior according to the flesh, either because of honor or to instruct also, being wholly truthful, handed down these things."
If you think Eusebius sounds like he is perhaps protesting too much, you are not alone. This bit is after Africanus' letter, and Eusebius does not cite where he gets this information, 300-400 years after the fact.
The entire explanation defies critical analysis, and is convincing only if one already subscribes to Biblical inerrancy and so firmly believes there must be some reconciliation of the text available. To believe this video's rationalization, we have to assume that a fourth-century CE Greek historian is accurately recording the intricate family details of a first-century BCE Jewish peasant, and that said first-century BCE Jewish peasant's family accurately and to the letter followed the prescripts in a seventh-to-sixth century BCE text (Deuteronomy). Even then, we're left with the problem that said "brothers" have different fathers in each genealogy, so we again rely upon the fourth-century CE historian's obscure rationalization for how it came about, again with nothing but his insistence as to its accuracy.
Is all of that more likely than the fact that here (as well as elsewhere) the authors of Luke and Matthew simply do not agree? Not hardly.
I do not think that anyone proposing a traditional or orthodox reading of Scripture is automatically practicing apologetics. But for many denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, apologetics is a key part of their ministry. Indeed, its institutions even offer degrees in apologetics. And in those cases, it most often comes down to defending biblical inerrancy and literalism (which routinely conflict). Like the example of the video above, most apologetic arguments of this stripe are inherently anti-intellectual and dishonest. They ask you to make a host of assumptions, suspend all critical thinking, isolate words and phrases from their context (like "son of" and "begat" above), and operate under the working assumption that the Bible must be wholly, internally consistent, an approach we would take with no other set of texts. They also encourage an environment in which questions are not welcomed, except for the purposes of laying them to rest with a readily available explanation.
That is not respecting the Bible, despite its proponents asserting that anyone who does not practice such chicanery has a "low view of Scripture." The "low view of Scripture" is one that robs each individual part of the Bible of its individual voice in order to service the untenable ideology of biblical inerrancy.