Who Was Jesus’ Biological Father?

Examining the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke

jesus-birth

Was Joseph Jesus’ biological father or adoptive father? Joseph is a major figure in the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. Along with Mary, he is depicted at Jesus’ birth in this 16th-century painting by Lorenzo Lotto. Photo: Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Was Joseph Jesus’ biological father? If not, who was Jesus’ biological father?

The annunciation stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke recount that Jesus was conceived without the participation of a human male. Ancient views on the biology of conception—based on Aristotelian theory—differed from our modern understanding of genetics and biology. For Jesus to have been considered fully human by our modern standards—and not a semi-divine or special being—he would have needed complete human DNA. While Mary would have supplied the X chromosome, who supplied the essential Y chromosome? God? Joseph?

Andrew Lincoln of the University of Gloucestershire tackles these questions in his article “How Babies Were Made in Jesus’ Time” in the November/December 2014 issue of BAR. Starting with the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke, he examines what early Christians thought about conception and explains how views about this subject have changed over time.

Who was Jesus’ biological father? As modern readers, we might wonder how the product of a virginal conception could truly be human—since the Y chromosome did not come from a human father. Andrew Lincoln explains that this issue would not have been troubling to an ancient audience or to the writers of the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke:

Their understanding of conception, shaped by a patriarchal culture, would have been some variation of the dominant Aristotelian theory. On this view, the male semen provides the formative principle for life. The female menstrual blood supplies the matter for the fetus, and the womb the medium for the semen’s nurture. The man’s seed transmits his logos (rational cause) and pneuma (vital heat/animating spirit), for which the woman’s body is the receptacle. In this way the male functions as the active, efficient cause of reproduction, and the female functions as the provider of the matter to which the male seed gives definition. In short, the bodily substance necessary for a human fetus comes from the mother, while the life force originates with the father.

Those who heard the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke would have considered Jesus to be fully human since his mother supplied all of his bodily substance. Lincoln clarifies: “In terms of ancient biology, even without a human father, Jesus would have been seen as fully human. His mother, Mary, provided his human substance, and in this case God, through the agency of the divine Spirit, supplied the animating principle instead of a human father.”
 


 
In the free ebook Who Was Jesus? Exploring the History of Jesus’ Life, examine fundamental questions about Jesus of Nazareth. Where was he really born—Bethlehem or Nazareth? Did he marry? Is there evidence outside of the Bible that proves he actually walked the earth?
 

 
According to the New Testament, was Joseph Jesus’ biological father or just his adoptive father?

The annunciation stories in Matthew and Luke claim that Jesus was conceived without a human father, but later in the Gospel of Luke, Joseph is listed as Jesus’ parent and father (Luke 2:27, 33, 48; 4:22). Indeed, through Joseph’s lineage, Jesus is shown to have descended from King David (Luke 3:23–38). Do these accounts contradict the annunciation stories?

The traditional way of reconciling these seemingly incongruous accounts is that Joseph was Jesus’ adoptive father.

In his article, Lincoln offers another way: He posits that knowing the genre of the Gospels helps make sense of this apparent contradiction. As a subset of ancient Greco-Roman biography, the Gospels can be compared to other Greco-Roman biographies, such as Plutarch’s biographies of Theseus, Romulus and Alexander the Great. In these examples, the central character is given two conception stories, one natural and the other supernatural.

Dual conception stories for the same figure was not uncommon in Greco-Roman biographies, and Lincoln suggests that this was a way of assigning significance and worth to those “who were perceived to have achieved greatness in their later lives.” In this genre, those who accomplished great things in their adult lives deserved an equally great—even supernatural—conception story.

Lincoln’s approach is certainly intriguing—especially when applied to the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. To read Lincoln’s entire treatment of the matter and learn more about what early Christians thought about conception, read the full article “How Babies Were Made in Jesus’ Time” by Andrew Lincoln in the November/December 2014 issue of BAR.

