Who Was Jesus’ Biological Father?

Examining the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2014.—Ed.


 
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.
 


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

 
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.
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on November 3, 2014.
 

 

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

  6. javad says

    How we could prove a woman become pregnant when a man like Joseph be beside her? Even they were engaged with each other.

  7. Richard says

    I believe that Jesus had a biological father: it doesn’t have to be a virgin birth to be pure: Joseph would be in line with the lineage to David which makes sense for Jesus’s divine heritage!
    Another explanation outside the box but in the realm of reality would be instead of a divine intervention: the insemination of Mary by God: Ancient Alien theorist would say that Mary was visited by an alien angelic like being: that gave Mary artificial insemination even DNA engineered for a spiritual person with healing powers, telepathy and premonitions of the future and visions of the past!
    Normal mortal men and women have exemplified all of these abilities some from birth some through blows to the head some from near death experiences and on and on!
    These abilities exemplify the normal “some “human beings shave: so we must all have these abilities to some degree just that some have greater degrees of those abilities!
    Remember much of the Bible are parables stories and works written not by the actual prophets themselves and not for many years after their deaths!
    Also many stories have to be interpreted for the interpretation of what happened at the time!
    Take Ezekiel for example:
    A fiery chariot comes out of the heavens sky and if you look at the description; he’s describing a airship or space vehicle: beings come out of the vehicle and levitate Ezekiel back into the craft and they shoot off into the sky: that’s obviously an alien spaceship abduction!
    There is also the entire book of Enoch!
    There’s many things in the Bible that can be explained by the reality of technology and other beings not of this world coming to this world and interacting with human beings!
    Jonah and the whale another example: obviously Jonah was taking aboard a submarine like craft.
    These interactions of technologically advanced intelligent beings from other worlds is in every culture around the world in every corner of the world: Hindus and Buddhists, Mohammed: the Mayans: Incas; the Samarian’s: Chinese religious texts and stories: the ancient Japanese culture; the Hopi Indians; the Druids of Scotland on and on!
    Exemplified by buildings and architecture that has a certain energy field that’s connected to Geo magnetic lines in the earth such as Stonehenge, the pyramids not only in Egypt but the Mayan peninsula: ancient pre-Incan cities Hopi settlements in the Southwest many of these structures were in alignment with the star system of Orion and on and on!

    I’m not saying that all these experiences in the Bible were ancient alien intelligent being interactions misinterpreted as God: but many can be explained in this way!
    It doesn’t mean that there weren’t spiritual experiences as well: it just means that will never know the exact truth for some of the stories!

  8. H says

    I believe that God can do as he pleases….he makes the rules. As Rev. Charles Stanley has stated, “God said it, that settles it.” Many of God’s rules were beyond human understanding at the time of Christ’s birth. How many do we not grasp today?

    When I raised honey bees, I understood that, only an unfertilized egg from my queen produced a fully functional male bee, i.e., a drone, hardly a rarity! Male sea horses get pregnant…go figure

    All things are possible through Christ Our Savior.

  9. Krzysztof says

    Romans 1:3-4 expalins perfectly from 50’s A.D. Matthew and Luke, 90’s A.D.: why does a problem?

  10. Krzysztof says

    +comments on Matthew 1:23 as the reference to Isaiah7:14 at footnotes in RC Bible commentaries explain it also. Do people read and reason and…repent (from stupidity)? Do not forget about Mark 1:5 and 9: a sinner, Jesus from Nazareth, converts after hearing the Good News of John the BApatist!

  11. Keith says

    Wow, all the brains in the world that are so smart can’t understand or believe in what the bible says. God is real and we will meet him in the end,BELIEVE THAT ! He was divinely concievced.(no sex) image that and image this he is all powerful and can do all things. All we have to do is believe and have faith in all things! Praise him don’t doubt him he’s always here for me good or bad he has a plan for my life and your’s try it you';ll like it! He always see’s us through all things that I know for a fact because I’ve seen alot of hard times even now. But I’ll get through it with my Lord and saviour, Jesus Chris amen

  12. RINDA M says

    I rather think that God, creator of all miracles, large and small, and surely every child conceived is a miracle, had the ability–and the power–to begat Jesus in Mary’s womb—and for her to conceive Him.

    If I were into abstract physics, I might well think of Christ’s conception as an event horizon.

    It goes back to Eve: “I have gotten a man child of the Lord !,” paraphrase, first chapters of Genesis, Conception–and/or begatting–was never just a man/woman or woman only or man only activity for the Jewish people. It was a man/woman/God activity—for every child, every single time a child was created,not just for Jesus. God was ALWAYS involved in the creation of a child, in the creation of a unique miracle–and again, surely, each child created IS a unique miracle.

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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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