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 an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. 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 New International Version (NIV) 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 was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. 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.

50 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.


    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.

      1. wow i really enjoyed this .. i have been digging as well . not as deep as you Chris. i have so many questions . i love Our LORD and i just want to get closer and closer. i really need this . having a big problem with our americanized Church . i still attend but also watch Messianic Church as well . do you think constantine put his little spin on GOD’s word ?

    2. But God Himself cancelled the curse on Jeconiah, when in Haggai 2:23 He chose Zerubbabel.

      Note the language the Lord uses in both Jer 22 and in Haggai 2:
      Jer 22:24: “As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off.”
      Haggai 2:23: “On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

      So God reinstated the line of Jeconiah.
      Matthew’s lineage puts Jesus through Zerubbabel, and of course Messiah is like God’s Signet, one could say!

    3. Mary and Joseph were cousins, their Dad’s were fathers. Mary’s dad died young and she was raised by her uncle. So Joseph’s ancestry was also Mary’s ancestry. Mary was raised by Heli their mutual uncle. Check out her genealogy. So she is descended of both Judah & Levi.

    4. Jesus’s mother was the only child of Joachim and Anna (Proto evangelium of James the elder) this is an apocryphal work, long considered inspired from the earliest years of the church but tossed out by Martin Luther. in the 16th century. ) UnderMosaic law (book of Numbers —The Daughters of Zehephlephod come to Moses) if a man has no sons his daughters inherit
      everything —land, titles, royal lineage , everything, just as if they were sons. At the end of the
      book of Numbers, this provision is modified and the daughters must marry within their father’s tribe to prevent the dilution of tribal heritage. If an “heiress marries outside her fathers tribe she forfeits this sonship status.
      Joachim was a decendant of King David. His wife, Anna, was from a Levite family. Having married outside her father’s tribe Anna did not convey lineage or land of her father. She was a near relative to Elizabeth and Zachariah, the parents. of John the Baptist. Joseph’s lineage is important because it establishes that Marry married within her father’s tribe and. so qualified as an heiress.

  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.”

      1. The sticking point is Jesus is prophesied to come from the SEED of David. Seed is this sense is Christ is the biological descendant of David. So if we so oh he’s only the adopted son Of Joseph people would say it invalidates the prophecy and we’re adding to the scripture.

        I think by forcing us to go through Joseph it puts us in this jam. Teresa said Jewish descendants went through the mothers line. So if Mary came from David’s line so would Christ.

    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.

    1. I like your response, this is it, miraculous and God’s orchestration to redeem us either way. Its pure GRACE. Hallelujah!! Glory to God.

      Remember, the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers(Cap 26:33, 27:1-7,36:2-11) who had no brothers and so all the legal rights transferred to them after they brought their case to Moses and when Moses inquired of the Lord he said they ask a right thing. The same situation applies to Mary. She is in David’s lineage and has the legal rights to inheritance and therefore Jesus also has that same legal right and hence a savior of the world (Messiah) and fulfillment of the prophesy that the messiah would come from the lineage of David.

      The lineages are different in the different accounts but all meet at David. Mathew being a Jew is writing to portray Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne of David because Jews recognized inheritance to the boy child.

      Luke writes from a gentile perspective and does pay attention to the Jewish culture of inheritance but follows through Mary whos is also a descendant of David. And because God changed the law due to the daughters of Zelophehad’s petition, Luke is able to establish that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David and therefore the Messiah.

      So, either way he is the rightful heir to the throne and so both accounts are right. God orchestrating our salvation plan and no one could hinder him. Glory to his name.

  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.

      2. The phrase here, “as was supposed”, used by a writer who knew of the virgin birth, alludes to the contrast of what the writer knew and what the common people didn’t, about His special birth. They naturally assumed (“supposed”) that Jesus was the flesh and blood son of Joseph, but Luke knew differently.

      3. Dear sender,

        I indeed did send comments to you…BUT I am not Mario..and I did not send the question to which you refer to me.

        I was telling you that Jesus was the Son of David…literally. If you can link this up with the comments I sent to you, I would be interested in a response to them, please…and not your reply to Mario ..whoever he is ????? Thank you. Rodd

  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. Yes, that is true, JayJay. Jesus was probably a Levite and not a Jew since Mary was of Aron. However, Jesus is called a Samaritan by the Jews in John 8:47-49, and Jesus does not object.

      1. All Levites were Jews. In the New Testament, the term Jew referred to the people from the kingdom of Judah who had returned from exile in Persian times to the province of Judea. While most of them were descended from the tribe of Judah, many were also Levites. I don’t think it’s valid to conclude that Jesus might have been a Samaritan from the Scripture you quote from the gospel of John. In that context, “Samaritan” seems to be synonymous with “demon possessed,” and Jesus disputes that claim at length.

    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.

  6. Titus 3:9 “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.”

    1. I don’t think the question is a foolish one, Chester, and Matthew did not think it foolish to list the genealogy of our Master. In clearly answering the question that I and many others have pondered the author has done us a good service and I send him my thanks and praise.

  7. It’s definitely Mary she the bloodline to David. Since God cut off Solomon He made another way the mystery of the God are amazing.

    1. Abraham was saying correctly in Genesis 15 that a servant born in his house would be his heir because he had no child of his own. When God told him that this servant would not be his heir, that was not because he could not be, but because Abraham and Sarah actually were going to have a child of their own.

  8. “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. . . . Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:12–16)

    “your own flesh and blood” – how is Jesus the flesh and blood of David?

