Biblical Genealogies and the Law of Inheritance:
Divine Covenants – Who Jesus Is – The Virgin Birth
by Gerald R. Thompson*
The divine covenants, I argue, are the most important aspects of the entire Bible. From a basic laws of nature and nature’s God perspective, the divine covenants comprise the entirety of the laws of nature’s God. Think about it. The entirety of the laws of nature were impressed upon the world and mankind at the time of initial creation in non-verbal form. Those laws remain eternal, immutable and universal, until this creation is destroyed and replaced by new heavens and a new earth. We can know the laws of nature apart from the Bible, but as Blackstone said, we can never know those laws without the Bible as well as we can with it.
Everything else we know about the will of God, particularly His will for all men (not merely individual commands) comes from the verbal revelations expressed in the divine covenants. And that is what the laws of nature’s God are – the verbal revelations of His will for all men.
Everything we know about early history, the Gospel, the nation of Israel, and the kingdom of Christ has been revealed under, or pursuant to, one of the divine covenants. The covenants divide history into different phases and serve as the main organizing principle for understanding all of scripture. Their importance cannot be overstated.
Thus, it is of paramount importance that we understand which divine covenants apply to which people if we are to accurately handle the word of truth. That is where the genealogies come in, because all of the divine covenants run to a stipulated set of descendants except the new covenant in Christ, which is open to all people. The general rule may be expressed as follows: the divine covenants (other than the covenant in Christ), according to the scriptures, apply to those who consented to them at the time and their physical (biological) descendants.
Accordingly, before you can understand how the divine covenants apply to you, you must know whose descendant you are. Applying the law of the nature of inheritance to the matter, it essentially requires each person to know who their daddy is. And this is what the biblical genealogies tell us – who our daddy is (and his daddy, and his daddy, and so on). So, what do the genealogies tell us?
The terms of the covenant with Adam relate primarily to the Dominion Mandate (Gen. 1:28-30): “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” over the entire animal kingdom. Comprehended in this mandate is the authority to have and raise children through the vehicle of the family, and the authority to dominate the earth and all creatures through labor, industry and property. By implication the Dominion Mandate includes the laws of marriage, parental authority and all economic rights. A matter of no small importance is the authority to consume “every plant yielding seed … and every tree with seed in its fruit” for food.
The biblical genealogies inform us that every person who has ever been born is a descendant of Adam. The covenant made with Adam by God was not limited to Adam’s individual life, but regarded him as the federal head, or legal representative, on behalf of all of us. Therefore, the Dominion Mandate continues to be the foremost purpose of every individual even to this day.
But there is a flip side, namely, the fall and the curse (Gen. 3:16-19). Included in the curse is pain in child-bearing, strife between husbands and wives, the curse of the ground, and of course, death. While the curse is not strictly speaking a part of the terms of the covenant with Adam (because it came after the Dominion Mandate and was a consequence of judgment rather than consent), nonetheless, scripture clearly informs us that the fall and the curse also apply to every single descendant of Adam. Rom. 5:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:22.
Without the support of the genealogical data, the doctrines of dominion, the fall, and the universal sin nature all fall apart. If Adam and Eve were only mythical figures and not real people, if Adam and Eve represented only one line of humans among many who had evolved from lower primates, or if Adam was not a federal head and the curse only applied to him personally – all these (if true) would destroy the universality of these doctrines. Thankfully, the empirical data (i.e., the universal sinfulness of people) corroborates the genealogical data, which in turn verifies the doctrines of dominion and the sin nature.
But those are not the only things at stake here. The Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve also establishes the image of God in mankind, from which legal equality and the value of human life both spring. The Dominion Mandate includes the authority of people over animals: to use them and keep them as property, and to change the environment to suit the needs of people over the needs of animals. The authority to bear and to raise children, and to educate them, was given to families wholly independent from any considerations of civil government. Under Adam’s dominion, he was free to choose an occupation without government licensing or regulation. These and many other legal implications flow directly from the fact that everyone today is an heir of Adam.
So if you are inclined to view yourself as not being a descendant of a literal Adam and Eve, just be sure to realize all the things that you are necessarily giving up.
The Noahic Covenant is the covenant God made with the survivors of the great flood which covered the whole earth. Gen 9:1-17. This covenant expanded the food laws to include meat (literally, “every moving thing that lives”), but excluding blood. It further authorized capital punishment for the first time, reiterated the Dominion Mandate, and through the sign of the rainbow, God promised never to flood the earth again.
The authorization of capital punishment is the first grant of law enforcement authority given among men. Some people view it as the beginning of civil government, but that is not correct. Civil governments first sprang up following the Tower of Babel dispersion 150 or so years later (i.e., when the nations were first formed). At the time when the words of Gen. 9:6 were spoken, no civil governments then existed, so they must be understood as applying to all of the descendants of Noah equally, that is, individually. Today we would view it as one of the “rights of the people.”