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BAS Library Members: Read the full article “How Babies Were Made in Jesus’ Time” by Andrew Lincoln in the November/December 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
Read “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” by Lawrence Mykytiuk from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR >>
 

 

Learn more about ancient views of conception in the BAS Library:

J. Edward Barrett, “Can Scholars Take the Virgin Birth Seriously?” Bible Review, October 1988.

James E. Crouch, “How Early Christians Viewed the Birth of Jesus,” Bible Review, October 1991.

Pieter Willem van der Horst, “Did Sarah Have a Seminal Emission?” Bible Review, February 1992.

Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
Is it possible to identify the first-century man named Jesus behind the many stories and traditions about him that developed over 2,000 years in the Gospels and church teachings? Visit the Jesus/Historical Jesus study page to read free articles on Jesus in Bible History Daily.
 

 

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  1. bill says

    Ron WYATTS NAME IS ENCODED IN THE BIBLE CODE ALONG WITH THE SHROUD OF TURIN. BLOOD SAMPLES TAKEN FROM THE SHROUD AND FROM THE ARK OF THE COVENANT BOTH DO NOT HAVE THE HUMAN MALE CHROMOSOME . IF PEOPLE DO NOT WANT TO BELIEVE I WOULD LIKE FOR THEM TO EXPOSE HO W RON WYATT FOUND THE BLOOD ON THE MERCY SEAT THAT MATCHED THE BLOOD ON THE SHROUD OF TURIN. PULL UP THIS; IS RON WYATTS NAME IN THE BIBLE CODE. IT IS AND IT FORMS A CROSS ACROSS THE ARK OF THE COVENANT. PLEASE TRY TO PROVE ME WRONG. BiLL Hudgins

  2. Gamini says

    When Philosophy ends Theology bigins. We have to accept that we are spatio-temporal beings. But at the same time, there are certain caregories that do not fall under the space and time. Concepts such as eternity, everlasting life, God are some examples. A God with out biginning or end or everlasting life are inconceivable to our human intelect.
    Therefore, if we believe that God exists and that Jesus is Son of God, it is pointless arguing about his biological fatherhood. Finally it becomes a matter of faith. May be we have to learn some thing from the great Doctor of the Church, St Aaugustine, who was trying to understand the mystery of Trinity, who finally said, “Credo ut Intelligam” in Latin which means, “I belive so that I may understand”

  3. Fredric says

    The first paragraph has some interesting questions in it; the first one that caught my attention was “Who was Jesus’ biological father?”The birth of Jesus was literally an astronomical event, prophesied through the ages. In Luke’s gospel, we pickup the account of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Angel Gabriel; The angel told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. (31)You will become pregnant, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus. (32) He will be a great man and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. (33)Your son will be king of Jacob’s people forever, and his kingdom will never end.” (34) Mary asked the angel, “How can this be? I’ve never had sexual intercourse.” (35)The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy child developing inside you will be called the Son of God. So we see that El Shaddai is the Father of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was and is All God and All man. He referred to himself many times throughout the gospels as the son of man also, to identify with mankind because of the plan of redemption from our sins. God created Adam in his image and gave him X and Y chromosomes at the time of his conception. Jesus is known as the “second” Adam, who was conceived in the “earthly womb” of a female, just as Adam was created and conceived from the womb of the Earth. The answer is…. Jesus did not have a biological father, hence we have the Virgin birth…..

  4. IAMtherefore says

    All what is………is we all believe U see what U want to see we have choice OUR GOD GIVEN RITE U SEE I know GOD level and true all the Questions of his WORD he breathed everyone just know in all U R all he is and dont allow questions to fill up /Get in your head stay pure stay sharp stay aware and stay awake most of all stay focused on the scriptures the true S BIBLE GODS VIRGAN Word KING JAMES ITS ALL TRUTH EVERY WORD

  5. IAMtherefore says

    LOVE THERE’S NO GREATER GIFT THEN LOVE One another as I have loved UYou

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Continuing the Discussion

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  2. The mistery of Jesus’ Conception – Simone Venturini's Blog linked to this post on November 3, 2014

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