Mary’s Lineage

Question from a Site Viewer
Came across one of your articles in which it has been written:

“Thus, we can safely conclude from Scripture that to the extent Mary was of the tribe of Judah before she was married . . .”

Can you please let me know where it states that Mary is of the Judah tribe?

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your question concerning the lineage of Mary. The reason I had made the statement about “to the extent Mary was of the tribe of Judah before she was married” was because this is one issue that some, especially unbelievers, do not agree upon. However, in my reading of Scripture, the matter is convincing. I provide you the evidence.

Luke, the physician, wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (compare Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-3). I do not know of anyone who disputes this. Luke quotes Peter in Acts 2:30; Peter was speaking of Christ coming as prophesied in Psalm 132:11: “. . . God had sworn with an oath to him (David) that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne.” It seems to me that Peter viewed Christ as being a descendant (physically) from David. The term “fruit of his body” seems to imply something different from a Levitical marriage or one who is adopted. There is a begetting connection in view. And Luke records this.

This same Luke records the interaction between Gabriel and Mary. Gabriel tells Mary that the “Lord God shall give to Him the throne of David His father” (Luke 1:32). Mary responds, not by raising any question about the proper tribal affiliation, but simply by asking how this can be since she does not know a man. Gabriel responds by saying that the child will not be born of a man, but of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it appears to me that the angel is saying that apart from any connection to any man, the child would be of the lineage of David. And Mary does not even question how the child could be of the house of David, implying to me that this part of the statement was not seen as a problem to her. Later, after Mary spent three months with Elizabeth and Zacharias, John the Baptist was born. Thereafter, Zechariah, John’s father, in Luke 1:29 again speaks of salvation being raised in the house of David. He knew that Joseph was not the father and therefore the linkage to the house of David was not through Joseph. Yet, he affirms that salvation was being raised in the house of David.

In any event, I read Luke 1:27 as expressly stating what the other passages demand. In Luke 1:27, we have a statement in the Greek that reads “to a virgin promised in marriage to a man named Joseph from the house of David and the name of the virgin was Mary.” To whom does the phrase “from the house of David” attach? Does Luke want to convey to us that the virgin is of the house of David or that the man is of the house of David? Stated another way, we can read this passage as “unto a virgin, promised in marriage to a man whose name is Joseph, from the house of David” or as “unto a virgin promised in marriage to a man, whose name is Joseph, from the house of David.” It seems to me that the third potential reading, “unto a virgin promised in marriage to a man whose name is Joseph from the house of David” is not a proper reading. The prepositional phrase “from the house of David” either connects to “a man” or to “a virgin;” it does not naturally in the sentence connect to “Joseph.”

So, we are left with the two possibilities. Either is possible grammatically. Both nouns (“virgin” and “man”) are remote from the prepositional phrase; that is, both are separated from the adjectival phrase “out of the house of David.” Luke could have made either connection more clear. For instance, Luke could have stated: “to a virgin from the house of David promised in marriage to a man named Joseph.” Conversely, Luke could have stated: “to a virgin promised in marriage to a man from the house of David named Joseph.” Either way would make the connection clear. But Luke leaves the text ambiguous. We do not know simply from this verse whether Luke intended to convey two truths about the man (named Joseph and of the house of David) or three truths about the virgin (pledged to Joseph, of the house of David, whose name was Mary).

Given that the grammar leaves us uncertain, we go back to the context for clues as to what Luke intended. In this context, the focus is on the virgin, not Joseph. The verse begins and ends with her and the passage exalts her. The phrase “promised in marriage to a man” clearly relates back to her. Further, later Luke expressly tells us within this same birth narrative that Joseph is of the house of David, in a statement that seems to imply that we previously have not been told this information: “because he was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4). If Luke had previously conveyed this information within the birth narrative, one wonders why he repeats himself. Luke is not known for such repetitions. Accordingly, I read Luke as intending us to understand that Luke 2:4 is meant to reveal to us that Joseph’s lineage was from David and that this was the reason they went to Bethlehem. Given this express statement in Luke 2:4, I am not inclined to read Luke 1:27 as simply conveying the same information in the same birth narrative. Rather, I think within the context that it is more likely Luke intended us to understand from Luke 1:27 three truths about the virgin: 1) she is promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, 2) she is of the house of David, and 3) her name is Mary.

And I think Luke expects us to understand this was his intent. To the extent that Luke 1:27 may be ambiguous, Luke 1:32 seems to settle the matter. Just five verses later, Luke records for us that Jesus would be a descendant of David. Three verses later, Luke records for us that he would not be a descendant of David through any man. Thus, in reading Luke 1:27 in the context of Luke 1:32 and Luke 1:35, and with the subsequent statement in Luke 2:4, it seems best to connect “from the house of David” to the “virgin” and not to the “man.”

I note that many Bible commentaries differ with my reading of this verse, and link “out of the house of David” back to “a man.” I do not find their arguments persuasive, given the context of Luke’s birth narrative. While I fully agree that Joseph was of David’s lineage and that this linkage is not insignificant in the biblical narrative, giving Jesus legal status as being from David’s line in the eyes of the public (see Philip’s linkage of Christ to Joseph in John 1:45; see also Luke 3:23; 4:22; John 6:42), I simply do not believe that this is what Luke is intending to convey in Luke 1:27. Nevertheless, I do not want to overstate the strength of the position. Thus, my disagreement with those who read this verse differently is respectful. I simply believe that in the context the better interpretation is that Luke 1:27 speaks of Mary’s lineage and Luke 2:4 speaks of Joseph’s lineage. The virgin birth and Gabriel’s statements linking the child to David are supporting arguments to this interpretation.

Others also see Mary as being of David’s lineage. As previously noted, Peter in Acts 2:30 notes that Christ physically came from David, something that would appear to demand that Mary was of David’s lineage. Paul makes the same inference in Romans 1:3 where he says that Christ’s human nature was descended from David. Ignatius, the third bishop of Antioch and a person who personally knew the apostles, speaks of Christ in 107 A.D. the following words: “For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost.” (Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 18) Justin Martyr, in the middle of the second century, states: “He (Christ) said then that He was the Son of man, either because of His birth by the Virgin, who was, as I said, of the family of David, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham; or because Adam was the father both of Himself and of those who have been first enumerated from whom Mary derives her descent.” (Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 100)

I note that some make the argument that Mary had to be of the tribe of Levi because she was related to Elizabeth (Luke 1:36) and we know that Elizabeth was of the tribe of Levi (Luke 1:5). However, this argument does not carry any weight. Mary could be closely related to Elizabeth and still come from the line of Judah. This could happen in any number of ways. If we take the closest possible relationship between Mary and Elizabeth, Elizabeth could have been Mary’s aunt. If Mary’s mother was Elizabeth’s sister and Mary’s father was of the tribe of Judah, Mary would be of the tribe of Judah according to the biblical way of recognizing lineage.

I hope this helps. May the Lord Jesus be the love of your life.

a servant,

tim

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