Month: September 2010

Jesus the Jew?

The Institute regularly received correspondence from laypeople and apologists worldwide. Most of the time, we either answer the query ourselves or defer the person to a ministry that specializes in the field (anthropology, linguistics, ancient cultures, etc). As always, our goal is to best equip the saints to defend the Christian faith.

Ancient scroll containing book of IsiahOn one such occasion not too long ago, we received an email from someone seeking an answer to Jewish apologists. Apparently, they were questioning the genealogy of Jesus. Was Jesus really from the right tribe, family and lineage to qualify as the Messiah? The pedigree of Christ was put on the table.

The following arguments were given to the Christian to show that Jesus’ genealogy did not qualify him as the Messiah:

“The Messiah must be from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10). Under Jewish law, tribal affiliation is conferred through the birth father only (Numbers 1:18-44,34:14,Leviticus 24:10) (Criterion for being the Messiah is not met – in Christianity, Jesus has no human father – therefore he had no tribal affiliation. Jesus not being from the tribe of Judah is eliminated from messianic consideration).”

“The Messiah must be from the House of David (Jeremiah 33:17-20,1 Chronicles 17:11-12). This affiliation is conferred through the father and Matthew 1 and Luke 3 attempt to trace Jesus’ lineage through Joseph back to King David. However, according to the Gospels “the holy spirit” not Joseph was Jesus’ father (Matthew 1:18). Tribal and family affiliations of this type can not be claimed by adoption (Numbers 1:18-44,34:14; Leviticus 24:10) and at any rate there is no indication in the Christian scriptures that Joseph ever adopted Jesus under Jewish law (Criterion not met – Jesus eliminated from messianic consideration).”

“The Messiah must be from the seed of Solomon (2 Samuel 7:12-16,Psalms 89:29-38,1 Chronicles 17:11-14,22:9-10,28:6-7). Matthew indeed claims that Jesus was descended through Solomon. However, Luke claimed that Jesus descended through Nathan, David’s other son (who was not king). This eliminates Jesus’ genealogy through Luke. The problem with the claim that Luke’s genealogy is actually that of Mary is that Mary is not mentioned in Luke’s genealogy. Even if it was the genealogy of Mary this is meaningless as Jewish law only recognizes tribal affiliation through the father (Numbers 1:18).”

Of course, as a traditional Christian, I completely disagree with the Jewish assessment of Jesus’ lineage. Here’s my responding email:

So let me get this straight. The argument goes:

1) In order to fulfill the messianic prophecy of being from the tribe of Judah, Joseph would have to have been Jesus’ natural father since tribal affiliation is passed through the father’s lineage.

2) In order to fulfill the messianic prophecy of being from the “House of David”, Joseph would have to have been Jesus’ natural father since tribal affiliation is passed down from the father and cannot be claimed through adoption.

3)  In order to fulfill the messianic prophecy of being from the “seed of” Solomon, Joseph would have to have been Jesus’ natural father since tribal affiliation is only passed through the father’s lineage.

Byzantine Mary and Baby JesusDoes the unspoken assumption here seem unusual? If Jesus is the supernaturally conceived Son of God, rather than the natural son of Joseph, then He isn’t qualified to be the Messiah. Really? So if God Himself comes to earth, He is unqualified to be their savior? I wonder if they realize how nonsensical and illogical that sounds?

Setting that aside, let’s continue with the argument. If Jesus was not Joseph’s natural son, but only the son of Mary, one must wonder: did Jesus have any Jewish affiliation at all? If all affiliation were only passed down from the father’s side then Jesus, technically, wasn’t even a Jew; He had no tribe, no family and no real lineage (remember, we’re setting aside the fact that he’s the son of God). So, being born through Mary into the tribe of Judah from the line of King David is irrelevant; Jesus is a nobody from nowhere.

This kind of reasoning, obviously, fails on two levels:

On the first level, without an early father, Jesus’ lineage would instead have come from his mother, Mary. Would anyone, even in the first century, have been so foolish as to deny that Jesus had a family line? So, using Luke’s genealogy, we can place Jesus both in the tribe of Judah and from the line of David; He was qualified to be the Messiah.

On a second level, how can you argue: If Jesus is truly the son of God, then He can’t be the Messiah? That is pure nonsense. Is God unable to bring about the Messiah, even His own Son, without the aid of a natural man? I guess … if you choose to believe that first century Jewish genealogical traditions trump God’s will.

Of course, this kind of thinking is nothing new. If you remember, in like manner the Jews of Jesus’ day accused Him of being a sinner for healing on the Sabbath. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they plotted to kill them both. It seems that even in Jesus’ day, people could be blind, ignoring the blatant miracles of God and instead embracing the traditions of men?

Now, for arguments sake, let’s even give them this part of the argument. Let’s suppose that in the first century lineage was only passed through the natural father’s line. Jesus Himself offered a great refutation of this argument :

Antiochus IV Epiphanes
Courtesy of http://www.bible-history.com

“And say not to yourselves, We have Abraham for our father; because I say to you that God is able from these stones to make children for Abraham.” – Mt 3:9

Yeah … on every level these arguments against Jesus’ qualifications to be the Messiah fail and fail badly. The assumptions behind them fail, the premise fails and the conclusion fails.

The last argument fares no better. Although the scripture mentioned, II Samuel and Psalms do speak of a “son of David” they are referring to Solomon. There are allusions to Jesus, but allusions to future events and people aren’t unheard of in the scripture.  Both Antiochus Epiphanes and the king of Babylon are compared to the Satan / the Antichrist in the form of allusions. Does this mean that Antiochus Epiphanes was the Antichrist? Nope.

The point here is that although the texts of the Psalm and II Samuel can’t all possibly be applied to Solomon (as a son of David) they did in fact allude to another “son of David”: Jesus of Nazareth. The Christ.

So let me summarize:

1) Jesus was from the tribe of Judah through Mary.

2) Jesus was from the tribe of David through Mary.

3) The verses mentioned here are about Solomon. They do allude to the Messiah who was indeed from the line of David as predicted.