Another Quick Thought on Joseph

Matthew 1:24

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

When Joseph took Mary as his wife, becoming the earthly adoptive father of our Lord, he was taking an early death for himself.

He was the heir to the throne (as demonstrated by his geneology earlier in the chapter).  Jesus could not present himself as the King of the Jews, the heir to the throne of David, if there was a prior claimant to that throne.  Joseph had to die first.

Joseph is never seen during the earthly ministry of Christ, though Mary appears several times — he must have been dead already.  In all the accusations the religious leaders made against Jesus, all the reasons they gave for rejecting Him, they never once denied His legal claim to the throne, as the heir of the royal line.  Would they have neglected this line of attack if they could have used it?

Did Joseph know, when he took his wife, that he was taking on himself an early death?  We don’t know, but it would hardly be surprising if those in his line had discussed, down through the generations, all it would mean when Messiah finally came.

Just something to think about….

Yesterday’s thought on Joseph

Update: Eight More Thoughts on Joseph

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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20 Responses to Another Quick Thought on Joseph

  1. Don Johnson says:

    Hmm… not sure this one necessarily follows, bro. The throne did not always pass to eldest sons, some sons reigned as co-regents with their fathers, sometimes the line as recorded in Matthew and Luke weave in and out of the same families (see Zerubbabel in both lists), so the ‘right to kingship’ is somewhat convoluted. There were probably several descendants who could be considered.

    The important thing is that Jesus is a son of David and is identified by his mighty deeds as The Son of David. But I don’t think the right to the throne means Joseph must be dead by the time Jesus entered his ministry. (I think he probably was, but I don’t think the argument can be made in this way.)

    I also, of course, don’t believe Jesus really presented himself as the heir to the throne in an overt way. He accepted the cries of the people calling him the Son of David (especially at the triumphal entry), but don’t see where he made those claims himself.

    FWIW… and yes, I am ‘catching up’ on your posts again.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thanks for the comment, Don. Food for thought.

      I know the throne didn’t always come to the eldest sons, but if Jesus had not been in what was considered the royal line, I somehow think the religious authorities would have tried to make an issue of it — they made an issue of everything else they could think of. Your point on co-regency is sound, but I’m not sure anyone expected Messiah to be a co-regent. I’ll have to think on that one some more, though.

      If Matthew 1 doesn’t establish a legal right to the throne, I’m not sure why we’re given this line of descent at all. The one in Luke (giving, as most people believe, the line of Mary) would be adequate, if all that was needed was for Jesus to be a Son of David. Any thoughts on that? I’ve always assumed that this was the legally recognised royal line, and that Matthew, who is strongly emphasising the Kingship of Christ throughout his account, started by establishing his genealogical evidence right at the start. Do you think I’m mistaken on that?

      Thank you for both reading and commenting. Have a blessed New Year.

  2. Don Johnson says:

    I don’t think there is any mistake that Matthew is establishing the legal right to the throne, but the way family trees work, it is possible that a number of living contemporaries of Joseph would also be able to establish the right. When David named his successor, Solomon was by no means his eldest son, so ‘right to rule’ did not necessarily pass on the basis of primogeniture. Thus, any number of sons could make the claims, if the father had not designated an heir.

    A further difficulty with the genealogies is that they join in Zerubbabel, then diverge. I think there might be one other such ‘joining’. The commentaries offer some complicated speculations of Levirate marriage to ‘solve’ the difficulties. Their suggestions are not very convincing to me. They seem too complicated and they are not obvious solutions.

    Rather, I think the genealogies prove the Davidic descent of both Joseph and Mary which is enough to fulfill the prophecies and the Davidic Covenant. Beyond that, we are just speculating.

    No one in Joseph’s generation would make much of their Davidic ancestry, given Herod’s insane jealousies. I am not sure that the scribes and Pharisees made much of it either, other than if they weren’t in the Davidic line, they might have thrown up the charges against Jesus on that point. I don’t think anyone of the first century really knew who THE heir would be, simply that AN heir would have to be of Davidic descent.

