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I recently tried to research a question I had: "Why does the gospel of Matthew consider Jesus Christ to be a descendant of David even though Joseph was not his biological father?" Apparently in Judaic tradition back then, the legal father of a child was considered a father even if there is no blood relation. I'm wondering if that's true. But additionally, many people claimed that Mary his mother was a blood descendant of King David. Is there anything in scripture that supports this suggestion?

I tried researching this and I'm a tad confused. Someone pointed to the genealogy in Luke 3:23 in support of this claim, saying that though Joseph is listed in Luke's genealogy as the son of Heli that that is only because Joseph was head of the household. I think that's what they're trying to say. So is Mary in actuality the blood descendent of Heli and thus a blood descendant of King David?

Luke 3:23 states: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” Since Joseph was head of household, he was listed in Luke as the son of Heli rather than Mary being listed as the daughter of Heli. Therefore, Mary was also from the house and lineage of David since she descended from David’s son Nathan. Also, I'm wondering if Heli is the name of a man or woman.

Additionally, it would appear that Joseph is the descendant of King David's son Solomon and Mary a descendant of King David's son Nathan. I'm wondering if that's the case or if I'm just confused here.

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    Mary's close relative was Elizabeth who was one of the daughters of Aaron and was married to a Levite priest, Zachariah. I don't see how Mary could be of Judah (other than by marriage to Joseph) never mind be a descendant of David. Despite arguments to the contrary both genealogies (Matthew's , the royal line, and Luke's, the natural line) refer to Joseph, not to Mary.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 13, 2021 at 18:55
  • There is an early, unconfirmed tradition that Mary was a Levite. However, the Bible says nothing about her parentage except that here relative Elizabeth was married to a priest.
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 13, 2021 at 22:01
  • How difficult is it to read a few verses after in Luke 3:31 and see the descendence was through the house of David?
    – user21676
    Commented Sep 13, 2021 at 22:27
  • @user21676 Luke 3:31 follows on from Luke 3:23 ... Joseph, which was of ... etc etc. Mary is not mentioned. This is the natural (as opposed to royal) lineage of Joseph. Jesus inherits from Joseph by adoption, not by natural generation. Jesus also inherits (see Phinehas and an eternal promise) through Mary by natural generation, through the line of Levi.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 7:09
  • @Steve Taylor The user incites argument in the comment section of the main question.
    – user21676
    Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 8:50

7 Answers 7

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Is there any scripture that supports the suggestion that Jesus's mother Mary was a descendant of King David?

In the topic "Genealogy of Jesus Christ" in the Insight on the Scriptures, the subheading Why do the genealogies of Jesus Christ as given by Matthew and by Luke differ? clarifies what the OP asks:

The difference in nearly all the names in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus as compared with Matthew’s is quickly resolved in the fact that Luke traced the line through David’s son Nathan, instead of Solomon as did Matthew. (Lu 3:31; Mt 1:6, 7) Luke evidently follows the ancestry of Mary, thus showing Jesus’ natural descent from David, while Matthew shows Jesus’ legal right to the throne of David by descent from Solomon through Joseph, who was legally Jesus’ father. Both Matthew and Luke signify that Joseph was not Jesus’ actual father but only his adoptive father, giving him legal right. Matthew departs from the style used throughout his genealogy when he comes to Jesus, saying: “Jacob became father to Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” (Mt 1:16) Notice that he does not say ‘Joseph became father to Jesus’ but that he was “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.” Luke is even more pointed when, after showing earlier that Jesus was actually the Son of God by Mary (Lu 1:32-35), he says: “Jesus . . . being the son, as the opinion was, of Joseph, son of Heli.”​—Lu 3:23. [italics theirs]

The full entry gives additional insights into Jesus' genealogical record.

As to the statement "Apparently in Judaic tradition back then, the legal father of a child was considered a father even if there is no blood relation.", I was unable to find a scriptural reference to a father adopting a son (or daughter) that would then receive tribal identity or inheritance.

The closest instance would be when, before the birth of Ishmael and Isaac, Abraham considered his servant Eliezer to become heir of Abraham's property.

