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A reader asks us to help clear up the matter of Jesus’s lineage. Could he truly be the heir to David’s throne? Paul Taylor, AiG–UK, examines the evidence.
I was reading a forum the other day and someone brought up a question regarding Jesus' genetics and His right to the Throne of David and thus, His Messiahship. One person there said, “A Kingship must be descendant from bloodline not adoption. An adopted son can inherit possessions, but not a Throne. Mary may well be a descendant of David, but she can’t pass David’s Y-DNA to Jesus. Mary can only provide half of Jesus’ DNA; her mother's St. Anne’s mtDNA. Women don’t possess the male Y-DNA. David’s Y-DNA is passed only to the male line. Joseph, of course, did not pass his Y-DNA on to Jesus. How can Jesus inherit the Throne of David and Solomon if he doesn’t carry their Y-DNA which is passed from father to son (Agnatic succession)?
. . . I’m hoping someone can provide an answer to these claims.
Also, if you could also include this related question to Paul Taylor, I’d really appreciate it:
I’m very confused regarding a Jewish objection to Jesus as the Messiah which goes like this: “The Bible says that the Messiah would be of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David. According to Christians, Jesus was born of a virgin. However, tribal affiliation is conferred through the birth father only (Numbers 34:14, Numbers 1:18-44, Leviticus 24:10). The mother's tribal affiliation was considered irrelevant to what her children's tribal affiliation was and tribal affiliation/genealogy could not be inherited though a stepfather; only property could be inherited. Because Christians believe that Jesus had no human father, he would have had no tribal affiliation and would be eliminated from messianic consideration.”How can this be refuted?
In a moment, I will examine exactly how Jesus lays claim to the kingship of both Israel and Judah. But first, it is necessary to tackle some of the false presuppositions in your correspondent’s comments.
A Kingship must be descendant from bloodline not adoption. An adopted son can inherit possessions, but not a Throne. Mary may well be a descendant of David, but she can’t pass David’s Y-DNA to Jesus.
While it is true that kingship must be by bloodline, not adoption, this assumes that Jesus was adopted by Joseph. There is no reason to believe he was, Scriptural or otherwise. In fact, Jesus was counted as legally Joseph’s son and, therefore, available to inherit everything from Joseph. This is because Joseph did not put Mary aside—“divorcing” her within the betrothal period—thereby acknowledging that the baby was legally to be his son. The issue of DNA is irrelevant. DNA might be useful in today’s society for proof of blood lineage, but it has no place in the legal system of first-century Jewish thinking. The significance will become clear later.
The mother’s tribal affiliation was considered irrelevant to what her children’s tribal affiliation was and tribal affiliation/genealogy could not be inherited though a stepfather; only property could be inherited.
As we shall see, this presupposition is not strictly true and has been reached by ignoring some of the fine detail in the Old Testament.
Having challenged the presuppositions, I intend to build a positive case for Jesus’ inheritance and, in doing so, will answer the specific charges above.
The chief priests of the Jews objected to Pontius Pilate’s sign placed on the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” They wished for it to be amended so that it would read “He said ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” (John 19:21). They did not object to the use of the words “King of the Jews.” Nevertheless, Pilate insisted on retaining the phrase written in the three main languages of the world at the time. God had arranged this so that the world would have declared to it the truth of who Jesus was.
Jesus, of course, had not actually said the words Himself: “I am the King of the Jews.” But when asked a direct question by Pilate—“Are you the King of the Jews?”—He answered in the affirmative (Mark 15:2).
Also in Mark’s gospel, we see some of the mocking of the chief priests: “‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe’” (Mark 15:31–32). The one issue that I wish to observe from this statement is that the chief priests considered the phrases “King of the Jews” and “King of Israel” to be synonymous. Why is this important? It is because there are two different ways of being declared King in the Old Testament—one applies to the northern kingdom of Israel, the other applies to the southern kingdom of Judah, as well as the previous united kingdom of Israel.
The conditions for inheritance of the kingship of Judah are what might be expected; it is necessary to be of the bloodline, or House of David. However, this only applied after David. David did not inherit the kingship by descent. The previous king was Saul, who was not of the same tribe as David. Both Saul and David received the Kingship by anointment.
It should be noted that Saul had no expectation that his son Jonathan would inherit the kingdom. Rather, he accepted that David had been anointed to be his successor. Similarly, David did not expect his eldest son to inherit. There was no law of primogeniture. This also explains why David would not accept the kingship of his son Absalom. Solomon was not the obvious candidate, but he was the one who was anointed by David.
It follows that the kingship of Judah was to be a member of the House of David, but not necessarily by the law of primogeniture. God took the kingship away from Jehoiachin, and he was succeeded by his brother Zedekiah. Zedekiah could be king because he was of the House of David, even though he was not a direct descendent of Jehoiachin. In fact, God had said that no direct descendent of Jehoiachin could be King.