    However, those are my assumptions as well. I think we can’t be dogmatic here since we have very little information

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Angus MacKillop says:

    As I understand, the genealogy of Mary is correct and apt as it gives a direct link to King David and his ancestors to confirm in the natural that a Son of David would/could rule as promised. (Second Samuel 22:51 ” ….. to David and his offspring forever.”) However, in the natural, the line of inheritance tended to be on the male side, not female side. That being the case, Jesus is both the “spiritual” son of David in his ancestors as well as a “natural” son, through Mary.
    On the other hand, if one reads the details of the lineage of Joseph from David, one will find that one of the Kings (forgive me – I forget which one) was against God and God told him that his descendents, therefore, would not inherit the throne. (Mary’s lineage side steps this issue by taking a different route from David before that King reigned.) However, this withdrawal of inheritance in one way contradicted both Second Samuel 22:51 and First Kings 2:45 “But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever.” But a factual/promise contradiction is not possible in the Bible!
    Therefore, as it happened, what occurred in the lineage of Joseph was in the natural only – Jesus did not ascend to a natural throne, because His father was not of David’s natural earthly lineage. Instead, he became a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, who was both a Priest and King and became King in the Spiritual. This means Second Samuel 22:51 and First Kings 2:45 etc. were fulfilled, but not as expected. They are not fulfilled in the natural, but in the supernatural!
    As Don Johnson says “the way family trees work, it is possible that a number of living contemporaries of Joseph would also be able to establish the right.” I believe the point of the Joseph lineage is just to provide proof of lineage and establish credibility for a Carpenter from Nazareth, not a right to rule; for the right to rule as a natural descendent of David has been denied by God. Instead it shows that even in the natural and in the spiritual (the supernatural), God can arrange fulfill His promises exactly.
    (Note to self: – must highlight my Bible as to which King’s dependency was voided by God.)

  4. Don Johnson says:

    Hi to Angus

    The topic is very interesting. I once preached a Christmas series on the genealogies, one of our men supplied us with a ‘family tree’ all the way from Adam to Christ. It is about 6 ft by 3 ft. We had a local printer copy it and coloured in sections as we worked our way through for Christmas (I usually preach 4-6 messages on a theme at Christmas time.)

    Anyway, the king you are thinking of is Jeconiah, I believe. He is sometimes called Coniah, and the curse is found in Jer 22.24-30.

    However, Zerubbabel still appears in both lines, and is a grandson (?) of Jeconiah I think. Maybe a bit more between, but not much. Anyway, that becomes a problem because of the curse. And that’s where the commentaries do the gymnastics about Levirate marriage, etc.

    To me, the genealogies in Scripture provide much fruit for study of the providence of God and do display the remarkable grace of God and his marvelous plan unfolding for us ‘before our eyes’, as it were. I preached Jeremiah 33 today, and the promises to David and the Levites are mentioned in vv. 17-18. These two promises are keys to understanding the genealogies of Chronicles. Chronicles is occupied with David and the priesthood, it really is a proof of the Jeremiah passage…. God has not forgotten Israel and his promises and the whole genealogy of men still ongoing in Chronicles manifests that God is still keeping the promise in those lines.

    Anyway, we could go on, but there is a lot to learn from these genealogies, but you do have to slog through a lot of details to put it together.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Jon Gleason says:

    Excellent discussion, gentlemen. I almost hate to interfere, but since it’s my blog…. 🙂

    First, for those who may not have all the background of the discussion, there are two genealogies of Christ in the New Testament, one in Matthew 1 and the other in Luke 3, and they are different. Most Bible scholars believe (for a variety of reasons) that the Luke record gives the descent of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke repeatedly emphasises the humanity of Christ, and also the role of Mary is much more prominent in Luke than in the other Gospels. Luke traces the descent of Christ all the way back to Adam. Luke says Joseph was “of Heli” (“the son” is supplied by the translators). This would normally mean that he was the son or grandson of Heli, but could also mean (and in all probability in this case does mean) that he was the son in law of Heli. Thus, Heli is Mary’s father, and Luke gives her descent. She descended from Nathan the son of David, who never reigned as a king. None of her ancestors (after David) ever ruled.