2 Abram replied: “Sovereign Lord Jehovah, what will you give me, seeing that I continue childless and the one who will inherit my house is a man of Damascus, Eliezer?” 3 Abram added: “You have given me no offspring, and a member of my household is succeeding me as heir.” 4 But look! Jehovah’s word in reply to him was, “This man will not succeed you as heir, but your own son will succeed you as heir.” (Genesis 15:2-4 NWT)

In the topic of "Adoption" in the Insight on the Scriptures, it is noted that adoption was not a common practice due to levirate marriage:

Within the nation of Israel adoption does not appear to have been widely practiced. The law of levirate marriage doubtless eliminated to a great extent a basic reason for adoption of children: the continuance of the parental name.​—De 25:5, 6.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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  • I don't usually agree with the Watchtower, but this answer is good. It could be improved by referring to 2 Samuel 7:12, and noting that since Jesus could not come "out of the bowels of David" (King James version of 2 Sam 7:12) through Joseph (because he was not Jesus's biological father) then he must have been descended biologically from David through Mary and one of the genealogies must give evidence of this to prove Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Promised One who would sit on the throne of his father David forever (2 Sam 7:16). Nevertheless +1. Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 23:06
  • He is also asking whether adoption indeed pass tribal identity, could you include this in your answer?
    – Kapandaria
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 5:11
  • @Kapandaria I have added what I could find.
    – agarza
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 15:57
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Yes, the Bible never explicitly states that Mary was of "the house and lineage of David." That is clearly stated twice about Joseph (Mat 1:20, Luke 1:27). Seeing as the Messiah is clearly stated as coming from the House of David, something promised to David, one can naturally assume that He gets that through Mary or possibly the connection with Joseph is sufficient in God's thinking or maybe from both. The two genealogies are both specifically connected to Joseph, Mary's connection is nowhere in sight and I think something special is lost when one assumes that Luke's listing is really Mary's.

I do not hold with that idea. I go with something much more traditional disclosed way back when. Africanus gives us the answer to the differences between the genealogies in one of his letters. The account goes as follows:

Matthan (Matthew's account) married a woman named Estha and before he died, he fathered Jacob. Since they had had a child, Estha was free to marry outside Matthan's family and thus married Matthat (Luke's account). He fathered a boy, Heli. So Jacob and Heli were uterine brothers (same mother, different fathers). Heli married first, yet died childless. Jacob then married his brother's widow to "raise up seed" for his brother's name sake (levirate law), Jacob fathered Joseph, thus BOTH ACCOUNTS are completely true and completely Joseph's. Jacob BEGOT Joseph (M) AND was THE SON OF Heli (L).

Now where does that leave Mary. Well, I recently found a pdf stored on brill.com that offers the translation of a text stored at St Catherine's Monastery at Sinai, The genealogy of the Virgin Mary in Sinai Syr. 16 by Sebastian Brock. The following is an excerpt from that article in reference to Mary:

Eleazar (Mt 1:15) had two children, the one Mathan (Mt 1:15), and the other Jotham. Joseph is descended from Mathan and Mary from Jotham. Eleazar’s son Mathan begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Joseph. And Eleazar’s son Jotham begot Zadoq, and Zadoq begot Mary by his wife Dina, who is the sister of Elisabeth, the wife of Zechariah. For this reason it is written that the Angel said to Mary, «Behold, Elisabeth your relative has con- ceived» (Lk 1:36) — that is, the sister of your mother. Now Mary from her father’s side was from the tribe of Judah, but from her mother’s side, from the tribe of Levi. Then the (tribes) were intermingled after the return from the Babylonian captivity through divine providence, so that our Saviour might be seen as being from both of them, in order that, through his king- ship, the kingship of Judah might become ineffective, and through his priest- hood, the (same would apply to the) priesthood of Levi. It is (thus) said that «he arose from Judah» (Heb 7:14), on his father’s side, for his mo- ther’s genealogy, according to the custom of the Hebrews, reckons from the husband, and not from the wife.

