Many times in Tanakh it is prophesied that the coming messiah will be a descendant of David. Flash forward to the New Testament which makes the claim that Jesus is the messiah. Thus, Jesus would have to be a descendant of David. However, Christianity would develop into a theology that makes claims that would contradict this notion. By taking statements about Jesus being the “son of God” as a literal statement of biological sonship, Christians have inadvertently excluded Jesus from a potential claim to being the literal seed of David, and therefor in line to be the messiah. How can Jesus be the son of David? I will explain, but first let’s let Dr. Michael Brown present the Christian explanation.
To do so, Dr. Michael Brown turns to First Chronicles chapter 2, where we learn about Sheshan. Dr. Brown claims that Sheshan had no sons. We find this in verse 34. Verse 35 tells us that Sheshan gave his daughter to his Egyptian slave, who fathered a child through her. He claims that this shows that the lineage continued from an Egyptian father. But does it really?
This particular genealogy starts in verse 25 as “the sons of Jerahmeel”. Verse 31 says “the son of Sheshan: Ahlai”. Why does it name his son, then later say he had no sons? The answer is that Ahlai was his daughter. The term “son” is used to establish that she was the heir to his inheritance. However, this would cause a problem for the inheritance that we find in Numbers 36 with the daughters of Zelophehad. Here it tells us the rules for inheritance in verses 6 and 7.
“Let them marry whom they think best; only it must be into a clan of their father’s tribe that they are married, so that no inheritance of the Israelites shall be transfered from one tribe to another.”
Dr. Brown is playing fast and loose with the facts here.
First, the ancestry doesn’t clearly continue through the daughter as he states. Back to 1 Chronicles chapter 2, verse 33 ends the genealogy with the words “these were the descendants of Jerahmeel”. Then in verse 34 it flashes back to Sheshan from verse 31. Thus, the genealogy of his daughter comes after his genealogical line has been ended. This is a highly unusual entry in a genealogy that implies that this isn’t a simple carrying on of the lineage. Moreover, since her husband was an Egyptian and not of a different tribe of Israel, carrying on the genealogy wouldn’t necessarily violate the the scriptural law given in Numbers 36. However the passage doesn’t tell us that an inheritance of land was passed down to the children. Thus, we don’t know for sure what happened here.
To take this ambiguous passage and apply it to Jesus against the clear teachings of Numbers 36 is problematic. Furthermore, it is completely unnecessary in my opinion. It is only required because Christians have altered the clear teachings on what a “son of God” is into a doctrine of the divinity of Jesus. But is this really what is being taught when the New Testament refers to Jesus as the “son of God”?
What does “son of God” really mean?
We don’t have to go far to find someone other than Jesus being called a “son of God”. Luke ends his genealogy for Jesus in chapter 3 verse 38 with the words “Adam, son of God”. In Psalm 2 verse 7, David says that God said to him “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” Moreover, in 1 Chronicles 28:6 David says that God told him of Solomon that “I have chosen him to be a son to me, and I will be a father to him”. Thus, we can clearly tell that calling someone a “son of God” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a biological son of God.
Now the question becomes does the Bible ever clearly state that Jesus is the biological son of God? I would argue that it doesn’t. In Matthew Joseph is told that the conception was “of the Holy Spirit”, and in Luke Mary is told that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”. She is told that the child will “be called son of God”, but not that God is the biological father. Moreover, the doctrine of the Trinity would argue that the first person of the Trinity is the father. However, these passages attribute the pregnancy to the third person of the Trinity. Therefore these passages are problematic to establish biological fatherhood.
This raises another question. Was Joseph ever called the father of Jesus? As it turns out, he was. In Luke 2 we read a story about Jesus being left behind in Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary find him, they are called “his parents” Joseph is specifically called “his father”. And when Jesus explains his presence in the temple as him being “in his Father’s house”, we are told that the parents didn’t know what he was talking about.
48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them.Luke 2:48-50
This passage implies that Jesus is the son of Joseph. Similarly in Luke 1, the angel tells Mary that David will be the ancestor of Jesus. And since Matthew and Luke are the only two gospels that deal with the birth of Jesus, this very much leaves open the question of who was Jesus’ father. If the Holy Spirit is not the father, than he impregnated Mary through some sort of artificial insemination. Thus, the seed could have just as easily been Joseph’s seed as one divinely issued by the first person of the Trinity.
This arrangement would work out nicely for Christian theology. Jesus would be a descendant of David, and thus be in line to be the messiah. It might be seen as somehow weakening claims that were later made of his divinity, but those claims are extraordinarily problematic anyway. If the claim that he is God is based solely on God being his father, that would make him a demigod and not a full God. Furthermore, the doctrine of the Trinity expresses him as being “eternally begotten” of the Father. Thus, his human incarnation is not seen as the point where he became begotten of the Father anyway.
Thus we can resolve this conundrum without Dr. Brown’s obscure Sheshan remedy.
Dr. Brown wants us to read outside of the stated context of the texts for his purposes. First, he wants us to assume that when Numbers says “no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another” that this is contradicted by an obscure genealogy. He wants us to believe that when Jesus is called “son of God” that it should be read differently than every other Biblical usage of the phrase. Moreover, he insists that when Joseph is called the “parent” and the “father”, it shouldn’t be read as a statement of him being the biological father.
If, however, we read these passages in the context of the rest of the Bible, the problems created by his theology go away. The Holy Spirit artificially impregnates Mary with Joseph’s seed. Jesus is thereby a descendant of David. He is the son of God by divine choice, not by divine seed. This is consistent with every other usage of the term “son of God” in the Bible. Moreover, it allows prophecy to be taken at face value without the finagling of Dr. Brown.
To be clear here, I’m not arguing that Jesus is the messiah. I’m not necessarily sold on that point. Rather I am arguing for how he could be seen as the messiah without rewriting scriptures to squeeze him in there. My view of Dr. Browns argument is that it is uniquely unconvincing and contrived. An omniscient God would have known from eternity past that the messiah would be his son, not David’s. It would have been much clearer for him to have revealed this information prophetically than to say that the messiah would be the son of David, and leave us to find an obscure loophole in 1 Chronicles to justify the prophecy.