Dr. Michael Brown was asked this question on his radio show. Here, I’m going to take a look at how he answers the question. This is an important question because it really cuts to the heart of the matter. We’re not asking if Jesus is the Messiah. Rather, we are asking if Jesus is even eligible to be the Messiah. Is Jesus actually a descendant of King David?
Dr. Brown starts off his answer with a flawed premise. He claims that the genealogy of Jesus in Luke chapter 3 is “best understood” as going through Mary. Here is the verse in question.
23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 3:23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
His assumption has several problems. How can “Joseph” be best understood as “Mary”? Moreover, even if we work around that is says “the son of Heli” not the daughter. How can Mary be best understood as a son?
The daughters of Zelophehad:
Dr. Brown seems to misunderstand this scripture. He says that this is a dispute over daughters receiving the inheritance of their father. Rather, this is a case of them receiving an allotment in the land of promise. Their father died owning nothing. Moreover, he left no sons. Should his daughters receive land?
“Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. 4 Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Nu 27:3–4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
The situation was resolved by granting the women land. However, this created a new problem.
They said, “The LORD commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the people of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. 3 But if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the people of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry. So it will be taken away from the lot of our inheritance. 4 And when the jubilee of the people of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Nu 36:2–4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
The daughters are of the tribe of Manasseh. Thus, their inheritance is in the land allotted to the tribe of Manasseh. If they were to marry someone from another tribe and have a son, he would inherit the land. Thus, a section of land in the allotment for Manasseh would now belong to a member of another tribe, the tribe of the child’s father. And even if the problem were resolved by forcing that child to sell the land to another member of the tribe, in the year of jubilee the land would return to the tribe of the child’s father.
This passage is the last one that Dr. Michael Brown should have brought up. It exposes the gaping problem in claiming that Jesus is a descendant of David through Mary. In other words, when a daughter of David marries someone outside of the tribe of Judah, her son’s are members of her husband’s tribe, not her fathers. Thus, they cannot inherit land from their grandfather King David. They are not of the tribe of Judah. Moreover, even if she marries someone from the tribe of Judah, her son’s will be of their father’s house, not the house of David.
Can Sheshan come to Dr. Michael Brown’s rescue?
At this point Dr. Michael Brown introduces a confusing genealogy from Chronicles. He claims that this passage shows that the line can continue through the daughter as opposed to a son. But is this really what this passage is showing?
Now Sheshan had no sons, only daughters, but Sheshan had an Egyptian slave whose name was Jarha. 35 So Sheshan gave his daughter in marriage to Jarha his slave, and she bore him Attai.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ch 2:34–35). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Dr. Michael Brown is exposing his failure to understand the culture by using this passage. But I don’t want you to take my word for it. Here’s what the Scripture Knowledge Commentary has to say about this verse.
Sheshan. When the people of the East have no sons, they frequently marry their daughters to their slaves, even when they have much property to bestow upon them.Blayney, B., Scott, T., & Torrey, R. A. with Canne, J., Browne. (n.d.). The Treasury of Scripture knowledge (Vol. 1, p. 276). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.
When an Israelite man died without a son, his slave would stand to inherit his wealth. However, the slave couldn’t inherit land in Israel. Thus the slave would have to sell the land to someone with legal right to own it, thus transmitting all of the wealth of his deceased master outside of the family and away from the tribe. The solution?
Since the slave was property of his master, he was “of the house” of the master, despite the fact that he wasn’t of the tribe. Moreover, by marrying the daughter of the master and bearing a child to the house of his master, that child became the rightful heir to the grandfather’s wealth and family name.
Can this work in the case of Jesus? Not unless one were to suggest that God is somehow the slave of David, or in some other way David’s property. Obviously, this solution doesn’t work.
If Joseph is of the house of David, couldn’t he adopt Jesus into the royal line?
This is a scenario Dr. Brown doesn’t present, because his misunderstanding of the culture caused him to think he found a solution elsewhere. However, I want to address this question here. In my understanding of scripture, the answer is found in Samuel.
And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Sa 6:23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Here, we are told Michal, David’s wife, had no children. However, later in the same book we are told she had 5 sons. In the interest of full disclosure, I am switching to the KJV here because some other translations resolve this problem on their own. The KJV shows the process of the resolution.
But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite:The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., 2 Sa 21:8). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Michal was David’s wife. She had a sister named Merab who married a man named Adriel and had 5 sons by him. However, Merab died and Michal took the children in. Being married to David, this would make these children the sons of David, correct? Wrong. Nowhere in the Bible are these 5 sons adopted by Michal and David mentioned in a genealogy with the birth sons of David.
The only scriptural way that I am aware of to make the claim that Jesus is a descendant of David is to dismiss the virgin birth as mythical. This is fair to do since the gods impregnating human women is a standard feature in ancient biographies. Zeus, for example, impregnated at least 30 women in non biblical writings from the same genre as the gospels. Luke’s genealogy could then be used to establish Joseph’s claim to the throne which Jesus would inherit from him as his biological father. However, there is no way of which I am aware to establish this claim while preserving the virgin birth.