Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Romans 1:3 and the virgin birth.

A slight issue concerning the Davidic descent of Jesus and the virgin birth I noticed in Romans Chapter 1:
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God
2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,
3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh
4 and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, (Romans 1:1-4 RSV)
If Jesus is descended from David according to the flesh then it means he is descended from Joseph as it is Joseph who is stated to be descended from David in both genealogies (Luke 3:23-38 and Matthew 1:1–17).

There have been a number of historic attempts to get round this.

  • Augustine  (in, De consensu evangelistarum On the Harmony of the Gospels , pp. 2.1.2–4) states that it is sufficient that Jesus was the adopted son of Joseph as this confers the same lineage in Jewish legal terms. I think the use of γενομενου here rules this out as that is clearly meaning born. The tantalising use of σπερματος could be misunderstood, but the whole phrase does seem to emphasise physical descent.
  • Tertullian, argued that Jesus was descended from David through his mother Mary. However his argument is circular reasoning based on Romans 1:3. In other words "if Paul said it was descent by flesh then we must be misunderstanding the genealogies and they relate to Mary not Joseph".

The problem we have here is not the divergence of the two genealogies, but the divergence of Paul from modern Christian theology. Paul clearly thought Jesus was descended from David. It may be that his emphasis on spiritual descent is an attempt to reinforce opposition to the gnostic idea that Jesus was solely spiritual.

The importance of his descent from David is the idea of kingship and this is clearly the important point for Paul rather than the virgin birth.


  1. Just to spoil the broth with another NT cook: Mark 12:35 seems to have Jesus outright deny that the Christ would be a Davidic descendent.

    Matthew and Luke obviously wanted to make Jesus a Davidic descendent yet kept this passage in. Another case of editorial fatigue?

    At least Luke had the sensitivity to devise a genealogy that left out Jeconiah, who according to Jeremiah's prophecy would have no heir ever sit on David's throne.

  2. Yes, the story about Bethlehem and the census seems to be another attempt to shoehorn the Davidic line into the gospels. Clearly this was more important to Paul and his audience than it was to Jesus. Yet Paul is supposedly writing to gentile believers who would not have had any interest in Jewish kingship issues.

    This is all very odd. Like the story about Bethlehem and the census. That seems to be shoehorned into the gospel story to make the Davidic descent point again.

  3. Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious.”
    ― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

    But why quote Mark when Matthew, after much toil in Chapter 1, then records Chapter 22:44? The same applies to Luke as well.

    In effect, we have a paradox on our hands. Jesus cannot be wholly of Mary, for Mary lacks a Y chromosome. Mary must be a virgin for Jesus to be foretold as our Emmanuel. Jesus was descended of David, and does respond to this title on multiple occasions.

    This is not so much a knot as one would suppose. Both Matthew (3:8) and Luke (3:9) give us the answer, and not surprisingly, the genealogies.