This all does makes sense. Elizabeth was well past childbearing age and Mary was at the beginning of hers, hence aunt and niece. And there is a Zadok listed in Mat 1:14 as Matthan's 2nd great-grandfather. This provides Mary's connection to both Judah/David and Levi.

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    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 2:00
  • @Woodul Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics SE. Your answer would be improved if you could add more information about and links, if possible, to your sources.
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  • @Nhi I found the article and added it to the answer. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 2:55
  • @WoodulCalvert Good 1st answer. Welcome to BH.SE. Hope you stick around! Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 3:01
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I know I might get downvotes, but since this website claims to be academic, I think this answer should be included.

Some modern critical scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan state that both genealogies are inventions, intended to bring the Messianic claims into conformity with Jewish criteria. (Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas (HarperCollins, 2009) page 95.)

About whether tribal identity passed by adoption, the answer is no. Only the biological father passes tribal identity. In some certain cases, when we do not know the father's identity, the child is called Shetuki (like literally 'shut up' your mouth when someone asks about your father). There is no way that a boy that apparently born to a virgin will get the identity of his adopting father. In the Torah, there is the case of the son of Shlomit Bat Divri, that sages explain that the tribe of his mother rejected him, for not being of their tribe. So this egyptian man did not belong to any of the tribes. This proves that tribal identity do not pass through the mother. You can see the definition of Shetuki in the Mishnah:

עֲשָׂרָה יוֹחֲסִין עָלוּ מִבָּבֶל, כַּהֲנֵי, לְוִיֵּי, יִשְׂרְאֵלֵי, חֲלָלֵי, גֵּרֵי, וַחֲרוּרֵי, מַמְזֵרֵי, נְתִינֵי, שְׁתוּקֵי, וַאֲסוּפֵי. כַּהֲנֵי, לְוִיֵּי וְיִשְׂרְאֵלֵי, מֻתָּרִים לָבֹא זֶה בָזֶה. לְוִיֵּי, יִשְׂרְאֵלֵי, חֲלָלֵי, גֵּרֵי וַחֲרוּרֵי, מֻתָּרִים לָבֹא זֶה בָזֶה. גֵּרֵי וַחֲרוּרֵי, מַמְזֵרֵי וּנְתִינֵי שְׁתוּקֵי וַאֲסוּפֵי, כֻּלָּם מֻתָּרִין לָבֹא זֶה בָזֶה:

There were ten categories of lineage, with varying restrictions on marriage, among the Jews who ascended from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael with Ezra before the building of the Second Temple. They are as follows: Priests; Levites; Israelites; priests disqualified due to flawed lineage [ḥalalim]; converts, and emancipated slaves; mamzerim; Gibeonites, i.e., the descendants of the Gibeonites who converted in the time of Joshua; children of unknown paternity [shetuki]; and foundlings. The mishna proceeds to detail their halakhot: With regard to priests, Levites, and Israelites, it is permitted for men and women in these categories to marry one another. With regard to Levites who are not priests, Israelites, ḥalalim, converts, and emancipated slaves, it is permitted for men and women in these categories to marry one another. With regard to converts, and emancipated slaves, mamzerim, and Gibeonites, children of unknown paternity [shetuki], and foundlings, it is permitted for all of the men and women in these categories to marry one another.

https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Kiddushin.4.1

וְאֵלּוּ הֵם שְׁתוּקֵי, כֹּל שֶׁהוּא מַכִּיר אֶת אִמּוֹ וְאֵינוֹ מַכִּיר אֶת אָבִיו. אֲסוּפֵי, כֹּל שֶׁנֶּאֱסַף מִן הַשּׁוּק וְאֵינוֹ מַכִּיר לֹא אָבִיו וְלֹא אִמּוֹ. אַבָּא שָׁאוּל הָיָה קוֹרֵא לִשְׁתוּקֵי, בְּדוּקֵי:

And these are the last two categories: A shetuki is any person who knows the identity of his mother but does not know the identity of his father. A foundling is anyone who was collected from the marketplace and doesn’t know the identity of his parents, neither that of his father nor that of his mother. These two categories are people whose status is uncertain; they may be mamzerim. Abba Shaul would call a shetuki by the label of beduki.

https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Kiddushin.4.2

Final words,

It seems that those who wrote the lineage of Jesus, were unware of jewish law, so it is very likely that these are inventions. According to jewish law, Jesus could marry only a woman from the lowest lineage category. Of course, the motive to invent these lineages, might be to get out of people's mind, that Jesus was an ilegitimate child, Which was the common belief in his time.