This latter point explains why Matthew—who is writing principally to Jews—emphasizes that Joseph is descended from David via Jehoiachin. The whole purpose was to show Jews that Jesus did not base His kingship on primogeniture descent. Jesus was Joseph’s legal son—though not blood son. Therefore, Jesus was legally able to inherit the Kingship through Joseph—except that God had already decreed that the Kingship could not pass to a descendent of Jehoiachin. Jesus could, however, inherit his tribal affiliation from Joseph. The article you quote, objecting to inheritance through adoption, is not relevant, because, as we have seen, Jesus was legally acknowledged as Joseph’s son.
There is a clear blood relationship through Mary. This genealogy is listed in Luke 3. It is clearly Mary’s genealogy, rather than Joseph’s (though some scholars disagree). Joseph’s father was called Jacob in Matthew 1. Yet Luke lists the generation before Joseph as Heli. Tradition has it that this was Mary’s father.
There is more than tradition at stake, however. It is notable that Matthew, writing to Jews, deliberately breaks some typical rules of Jewish genealogies—by not giving every generation and by including women. Both these factors emphasize the fact that Jesus does not hold His kingship through Joseph.
In the same way, Luke, writing principally for Gentiles, actually does stick to the Jewish rules of genealogies, in that he includes every generation and excludes women’s names. Therefore, Joseph’s name is included instead of Mary’s. Also, it should be noted that the phrase “the son of” really means “descendent of,” and its subject, in every case, is Jesus. Therefore, the genealogy could be expanded as follows: Jesus was the son (as was supposed) of Joseph; Jesus was the descendent of Heli; Jesus was the descendent of Matthat, etc. The purpose of this genealogy is to emphasize the blood descent of Jesus from David through Mary.
We now need to tackle the issue of inheritance through the mother. As we have seen, we do not have too much work here because Jesus could legally claim affiliation to the tribe of Judah through Joseph. However, contrary to the opinion of your correspondent, it is, in fact, possible for women to inherit tribal affiliation under certain conditions. The key passage in the Old Testament proving this point is Numbers 27:1–11.
A group of five sisters come to Moses with a complaint—that their father died in the wilderness without sons. They believe it is unfair for his name to be removed from among his family (v4). Moses takes this problem to the Lord, and the Lord replies thus: “The daughters of Zelophedad speak what is right.” God, therefore, grants that, if there be no male heir, the inheritance should pass to the daughter.
Traditional writings suggest that, although Mary may have had a sister, she did not have any brothers. Therefore, it was her right, under the law, to inherit affiliation to her father’s tribe—the tribe of Judah—and this inheritance could be passed to her son, Jesus. So, the red herring of mtDNA and Y-DNA is irrelevant. Old Testament law accepts that both Mary and Jesus are of the tribe Judah.
We now need to examine Jesus’s claim to the kingship of the northern kingdom of Israel. We have already seen how Saul and David had a claim to the throne of the united kingdom, not by descent, but by direct appointment by God. The same was to be true of the kings of Israel.
The requirement for Kingship of Israel was different from that of Judah. Kings of Israel had to be appointed by God. Jeroboam—the first King of the northern kingdom—gained his throne by rebellion. Yet, it was not only by rebellion. In 1 Kings 11:31 we see the prophet Ahijah saying to Jeroboam “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you.’” Some Kings of Israel tried to usurp the throne—they all ended their days by assassination.
In Jesus’s case, we see that his kingship was divinely appointed and announced in advance to Mary and to Joseph. That is the purpose of the account that Luke gives of Jesus’ birth in the two and a half chapters before he publishes Jesus’ genealogy.
So, Jesus fulfils the requirements for the kingship of Israel. He also fulfils the exact requirements for the kingship of Judah. He is, therefore, both king of Israel and king of the Jews—and fulfils all the prophecies given concerning Him.
The prophecies show that the Messiah had to have no earthly father. We see this from Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Many commentators have tried to suggest that the word Isaiah used, which is here translated “virgin,” should be translated “young woman” instead and that there was another word for “virgin.” This argument has been answered in many places. The alternative word for “virgin” could also mean an elderly woman whose husband had died and who was, therefore, no longer having any sexual relations. However, the Hebrew word for “young woman” is always used of a young woman who has not yet had any sexual relations. Therefore, the word virgin is an appropriate translation.
This ties in with the prophecy in Genesis 3:15, which shows that the Messiah—promised immediately after the very first sin—had to be the seed of the woman. Yet, in the Hebrew language, the word seed always elsewhere refers to the descendent of a man. The clear implication is that the one who was to crush the head of the serpent had to be born of a woman, but without an earthly father. So, Jesus fulfils these prophecies and shows why the Messiah could not have a Y-DNA descent from David, as to do so would violate the prophecies concerning the Messiah.
Finally, we have the witness of the New Testament writers. In Hebrews 7:14, we read that “It is evident that our Lord arose from Judah.” In Revelation 5:5, He is described as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” And in Genesis 49:10, we have the following Messianic prophecy.
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.
All the arguments above illustrate the following:
For these reasons—and many more—we acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah of the Jews, the Light to the Gentiles, the Saviour of the World, and our God and Redeemer.