How Can Jesus Be An Heir to the Throne of David?
If Mary miraculously conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit, how then can Jesus have a legal claim to the royal inheritance rights of David when Joseph was not his biological father? Ironically, the answer lies in the legalities of Jewish law.
In a normal situation, betrothal and marriage would have provided the legal means for Joseph to pass along his rights of inheritance in the lineage of David to Jesus. Mary’s unique circumstances were anything but normal and Joseph was a wild card.
“… he who comes first in the order of hereditary succession transmits that right to his descendants, and that the father comes before all his descendants in hereditary succession…” – Jewish Encyclopedia
Joseph had a legitimate escape avenue which would have immediately ended the royal inheritance rights of the unborn Jesus. Knowing he was not responsible for Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph had the legal recourse of a divorce during his betrothal. It was an option Joseph actively considered.
Jewish law certainly favored Joseph – he needed only to make the accusation of adultery. And, he had very strong circumstantial evidence to support the charge. All Joseph needed to do was point to Mary’s state of pregnancy that began while she was out-of-town on a 3-month trip without him to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.
Luke reports that before Joseph acted on the divorce option, he had a visitation by the “angel of the LORD” revealing that Mary’s conception of a son came from the Holy Spirit, his birth was a fulfillment of prophecy, and they were to name him Jesus. Joseph had a big decision to make.
If he stayed with Mary, Joseph knew that in the eyes of the people he would be presumed to be the biological father. Whether he was the father or not embarrassment, public humiliation, scorn and perhaps other repercussions were certain.
Few would believe the truth if he defended himself saying Mary was a virgin made pregnant by the Holy Spirit. On the other side of the equation, he just had an angelic encounter where the angel said Mary’s birth of a son was a fulfillment of prophecy and to name him Jesus.
His sudden change of behavior strongly indicates something most profound did occur – Joseph stopped considering a divorce. He made a full commitment to Mary and her future son in-spite-of the inevitable adverse consequences and wed Mary before Jesus was born.
With divorce no longer a potential issue, lineage inheritance rights of the son and paternity by the father now relied on other Jewish laws and customs. Even for the highest purity lineage requirements of a priest, the law favored the rights of the unborn son who had no control over the circumstances of his own conception.
“Doubtful paternity involves not only the right of inheritance, but also, if the father be a kohen, the claim of priesthood with all its privileges and restrictions, including those regarding incest and prohibited marriage. Biblical chronology ignores the mother in the lineal descent of generations. The father was considered the stem of the family tree. The census was conducted “after their families, by the house of their fathers” (Num. §, 2). The father’s priesthood descended to his issue only by legal (with kedushlu) and lawful (not incestuous) marriage.” – Jewish Encyclopedia
Marriage preserved the lineage inheritance rights for Jesus regardless of Mary’s source of conception. A paternity claim by Joseph was a different matter. For a child impregnated by someone other than the husband, paternity was addressed by other Jewish legalities. 
“Acts of adultery by a wife living with her husband do not affect his paternity of her children, as the maxim is “The issue follows the majority of cohabitations by the husband” (Soṭah 27a).”
“Paternity can not be claimed for a child begotten out of wedlock when the alleged father disclaims it, even though the mother was his mistress and the child be born after he has married her.” The mother’s own claim, when denied by the man, is not accepted. But a man may establish his paternity of a son born out of wedlock, to entitle the son to the right of inheritance and of priesthood. A man may also disclaim the paternity of a child born to his legal wife; but he may not do so after that child has had a child (Shulḥan ‘Aruk, Eben ha-‘Ezer, 4, 29).” – Jewish Encyclopedia
Conception outside of marriage was not a disqualifying factor for the inheritance and lineage rights to the priesthood if the couple remained married, “The issue follows the majority of cohabitations by the husband.” The husband Joseph, the wild card factor, still had the option to disclaim paternity.
Further action was required – Joseph had to establish that he accepted the child as his own. One definition of establish by Merriam-Webster is: “to cause (someone or something) to be widely known and accepted.”
As parents, Joseph and Mary had their 8-day old son circumcised and officially named him “Jesus” as each had been independently instructed by an angel:
LK 2:21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
At the 30-day mark from the birth of Jesus, two more separate events took place as required by the Law – the purification of Mary after childbirth and the Redemption of the Firstborn, each with different requirements:
LK 2:22-24 “Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”” (NKJV)
Every mother was required to forego a purification ceremony. A mother was required 30 days after childbirth of a son, 60 days for a daughter, to offer a purification sacrifice.
A father of a mother’s firstborn had responsibilities known as the Redemption of Firstborn ceremony when every firstborn son was to be presented to a priest. Redeeming a first-born required no sacrifice, only a nominal payment to the priest.
Jewish custom expected the father to pronounce a blessing on his son to be followed by a feast. A priest attended the feast and had a dialog with the father to make an impression upon the attendees. One of the purposes of the Redemption of Firstborn ceremony was to affirm the right of inheritance of the firstborn:
“Any doubt regarding the primogeniture of a child is decided in favor of the father.” – Jewish Encyclopedia
“Primogeniture” has two definitions according to Merriam Webster. The first, “the state of being the firstborn of the children of the same parents.” The second relates to the first: “an exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son.”
Joseph publicly established paternity affirming the lineage and inheritance rights of Jesus through marriage and the Redemption of the Firstborn ceremony sanctioned by a priest. As a father, he presented Jesus to the Lord and gave him a first-born blessing.
Jewish leaders never challenged Jesus being in the royal lineage the House of David. Prophecies by Isaiah and Jeremiah concurred by Rabbi sages set forth the one undisputed requirement that the Messiah must be born in the House of David. What is the probability that the birth of Jesus fulfilled those prophesies?
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