The scripture expressly makes the terms of the Noahic Covenant applicable to all of the survivors of the flood and their offspring. Thanks to the biblical genealogies, we know exactly who those people were: Noah, his wife, and their three sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth) and their wives, i.e., eight persons. While none of the four women were descendants of Noah, of necessity all persons born of them would be descendants of Noah, as per the law of inheritance (looking only to the male line).
In other words, since the flood Noah has become a sort of proxy for Adam, in that every person alive on the earth today is his descendant, and he is a distant father (along with Adam) of us all. Therefore, the terms of the Noahic covenant continue to apply to every person today, including eating meat, the promise of the rainbow, and yes, even law enforcement authority. And thanks to the genealogies, we know there are no exceptions, i.e., there were no other survivors of the flood.
That is why it is so dastardly, and ultimately subversive, for people to suggest either that: 1) Noah and his sons were not actually the ancestors of all people, but merely representative of people alive at the time, or worse, did not really exist; and/or 2) the flood was localized (not global) and there were human populations which survived the flood apart from the eight persons in the ark.
If either of these suggestions were true, it would mean: a) some people are more authorized to populate the earth than others (and history is replete with examples of how that kind of thinking plays out in practical terms, i.e., genocide); b) not everyone is subject to the fall (or in other words, people are not inherently sinful); c) people should really be vegetarians; d) capital punishment is a rogue doctrine that has no place among an evolved species; and e) the rainbow is merely a weather phenomena and means nothing with respect to a re-flooding of the world.
Taking the early chapters of Genesis as mere allegory may sound spiritual, but isn’t any better. It leads people to say stupid things, like:
“Sure, God wants us to populate the earth – but hey, don’t take it too far and go overboard. We’ve got an overpopulation problem to deal with or we’re in big trouble. Yes, God wants us to take care of the animals. But that doesn’t make us better than them and it’s not like we can treat them (gasp!) like property or anything. We have to be good neighbors and share the earth with our animal friends.”
“Sure, we can eat whatever we want for food, but stay away from red meat and for heaven’s sake you’ll be so much more healthy if you just stick to fruits and vegetables. It’s not like eating meat is a duty or anything like that. OK, we obviously need to restrain evil, but capital punishment? It’s barbaric, and so beneath us. God, who gave us life, wouldn’t really want us to take life in this way – it’s hardly the way to love our fellow man.”
Do you see how crucial the biblical genealogies are to understanding the nature of our world and human existence? If the genealogies are not factual, the divine covenants with Adam and Noah ultimately mean little or nothing. Which of course is exactly the way most people view them today, sadly, even many in Christian circles. Don’t let yourself be named among these unbelievers in the historicity of Genesis.
The Abrahamic covenant was revealed in three steps: when Abram left Haran at age 75, when he was living in Canaan around the age of 85, and again when he was 99 years old. Gen. 12:1-7; 15:1-21; 17:1-14. The terms of the covenant had major purposes: 1) the promise of numerous offspring to Abraham, among them a great nation (Israel); 2) a specific parcel of land (i.e., the land of Israel) given to Abraham’s offspring as an everlasting possession; and 3) an everlasting covenant with Israel, signified with the outward sign of circumcision.
This covenant was later confirmed to Isaac (Gen. 26:4) and to Jacob (Gen. 28:13-14). Wrapped up in the circumstances surrounding the description of the covenant in Gen. 17 is a prophecy predicting the Israelite slavery in Egypt and the Exodus. Also, statements are made contemporaneously with the giving of the covenant that Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. I don’t consider either the prophecy or the description of Abraham’s faith to be part of the express terms of the covenant per se, but whether they are or not is of little consequence.
In Christian circles, much is made of the linkage between Abraham’s righteousness, the promise that he would be a blessing to all the families of the earth, and the new covenant in Christ being modeled after the faith example of Abraham. See, Gal. 3:5-9; 16-18. This is all well and good and I do not deny the connection. But the error many people make is to jump to Rom. 2:29 (a true Jew is a spiritual Jew) and then conclude (wrongly) that Christians are the ones to whom the Abrahamic covenant applies. Recognizing the spiritual benefit of Abraham’s example is not the same as being a natural/biological heir of his body.
The promise to make Abraham a great nation (numerous as the stars) via the natural heir of his body is just that – a promise relating specifically to his biological heirs. The same is true for the land of Canaan (i.e., Israel) – there are no land rights inherited by Christians from Abraham. Only biological offspring of Abraham have any claim to the land of Israel. Even the promise to make Abraham a blessing to all the earth looks forward to the future restoration of Israel, when all the nations will look to the Jews as a source of blessing. Zech. 8:23.
