1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of GodIf 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).
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)
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.