    Matthew is strongly focused on identifying Christ as the King of the Jews (and not just of the Jews, either). In 1:17 he emphasises three data points in Christ’s lineage — descent from Abraham, descent from David, and the carrying away into Babylon. The first drives home the fact that Jesus is Jewish, the seed of Abraham. The second ensures that we don’t miss the fact that He is the Son of David, a necessity for the promised Messiah. The third, I believe, is connected to what Don and Angus have been discussing regarding Jeconiah and the curse mentioned in Jeremiah, and its importance for royal line. Matthew 1:17 is not just in there to provide an aid to memory — the time of the exile is of importance in the lineage of Christ and in asserting His claim to be King, and Matthew (under the guidance of the Spirit) wants us to notice it.

    More later….

    • Jon Gleason says:

      I’m going to do this in pieces, but hopefully my writing on it won’t be too fragmented. A little more background to clarify for those who may not be familiar with the topic. First, the curse, from Jeremiah 22:

      24 As I live, saith the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence;
      25 And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand of them whose face thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans.
      26 And I will cast thee out, and thy mother that bare thee, into another country, where ye were not born; and there shall ye die.
      27 But to the land whereunto they desire to return, thither shall they not return.
      28 Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?
      29 O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.
      30 Thus saith the LORD, 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.

      Background of the curse (much of this is from II Chronicles 36): Josiah, who had ruled well, died, and his son Jehoahaz became king. Jehoahaz is also called Shallum,and mentioned in Jeremiah 22:11, just before the passage I cited above. Jehoahaz was evil, and reigned for three months, and was deposed by Pharoah, replaced with his brother Jehoiakim, who reigned evilly for 11 years before being taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Jehoiachin his son (also known as Jeconiah or simply Coniah) became king and reigned for 100 days, and then he too took an involuntary and permanent trip to Babylon. His uncle (Jehoiakim’s brother) Mattaniah (also known as Zedekiah) became the last king of Judah, and reigned for 11 years before.he also was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah was made to watch while all of his sons were killed, and then had his eyes put out (Jeremiah 52:10-11).

      At the end of Jeremiah 52, we’re told that Jeconiah was eventually given a place of honour in his captivity in Babylon.

      Because Jeconiah ruled for such a short time, and Jeremiah 22 is written to someone who is reigning (note verse 15, for instance), one possible interpretation here is that the curse is on Zedekiah. The reference to Coniah is a warning to Zedekiah — “look what I did to Coniah, and I’ll do the same to you.” Thus, the “this man” who is “written childless” is Zedekiah, and he saw the precise fulfilment of that himself when his sons were killed, while Coniah did have sons who weren’t killed.

      I’m not entirely persuaded of that argument, but Zedekiah’s eventual end fits with it, and I think it also fits with Matthew highlighting this point in the history. Matthew skips all these I’ve mentioned after Josiah to mention only Jeconiah, as if to say, “This is the line, not another one.”

      On the other hand, I believe that “childless” is defined later in the verse — no descendant ruling on the throne. That would fit both men, not just Zedekiah. Most commentators believe the curse was proclaimed on Jeconiah — certainly, if he was ruling at the time it was pronounced, there would be no question of that interpretation.

      This is all to say that I’m hesitant to assume that the curse of Jeremiah 22 is proclaimed on Jeconiah. I think there’s a strong possibility it was Zedekiah, and fulfilled very soon thereafter. It’s not a hill I’d die on, but neither would I fight to defend the view that the curse is on Jeconiah.

      As Don says, there’s a lot to learn here, and it’s not necessarily easy to fit all the details together. Some measure of uncertainty as to the identity of “this man” in Jeremiah 22 may be one of those details.

      I’ll have more to write on this later, but probably not today.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Now to elaborate on Don’s comment on Zerubbabel, and his presence in both the line of Mary and Joseph, for those who may not understand the problem to which Don refers. In both Matthew and Luke, we see Zerubbabel the son of Salathiel (called Shealtiel in the Old Testament). In Matthew 1:13, we see that Zerubbabel had a son named Abiud, while Luke 3 shows a son of Zerubbabel named Rhesa.

      This part of it is no big deal. Zerubbabel could have easily had two (or more) sons. If, as I’ve suggested, Matthew 1 gives the recognised royal line, then Abiud was probably the first son (from whom Joseph descended), and Rhesa a later son, an ancestor of Mary. If Don and Angus are correct that there was no recognised royal line, then Rhesa could even have been the firstborn.