We must also note that Abraham was not merely the father of Israel, but in fact was the father of many nations, as God promised. Not only was Abraham the father of the Ishmaelites, but also the Midianites and other nations. See, Gen. 25:1-6. Yet, the Abrahamic covenant does not apply to any of these offspring of Abraham except the Jews. Why? That is where the confirmations of the covenant with Isaac and Jacob come in.
By these confirmations, God limited the applicability of the covenant to the offspring of all three men, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, meaning Israel only. That is why even God referred to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a means of self-identification when he revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. Ex. 3:6.
Thus, unless you are a biological Jew, the Abrahamic covenant simply does not apply to you. Yet, as a Gentile, it helps to know that the Abrahamic covenant still applies to the Jews today, and we, as Gentiles, should not do anything to hinder the operation of that covenant. The biblical genealogies also help us to recognize false claims to the benefits of the Abrahamic covenant. Here I refer specifically to claims to the land of Israel made by the descendants of the Ishmaelites (i.e., Arabs) and some Islamic groups.
I will not go into detail here concerning the Mosaic covenant, which is really the covenant with Israel. Moses was merely the person who transmitted the terms of the covenant to the nation and was no more or less a party to the covenant than any other Israelite. Broadly speaking, the covenant with Israel contained the Ten Commandments and all the various statutes and ordinances issued under them.
Typically, the covenant is viewed as having three great parts, i.e., the eternal moral law (laws rooted in creation); theocratic laws (relating to national polity); and the ceremonial laws (relating to atonement and the priesthood). However, scripture nowhere divides the Mosaic covenant into parts, and realistically, all aspects of the Mosaic covenant rise and fall together – it is a package deal.
People sometimes get confused by the fact the covenant was issued and confirmed several times. Thus, the covenant was initially adopted at Mt. Sinai when Israel first escaped from Egypt. Ex. 19:3-7. It was confirmed – as symbolized by re-writing the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments – shortly thereafter, also at Mt. Sinai in Horeb. Ex. 24:3-8. Both of these occurred before the 40 year wilderness experience. Then, the covenant was re-affirmed in Moab, just before crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land (after the wilderness experience). Deut. 29:1-9.
As I said earlier, a divine covenant applies to those who consented to it at the time and their physical descendants. In the case of Israel, everyone who was alive at Mt. Sinai was (at the time of Deut. 29) now dead except for Moses, Joshua and Caleb. So the people in Moab were the next generation of Israelites, but they were all either actual parties to the original covenant or the physical descendants of them.
Meaning, the covenant in Moab was every bit as much a covenant between God and Israel as the original at Mt. Sinai. And none of the original terms was modified. So the parties were the same, and the terms were the same. Thus, the Mosaic covenant and the Palestinian covenant are really one and the same. The so-called Palestinian Covenant is nothing more than the renewal or confirmation of the covenant with Israel which was first made at Mt. Sinai.
And, as the referenced texts clearly indicate, the covenant only applied to the nation of Israel. The Mosaic law never did apply to Gentiles by its terms, and nothing in the N.T. or the ministry, death and resurrection of Christ made it applicable to Gentiles. So again, unless you are a biological Jew, the covenant with Israel does not apply to you.
And the flip side is, nothing in the N.T. or the work and ministry of Jesus stopped the Mosaic Covenant from applying to the Jews, either. The Mosaic covenant is strictly a biological covenant, not a covenant of faith. Belief, as such, plays no part in determining whether the Mosaic covenant does or does not apply to anyone. Therefore, belief in the new covenant in Christ (the Church covenant), does not affect the applicability of the Mosaic covenant to biological Jews in any way.
I know this is an area where there is a lot of confusion – the interaction (if any) between the Mosaic covenant and the Church. I explain it all in great detail in the essay, No Part of the Mosaic Covenant Has Ended, available at https://lonang.com/downloads/.
The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:12-16), after a fashion, is a subset of the covenant with Israel. It provides that only the seed (a male descendant) of David may inherit the throne of Israel. This explains why Athaliah (a woman who was of the royal family), when she claimed the throne of Israel for herself, was a usurper and put to death for her treason. 2 Ki 11:1-16; 2 Chron 22:10-12; 23:12-15. In this instance, disregard for the law of inheritance proved to be fatal.
By definition the covenant applies only to the male biological descendants of David, who was a Jew. As we will see shortly, this covenant has its terminus in Jesus, which is to say, none of the male heirs of David after Jesus have any claim to the throne of Israel. It is in this respect that Jesus’ title as the Son of David is unique, for He alone can rightfully assume Israel’s throne. So the Davidic covenant admittedly has a very narrow application, but there will come a time when determining who can sit on David’s throne will be one of the most important questions in the entire world.
