Debating Bible Basics Duncan Heaster  


5-3-1 Jewish Objections To The Ancestry Of Jesus

The great amount of energy devoted by Jewish critics to objecting to the genealogies of Jesus as found in the New Testament (Matt.1 and Luke 3) fail to take into account that whilst such genealogy is not without value, there is a major example in the Old Testament of a case where genealogy was quite an irrelevant issue. Melchizedek, king of Jerusalem and early High Priest (Gen.14:18-20) has not received the attention from Judaism which he deserves. He was greater than Abraham, seeing that Abraham paid tithes to him, although it can be taken as certain that Abraham himself as the head of his household would have been a priest. Remember that he offered Isaac as a sacrifice without recourse to any other priest. Yet Melchizedek was clearly far superior to him, seeing that he pronounced the Divine blessing upon Abraham (Gen.14:19). The observant reader of Genesis cannot fail to be struck by the laboured emphasis on genealogy for all the characters that are introduced. But this is not given us for Melchizedek; the record is framed so that he appears on the scene without reference to his parents or descent. Yet he was arguably the greatest priest brought before our attention in the Old Testament. Thus questions over the genealogy of Jesus should not affect our judgment of his priesthood. Nothing whatsoever is known nor can be known of the genealogy of Melchizedek, and yet no questions are raised by the Jews over the validity of his priesthood. Therefore the arguments over the genealogy of Jesus are not particularly relevant.

The Ancestry of Jesus: Objections

a) The New Testament genealogy traces the ancestry of Jesus through his mother's line, but genealogy is not reckoned through women, therefore this provides no evidence that Jesus was the seed of Abraham and David.

It should be noted that Luke's list is composed of males (with the exception of Mary).Therefore she was clearly a descendant of David and Abraham. Today Jewish descent has to be through the mother - something which those Jews who use this objection must find hard to answer? Gen.3:15 describes the Messiah as the seed of the woman; it is fitting, therefore, that Messiah's matrilineal genealogy should be provided, and that his Messianic descent (i.e. as the seed of Abraham and David) should be shown through his mother's line. It should be remembered too that the daughters of Zelophehad had inheritance rights and were allowed to trace their inheritance, showing that it is not an immutable Divine principle that inheritance cannot go through women (consider Num.26:33; 27:1-7; 36:2-11).

There are other examples of this. Jair's father was of the tribe of Judah (1 Chron.2:22); yet in Num.32:41 he is described as " the son of Manasseh" , showing that his mother must have been of the tribe of Manasseh. His descent was reckoned for some reason through his mother rather than his father. 1 Chron.2:34 records that Sheshan " had no sons, but daughters" . According to the Jewish objection that genealogy cannot be reckoned through the woman, Sheshan would have no subsequent genealogy. However, he is described in 1 Chron.2:31 as having a son, presumably from the fact that he gave his daughter in marriage to his Egyptian servant (1 Chron.2:34). Thus his seed was still reckoned through a woman. Hiram is described as " the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan" (2 Chron.2:14). Other examples of this could be given.

b) Jesus was not a true descendant of David - the genealogy through Joseph is irrelevant because Christians say that Joseph was not the real father. Jesus was not a proven descendant of David so he was not the Messiah.

The genealogies do prove that Joseph was a descendant of David, indeed the rightful king of Israel had there been a monarchy at the time of Jesus. Jesus was his adopted son; he was " as was supposed" , or 'as was reckoned by law', the son of Joseph (Luke 3:23). The record in Luke appears to be that of Mary; Joseph being " the son of Heli" was probably by reason of marrying Mary, the daughter of Heli (Lk.3:23); the Talmud speaks with gross vitriolic about Mary the daughter of Heli going to hell for her blasphemy, referring to Mary the mother of Jesus. This shows that the Jews accept that Mary was the daughter of Heli. Heli's father was Matthat, who can be equated with Matthan the grandfather of Joseph. Thus a family tree can be constructed:

Thus Mary and Joseph were cousins (hinting at an arranged marriage?), and therefore Jesus was a son of David through both his mother and father by adoption. In the light of this it is evident that the question mark over the validity of a genealogy through Joseph is an irrelevancy, seeing that Joseph and Mary had a common grandfather. The point has to be made that a humanly fabricated genealogy would be sure to make some glaring errors, especially if it was produced by simple, uneducated men as the Jews claim the New Testament was. The wonder of the New Testament genealogies is that closer study reveals ever more intricate internal evidence for their truth and reliability, rather than exposing more problems.

If Jews will only accept " a proven descendant of David" as their Messiah then they will never accept him, seeing that there is now no proof of Jewish genealogies at all, let alone going right back to David. In view of this, surely Jewry should not make questions of genealogy a touchstone of whether they will accept Jesus as their Messiah.

c) Jeconiah is mentioned in Matthew 1 as an ancestor of Jesus but in Jeremiah we read of Jeconiah being cursed. It was prophesied that his seed would never sit on the throne, so Messiah cannot be Jesus if he was a descendant of Jeconiah.

This objection accepts for sake of argument the truth of the genealogies recorded in the New Testament. They show that Jeconiah was in the royal line, and was therefore a direct descendant of David, to whom it was promised that a descendant of his would be Messiah (2 Sam.7:12-16). Jews accept that Messiah is still to come; they therefore must accept that a descendant of David, and therefore Jeconiah, will be Messiah. Therefore they cannot truly believe that Jeconiah's descendant will not be Messiah. The great Jewish thinker Maimonedes reasoned that Messiah must come from the line of Solomon - which passed through Jeconiah.

The curse on Jeconiah reads: " Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah" (Jer.22:30). The Hebrew word translated " childless" comes from a root meaning 'demolished', suggesting that his children would be destroyed, rather than that he would have no children; he would be 'written childless' by reason of his children being destroyed. The reference to his " seed" is to be taken as parallel to the 'children' who were to be 'demolished'. The curse was therefore limited only to his immediate children, who were not to reign on the Davidic throne as originally intended. This is confirmed by Jer.22:28 asking the rhetorical question: " Wherefore are they cast out, he (Jeconiah) and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?" . This confirms that Jeconiah did have " seed" , he was not literally childless, but they were " cast out" and taken to captivity in Babylon. The phrase " cast out" begs the question 'cast out from what?'. The answer surely is 'From reigning on the throne of David'. A tablet has been discovered in Babylon mentioning five sons of a man named Coniah - the same person mentioned in Jer.22? It is worth remembering that Jeconiah's grandson was Zerubbabel, whom God was clearly willing to see reigning over Israel (see the many references to him in Zechariah).

Of additional interest is the fact that Jeconiah is mentioned in Matthew's genealogy, which we have suggested is showing Christ's ancestry going back through Joseph. Joseph was his adopted father. Jesus was therefore associated with the curse on Jeconiah through his adopted father, although it was not personally applicable to him because he was God's son rather than Joseph's. Thus he was associated with the curses that were to come on Israel without being personally deserving of them; he was " made a curse for us" , thereby redeeming us from the curses of God on sinful man. " Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal.3:13).