      The problem to which Don is referring here isn’t actually Zerubbabel, but his father Salathiel. In Matthew, Salathiel’s father is identified as Jeconiah (mentioned above). In Luke, his father is identified as Neri.

      Here is where the curse becomes an issue, as Don said. If the Zerubbabel mentioned in the line of Mary is descended from Jeconiah, then Jesus descended from Jeconiah. If, as most scholars believe (but which I questioned above), the curse of Jeremiah 22 is on Jeconiah, then none of his descendants will ever sit on the throne. Yet, we know Jesus is the true King of the Jews, and will reign forever.

      So we have two problems. First, how could Salathiel have two different fathers, and second, how could Jesus be descended from Zerubbabel the grandson of Jeconiah if Jeconiah was cursed?

      Some possible explanations:

      1. Some commentators have suggested that there were two different Salathiels descended in different lines from David, and both had a son named Zerubbabel. Certainly there are many examples of duplicate names, so this is possible, and would remove all difficulty. But having identical names for two sets of both father and son, both descended from David, and about at the same time frame, seems unlikely. I would classify this as possible but not probable.

      2. Another possibility is that Salathiel’s father was Jeconiah and his father-in-law was Neri. Neri is mentioned in Luke, where Heli, the father-in-law of Joseph is mentioned. This would explain how Salathiel could have “two fathers” in the New Testament genealogies — one is actually his father-in-law. This would still leave Salathiel & Zerubbabel as descended from Jeconiah, however, so the question of the curse isn’t solved.

      3. The third possibility is that Salathiel was not a physical descendant of Jeconiah, and this is where the ideas Don mentioned about Levirate marriage come in. But that’s complicated to explain and I’ll have to defer that to a later comment. I, like Don, find the Levirate marriage idea pretty unconvincing. I’ll say why later.

      I fully recognise there may be things I’m overlooking, but from what I know now, I have to conclude that either there were two different Salathiel/Zerubbabel pairs that are mentioned in the two lines, or that the curse of Jeremiah 22 was not on Jeconiah, but on Zedekiah. In that case, prior occupants of the throne (Jeconiah and Jehoahaz, v. 11) were an example to Zedekiah that God is no respecter of persons, and will judge anyone, even the king. If so, the “childless” curse in Jeremiah 22:30 is declared not on Jeconiah, but rather “this man” refers to the current evil occupant of the throne of Judah, Zedekiah. It’s hardly conclusive, but that seems the most likely interpretation to me.

      • Don Johnson says:

        Very interesting, Jon. Who is the commentator who suggests the curse is on Zechariah? That is a new one on me, as you say, the majority put the curse on Jeconiah. I am not good enough in Hebrew to make an argument from the text either way (can barely pronounce the words, let alone understand their meaning and grammar).

        It occurs to me that the curse could have been valid only for the next generation. I have never heard anyone propound that one either, but since he was followed by his uncle, Zedekiah, rather than one of his sons, could it be considered a possibility?

        Young’s Literal Translation puts it this way:
        Thus said Jehovah: Write ye this man childless, A man — he doth not prosper in his days, For none of his seed doth prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling again in Judah!

        Does this mean “no descendant forever” or “none of your children in your days”?

        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Hi, Don. I wish I could tell you. I first read it in a commentary on Jeremiah in the library at Biola about 30 years ago, but I foolishly made no note of who it was. It was a fairly old commentary. Ran into it again a few years later in a commentary on Matthew, but again, I don’t remember whose. I can’t find it in any well-known commentary.

        I had a conversation about 20 years ago with an old, semi-retired pastor in which the subject came up, and he said, “Of course it’s talking to Zedekiah. Verse 28 makes it clear that Coniah has already been cast out into a foreign land, and God is talking to the man on the throne. Zedekiah’s sons were killed, Jeconiah’s weren’t, so that fits, and the whole lineage problem is very difficult if the curse is on Jeconiah.”

        The difficulty is that an initial reading would make you think “this man” refers to Jeconiah, certainly in English translations. And my Hebrew isn’t good enough, either.

        I’d be very doubtful about it referring only to the next generation. “Seed” generally goes a lot further than one generation. If it had been “sons”, then you could see it as referring to the next generation.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        I found this in Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (obviously not a regular commentary) At verse 28:
        “This appears to be the application of the whole discourse to Zedekiah; for it is to be observed, that Jeconiah is spoken of as absent, and already in captivity. Now if he and his seed had been for their sins thrown aside as a broken idol, or as a vessel which a man despises, how could Zedekiah, who copied and far exceeded them, expect to prosper on the throne of David?”

