Was Christ a Physical Descendant of Solomon?
Surprising as this may sound, the answer is no.
We find the genealogies of Jesus listed in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. But Matthew 1 and Luke 3 describe different lines. Matthew 1 describes Christ’s legal genealogy through Joseph. Luke sets forth Mary’s physical line.
Matthew 1:16 tells us that Matthew’s record covers Christ’s lineage through His stepfather Joseph. It says “Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.”
A correct rendering of Luke 3:23 shows that Luke is setting forth Christ’s blood descent. However, the translation of the New King James Bible is misleading. It gives the impression that Joseph was the father of Heli, and that therefore, Luke is also setting forth Christ’s physical descent of Joseph. This is incorrect, as Joseph was not the SON of Heli, but of Jacob, as Matthew 1:16 points out.
Luke sets forth Christ’s physical genealogy through His mother Mary, NOT through His stepfather Joseph. Accurately translated, Luke 3:23 should read:
“Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age (being, as was supposed the son of Joseph), which was of Heli.” The parenthesis should start with the words “being, as was supposed,” and it should close after “the son of Joseph.” The word “son” in “son of Heli” is not found in the original Greek. Jesus, who was supposed to be the son of Joseph, was, through Mary, a grandson of Heli. Heli was the father of Mary.
Luke 3:23 tells us that Christ was considered to be the son of Joseph, since the people did not accept the truth that Jesus had been supernaturally conceived by Mary through God the Father’s Holy Spirit (compare, Luke 4:22; John 6:41-42).
But while Joseph—Christ’s stepfather—descended from Solomon (Matthew 1:6), Mary did not. She was a descendant of David’s son, Nathan (v. 31).
Who, then, was Nathan?
The Bengel’s Gnomen commentary writes:
“This Nathan, the son of David, is a man very memorable. [Note] Zechariah 12:12 [where in the future repentance of the Jews,‘the families of the house of David,’ and those of the ‘house of Nathan mourn apart’]…”
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible adds:
“Nathan’s sons that are mentioned are Azariah, Zabud, and Ahishar, 1 Kings 4:5 which last is thought to be the same with Mattatha: that Nathan was the son of David, as the order of things here directs, which was the son of David, is clear from 2 Samuel 5:14.”
2 Samuel 5:14 reads: “Now these are the names of those who were born to [David] in Jerusalem: Shanmmua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon.”
1 Chronicles 3:5 adds: “And these were born to him in Jerusalem: Shimea [i.e., Shanmmua], Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon—four by Bathusba [i.e. Bathsheba] the daughter of Ammiel.”
Some claim that Nathan was Solomon’s older brother, as he is listed before Solomon in the two passages quoted above, while others say that he was Solomon’s younger brother, and that Solomon was the oldest of David’s and Bathsheba’s [surviving]sons.
The Bible tells us in 2 Samuel 12:15-23 that David and Bathsheba’s first son died, due to David’s sin, and 2 Samuel 12:24 continues: “Then David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in to her and lay with her. So she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon.”
From this it follows that Solomon was indeed born before Nathan, and that Solomon was Nathan’s older brother. Some claim that the oldest is always listed first, and that therefore Nathan must have been older than Solomon, but the Bible nowhere states that this has to be always the case. If it were different, then David and Bathsheba, after their first son died, would have had three sons before Solomon. The biblical record does not support this.
It has been suggested that by giving Solomon the last place of the four sons of Bathsheba, it was a signal that nobody should disdain them because of David’s transgression with Bathsheba. Also, in the case of Nathan, his importance is clearly emphasized by the fact that he, and not Solomon, would be a physical ancestor of Jesus, through Mary. But as the surviving firstborn son of David and Bathsheba, Solomon would be appointed king. The sons of David who were born earlier revealed themselves as not being qualified (1 Chronicles 3:1-4). For instance, Amnon raped his halfsister; Absalom murdered Amnon and organized a revolt against David; and Adonijah also rebelled against David for the succession.
We should understand that the Bible nowhere states that Jesus had to descend physically from the royal line that runs through Solomon. In fact, that royal line became unfaithful, disobedient and apostate. Rather, God chose Nathan to become the forefather of Jesus, after the flesh, and it is interesting that we know very little about Nathan. On the other hand, Joseph, as Jesus’ stepfather, was a descendant of Solomon, as we saw. This, too, has important implications for the role of the Messiah.
