Question from a Site Viewer
I’m very confused regarding a Jewish objection to Jesus as the Messiah which goes like this:
The Bible says that the Messiah would be of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David. According to Christians, Jesus was born of a virgin. However, tribal affiliation is conferred through the birth father only (Numbers 34:14, Numbers 1:18-44, Leviticus 24:10). The mother’s tribal affiliation was considered irrelevant to what her children’s tribal affiliation was and tribal affiliation/genealogy could not be inherited though a stepfather; only property could be inherited. Because Christians believe that Jesus had no human father, he would have had no tribal affiliation and would be eliminated from messianic consideration.
How can this be refuted?
Your question is an interesting one. Certainly the passages you cite (Leviticus 24:10; Numbers 1:18-44; and Numbers 34:14) support a conclusion that the normal method of conferring tribal affiliation is through the birth father. Scripturally, if a man of one tribe marries a woman of another tribe, their children would be considered the children of the father’s tribe. This much I grant to those who raise the objection.
However, I also note that the law never states that tribal affiliation comes only from the father. While the examples in Scripture support such a conclusion, there is no passage that directly states this. And what I note of the examples of Scripture is that they all involve a person who has an earthly father. There is no discussion of what is the law when there are unusual situations. The law has no provision for a person who has no earthly father. Never in the Hebrew Scriptures are we told the rule for this situation. This is where the objection falls down.
Yet, I believe that Scripture is not silent on how to reckon a son when there is no earthly father. The conclusion may be drawn from the rule of tribal affiliation as taught in Scripture. I begin with the premise that women born of a certain tribe have an affiliation of that tribe. We know this to be true because of many passages, including Numbers 36. They have that affiliation though they are unmarried. Since they are affiliated with that tribe, all that they possess belongs to that tribe. In the daughters of Zelophehad’s situation, this includes the lands and inheritance that came to them. Such land and inheritance belonged to the tribe of Mannaseh precisely because it belonged to these women. And if they married someone from another tribe, the land and inheritance would go with them to that other tribe (Numbers 36:3). If they married within their own tribe, then the land and inheritance, all that they have, would remain in their own tribe (Numbers 36:6-9).
The same would be true of Mary. Before she married, all that belonged to her would have belonged to the tribe of Judah. Now, if she married a man from another tribe, then what belonged to her would now belong also to her husband and such property would now be reckoned to the other tribe. But if she married within her tribe, then she and all she had would continue to belong to her tribe. Thus, we can safely conclude from Scripture that to the extent Mary was of the tribe of Judah before she was married, she remained of the tribe of Judah after she was married Joseph. Stated another way, Mary, and all that belonged to her, were always of the tribe of Judah.
Now, if your Jewish friends will grant this, then the rest flows from this foundation. Since all that belonged to Mary always was of the tribe of Judah, then if Mary had a child solely by herself (that is if she produced a child asexually–this is in the realm of the theoretical for sake of argument), then there is no basis to conclude other than that the child belonged to the tribe of Judah. The only way the child could ever be of another tribe is if the father was from a different tribe. In this case, there would be no father and therefore no other tribe would ever have a claim over the child. I think your friends would grant this. As long as the child did not have a father, the child would still be of the tribe of Judah, since Mary was of that tribe. What is true of one’s land and one’s inheritance would also be true of one’s child, as long as there is no other man of another tribe involved.
Now, we come to the situation that the New Testament presents us. Mary did not have a son asexually, but neither did Mary have a son sexually. Stated another way, if we take what Scripture says, Mary had a son without any sex, but solely as a miracle of God. (For those who crassly believe that the Holy Spirit had sex with Mary to produce Jesus, such is not what Scripture teaches and is anathema to the historic beliefs of Christianity.) Because God did a miracle, there was no earthly father. Without an earthly father, there is no basis for moving what belonged to one tribe and transferring it to another tribe. Mary belonged to the tribe of Judah. She married a man of the tribe of Judah. Her son, who had no earthly father, is of the tribe of Judah. There is no event that would move him out of the tribe of Judah, since there is no earthly father. Like the possessions of the daughters of Zelophehad, he remains of Judah precisely because he had no earthly father.
Further, there is a separate basis for the conclusion that one not born of a tribe can still be reckoned to that tribe. Under the Law of Moses, if a husband died without a child, his brother or next of kin was to take the wife and raise up a child for the dead husband. The first child born to this new union would bear the name of the dead brother (Deuteronomy 25:6). Your Jewish friends will agree to this.
Now, suppose a man of the tribe of Judah married a woman and had a son. Suppose also that after this son was born, the man died. Now, the woman was free to marry anyone she desired. Suppose she married a man of the tribe of Asher and had a son by this union. This situation probably arose hundreds if not thousands of times in Israel, as men often died in wars or from disease, etc. In this situation, the son born to the union of the woman and the man from the tribe of Judah belonged to the tribe of Judah. Likewise, the son born to the union of the woman and the man from the tribe of Asher belonged to the tribe of Asher. There should be no dispute concerning this outcome.
Now, suppose the son who was of the tribe of Judah married a woman and died without a child. (This also could not have been an uncommon occurrence as the same thing happens often today.) The law then required that his brother, the son who was of the tribe of Asher, was to marry his brother’s wife. When he married her, the law also required that the first male child born to this union would succeed to the name of the dead brother (Deuteronomy 25:6). So, here we have a son, born from a father of the tribe of Asher who was reckoned to be of the tribe of Judah. This was what the law required.
Thus, we know that God made provisions for people to be of the tribe of Judah who were not physically descended from the tribe of Judah. If this is so, I do not find it hard to believe that Jesus, who had no earthly father, could be reckoned by God to be of Judah though he had no earthly father from Judah. Jesus’ closest connections were to the tribe of Judah. He had no physical connections to other tribes of groups of people. He was born into a family where both were of the tribe of Judah. He was reckoned to Joseph, though he was not physically from Joseph. There is no basis to conclude that He belonged to any other tribe.
There is yet another consideration for your Jewish friends. Why does Scripture record Genesis 3:15? What is the significance of someone said to be of the seed of a woman, but not said to be of the seed of man? If the one to come was to be the seed of both, then why was Genesis 3:15 written in the way that it was?
In any case, I hope the above helps. I encourage you in dealing with your Jewish friends not to become argumentative. It is good always to practice 2 Timothy 2:24-26 and follow the wisdom of James 3:17-18. Most people are not persuaded by argument, although sometimes sound reasoning can help pave the way to persuasion. We are social creatures. We are persuaded best by lives and words that reflect the love and grace of Jesus. May the Lord Jesus give you wisdom in being His witness to all whom you meet.
a fellow servant,