Church Write-Up: Jesus’ Genealogy and Davidic Descent, Jesus’ Humanity, the Breath of Life

Here are some items from last Sunday’s church service and Sunday school class:

A. The church service at the LCMS church was about Jesus being the son of David. The pastor focused on Matthew 1, which contains Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus through his father Joseph. Matthew 1 highlights Davidic kings in Jesus’ ancestry up to the time of the exile, which was when the Davidic kingship ended. Jesus is to be the restoration of the Davidic monarchy.

B. And what kind of king is Jesus? The pastor noted the few women mentioned in Jesus’s genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife. The first three are outsiders: non-Israelites who became part of the community of Israel. Uriah’s wife was part (perhaps unwillingly) of a shameful act on David’s part. Jesus includes outsiders, as he did with tax-collectors and sinners, including Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). And Jesus takes on our shame, the sorts of things that Satan brings to our minds at 3 a.m., or on long road-trips.

C. The pastor said that the Rahab of the genealogy may or may not be the Rahab of the Book of Joshua, but her name in Matthew 1 still evokes the Rahab of the Bible. I think that Matthew 1 does present its Rahab as the Rahab of the Book of Joshua. Matthew 1:5-6 states: “And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias” (KJV). Salmon, who bore Boaz through Rahab, was the son of Nahshon the son of Amminadab. Nahshon son of Amminadab lived in the time of Moses (Numbers 1:7; 2:3; 7:12, 17; 10:14). His son, Salmon, could have married the Rahab of the Book of Joshua, since they lived at the same time. And Rahab could have given birth to the Boaz of the Book of Ruth, since the Book of Ruth is set in the time of the judges (Ruth 1:1), which started soon after the time of Joshua.

The question would then be whether Rahab could have been David’s great-great grandmother. Does the chronological math fit? However one dates Joshua (1400 BCE or 1200 BCE), there are two centuries or more between his time and that of David. Is that too much time for Rahab to have been David’s great-great grandmother? Well, perhaps it would work if one accepted a 1200 BCE date for Joshua: four generations at forty years each is almost two hundred years. Another argument that has been made is that biblical genealogies do not always include every single person in the line but can skip generations.

D. A question occurred to me. It is a question that people have asked before, so I did not come up with it. It is: “How could Jesus be the son of David through Joseph, when Joseph was not his actual father, due to the virgin birth?” I first heard this question on a Jews for Judaism cassette, in which the rabbi said that Matthew shoots himself in the foot by saying Jesus is descended from David through Joseph, only to deny that Joseph was Jesus’s literal father.

One Christian response to that was that Joseph was Jesus’s adoptive father, meaning Jesus was the son of David through adoption. Does that argument work, though? There are passages that seem to present Jesus as a biological descendant of David. Acts 2:30: “Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne” (KJV). Romans 1:3: “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (KJV). II Timothy 2:8: “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel” (KJV).

Another Christian response is that Jesus was a descendant of David through his mother Mary. The Catholic Encyclopedia refers to ancient Christian sources that go with that view:

“Tradition tells us that Mary too was a descendant of David. According to Numbers 36:6-12, an only daughter had to marry within her own family so as to secure the right of inheritance. After St. Justin (Adv. Tryph. 100) and St. Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians 18), the Fathers generally agree in maintaining Mary’s Davidic descent, whether they knew this from an oral tradition or inferred it from Scripture, e.g. Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8. St. John Damascene (De fid. Orth., IV, 14) states that Mary’s great-grandfather, Panther, was a brother of Mathat; her grandfather, Barpanther, was Heli’s cousin; and her father, Joachim, was a cousin of Joseph, Heli’s levirate son. Here Mathat has been substituted for Melchi, since the text used by St. John Damascene, Julius Africanus, St. Irenæus, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus omitted the two generations separating Heli from Melchi. At any rate, tradition presents the Blessed Virgin as descending from David through Nathan.”

A third suggestion is that God took Joseph’s seed and used it to form Jesus in Mary’s womb, meaning that Jesus literally and physically was a descendant of David. See these Triablogue posts: here, here, and here. The posts offer a biblical basis for that as a possibility, at least. I was reading the Athanasian Creed in the church hymnal, however, and I was wondering whether that would fit ancient Christian orthodoxy about the nature of Jesus: “that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance [Essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance [Essence] of his Mother, born in the world.” Is that saying that Jesus’s humanity is through his mother, not his physical father?

E. Moving on to the Sunday School class. The teacher was wrapping up his series on patristic views on the Trinity and the nature of Jesus in the incarnation. Athanasius, he said, believed that Jesus had a divine mind and a human body. The church later deemed that position heretical, but the teacher said that it was all right, where Athanasius was. In Athanasius’s time, the fourth century CE, the debate was over whether Jesus was God, and Athanasius affirmed that he was. The next two centuries would try to iron out how Jesus was God and human, the relationship of his divine and human natures.

F. The teacher said that Jesus came to restore human nature. We were made to love God and neighbor. He tells his students that, when they do community service while thinking only about God and neighbor and not themselves, their heart sings. Jesus came to make us that way all of the time. But we are weighed down by sin, brought about when Adam and Eve chose themselves over God. The teacher may have said that Jesus’s human will was in accord with God. Was it entirely, though, if Jesus said “Not my will, but thine” (Matthew 26:42; Luke 22:42), implying that, on some level, his will was different from that of the Father? Jesus still could have been like pre-Fall Adam and Eve in that he had free choice: he could say “no” to the Father’s plan, but, unlike Adam and Eve, he chose to submit. But would pre-Fall Adam and Eve have had fear, as Jesus seemed to have in the Garden of Gesthemane? The text does not explicitly say that he had fear, but something motivated him to ask God to take away the cup from his lips.

G. The teacher got into a back and forth with one of the church members in the class about the soul. He said that people then determined whether a person was dead by seeing if they had breath: was there breath on the mirror? His implication may have been that they saw the breath as what gave life, since they did not know of brain waves or think to check the pulse.

I will leave the comments open, in case anyone wants to add anything.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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