        At verse 3o:
        “Zedekiah was taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar; his sons slain before his eyes; and his eyes being put out, he was carried to Babylon; and we read no more either of him or his posterity.”

        Clearly he is taking the curse as applying to Zedekiah, for what it’s worth.

      • Paul Collins says:

        This discussion is exactly the issue I’m trying to resolve, thanks for the explanation. Assuming your thought is correct and the curse is against Zedekiah would I be correct that Jesus is of David’s blood line in both the Genealogy in Matthew and Luke ?

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Hello Paul. I believe that both Mary and Joseph are physically descendants of David and we have their genealogies in Matthew and Luke. Jesus, of course, was not physically descended from Joseph and I believe the genealogy in Matthew is primarily there to show the legal / royal line of descent.

        I should say, though, that not everyone agrees with me on this! But I am persuaded that this explanation best fits the Biblical evidence.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      In this comment, I’d like to address the question of Levirate marriage. In Israel, the concept of inheritance was vitally important, even if a man died without heirs. If a married man died without having had any children, his brother (or nearest kinsman) was expected to marry his wife — what is known as a Levirate marriage. The first child would be the legal heir (though not the physical descendant) of the deceased brother, with any further offspring the heirs of the living brother. (This is the basis of the question of the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23 and following.) Sometimes, the son would be called the son of his natural father, while in other cases he might be called the son of the deceased man.

      There is a hint that there might have been a Levirate marriage here. Zerubbabel is usually called the son of Salathiel (or Shealtiel), but in I Chronicles 3:18, Pedaiah the son of Jeconiah has a son called Zerubbabel. This could be a different Zerubbabel, of course, but that would mean that the prominent Zerubbabel at the time of the return from exile isn’t mentioned in I Chronicles, and this other unknown Zerubbabel is mentioned.

      There are two other possibilities. The first is that Salathiel had no son, and so adopted Zerubbabel (his brother’s or uncle’s son, depending on how you read it) as his heir. The second is that there was a Levirate marriage. If Salathiel died without children, a near relative would have married his wife, and the first son would legally be Salathiel’s son and heir. In this case, everything would fit together. Pedaiah would be Zerubbabel’s natural father (as mentioned in I Chronicles 3:18), but Salathiel would be his legal father. The problem with both of these possibilities is that the lineage of Mary appears to be intended to demonstrate the physical descent of Christ from David (and Adam), and it includes Salathiel. So I tend toward the view that Salathiel was the natural father of Zerubbabel, and Pedaiah’s son Zerubbabel is different from the Zerubbabel in the lineage of Christ. But I wouldn’t be certain by any means.

      Any of these three views are entirely possible, but none solve the problem relative to the curse. Pedaiah is either a son or grandson of Jeconiah, so if the curse of Jeremiah 22:30 is on Jeconiah’s descendants, you still have the same problem you had before, even if Zerubbabel was his natural son. If you have a Levirate marriage which produced Zerubbabel (or an adoption), you haven’t solved anything relative to the curse.

      A Levirate marriage could resolve the problem of the curse if you thought that the son of Jeconiah from which Zerubbabel was born was himself a son of a Levirate marriage. But since Jeremiah 52 tells us that Jeconiah lived in captivity to quite an old age, and since he appears to have had more than one son, I don’t see that as really possible. In a Levirate marriage, only the first son would have been the son of Jeconiah, and by the time Jeconiah died his wife would probably have been past child-bearing age. The evidence is pretty strong that Jeconiah’s sons were actually his sons, and that Zerubbabel was a physical descendant of Jeconiah.

      That pushes us back, then, to the following possibilities: 1) a completely different and elsewhere unknown Zerubbabel / Salathiel pairing in the line of Mary in Luke 3; 2) the curse isn’t on Jeconiah’s descendants, but on Zedekiah’s; 3) something else I haven’t come across.