All of these Old Testament covenants, though divine, are earthly, or temporal. That is, they all pertain to heirs of the physical body. The new covenant in Christ, or the Church Covenant, is a spiritual covenant only. Therefore it does not, and we should not expect it to, run to the benefit of anyone’s physical heirs. Participation in the Church covenant is decided on an individual basis, irrespective of one’s ancestry. Participation is a function of faith, or belief – not biology. And of all the divine covenants, only the covenant in Christ applies to Christians (or the Church), per se.
If you view the various divine covenants according to the Reformed doctrine of continuity, i.e., that each covenant is a successive chapter in a single unfolding (progressively revealed) relationship between God and His people in which later installments modify or supersede prior ones, then you will necessarily regard the divine covenants as applying to Christians only. In other words, because the Church covenant is the last one to date, it supersedes and in essence controls the prior ones.
However, in order to reach this conclusion you must disregard the plain language of the O.T. texts indicating who each covenant applies to, and this is something I am unwilling to do. No express language in the N.T. cancels out or rescinds the express language in the O.T., and such a cancellation, if God had ever intended it, is far too important to be merely inferred by reading language in an allegorical way.
Until God expressly designates otherwise, we must take each divine covenant as being applicable only to those people (and their descendants) who received the oracles of God at the time and consented to them. And who those people are is directly made known in the biblical genealogies. Thank God He has a provided us with a means of certainty in this area, and not left the matter to guesswork.
There are several trinitarian aspects of Jesus (in His own right) in addition to His being a member of the Godhead, i.e., Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These include: 1) creator, sustainer and redeemer; 2) prophet, priest and king; and 3) as the model for lawyers – counselor, mediator and advocate. None of these trinitarian aspects relate to the biblical genealogies directly, but there is one peculiar trinitarian aspect of Jesus which does.
Namely, I want to consider that Jesus came as the Son of Man (Mk 2:10, 28; Lk 22:48, 69), the Son of God (Mk 1:1; Lk 1:35; Jn 1:34), and the Son of David (Mt 1:1; 22:42). These three capacities are indicative of, in order, Jesus’ humanity, divinity, and authority. Each of these is also firmly established in the biblical genealogies. In fact, I go further – without the biblical genealogies, we would understand much less of these aspects of who Jesus is.
The genealogy recorded in Luk. 3:23-38 contains the complete lineage from Adam to Jesus (in reverse order), spanning 77 generations and about 4,000 years. Although she is not named in the genealogy, scholars generally agree this is the genealogy of Mary, the mother of Christ. There are two basic reasons why this is so.
First, it is distinctly different from the genealogy in Matthew (undoubtedly Joseph’s genealogy) in that here the lineage passes from David to his son Nathan and then on down to Jesus, whereas Joseph’s genealogy passes from David to his son Solomon and then to Jesus. Both genealogies cannot possibly apply to Joseph – one of them must be Mary’s. This distinction has further significance when we consider Jesus as the Son of David (below), since only Solomon’s descendants are of the royal line.
Second, it is neither customary nor necessary (from a legal perspective) to reckon lineages through the female line, as per the law of inheritance. Thus, the Luke genealogy begins with the words, Jesus … being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph. Yes, the phrase as was supposed is an acknowledgment of the virgin birth, but it is more than that. The Matthew genealogy just names Joseph without qualification – here the words as was supposed are a clear indication that Joseph is a stand-in and this is not really his genealogy at all because it is Mary’s.
But what of it? Well, the one thing everybody knew about Jesus was that He was born of Mary. He had a human mother, and He himself was human. Her line traced back all the way to Adam (as is the same for all of us), and Jesus did not arrive on this earth in a spaceship, via a molecular transporter or by magic. There can be no doubt concerning His humanity by virtue of His having a human mother.
It is important that Jesus be recognized as fully human, because that is what the incarnation is all about – i.e., that He is as much human as divine. I will not here digress to explicate the importance of the incarnation, because I am making a limited point: In addition to various declaratory statements in the scriptures that Jesus was human, the biblical genealogies offer proof that this was so. I will however leave you with one quotation that testifies of His humanity:
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Php 2:8-11. See also, Rom. 8:3, Gal. 4:4, Jn. 1:14.
The Bible tells us straight up that Jesus was born of a virgin. Luk. 1:26-33. That He was conceived by the Holy Spirit is a necessary step in conferring upon Jesus the title of the Son of God. “And the angel answered her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy the Son of God.'” Luk. 1:35.
