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The Genealogy of Joseph

Jan 26, 2011

The original Birthright given to Adam was, in part, that he was given dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26). This was passed down from generation to generation, and when Jacob split the Birthright into pieces, the dominion mandate was given to Judah. Later, King David was given the promise that the dominion would pass through his lineage. It finally rested upon Jesus Christ, a descendant of David.

Jesus Christ is the "Heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2).

There is one problem that skeptics have pointed out which would appear to cast doubt upon Jesus' legitimacy as Heir of the world. His ancestry in Matthew 1 appears to include Jeconiah in Matt. 1:11 (NASB).

(11) And to Josiah were born Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

Jeconiah was placed under a curse and banned from the lineage of David--and thus also from being an ancestor of the Messiah. This is found in Jer. 22:30,

(30) Thus says the Lord, "Write this man down childless, a man who will not prosper in his days; for no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.

So how could Jeconiah be an ancestor of Jesus? The simple answer is that Jeconiah was not an ancestor of Jesus. He was an ancestor of Joseph, who did not beget Jesus, for Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit.

Here is what happened.

There are two sets of genealogies in the New Testament. One is in Matthew and the other in Luke. They appear to be contradictory, because they both seem to lead to Joseph, the legal father of Jesus.

(Matt. 1:16) "And to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."

(Luke 3:23) "And when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being supposedly the son of Joseph, the son of Eli.

Joseph could not have been the biological son of both Jacob and Eli. In fact, the genealogies are different. Matthew's account traces Christ through David's son, Solomon (Matt. 1:6), while Luke's account traces Christ through a different son of David, Nathan (Luke 3:31).

The lineage of Solomon is our problem, because Jeconiah was of that genealogical lineage. Obviously, because Solomon had received the kingship, the kings of Judah were all descended from him, including Jeconiah. But fortunately, David had other sons through whom the promise could be passed.

But before we can fully explain the two genealogies, we must explain a law that few seem to understand.

The Law of Sonship

The Law of Sonship is found in Deut. 25. The law says that if a man dies childless, his brother (or near kinsman) is to take his dead brother's wife and raise up children who would be the inheritors of the dead brother's estate.

In other words, the child produced in such a way would be the biological son of one man, but would be the legal son of his brother. We see this scenario played out in the book of Ruth, where we read in chapter 4 that Ruth bore a son, but verse 17 says, "A son has been born to Naomi."

The son's name was Obed, the grandfather of David. He was biologically the son of Boaz, but  he was the legal son and inheritor of Elimelech's estate.

This same type of situation occurred with Joseph, the supposed father of Jesus. Joseph was the legal son of Eli (Luke 3:23), but he was actually fathered by Eli's brother, Jacob (Matt. 1:16). Why? Because Eli had died childless, and so Jacob had done his duty by the law and was the biological father of Joseph.

So Matthew's account says that Joseph's father was Eli, which was perfectly true according to the law.

Luke's account says that Joseph's father was Jacob, because he was the actual biological father of Joseph.

Both accounts are correct, but in a different way. Having explained this in my own words, let me quote Eusebius, the fourth-century bishop of Caesarea, who wrote this:

"Before that I must explain how those two, Jacob and Heli, were brothers, and before that how their fathers, Matthan and Melchi, members of different families, are stated to have been Joseph's grandfathers.

"Well now, Matthan and Melchi, successive husbands of the same wife, fathered half-brothers, for the law allows a woman who has been either divorced or widowed to marry again. The wife in question, whose name is given as Estha, first married Matthan the descendant of Solomon, and bore him Jacob; then on the death of Matthan, the widow married Melchi, whose line went back to Nathan, and who belonged to the same tribe, though not to the same family, and by him had a son Heli.

"Thus, though the families were different, we shall find that Jacob and Heli had the same mother. When Heli died childless, his brother Jacob took his wife and by her became father of Joseph in the third generation. According to nature, Joseph was his son--and according to reason, so that Scripture says, 'Jacob begot Joseph'; but according to the law, he was Heli's son; for Jacob as a good brother 'raised up' offspring to him." [History of the Church, I, vii, 12]

He goes on to explain Luke's expression, "being supposedly the son of Joseph" (3:23).

"It was impossible to express legal descent more explicitly and never once from beginning to end did he use the word 'begot' with reference to this type of fatherhood, as he traced the line, in the reverse direction, to 'Adam, the son of God'."

So, in effect, Joseph had two fathers, one biological and one legal. The biological father of Joseph was Jacob, who was a descendant of Jeconiah, upon whom the curse had come. But Jacob's son, Joseph, was not his son at all, because by the Law of Sonship, Eli was Joseph's father. Eli was not a descendant of Jeconiah.

As I have said many times, "the law always trumps genealogy."

This is why a genealogical Judahite or member of any of the tribes of Israel could be disinherited by law. He could be "cut off from among his people" for certain crimes, including the Law of Sacrifice (Lev. 17:4). In other words, if a genealogical Israelite violated the Law of Sacrifice, he would lose his citizenship in the tribe.

Likewise, if a woman married outside of her tribe, she was considered to be of that new tribe (Num. 36:3). Again, the law took precedence over genealogy.

Hence, Eli's lawful position as Joseph's father took precedence over Jacob's claim as the biological father of Joseph. In that sense, Joseph was not tainted by the curse upon Jeconiah.

The Virgin Birth of Christ

So far, we have only explained the discrepancy in the two genealogical records. Jesus was not conceived by Joseph, but by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18; Luke 1:34, 35). Hence, Joseph was not Jesus' biological father, but rather he was the legal father. Jesus therefore had two fathers. The Holy Spirit was Jesus' biological Father in heaven, while Joseph (who was "childless") was Jesus' legal father on earth.

Yet in the next generation, Jesus too died "childless," and we--His brethren--are called to raise up seed to our older Brother by begetting the Manchild, which is Christ in you. That holy seed has not the seed of Adam that it should sin. It is begotten of God.

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Category: God's Law
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones