The Genealogy of Jesus
Blood lines are very important to Jewish people. Like many Middle-Eastern societies of tribal origin, family lineage was often far more significant to their identity than where they were born. In fact for many modern Jewish sects maintaining the purity of bloodline is everything.
If a child is born illegitimate or of questionable circumstances they can be considered a Mamzer, and according to Deuteronomy 23:2
They shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD. The rabbis have inferred this to mean 'forever' an outsider and forbidden.
For many Jewish opponents to the Christian faith the legitimacy of Jesus and his genealogical credentials have become the subject of much debate. They point out that the gospel accounts not only contain two conflicting genealogies but also include numerous other anomalies, which together, provide compelling proof that Jesus could never be God's chosen messiah.
Let's consider their objections.
Matthew's use of Joseph's Genealogy
Ensuring the accuracy of Jesus' bloodline is paramount because it was through David's line that God would send His eternal Messiah King. In the opening chapter of his Gospel narrative it would appear that the writer Matthew seeks to do just this. He commences with the unequivocal statement “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:”
He then goes on to record a royal bloodline which leads to Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This not only apparently shows that Jesus was completely Jewish, but also that his royal ancestry was in direct fulfillment with Old Testament prophesies. However, Matthew's account goes on to inform his readers that Jesus was not actually Joseph's biological son, but was conceived by Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit; meaning that Jesus had no natural father.
If Jesus was not Joseph's son, then he could not have legitimately been attached to this lineage, and therefore could not legally claim the throne of David through Joseph.
In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern considers that this issue is not necessarily that problematic for the following reason:
"Yosef's behavior shows that he accepted Yeshua as his son. According to the Mishna, "If one say, 'This is my son, 'he is to be believed" (Bava Batra 8:6). The Gemara explains that he is believed "as regards the right of inheritance" (Bava Batra 134a).
Thus Yeshua, as legally acknowledged son, is entitled to inherit the throne of King David from Yosef, a descendant of David (v. 8). (This point is made by Phillip Goble, How to Point to Yeshua in Your Rabbi's Bible, New York: Artists for Israel, 1986.)
Even though this might be the case, there is a bigger problem within the lineage that Matthew chose to use, which brings us to the second and main objection with Joseph's genealogy. From this, there is seemingly no return.
Read the genealogy and take specific note of one name, Jechonias (Jechoniah), verse 11. During his life a curse was placed on him and his descendants, barring them from royalty. Chr 3:16 and Jeremiah 22:30 .
1 Chr 3:16. And the sons of Jehoiakim were Jeconiah his son, Zedekiah his son.
Jer 22:24-30. “As I live,” declares the LORD, “even though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were a signet ring on My right hand, yet I would pull you off; and I shall give you over into the hand of those who are seeking your life, yes, into the hand of those whom you dread, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans. I shall hurl you and your mother who bore you into another country where you were not born, and there you will die. “But as for the land to which they desire to return, they will not return to it. “Is this man Coniah a despised, shattered jar? Or is he an undesirable vessel? Why have he and his descendants been hurled out and cast into a land that they had not known?
“O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD!
“Thus says the LORD, 'Write this man down childless, a man who will not prosper in his days; for no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.'”
According to the above scriptures, Joseph being a part of this lineage is cursed and could never claim the throne of David, nor any of his sons. So, even if Jesus was considered a legitimate son through adoption, he would be cursed too, and could never be the true Messiah.
Is it possible that Matthew did not know this, and therefore made a huge error, and as the Jewish theologians contest scored an own goal in his declaration of Jesus' legitimacy to the throne of David?
To help address this question we need to also consider Luke's genealogy of Jesus. Like Matthew, Luke provides a genealogy that confirms Jesus to be the descendent of David, but his is different in a significant way. Matthew chooses the line carried through Solomon, Luke on the other hand uses the line of Nathan, who is also a Son of David. This one does not involve Jeconiah, and provides Joseph an alternative father.
Why are they different and which one is right? We have two possibilities to answer this riddle.
1. Two Fathers
Joseph had two fathers. It is possible that his mother's first husband had died and so remarried with Joseph being born to the second man. This would actually fall in line with Old Testament Levirate marriage law.
If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. Deuteronomy 25:5. Therefore Joseph's two fathers could have been Heli and Jacob—one a natural father, and the other a legal father. But this does not account for the other genealogical differences. Both men would have been from the same line!
2. Mary's Genealogy
Reading Luke's birth narratives we can notice that he focuses the events from Mary's perspective, where as Matthew concentrates on Joseph. So it is possible that Luke uses Mary's genealogy, making Jesus a legitimate descendant to the throne of David, via his mother. (Matrilineality throughout the history of Judaism has been an important feature and cannot be overlooked). If Luke did use Mary's genealogy why did he not make this clear?
As the Jewish theologians would point out, according to the Talmud it is the principle that only the family of one's father is called family, while the family of one's mother is not called family, as lineage is determined based upon one's father. Yevamot 54b:23. They arrive at this conclusion from Leviticus 25:49, that covers the subject of which family member can redeem a man, and it does not include a female; and Numbers 1:18, the declaration of family pedigree.
The Talmudic statement in itself does not delegitimise the use of this bloodline, if it was Mary's. It could have been the case that Heli had no sons to carry on the family name, so Heli could have adopted Joseph as his son permitting him to become a part of Heli and Mary's family tree. The way Luke writes verse 23, provides a potential signal that Joseph is not Heli's natural son. (See the earlier observations on family adoption by David Stern on this matter). This being the case, Jesus, Mary's son could then claim the legitimate right to David's throne, by using her husband's name. There is an Old Testament precedent for this too; see Ezra 2:61 and Nehemiah 7:63.
What can we conclude from all of this?
If we read Matthew chapter one carefully, we will notice that he simply records Joseph's genealogy and then states that Jesus was born of Mary, who was married to Joseph, as opposed to being his son, and that she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
I am convinced that contrary to the idea that Matthew made a 'school boy error' by using Joseph's genealogy, he knew exactly what he was doing. I do not consider that Matthew was using it to proclaim Jesus' right to the throne of David through Joseph, actually quite the opposite. He was showing that because of the curse on Jechoniah, Joseph could never have fathered Jesus, God's promised Messiah.
And, if Mary had no brothers to carry on the legal line of the throne either, then it would have been impossible for any human male from the David's line to have sired the Messiah.
What is impossible for man is not impossible for God. He steps in and provides a divine seed, while Mary provides the physical line to the throne of David and Heli legitimises it by adopting Joseph into his family. All is divinely planned and divinely orchestrated – making Jesus fully human and fully divine, just as only the true Messiah could be.
Mark Baker – FOI Director
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