It this instance, the scripture is not merely an indication that Jesus was a special man, being holy or set apart for a special purpose in the same sense that John the Baptist was, for example. For it was said of John, that “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Luk 1:15. But in the case of Jesus He was actually divine, being the expression of God in bodily form. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Jn. 1:14. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Col. 2:9.
Both the Matthew and Luke genealogies testify to the divinity of Christ by affirming that Jesus had no earthly father. As we have already seen, the Luke genealogy describes Jesus as the supposed son of Joseph. In other words, Jesus was not the actual son of Joseph because God was His actual father.
Similarly, the Matthew genealogy concludes with the statement, “Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” Mat. 1:16. So the Matthew genealogy runs through Joseph, but the scripture goes to some length to explain that Jesus was born of Mary only and not of Joseph. Joseph was Mary’s husband, but he was not the father of Jesus. When you put this together with the statement that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, there is only one logical conclusion. Thus is Jesus’ identity confirmed as the Son of God.
It is also necessary that Jesus should have no human father in order for Him to be recognized as the second Adam, and/or the last Adam. “Thus it is written, The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. … The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” 1 Cor. 15:45, 47. Also see, Rom. 5:14. For like Christ, Adam had no human father. The clear implication of scripture is that no one else since Adam, nor indeed to the end of the world, has shared or will share in this attribute except Christ alone. Any other claims to either a divine nature or a virgin birth are to be regarded as false.
Thus, Christ’s claim to divinity is unique. And the biblical genealogies help establish this fact by showing that every other person ever born had a human father.
So we see that Jesus’ humanity is established through the lineage of Mary, and His divinity is confirmed by the genealogies of both parents. Yet perhaps the most interesting of these aspects of Jesus has to do with being the Son of David, because we are now faced with a dilemma.
The title of the Son of David refers not merely to any or all descendants of David, but specifically to the one who will inherit the throne of David, i.e., the throne of Israel, in fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. 2 Sam. 7:12-16. Of necessity, this descendant of David must come from the kingly line through Solomon, which rules out Mary’s genealogy (which is not through Solomon). The Matthew genealogy, because its opening statement says it pertains to “Jesus Christ, the son of David,” claims to provide the documentation establishing Jesus as the rightful heir. As I said earlier, the Davidic covenant finds its terminus in Jesus.
And the dilemma is this: How can Jesus claim to inherit the right to Israel’s throne from Joseph, when Joseph was not actually Jesus’ father?
This is an important question, since the scripture goes to some length to confirm that Jesus alone will exercise the authority of David to rule over Israel in the future. To wit, the seed of David will have a kingdom lasting forever. 2 Sam. 7:14, 16. The kingdom of the Christ and the throne of David will be established forever. Isa. 9:6-7. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” Lk 1:32. David as prophet foresaw Christ sitting on his throne. Acts 2:29-35.
The answer, I suggest, is quite simple, though never explicitly stated in the Bible. Namely, that Joseph adopted Jesus for legal purposes after his birth and Joseph had married Mary. I know of no other explanation that either fits the facts, or provides a solution as to how the right of the throne passed to Jesus. The whole point of the Davidic covenant was that the throne would only pass to an heir of David. God would not bypass this mechanism – which God Himself put into place – by simply conferring the authority of the throne of David on Jesus either by virtue of His divinity or because God just liked Him the best.
The throne of David is not merely conferred – it must be inherited. To be inherited, it must pass through a male descendant of Solomon. And, the only one who could receive such an inheritance is another male descendant of Solomon. We know this not only because of the general rule of the law of inheritance, but also because in the specific context of the Davidic covenant, the promise of the throne was given to his male heirs. “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” 2 Sam. 7:12-14a.
This last statement, he shall be to me a son, is an indication that the Son of David and the Son of God would be the same person. See Lk 1:32, quoted above. Since the whole purpose of adoption (legally) is to confer the rights of inheritance on a son, that must be the means used by God to vest Jesus with the throne of David.
We know the scripture speaks favorably of adoption in other contexts, especially the adoption of believers as sons by God. Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:5. Which makes adoption part of the laws of the kingdom of God and a mechanism God uses to organize His kingdom. So for Jesus to be adopted – not by God, but by Joseph – not for the purpose of entering the kingdom but for the purpose of ruling it – makes perfect sense.
We have already looked at the virgin birth of Jesus from the standpoint that it helps establish His divinity. There is another aspect to the virgin birth we should yet consider, and I like to frame it in the form of a question: Why was the virgin birth not merely convenient or miraculous, but absolutely necessary?
In a sense, I am asking why God really had no choice in the matter, but was compelled to act in this fashion. Of course, the answer doesn’t look to any outside force of compulsion, but recognizes that the world He created was constructed in such a way that He was constrained by His own laws to act in a certain way. Let me explain.