    1. While Matthew’s genealogy traces Jesus’ line back to David through his adoptive father Joseph, Luke’s genealogy apparently traces Jesus’ line back to David through his birth mother Mary. Joseph was descended from David’s son Solomon, while Mary was descended from David’s son Nathan. So Jesus is both the legal heir to David through his adoption by Joseph and the physical descendant of David through his mother Mary.

      1. Right, “Jesus is both the legal heir to David through his adoption by Joseph and the physical descendant of David through his mother Mary”. But, more in importantly, Jesus was the “Son Of God”, through his father’s seed, as the blood line flows through the father, not the mother! Great work Christopher!

  9. I’m certainly not arguing the validity of Jesus descending from the line of David. Merely making commentary on how (IMO) its not from the line of Joseph (through the blood).

    A “legal” definition of “son” still doesn’t translate to a legal definition of what “descendant” means. To be a descendant of, one must come from the lineage of – meaning blood (or DNA). Jesus clearly doesn’t come from the line of Joseph (through blood). Therefore, cannot be a “descendant” of David through Joseph.

    Now, legal claim based on heritage (different from lineage or descendant of), is a completely (and plausible) different argument. Saying Jesus descended from the line of David through Joseph is an inaccurate statement. However, he certainly could have “inherited” through.

    Therefore, the only line Jesus could have descended from the line of David would have been Mary’s. Since that’s taboo in Jewish culture, it’s traced through heritage from the line of Joseph. While also meeting the “descended from” requirement through Mary.

  10. theologically or biblically, who he believe in God shall be called son of Abraham. So Jesus is a descendant from line of David.

    1. More important than being “called son of Abraham” is being called “son of God”; “But as many as received him (Jesus), to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name”: John 1:12.

  11. Christopher R Smith: “All Levites were Jews. In the New Testament, the term Jew referred to the people from the kingdom of Judah who had returned from exile in Persian times to the province of Judea. While most of them were descended from the tribe of Judah, many were also Levites. I don’t think it’s valid to conclude that Jesus might have been a Samaritan from the Scripture you quote from the gospel of John. In that context, “Samaritan” seems to be synonymous with “demon possessed,” and Jesus disputes that claim at length.”

    I am of the belief that Levites were Levites and that they lived among all the 12 tribes before the division of Israel into Israel and Judah. If Samaritan meant demon possessed the Jews should not have needed to add that to “Samaritan”.

  12. Is it true that adoption did not confer tribal affiliation in Judaism? Is it possible Mary was distantly descended from David as well?

    1. Mary was a relative of Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron. So both Mary and Elizabeth must have been from the tribe of Levi. So Mary could not be a descendant of David, who was from the tribe of Judah.

      1. When in Bible it says Mary was cousin to Elizabeth most likely means they were from same country an most likely you could say all the Israelites were related in some way or another as like all humans are related originating from Adam an Eve, an in the Bible II Samuel 5:13 King David’s Family at Jerusalem included Nathan whom Jesus mother Mary descended from an Solomon who Jesus father descended from an in the end it all goes back to God our Heavenly Father who created everything an all things an as a Christian believe in Gods word(The Bible) an what it says!

      2. When speaking to Mary, Gabriel refers to Elizabeth as “your kinswoman.” The term ordinarily means a close relative. Of course it could be used metaphorically to describe someone from the same country. But in this context I think it has a literal meaning that reinforces Gabriel’s message. Mary wants to know how she can be sure that God will do what he has promised her. Gabriel responds that God has already done something similar for someone, and that person is Mary’s close relative. Mary knows her and can trust her testimony of her experience. And sure enough Mary then goes to see Elizabeth. So I think the term is literal and indicates that Mary was closely related to Elizabeth, thus from the same tribe of Levi.

  13. Luke 3 is certainly not the genealogy of Mary. That notion was invented by tiberian jews in a writing called Doctrina Jacobi from 634 a.D. In fact, even the gregories have written about the fact (!) that Mary was a Levite. This is obvious because kinship is derived from the father (Numbers 1,2) and if unmarried Mary was related to an aaronite Elisabeth then it follows that Maryˋs father must have been an Aaronite, thus Levite. Even the name Miryam is Levite. We have legal paternity ascribed to jesus from Joseph, this is most visible in Matthew 1,17 where the genealogy of Joseph terminates clearly with Christ. In Luke, the genealogy starts with God, so it must be one of legal, not biological sonship. Salomon was the biological heir of Godˋs promise and God was mindful of the promise as Joseph descended biologically from David.

  14. Redemption story.
    No man is righteous, no not one. It was impossible for God to allow Joseph or any man’s bloodline to pollute the holy conception & birth of the Son of God.
    So which promise & prophecy was first mentioned, Eve’s or David’s? Eve’s.
    Gen 3:15 God speaking to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you & the woman, & between your offspring & her offspring;”
    he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”
    Which would make the most sense of why the bloodline of David would come through Mary vs Joseph. The seed of a woman would bruise the serpent, not the seed of a man.
    Regardless, in any case, the end goal is our salvation through Jesus.

  15. In the bible it says God was Adam’s Father and all humans were descendants of Adam, including David, so God was the Father of both Adam and David and Jesus both legally and biologically. At least that’s the way I see it…..

  16. Joseph was His father in a full GENETIC sense too, because marriage makes you ONE FLESH (which obviously includes blood). Your spouse’s genes and lineage are yours, entirely. They may be split into two bodies, but both of those bodies are entirely yours.

    1. It sounds as if you are speaking in figurative terms. Joseph was not the father of Jesus in a full genetic sense, but he may have been the father of Jesus in a further spiritual sense in that Joseph and Mary were spiritually “one flesh” as husband and wife.

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