Biblical Genealogies and the Law of Inheritance:
Who Jesus Is & The Virgin Birth
by Gerald R. Thompson*
6. WHO JESUS IS
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 – but for 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 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.
7. VIRGIN BIRTH
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 is 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.