One last point. If you would discover, that Joseph had no blood relation to king David, do you think it would affect the essense of Jesus? Would it contradict, in your eyes, that Jesus was the Messiach?

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  • Well presented case with sources to back up. With internet help, many information is within our reach, all you need is to read and make careful verification yourself. thank you for the sources.
    – VNPython
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 11:56
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After having performed quite a bit of research, the most compelling and satisfying explanation I have come across reports that it is actually in Matthew that the written genealogy traces back Mary's bloodline to David... and not in Luke as some have supposed.

The following might be controversial, but In Matthew's genealogy of Christ, the man referred to as "The husband of Mary" is actually... apparently... probably... "The father of Mary". Apparently Mary's father was also named Joseph. But... is there anything to support this bold claim?

The Aramaic word for "man" can, in different contexts, mean either "man", "father", or "husband". So it can be read that way. And also the context in Matthew gives good reason for one to assume the author of this gospel was indeed referring to Mary's father... and not her husband.

One of the most interesting--and persuasive--things about this suggestion is that it resolves two issues simultaneously:

  1. Is Christ actually related to David through a bloodline? If the Joseph mentioned in the genealogy is indeed the father of Mary then that blood line would continue from Abraham to David to Christ... so this interpretation says "yes... He is".

  2. According to Matthew chapter 1 there are supposed to be 3 sets of 14 generations that trace Jesus back to the seed of Abraham through King David. 14 generations from Abraham to David... 14 generations from Solomon to Jechonias... and 14 generations from Salathiel to Jesus (also referred to as yeshua). However in our current translations the third set in Matthew (Salathiel to Jesus) clearly and explicitly lists only 13 generations. Which is weird right? Because Matthew plainly states there should be 3 sets of 14. So if you add in Mary after her father Joseph and before Jesus then there are 14 generations listed... as Matthew assured us should be the case.

This brings up other questions that are beyond my existent knowledge and thereby the scope of this SE answer. For instance, were the gospels originally written in Aramaic so as to give rise to this specific error in translation? Is there any other biblical evidence from the canonical gospels that would support or oppose the suggestion that Mary came from David's bloodline by looking at her closest relatives and what tribes they belonged to?

The following article was my primary source for this answer:

http://www.peshitta.org/bethgazza/Gabra.htm

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  • Nice to learn something new !
    – John 123
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 17:06
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He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: Luke 1:32

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; Romans 1:3

Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: 2 Timothy 2:8

For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. Hebrews 7:14

It seems to me that Mary's father was a Judahite. And Mary's mother was almost certainly a descendant of Aaron since Elisabeth (Elisheba) was her close relative. Possibly an aunt. Aaron's wife Elisheba was also a Judahite. It can't be just a coincidence. So Jesus had royal as well as priestly blood.

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Luke 3:23-38 traces Jesus’ ancestry to David through Mary’s lineage.

Luke records Jesus' lineage through Mary without mentioning Mary as was common ancient practice not to mention women's name in genealogies. Luke 3:23 - “[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli.” Joseph was a “son” of Heli by virtue of his marriage to Mary, who would have been the daughter of Heli for Mat 1:16 says Jacob was Joseph's father.

Mary was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob (Luke 3:34). Mary was of the tribe of Judah (v.33), a descendant of Boaz (v.32) & David (v.31). Finally Luke traces Mary’s lineage all the way back to Adam (v.38).

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The answer is simple. Mary was a descendant of Aaron. When Mary married Joseph, she became part of the tribe of Judah. So when Jesus was born, he was born into, and from, the tribe of Judah.

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