We state the following in our free booklet, “The Fall and Rise of Britain and America”:
“God promised that the kingly rule would not depart from Judah (Genesis 49:10), and that a descendant of the house of David… would always rule over at least one tribe of Israel (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Chronicles 13:5)… God had promised King David: ‘… your house (dynasty) and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever’ (2 Samuel 7:16). This promise was unconditional: ‘…I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom… If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you’ (2 Samuel 7:12, 14–15). God spoke to King David about his son Solomon in 1 Chronicles 22:10: ‘He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son, and I will be his Father, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’
“This promise to King Solomon was conditional: ‘Only may the LORD give you [Solomon] wisdom and understanding, and give you charge concerning Israel, that you may keep the law of the LORD your God. Then you will prosper, if you take care to fulfill the statutes and judgments with which the LORD charged Moses concerning Israel…’ (1 Chronicles 22:12–13).
“King Solomon, however, broke his Coronation Oath. God later said to King Solomon: ‘Because you have done this [gone after other gods], and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant’ (1 Kings 11:11).
“Although Solomon’s son remained king over the house of Judah, Solomon’s servant Jeroboam became king over the house of Israel. Also, we find that Mary, mother of Jesus, did not descend from Solomon, but from David’s son Nathan (compare Luke 3:31, explaining that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a descendant of ‘Mattathah, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse…’).
“Even in the very last generation, at the time of Christ’s return, there would still be a king sitting on the throne of David. God says, through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘Behold, I will fill all the inhabitants of this land—even the kings who sit on David’s throne…’ (Jeremiah 13:13…).”
When Jesus returns, He will occupy the throne of David. He will do so, as He was a physical descendant of David and his son Nathan, through His mother Mary, and as He was a legal descendant of David through his son Solomon, through His step-father Joseph.
We might also note God’s great mercy in that both genealogies include men and women who had sinned, at times greatly, but they repented and obtained forgiveness. Their sins were blotted out and not to be held against them anymore. This would include David, Solomon, other men, and several women who are specifically named or being referred to.
The women specifically mentioned by name in the legal genealogy of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 1, are the harlot Rahab; Mary, the wife of Joseph (verse 16), who was a righteous woman; Tamar, the daughter in law of Judah (verse 3), who played the harlot with him since he had broken his promise to give her one of his sons in marriage (compare Genesis 38:1-30); and righteous Ruth, a non-Israelite from the tribe of Moab (verse 5). One more woman is mentioned, without naming her directly, in verse 6, where we read: ‘David the king begot Solomon by her [who had been the wife] of Uriah.’ This refers to Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, whom David had killed, after Bathsheba became pregnant as a result of David’s adulterous affair with her.
So we see that Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba are listed in the legal genealogy of Jesus, the stepson and foster child of Joseph. They are listed because they deserved to be listed–not because of their weaknesses and sins, but because of their subsequent repentance and faith. For instance, Rahab clearly was a harlot and she was known as such, but she acted upon faith, repented and changed her lifestyle, and she is today memorialized in God’s Word as one of the ancestors of Jesus’ stepfather Joseph. In addition, she was an ancestor of Mary, the mother of Jesus–which means that Jesus Christ was a direct physical descendant of Rahab! (Compare Luke 3:32 with Matthew 1:5, showing that Boaz, an ancestor of King David, was the son of Salmon and Rahab).
In addition, Matthew lists Jeconiah or Coniah in Christ’s legal genealogy, and Luke lists Coniah’s son and grandson in Christ’s physical genealogy, even though they clearly would have known about Coniah’s curse in the book of Jeremiah (compare Jeremiah 22:30; 36:30). It is obvious that they did not feel that God’s curse disqualified Jesus from inheriting and sitting on the throne of David. Writing under godly inspiration, they must have known that somehow, God’s curse which was pronounced against Coniah did not prevent Christ’s Messiahship. God did in fact reverse the curse, apparently due to Coniah’s repentance, and/or that He did not apply Coniah’s sin and the resulting curse to Coniah’s grandson Zerubbabel, due to Zerubbabel’s repentance and his plea for his grandfather Coniah (For further discussion, note our Q&A on Coniah’s curse).
In conclusion, Jesus was a descendant of David [compare Romans 1:3] and He is the rightful heir of David’s throne both in the physical and the legal sense. Legally, He “descended” from Solomon, and physically, from Nathan, and He will return very soon to occupy David’s throne which will then be established in Jerusalem, when His rule over all of mankind begins.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link