Was Jesus Joseph's Son?
NCW 7, December 1993
Q. If Jesus was not the literal son of Joseph, why is Joseph's genealogy given in the Bible? What would be the point?
First, let us be quite clear that Jesus was not the literal, biological son of Joseph. The Gospel of Matthew leaves us in no doubt that Jesus' conception was miraculous and that no human (or "divine") intercourse took place (Matt.1:1-25). Rather, what was conceived in Mary was "from the Ruach-Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit)" (v.20, Jewish New Testament). Therefore the only genes that could have been present in Jesus were from Mary's genealogical line, and even then we do not know to what extent the Holy Spirit modified these. It may even be that the genes were completely made anew using Mary's physical matter (we do not know to what extent Jesus resembled His earthly mother).
So why is Joseph's genealogy traced? There are probably several reasons. Firstly, for legal reasons. Irrespective of whether Joseph was the biological father or not, he was at least the legal father. To all intents and purposes, Jesus was an adopted son.
Secondly, the father is the head of the household and the genealogy of children was always traced through the male line in Hebrew culture (the opposite was true in Egypt which was a matrilineal society, genealogy being traced through the female line). As the adopted child of Joseph, Jesus nevertheless obtained the name of Joseph, and was called Jesus, son of Joseph.
Thirdly, the Gospel teaches plainly that we are all the adopted sons and daughters of Abraham by faith. Even though those who are Gentiles have no blood lineage back to Abraham, they are nevertheless his sons and daughters through faith in Christ. Likewise, we become the sons and daughters of Christ through adoption. The principle of adoption is important, and the origin of the one to whom we are adopted to is therefore important. And the origin of Christ is God.
The purpose of Joseph's genealogical tree in the Gospel of Matthew is to establish kingly descent. Joseph was a pure descendant of David and therefore entitled to sit on the throne of Israel in place of the upstart Herod.
But even if Jesus did not belong biologically to Joseph's Davidic line, He certainly did through His mother Mary. Mary was a descendant of Nathan, Solomon's brother and son of Bath-sheba, the wife of David. Joseph was a descendant of Solomon, Nathan's brother.
There are important spiritual principles hidden up in these two genealogies. They are, if studied with the eye of the Holy Spirit, a beautiful picture of the redeeming mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came as two parts of a unique whole -- He came as God and as man -- as pure spirit and as earthly flesh. To effect His redeeming work a Virgin Birth was absolutely essential. Jesus Christ had to have two genealogies, therefore -- a divine genealogy and an earthly one. Mary provided the earthly one and Joseph, by proxy, provided the "heavenly" one.
For the Hebrews, genealogy meant everything. It lay at the heart of the Mosaic dispensation. Jesus came to bring the Mosaic dispensation to its completion -- to fill it up spiritually, as it were, by elevating it to its true spiritual position, and not the lower, fleshy, school-master position which it occupied under the Old Covenant. He not only lived the outer covenant perfectly, without sin (the Mary dimension) but also lifted it into a new dimension (the Joseph principle). Though Mary had the biological line establishing Jesus as the legitimate King of Israel, Joseph, by proxy for our Heavenly Father, represented quite a different line -- a spiritual one. Though he himself had the biological line requirements too, it was not that which was of the utmost importance -- for Jesus came not as a political Messiah (on the first occasion) but as a spiritual one. The Kingdom He came to establish was "not of this world".
Matthew was a Hebrew and he alone of the four Gospel writers wrote in Hebrew. He was writing to a Hebrew audience, for whom genealogy was important. Mark, Luke, and John, who wrote in Greek, mention no genealogy at all. In a way, the latter three represent the "completion" or the "filling up" of the Law of Moses -- filling the outer, physical vessel (represented by the Gospel of Matthew) with the Spirit of God (represented by their own three Gospels). People have wondered why there are Four Gospels in our Bible (there are actually more, though they are not in our modern Bibles), and I suspect it is, in part, to symbolise the transition from a predominantly flesh-centred Old Covenant to a Spirit-centred New Covenant, where the Old is now only one part in four relative to the New Spirit. Such is only a speculation but appears to this writer to have a good foundation.
Throughout the Gospels, and particularly John's Gospel, we detect a force or movement, as it were, which is trying to elevate the human consciousness above the physical and into the spiritual. It cannot be any accident that Matthew's Gospel is the first chronologically in the New Testament, for it is the stepping stone from the old thinking and the first tentative steps into the new. Matthew, writing to the blood descendants of Israel, is preparing the stage for the Great Adoption by all those who believe into the same great family of God.
The fact that Matthew's Gospel contains accounts both of Joseph's genealogy and Jesus' miraculous conception can mean only one thing: that we are to understand that a marvelous work and a wonder is about to take place on all levels of Creation, from the physical (genealogical) to the spiritual. If Jesus had been naturally conceived and the writer had wished to stress this, then the story of the Virgin Birth would never have been included because it would have been a blatant contradiction. Indeed, it would have been so laughable that nobody would have believed the apostles' message.
But for we who have found the Christ, and have been reborn in His Spirit, the presence of Joseph's genealogical line is no mystery. For as Joseph adopted God-in-the-flesh on the earth, so God-in-the-flesh has adopted us in heaven. We, too, have received a "virgin birth" but on a different plane. Our rebirth on the spiritual plane is the fruits of that planting on the physical plane. We too have a biological line through our mothers and fathers and they are important to us so that we know to whom we belong on the earth. But as all Christians know, we also have another genealogical line through adoption, making us children of heaven and citizens of a better world. We have been adopted by one who was adopted Himself, the One we know who has experienced everything and knows us through and through. God, in His infinite wisdom, left nothing incomplete.
This page was created on 18 April 1998
Last updated on 18 April 1998
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