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 the House of David without a 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 to Jesus his rights of inheritance to the lineage of David. [1] But, 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. Knowing he was not responsible for Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph had the legal recourse of a divorce during his betrothal. Acting on it would have immediately ended the royal inheritance rights of the unborn Jesus. It was an option Joseph actively considered.[2]

Jewish law certainly favored Joseph – he needed only to make the accusation of adultery.[3] And, he had very strong circumstantial evidence to support the charge. All Joseph needed to do was point to Mary’s state of pregnancy during their betrothal that began while she was out-of-town on a 3-month trip without him to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.[4]

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 the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy and they were to name him Jesus.[5] 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 other repercussions were certain.[6]

On the other side of the equation, he just had an encounter where the angel of the Lord who said Mary’s birth of a son was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy and to name him Jesus. Still, few would believe the truth if Joseph defended himself saying Mary was a virgin made pregnant by the Holy Spirit.[7]

Something most profound did occur as evidenced by a sudden change of behavior – Joseph stopped considering a divorce.  Moreover, he made a full commitment to Mary and her future son, in-spite-of the inevitable adverse consequences, and proceeded to wed Mary without a consummation before Jesus was born. [8]

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.[9]  

“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. [10]

“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.”[11]

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:[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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:[15]

“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.”[16] 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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1]  “inheritiance.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. < http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8114-inheritance >  “adoption.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/852-adoption
[2] Matthew 1:19.  “Divorce.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5238-divorce> Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book II, Chapter 4. p 586. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf>
[3] “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/865-adultery>
[4] Matthew 1:18, 39-43; Luke 1:39, 56. Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 586.  “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.  Brayer, Menachem M. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 192-193.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=GhPxFOCdQj4C&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=sex+betrothal+jewish&source=web&ots=G4jLlub8y9&sig=gnkOuPI8xLKvYl57J9PR9VY3kVg#PPA143,M1>
[5] Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 1:26-28.
[6] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Kethuboth 13. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/kethuboth/kethuboth_13.html>  Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 143. 
[7] CR Mark 6:1-6
[8] Matthew 1:24.
[9] “Paternity.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11939-paternity>
[10] “Paternity.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.  “primogeniture.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12362-primogeniture>
[11] “establish.” Merriam-Webster. English Language Learners Definition of establish. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/establish>
[12] Leviticus 12:3; Matthew 1:19-25; Luke 1:31. “Circumcision.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4391-circumcision>
[13] Leviticus 12:2-8. “Childbirth” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4328-childbirth
[14] Numbers 18:15-16; Luke 2:22-24. CR Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:46-49, Deuteronomy 21:17. “First Born, Redemption of.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[15] “primogeniture.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. “First-born, Redemption of.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.
[16] “primogeniture.” Merriam-Webster. 2019. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/primogeniture>

Joseph’s Dilemma With Mary

Joseph’s behavior played a key role in the Nativity story, much more than it may seem. His reactions to the extreme circumstances reveal truths about Mary’s pregnancy.

Most likely Joseph knew Mary through community interactions in Nazareth such as during harvest or through their Synagogue.[1] He would have been familiar with her family’s reputation and had full confidence that she was a marriageable virgin, a very important factor in their conservative Jewish society.[2]

Betrothals typically lasted for a year during which time Joseph would be very busy.[3] As a bridegroom, in addition to paying the traditional bride-price, he had to hold a job to meet other financial obligations such as preparing their new home and a 3-day wedding feast for their guests.[4]

Mary, on the other hand, had less commitment pressures to prepare for the wedding. A betrothed girl subject to Judaic Law was under strict supervision of her family and the watchful eye of the community. She was not allowed to be alone at any time with an adult male, not even a male family member.[5]

Gabriel, the angel, in his secret appearance to Mary informed her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was 6 months pregnant. It seemed to be the perfect opportunity to visit Elizabeth who lived in a village days away near Jerusalem.[6] Mary would be gone for 3 months. No phones, texts or emails…keeping in touch with Joseph would be very limited.[7]

Joseph would not become aware of Mary’s pregnancy until sometime after her return to Nazareth. It is unclear exactly when he discovered that she was pregnant, but it is clear from Matthew‘s use of the Greek word heurisko meaning “to hit upon…to find (by chance)” that it was a big surprise when he did find out![8] Overwhelming emotions by Joseph would be expected – hurt and anger to begin with, then resentment, embarrassment, doubt, uncertainty, temptations of vengefulness and other mixed feelings. Then the big question – what to do next?

