Q: I’m very confused regarding a Jewish objection to Jesus as the Messiah which goes like this:
“The Bible says that the Messiah would be of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David. According to Christians, Jesus was born of a virgin. However, tribal affiliation is conferred through the birth father only (Numbers 34:14, Numbers 1:18-44, Leviticus 24:10). The mother’s tribal affiliation was considered irrelevant to what her children’s tribal affiliation was and tribal affiliation/genealogy could not be inherited though a stepfather; only property could be inherited. Because Christians believe that Jesus had no human father, he would have had no tribal affiliation and would be eliminated from messianic consideration.”
A: The Jewish arguments seem to be rather compelling. However there are several facts that they do not address:
1. When Joseph completed his marriage to Mary who was pregnant at the time rather than breaking it off he was in essence accepting the coming child as his own. On the eighth day after Jesus was born he was circumcised and later Joseph along with Mary took him to the Temple to be registered and consecrated as his ‘first-born’ son (LK 2:22-24). Therefore Joseph officially recognized Jesus as his son and first-born heir (not by adoption) in the line of David and the tribe of Judah. Game, Set, & Match!
2. Officially even today a child is recognized as Jewish if the mother is Jewish. So it is rather disingenuous to say that the family of the woman does not count in any way. Whether or not Luke genealogy is Mary’s cannot be proven but it is an early traditional understanding and it does make sense. Mary had to be a descendent of David or the Biblical requirement that the Messiah be his descendent would not have been fulfilled in the case of Jesus.
3. Jesus therefore was a descendent of David through his mother but received his tribal affiliation from Joseph who recognized him as his first-born heir. While we can’t prove today that the genealogy in Luke was Mary’s this whole scenario is supported by the fact that over 50,000 Jews in Jerusalem alone did end up believing that Jesus was the Messiah prior to 70 AD (CE) while the temple records were still available and the genealogies could still be confirmed. This included a large number of well educated Pharisees who became members of the early Jewish-Christian community.
4. If the Jewish folk want to keep looking for another to fulfill the Biblical requirements for a Messiah then they now have a huge problem. There are no current official records to confirm one’s Davidic lineage though some families have maintained their own records, particularly some of the priestly families.
Keep in mind however, that the prophet Jeremiah condemned the entire kingly line following Jeconiah. The line remains condemned for all time and this prophesy clearly states that no one from that line would ever sit on David’s throne nor even prosper:
Jer 22:30– “for no more shall a man of his seed prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling in Judah.”
The Matthew genealogy identifies Joseph as heir of the kingly line through Jeconiah. Therefore if Jesus had been his natural son he would have been subject to the curse. However, as the recognized first-born son and heir he received the inheritance of the kingly line without the curse. Jesus was not from the literal seed of Jeconiah (Coniah) yet was the heir. The presumed Davidic genealogy of Mary in Luke does not go through Jeconiah.
If Jesus is not the Messiah it is hard to see how anyone else would ever qualify. Of course this is the perspective of the Christian faith.
The Jewish objections have considerable merit, but I believe that they are defeated by the very actions and life of Joseph. Plus the estimated 100,000 or so Jews that did accept him as Messiah early on around the Roman world including 50,000 or more in Jerusalem alone prior to the destruction of the Temple.
Besides, the Christian faith does not depend on having a ‘good’ argument, the same Jesus and Holy Spirit can be experienced today as it was by the Apostles and disciples in the first century. Ours is a living faith that continues in the life of the believers today as it has for nearly 2,000 years.