I am referring to the fact that Jesus “knew no sin.” The statement that Jesus knew no sin is generally understood to mean not only that he committed no sin in his life (1 Pet 2:22; Heb 4:15; 9:14), but that he also was not born separated from God at his birth, i.e., Jesus did not have original sin, or a sin nature. 1 Jn 3:5 says of Jesus that “in him there is no sin.” The Bible also informs us Jesus was God made flesh, and therefore was in unbroken fellowship with God and could not have any sin in him, for God is holy (without sin). Jn 14:10-11.
Yet, scripture also clearly teaches that every man born subsequent to Adam suffers from original sin. According to Rom 5:12, “death spread to all men because all sinned,” and Rom. 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
We know from our previous discussion of the humanity of Christ that Jesus was born fully human, and He was born subsequent to Adam. So, how are these things reconcilable?
You may be tempted to say, “Well, duh, Jesus actually had no earthly father because He was the Son of God.” This is a true statement, of course, but it doesn’t answer the next logical question, namely: Why didn’t Jesus inherit a sin nature from his mother, Mary? Before jumping to the obvious answer, let’s consider how Christians typically have answered this question in the past.
One approach people have taken is to offer some kind of scientific explanation for why Jesus did not inherit a sin nature from His mother. (I am not going to quote any sources in this section because I don’t want to embarrass anyone by name.)
Thus, for example, people will say that a mother does not exchange blood with her unborn child, and this explains how Jesus was born sin free. Here the key word is unborn, because the birthing process itself very often results in the exposure of the baby to the mother’s blood. It is the very nature of an unborn baby that it will not stay that way forever, but will eventually leave the mother. We don’t care so much about Jesus in his pre-natal state as we do after He was born. So if this is your explanation, it will only work a percentage of the time. That Jesus may not have come into contact with His mother’s blood at His birth is hardly a way to inspire confidence in His sinless nature.
But there is a more fundamental problem with this proposed solution, i.e., that it assumes the sin nature is in the blood. There is no biblical basis for this assumption. Sure, the Bible says that life is in the blood (Gen. 9:4, Lev. 17:14), and it also tells us that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin (1 Jn. 1:7; Rev. 1:5). But if linking the sin nature to something physical is what you want to do, you would have a much easier case arguing that sin is in the flesh, not the blood. Rom. 7:14, 17-18, 25; 8:3. And if you intend to argue that Jesus did not get His flesh (i.e., his DNA) from Mary, that’s a much harder argument to make and/or prove, isn’t it?
Hence, other Christians have argued that by an act of special creation on God’s part in forming the genetic makeup of the baby Jesus, the desired result is achieved, i.e., a baby born without a fallen nature. So then – what? Jesus received no part of his genetic makeup from Mary and God implanted a fetus of wholly new (untainted) genetic material? Of course, such a theory has no biblical support other than the fact Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit – but what does that actually mean in scientific terms and how can we know what it means scientifically?
We must also recognize two other facts. First, all Christians are born of the Spirit, as the scripture testifies. Jn. 3:5-8. Yet, that has no physical or scientific consequences for believers. So to assume being born of the Spirit carries genetic consequences for Jesus but not for the rest of us – well, I’d like to see the textual support for that argument from the Bible. Until then, I am not convinced.
Excuse me for pointing out a statement that Jesus might possibly have received His DNA from a source other than Mary is a mere speculation which can neither be proved nor disproved. Which actually makes the argument a non-scientific argument, ironically. And again, because it is a mere speculation, hardly inspires confidence in asserting that Jesus was sinless as a matter of scientific fact.
Second, the proposed solution essentially holds that Jesus was formed in Mary’s womb ex nihilo, or out of nothing (if none of His DNA came from Mary). This is the way God formed the universe – out of nothing – but after the initial creation of the world, the scriptures give no indication that God ever created anything else ex nihilo. So to assume it here is a bit of a stretch. May I suggest that while the virgin birth was undoubtedly miraculous, by itself it does not, and cannot, provide the answer to the question of how Jesus was born sinless.
Why? Because the question of how any human baby can be born without a fallen nature is not a scientific problem, but a legal problem. The legal problem is this: regardless of any act of special creation, how can Mary pass on to Jesus a legal condition or status she does not herself possess (a sinless nature), and how can Jesus avoid having his mother’s fallen nature attributed to him by reason of her parentage?
The problem with both of the solutions proposed above is they assume the sin nature is a physical or biological phenomenon. Why would anyone assume this? We know from our earlier examination of the Adamic covenant and the Fall that original sin or the sin nature is essentially a legal consequence flowing from a legal arrangement (i.e., the covenant). Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense to look for a legal solution? But no – historically people have looked for a theological solution, or perhaps what is more properly called a mystical explanation.
Enter the Roman Catholic solution, which was to postulate that not only Jesus, but Mary his mother also, was born without sin (the Immaculate Conception, referring to Mary’s birth). Thus, when Jesus was born of Mary, he was not born subject to the curse.
The Roman Catholic doctrines of the Immaculate Conception (relating to the birth of Mary as being “free from all stain of original sin” [Encyclical Ineffabilis Deus of Pope Pius IX]) and the belief that Mary was “free from all sin, original or personal” [Encyclical Mystici Corporis, 110] were invented at least in part for the purpose of solving the legal quandary of Jesus being born without sin. By making Mary born without a sin nature herself, it supposedly puts her in the position of being able to pass along a sinless nature to Jesus.
There is an incongruity in the supposition that the flesh, from which the flesh of the Son of God was to be formed, should ever have belonged to one who was the slave of that arch-enemy, whose power He came on earth to destroy. Hence the axiom of Pseudo-Anselmus (Eadmer) developed by Duns Scotus, Decuit, potuit, ergo fecit, it was becoming that the Mother of the Redeemer should have been free from the power of sin and from the first moment of her existence; God could give her this privilege, therefore He gave it to her. [New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia: Immaculate Conception.]
However, even Catholics admit that “No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma [of the Immaculate Conception] can be brought forward from Scripture.” [New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia: Immaculate Conception.] So why rely on something that cannot be proved from scripture, when there is a straightforward solution that scripture supports?
There is an additional logical problem. Logically, the Immaculate Conception only removes the problem by a generation, but does not solve it. It solves the sin problem for Jesus if Mary knew no sin, but does not explain how Mary could have escaped sin’s curse, even if she was born of a virgin. Because if sin is passed from a mother to her children, a mere virgin birth doesn’t solve anything at all. For the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception itself assumes that Jesus would have inherited Mary’s sin nature if she had one. If that is the case, why didn’t Mary inherit a sin nature from her mother and how would the “privilege” of God have avoided it?
I hate to pile on the objections, but there is yet another problem with the Catholic doctrine. Namely, even assuming arguendo (merely for the sake of argument) Mary was born without a sin nature, she would have had to remain in that condition from the time of her birth until the time of Jesus’ birth. Meaning, she would have had to live many years without ever committing one single sin. It is not enough that she should have been born sin-free – she would have had to live until giving birth to Jesus without falling from grace.
It seems rather unlikely she could have done this, since: a) she was not God; b) the rule that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) does not carve out an exception for Mary; and c) it only took Satan a matters of a few days (in all probability) to tempt Adam and Eve to the point of committing sin with undoubtedly far fewer temptations available to him than were readily available to Mary throughout her life. That she could have resisted all forms of temptation from her birth into adulthood is remarkable to the point of incredulity.
The Catholic scholars failed to recognize that: a) the sin nature was imparted to all descendants of Adam as a legal consequence of the Fall without exception; and b) the sin nature is inherited by all men according to the rule of the law of inheritance. When you put these together with the fact Jesus was not a descendant of Adam (but rather the Son of God), and the law of inheritance which requires the sin nature to be taken exclusively from the father and not any part from the mother, the analysis sorts itself out rather easily.
Namely, Jesus inherited no sin nature from His mother Mary, and it matters not one whit whether she was sinless of not, so long as God was His father. Nor does it matter whether Jesus took any blood or DNA from Mary, as these are entirely irrelevant considerations for the legal question.
As I said earlier, the virgin birth of Jesus was absolutely necessary, and by that I mean it was legally necessary. Without it, there is no other way Jesus could have been born human and yet not be tainted by original sin.
Notwithstanding his being born of a woman in the physical sense – and even perhaps his inheritance of DNA from her – he did not, and could not, inherit a sin nature from her because inheritance comes only through the father, not the mother. But there was no physical father, hence, no one to inherit a sin nature from. And a virgin birth is the only way this result could be achieved.
There is also no other explanation of the virgin birth which is adequate to produce the result the scripture demands, i.e., an absolutely sure and trustworthy mechanism by which we know beyond any doubt Jesus was born sinless. No scientific or religious explanation will get us there. Only the legal rule of the law of inheritance is sufficient to produce this result.
And the law of inheritance is a legal rule we are made aware of chiefly because of the biblical genealogies. So let us be very thankful God placed the genealogies in the Bible for us to learn from.
In light of the above analysis, it is plain to see why the basic premise of The Da Vinci Code is so diabolical and heretical. To postulate that Jesus, who knew no sin for His entire lifetime, had children via Mary Magdalene (or anyone else – it doesn’t matter who), or that He had sexual relations with anyone at any time, is to postulate that Jesus did have or could have had children who were not born under the curse.