Moving forward with the marriage would be the expected behavior of a man who believed himself to be the father of his betrothal’s baby. Frowned upon by the Rabbis, accidental pregnancies during betrothals were a reality, even in those days. As such, these things were dealt with by allowing the couple to move up their wedding date and get on with life as a married couple.[9]

Not being the father of Mary’s baby presented a major set of different circumstances . Why would a bridegroom want to marry his bride-to-be who was carrying the child conceived by someone else? If Joseph stayed with his pregnant betrothal, their community of family, friends and neighbors would assume the pregnancy was a result of his own doing.

Knowing he was innocent of premarital sex with Mary, Joseph would have to pay the undeserving price of facing public scorn and humiliation while swallowing his pride and overcoming his personal feelings. It would take a big man. Few men would do it.

Indeed, Joseph was contemplating the divorce option, the expected reaction of a man who knew he was not the father of his betrothal’s child. It serves as the most telling evidence of a truth that Joseph was not the father of Mary’s child.

Consequences of a divorce weighed heavily on Joseph. Not only would it taint her reputation and cause financial loss to both Mary and her family, a public accusation of infidelity could carry a charge of adultery – stoning would not have been out of the question.[10]

Attesting to another truth was Joseph’s honorable character. Rising above any negative feelings, he sought to quietly settle the divorce which would, in effect, minimize embarrassment to Mary, her family and avoid the public charge of adultery.[11]

Unexpectedly, Joseph suddenly changed his mind – he inexplicably decided to continue with his marriage. Why? What could have led to this sudden change of heart and willingness to pay the huge personal price of staying with Mary?

Matthew reports the game-changing moment came from a visit by “an angel of the Lord.” He delivered a message from God telling Joseph that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit and her child, a boy, was to be named Jesus.[12]

Actions speak louder than words, volumes in this case. Something very unusual and significant happened. Joseph suddenly set aside all his negative emotions and feelings to honor his marriage commitment to Mary knowing he was not the father of her child while willingly accepting the consequences that would come with it.[13]

What do Joseph’s actions and reactions say about him being the biological father of Jesus? The answer plays a key role in determining if the conception and birth of Jesus of Nazareth was a fulfillment of the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy. Going one step further, if Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, then how can Jesus be an heir to the Throne of David?

 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Brayer, Menachem M. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. 1986. pp 68-69. <http://books.google.com/books?id=GhPxFOCdQj4C&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=sex+betrothal+jewish&source=web&ots=G4jLlub8y9&sig=gnkOuPI8xLKvYl57J9PR9VY3kVg#PPA143,M1>
[2] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 57, 59, 61. “Marriage Laws.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10435-marriage-laws>
[3] “Betrothal.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3229-betrothal> Brayer.  The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 62.  Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book II, Chapter 4.  https://philologos.org/__eb-lat/book204.htm> Thompson, James C.  Women in the Ancient World. July 2010.  “Women in Ancient Israel” > “Women and the Law in Ancient Israel.” <http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/women%20and%20the%20law%20in%20ancient%20israel.htm>
[4] Missler, Chuck. “The Wedding Model.” Koinonia House, Inc. 2018. <http://www.khouse.org/articles/2003/449/#notes>  Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 70.
[5] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Kethuboth 12a, 12b, 13a, 13b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/kethuboth/index.html> “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/865-adultery> Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 142-143.
[6] Luke 1.  “Map of Israel in the Time of Jesus.”  Bible History Online. n.d.<https://www.bible-history.com/maps/palestine_nt_times.html>
[7] Luke 1.
[8] Matthew 1:18. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “heurisko <2147>.” Lexicondorance.com. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2147.html>
[9] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 143-144, 146-147.  Lamm, Maurice. The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage. 2018. Section “Celebrating the Marriage Covenant” > Chapter “Jewish Betrothal Blessing;” Section “The Structure of The Marriage Covenant” > Chapter “The Jewish Marriage Ceremony.”  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/465140/jewish/The-Jewish-Way-in-Love-Marriage.htm>   Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4, footnote #27.  “Ḳiddushin.”’ Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9310-kiddushin>
[10] John 8:2-7.  “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Marriage Laws.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Marriage Ceremonies.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10434-marriage-ceremonies> Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book II, #25. Trans. and commentary William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Thompson,“Women in the Ancient World.”  Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.
[11] Matthew 1:19.  Schneerson; Menachem M. “The Betrothed.” Chabad org. 2018. <http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/296931/jewish/The-Betrothed.htm>  “Marriage Ceremonies” & “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[12] Matthew 1.
[13] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.