      If we believe that Christ was literally descended from David (I think Psalm 132:11 leaves no choice but to believe that), then the descent of Mary can have no adoptions / Levirate marriages that eliminate physical descent from David. Thus, it seems to me that if we have the same Zerubbabel in both lines, then either A) the curse isn’t on Jeconiah, or B) Zerubbabel is somehow a physical descendent of David without being a physical descendent of Jeconiah, despite being his legal grandson or great-grandson. A) seems more likely to me.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Summarising my (as always) long-winded comments on this, with a few other things added.

      1. Either something strange happened in the short time intervening between Jeconiah and Zerubbabel (to which we have no clue in Scripture), or Zerubbabel was physically descended from Jeconiah. A Levirate marriage or adoption of Zerubbabel by Salathiel doesn’t change that fact. Since the descent of Christ was important enough to the Lord to include such detail on it in Scripture, I am convinced that any such unusual happening would have some clue in Scripture. So the most likely interpretation is that Zerubbabel was an actual physical descendant of Jeconiah.
      2. That leaves us two choices. Either the Zerubbabel in Mary’s lineage is a different Zerubbabel, or the curse of Jeremiah 22:29-30 was not on Jeconiah, but on Zedekiah. I believe that the latter is more likely, and that the highlighting of Jeconiah in Matthew 1:17 supports that view.
      3. I believe it is most likely that Neri (mentioned in Luke) was the father-in-law of Salathiel.
      4. I believe that the descent of Mary was sufficient to establish Jesus as a Son of David, and my best understanding as of today is that the genealogy of Joseph given in Matthew is superfluous unless it establishes more than that. Therefore, I do believe that there was in all probability a recognised royal line which came down to Joseph. I think that is probably a significant factor in why Joseph was in a “backwater” like Nazareth — it would have been dangerous for him to be anywhere prominent or in any way draw attention to himself.

      There’s a lot of “this is my best understanding today” in what I’ve written on this. I could be missing some important facts along the way, but that’s the best way I know to tie all the threads together.

      As to Don’s initial comment on the thread, he says he’s “not sure this one necessarily follows.” I would say that’s a fair comment. I think it probably follows, but it would be pressing the point to say “thus saith the Lord” on it. So a good challenge from Don for which I thank him.

  6. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Jon

    Very interesting. Well, I can see your reasoning more clearly with respect to your original post now. I would note that the emphasis of the genealogy in Matthew is clearly on the royal lineage whereas in Luke it is on the humanity, although the link with David is still important. The main thing I am not sure about in your thinking is the notion that Joseph is well-known as ‘the rightful heir’ or anything of the sort. I don’t think the Bible gives any impression of this and I don’t think it is evident in secular history either, since well before the time of the Hasmoneans.

    Personally, I don’t think it is that likely. The line of David had descended to pretty ordinary circumstances by the 1st century.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Don. First, I don’t have any clear Biblical statements to that effect. The best I can do is a hint of the royal line still being important at the end of the exile when we come to Zerubbabel.

      Second, I wouldn’t expect anything in secular history on it, because it was too dangerous, and not just with Herod. You’d have certainly had trouble if someone had been talking about the royal line when Antiochus was in power. No one would have been talking much about the sons of David and the royal line down through the years, and certainly no one in that line would have been looking to make a lot of claims to the throne. That doesn’t mean that the scribes and those in the line weren’t paying attention. An argument from silence is valid, but it isn’t a very strong one when there were compelling reasons for silence in many of those years.

      So lacking any hard evidence from Scripture or contemporary history, it’s pretty hard to be dogmatic about any of it. Edersheim, who probably knew far more than anyone in the last 200 years about this kind of thing, barely touches on the genealogies, and what he does say sounds a very uncertain note.

      On the other hand, Lenski seems very sure about a lot of things. “Matthew gives us the legal line on which all Jewish descendants lay stress as we shall see in the case of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus.” Further down: “The line was traced in the priests’ records, which were cherished with great care because of the promise that the Messiah would come from the hous of David.” And: “Matthew’s genealogy presents Joseph as the legal father of Jesus, which makes Jesus legally the heir of David and of Abraham.”

      Lenski certainly seems to hold the view that this line made Jesus the legal heir to the throne. One of my professors, Stanley Ellison, said Joseph as heir to the throne was “making himself scarce in Nazareth” to avoid Herod’s attentions.

