How was Jesus from the line of King David if his real father was not Joseph?

Q. How does the genealogy of Christ work? Because if this is recorded in a patriarchal society, this is the line of Joseph, right? Doesn’t that mean none of this genealogy actually flows through Jesus’s blood? How is he from the line of King David if his real father is God and not Joseph?

The purpose of the genealogy in Matthew’s gospel is to demonstrate that Jesus is “the son of David, the son of Abraham,” that is, the legal heir of both of these men and thus the beneficiary (and ultimate fulfillment) of the covenant promises that God made to them.

All Jews were descended from Abraham.  But Jesus was not descended from David, who was from the tribe of Judah, through his mother Mary, because she was instead a descendant of Aaron from the tribe of Levi.  We know this because Luke’s gospel tells us that Mary was a “relative” of Elizabeth, who was a “descendant of Aaron.”

But when Joseph, who was descended from David, married Mary, this also constituted his legal adoption of the son she would bear. The language of Matthew’s genealogy reflects this legal understanding: “Joseph, the husband of Mary . . . the mother of Jesus.”

Later in Matthew’s gospel we see from the narrative that Jesus was considered to be Joseph’s son just as much as the other children that Mary and Joseph had together.  The people of Nazareth ask, after Jesus tells a series of parables, Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”

Accordingly Paul can say of Jesus at the beginning of his letter to the Romans, “who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead.”

Luke says similarly in his genealogy that Jesus was “thought” or “supposed” to be the son of Joseph; the International Standard Version says that he was “legally calculated” to be Joseph’s son, and I think that’s a good way of expressing the meaning here.

So Jesus was the son of Joseph in the full legal sense, because he was adopted when Joseph married Mary, and thus Jesus is also considered to be a legal descendant of David.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

14 thoughts on “How was Jesus from the line of King David if his real father was not Joseph?”

  1. You raise some good points, but I think it is even more complicated in that there are other relevant verses. For one, there is Luke’s genealogy. There is also Jeremiah’s negative prophecy about Coniah (Jer 22:28-30), who shows up in Matthew’s genealogy as Jeconiah, but not Luke’s even though they both share Shealtiel and Zerubbabel. So for the prophecy to be true, whomever Matthew is discussing cannot be the father of a king of Israel.

    Because of this negative prophecy, I read Matthew as for Joseph and Luke as for Mary. It turns out Luke is missing the Greek article before Joseph which I have read was a Jewish way of indicating a female descendent (that is, Mary, since she was Joseph’s wife), since the presence of the article made the noun definite and a male descendent, the absence was seen as an indication that was more ambiguous and therefore a female in the notational convention.

    On Mary being a relative of Elizabeth, Jews at the time used patrilineal descent and she could have been related to Elizabeth on her mother’s side. In other words, it’s complicated.

    Thoughts?

    1. I think the prophecy about Coniah applies only to his immediate descendants: “Record this man as if childless . . . none of his offspring . . . will sit on the throne of David, or rule anymore in Judah.” As it happened Jeconiah’s uncle became the next and last literal king of Judah. But Haggai’s prophecy about Zerubbabel, “I will make you like my signet ring,” seems to reverse Jeremiah’s about Jeconiah, “If you . . . were like a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off.” So being a legal descendant of Jeconiah, via adoption by Joseph, is not an obstacle to Jesus inheriting the covenant promises God made to David.

  2. Jesus is not related to Joseph therefore he will not inherit the Kingdom of David as promise in 2 Samuel 7:12 and also as in promise to Solomon 1 King 11:13 (reference New Revised Standard Version).I think it should be related by blood to David via Solomon and not Nathan

    1. I see this differently. As I say in my post, “Jesus was the son of Joseph in the full legal sense, because he was adopted when Joseph married Mary, and thus Jesus is also considered to be a legal descendant of David.”

    2. But after the roman occupation (and other occupations in the prophecies of Daniel), who can say that the descendants of Solomon were not killed? perhaps the last descendants of David were not descended from Solomon (excluding Jesus’ Younger brothers, who believed in Jesus).

  3. If you look at the Luke genealogy you will find that the genealogy there is actually the genealogy of Mary. Mary is also a descendant of David, and her father had no sons, therefore the blessing and birthrights go to her. Joseph’s line could not have a king because one of the former kings was cursed, but Mary’s line was not and also came from David and had legal right to the throne because Mary didn’t have any brothers. It’s actually a miracle, Jesus is the only person who can say that whether you look at His genealogy through His “step” father or mother, He has legal right to the throne.
    Since Jesus is technically not even Joseph’s son, you have to look at Mary’s line which is actually the correct way to find who from the line of David should be king. Since Jesus was the Son of God, not Josheph and Mary was a direct descendant of David and had no brothers He was technically king either way you want to look at it. It’s not complicated, just miraculous.

  4. Hi all

    How can one make their own assumptions about Joseph not being the father of Jesus ? Does “as supposed ” not mean AS EVERYONE BELIEVED, if we rtake out the addition ” as was supposed” which was an insert not in the origional text. Then we woild read Jesus the SON of Joseph ?

    1. Luke 3:23 “Now Jesus Himself began his ministry at about thirty years of age, “BEING” (as was supposed) the son of Joseph”

      “BEING” MEANS “HE WAS” .So Joseph WAS Jesus father.

      Ephesians 2:20 “_____________ Jesus Christ “BEING” THE chief corner stone.

      JESUS “WAS” the chief corner stone.

      John 11:49 “______________”BEING” the high priest that same year _____ ”

      “WAS” the high priest .

      Also see John 1 : 45 and John 6:42 and Mathew 13:55 All believed even the disciple’s that Jesus was Joseph son.

      1. No, grammatically complete does not necessarily mean informationally complete. A “parenthesis” is added as an explanation because some vital information is missing without it. So if we “take out the brackets,” the sentence does not have the exact same meaning, even if it can still stand on its own grammatically. For example, “I’m going to kill you (just kidding)!” does not mean the exact same thing as “I’m going to kill you!” even though the shorter version is grammatically complete.

  5. By adoption,Jesus is rightfuly the son of Joseph the capenter bt he,Jesus,cannot by adoption,be considered a bloodline of the house of David,Solomom or Abraham.The blood of the Patriachs does not run in the veins of Jesus,there is no biological link between the adpted Jesus and Joseph his sorrogate father,so,its not logical 2conclude that Jesus is a “direct descendant” of David.

    1. The Bible doesn’t say explicitly, “Joseph adopted Jesus.” But in this culture, when a man married a woman who had children, or a child on the way, this meant that legally he became the father of those children. In other words, he adopted them.

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