After all, as per the law of inheritance, the descendants of Jesus would not be subject to the Fall, since they would not have inherited a sin nature at birth. They would not be spiritually lost or need a savior, they would not be under the curse of the ground, and they ostensibly would not need to die (i.e., they would be immortal).
If we were to allow for even the remotest possibility that Jesus could have had any physical offspring, it raises the possibility that there would be, in effect, two distinct races of man on the earth today, which would subvert and destroy the axioms that all men must die, that all men have sinned, and that all men need a savior.
You can bet your bottom dollar that even if you never heard of the law of inheritance until you read this essay, Satan was well aware of it long ago. The devil knows exactly which ideas have the most potential to subvert and pervert a true understanding of godly principles, and which principles people are generally ignorant of. Satan doesn’t just attempt to destroy philosophical fine points, he goes after things which are the most foundational. And you can’t get much more foundational than the absolute universality of the curse, sin and death.
The biblical genealogies are much more than lists of ancient names. They are a type of anchor for the whole Bible, but especially for the first eleven chapters of Genesis. But the anchor only holds if the genealogies are taken as historical fact, not as myth or allegory. When accepted as fact, the genealogies corroborate and lend credence to accepting the rest of the Bible as fact. The genealogies help secure not just the history of the Bible, but a biblical view of history. They provide crucial information about dates and times we would have no other way of knowing. And they supply information about the development of populations, nations and languages that pre-dates most, if not all, other human records.
Typically, to the extent the biblical genealogies are viewed as being important at all, their importance is limited to sociological purposes, or to bolster a young earth theory among adherents of creation science. While those applications exist, to be sure, I hope you can see that the primary significance of the genealogies is legal.
The primary significance of the biblical genealogies, as I see it, is they teach us about the law of the nature of inheritance. This law is not some vestige of a patriarchal society long gone, but is in fact a part of the fabric of nature, woven into that fabric by God Himself because it reflects the nature of who He is. Consequently, the law of inheritance is eternal, applying to everyone, everywhere, at all times.
Besides being useful to explain the underlying reasoning behind the property laws of ancient Israel and the spiritual adoption as sons, the law of inheritance has many more applications. Because of this law, we know how to determine ethnicity (i.e., biological nationality) and how to understand our own position with respect to each of the divine covenants between God and men down through history. The law of inheritance helps explain key aspects of who Jesus is, why the virgin birth was absolutely necessary, and how it was possible that Jesus could be sinless (and thereby an appropriate propitiation for our sins).
The preceding paragraph, in a nutshell, describes what is at stake if the biblical genealogies are not taken as fact. If they are read as mere myth or allegory, they lose their power to explain so many things that are absolutely foundational that we lose one of the key anchors which connects the scripture to reality. In short, we would be far worse without them.
Unfortunately, the significance of the genealogies is neither widely understood, nor widely taught. In fact, when it comes to God’s law of inheritance, I daresay few Christians have ever heard of it. It is disgraceful that most Christians are completely unaware of something so basic as the law of inheritance, and a real shame that the Church is doing so little to educate people about it. “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Ps. 11:3.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God …. Heb. 5:12-6:1.
You see, the things I have here discussed are part of the meat of the Word of God. But this isn’t rocket science – you don’t need a seminary education or an advanced degree in anything to understand it. You only have to know how to read. The subjects addressed in this essay ought to be a staple of teaching in every church so as to build up the saints, but they are not.
Instead, what we get in our churches all across America are repeated bottle feedings of milk, i.e., the elementary teachings of Christ as Savior, the need for personal repentance or piety, and general exhortations of faith. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been a Christian since the age of eight and I had all the basic doctrines of the Church mastered before the age of 18. I’ve been tired of hearing the same old retread sermons on faith and love and service ever since I was 14, which was a long time ago (let me tell you), and the church situation has only gotten worse since then.
As a consequence of which, I feel compelled to write an essay like this one telling people about basic truths every Christian young or old should know. But they do not, because no one in the churches is teaching it to them – even those who claim to teach the whole counsel of God. I would be surprised if anyone of our so-called Christian seminaries is teaching their students these basic truths either. Shame on the seminaries, and shame on their graduates, for not inquiring into such things.
I could name many similar topics of basic biblical doctrine which are being totally ignored in our churches today, for example, the nature, extent and application of each of the divine covenants, the nature and extent to which equality, religious freedom, private property, economic liberty, family relationships and mankind’s dominion over the creation all spring from a literal understanding of Genesis, and so on. The list is endless of things churches naming the name of Jesus are ignoring from the Bible.
God’s people having been playing dumb too long, and it is to our everlasting shame. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.