      Gill says, “and also that he was of the blood royal, and had his descent from the kings of Judah, and was heir apparent to the throne and kingdom of his father David.” And: “The Talmudic Jews own that Jesus, or Jesu, as they call him, was put to death because he… ‘was nigh to the kingdom,’ or nearly related to it.”

      So I guess I can’t prove it from Scripture, but I’m not the first person to suggest that Jesus, and Joseph before him, was the legal heir apparent and recognised as such. And I do think, in all the things the Jews said at the time and wrote later against Christ, that if there had been anyone with a better legal claim to the throne, they would have been quick to point it out.

      So I’ll put myself in the 80-90% certain range on this one. For what it’s worth.

  7. Wow. Interesting thoughts in this thread.


    I agree that we are left with a lot of speculation about some of the things in this passage, but I think that it is possible that you are reading more into Lenski’s words than he intended.

    I have understood the differences between the two genealogies to be that while Luke shows a physical descent from David through Mary, that Matthew shows a legal descent through Joseph – because the right to the throne would go through the male. In other words, Lenski’s observation that “Matthew’s genealogy presents Joseph as the legal father of Jesus, which makes Jesus legally the heir of David and of Abraham” is emphasizing the fact that Joseph was a legitimate heir of David and that because Joseph was the legal father of Jesus, this heirship would have passed to Him as well.

    I don’t have my Lenski with me, so I could be allowing my previous conceptions to interpret him differently than context allows.

    In other words, my understanding is that there would have been a number of lines that could have legitimately and legally made claim to the throne and that Matthew’s genealogy is showing that Joseph had a legitimate, legal claim and that, as Joseph’s legal son, Jesus also had a legitimate and legal claim to the throne – a claim that could not be made if he was only a descendant through his mother. (At least I can’t think of a case where the throne passed to a son of a daughter of the king.)

    Anyway, just my thoughts,


    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thanks for the comment, Frank. Good thoughts. I looked at Lenski again, and I think he could indeed be read either way. Gill is clear on his view, but Lenski might not be. Looking at the quotes again:

      “Matthew gives us the legal line on which all Jewish descendants lay stress as we shall see in the case of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus.” What does he mean by “the legal line”? Does he mean “the legal line” of Joseph’s descent, or the legal line of descent through which heir apparency to the crown was traced? If the former, he simply means what you are saying. If it is the latter, he’s advocated what I’ve been saying.

      “The line was traced in the priests’ records, which were cherished with great care because of the promise that the Messiah would come from the hous of David.”

      This could go well with either view.

      “Matthew’s genealogy presents Joseph as the legal father of Jesus, which makes Jesus legally the heir of David and of Abraham.”

      Now, with a strict reading of this, he’s advocating my view. Matthew’s genealogy makes Jesus legally the heir of David and of Abraham. If he’d said, “legally an heir”, then it would be what you’ve suggested. And maybe that’s what he meant. Or if he’d said, “Matthew’s genealogy provides legal support for Jesus as the heir,” that would also be what you’ve suggested. We all know Jesus was/is the heir, and most believe that this genealogy backs that up. So that could be all Lenski meant. But a technical reading of what he actually wrote, I believe, goes further than that.

      The difference between “the heir” and “an heir” is not negligible, but I’m not sure we should press our interpretation of someone’s view too finely on that difference unless they are clear that it is intended. So I guess I would say Lenski could be read either way, but if I’m forced to guess, based primarily on that last quote I’ve cited, I’ll guess that he saw Joseph and then Christ as the legal “heir apparent”, to use Gill’s term.

      I think one of the things that makes me question what you are suggesting is the idea that there were a number of lines with legitimate claims. Usually, it doesn’t work that way — there’s one line that has the priority, and things deviate from that only if the line dies out or if extra-legal action (such as coups, invasions, etc) intervene. Multiple lines with a legitimate claim means chaos, I think. If there were another line with a legitimate claim, and the kingdom were restored, how would they have decided who was the king? Arm-wrestling? 🙂 I think that one line always ends up with priority. It may not necessarily always be the firstborn, but one son would be designated as the legal heir who had the birthright.

      But again, I don’t see any firm Scripture on this one way or another. We’re in “my best guess” territory, I think.

  8. Pingback: Reading the Bible | His Kingdom Prophecy

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