Christianity is founded on the idea that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Out of all of the requirements for the Messiah, being born in the House of David is the most important one. Yet in order to inherit that house in the Old Testament sense, Jesus would have to be counted as the son of a male descendant of David. Given the Biblical account (which I believe to be the true account) of Jesus having been born of a virgin, this presents a bit of an issue. Jesus was not born of a union between Joseph and Mary, Joseph (whose genealogy can be found in Matthew 1) played no role in the process at all. Could Joseph be considered the father of a child who was miraculously born of a virgin mother?
Does Jesus inherit the house of Joseph, and through him David, in OT Judaism?
The Rabbis we have who were closest to the source seem to support the idea that the adopted child could be counted as the son of the adopted father in the Talmud (note that this does not address the concept of adoption explicitly):
Now as to R. Joshua b. Korha, surely it is written, And the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul whom she bore to Adriel. — R. Joshua [b. Korha] answers thee: Was it then Michal who bore them? Surely it was rather Merab who bore them! But Merab bore and Michal brought them up; therefore they were called by her name. This teaches thee that whoever brings up an orphan in his home, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had begotten him.
- Hanina says this is derived from the following: And the women her neighbours, gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi. Was it then Naomi who bore him? Surely it was Ruth who bore him! But Ruth bore and Naomi brought him up; hence he was called after her [Naomi’s] name.
- Johanan says it is derived from the following: And his wife Ha-Jehudiah bore Yered the father of Gedor [and Heber the father of Soco, and Jekuthiel the father of Zanoah] and these are the sons of Bithia the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered took. Now, ‘Mered’ was Caleb; and why was he called Mered? — Because he opposed the counsel of the other spies. But was he [Moses] indeed born of Bithia and not rather of Jochebed? — But Jochebed bore and Bithia reared him; therefore he was called after her.
- Eleazar says: It is inferred from the following: Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph, Selah. Did then Joseph beget them; surely it was rather Jacob? — But Jacob begot and Joseph sustained them; therefore they are called by his name.
- Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan’s name: He who teaches the son of his neighbour the Torah, Scripture ascribes it to him as if he had begotten him, as it says, Now, these are the generations of Aaron and Moses; whilst further on it is written, These are the names of the sons of Aaron: thus teaching thee that Aaron begot and Moses taught them; hence they are called by his name.
(Full text can be found here. Verse references for the above referenced stories are in foot notes in the text)
Citing several examples in the Old Testament in which people are called the offspring of the people who raised them, rather than who bore them, these Rabbis appear to argue in favor of a concept of adoption which helps Jesus’ claim to Joseph’s house (which, contrary to popular belief, was eligible for the Messiah in spite of the curse on one of his ancestors, which was lifted as described in this article).
But there are a few objections to be raised before we can close the book on the subject: Moses was not raised by his Jewish parents, he was raised by Egyptians, yet he was not a convert, he was a Levite, part of Israel. The idea that Moses was an Egyptian convert would seem absurd. Furthermore, the final interpretation, given by R. Samuel b. Nahmani, seems to support a more general view of fatherhood than the idea of simply inherited house, although the other verses given seem to support the idea of inherited house.
But ultimately these Rabbi’s opinions, whatever they may have been, are not binding, not even for the Jews, and certainly not for the Christians. So as much as we would like to pretend that this represents the end of the issue, later eras of Judaism (including modern Judaism) which addressed the issue more explicitly reject the idea that an adopted child inherits the house of the father, stating that an action by man cannot undo an action by God who gave the son to the biological father. However, following the general OT Judaism tradition of giving the benefit of the doubt, if there is even the slightest possibility that the husband of the mother could be the father, he is considered to be, and the child inherits the house.
We could make the point that it is absolutely possible that Jesus carried the genetic material of Joseph, and that the benefit of the doubt would rightly have given Jesus the house of Joseph. But this doesn’t really evade the situation (although it certainly does defend the idea that Jesus would have been considered part of the House of Joseph), it just tiptoes around it by appealing to a technicality founded in our ignorance. Our real salvation from this problem is in the reasoning Jews have for rejecting adoption granting the child the house of the adopted father:
Adoption is a man-made institution. Biological creation of a child is a God-made institution. A man-made institution cannot overrule a God-made one. God gave the child to Mary, who was a virgin, and told Joseph that he was to raise it as his son. While God’s means of delivering Jesus to Joseph might have been unusual, it was every bit as God-made as the ordinary process of sex, perhaps a little moreso because this process involved the father-to-be getting a personal visit from God. Jesus could have had the genetic material of Joseph. But more importantly, Joseph raised him as his son (appeasing the apparent view of the Talmudic Rabbis) and God gave him to Joseph to be Joseph’s son (appeasing the reasoning behind modern Jewish rejections of inherited houses among adopted children) because Jesus had no other earthly father.
This situation is unique, and applying ordinary halakhic stipulations to the process as though it is a case of adoption or adultery is silly. The most important aspect of the discussion is this: Jesus inherited the house of Joseph and, through him, David, because God gave him to Joseph to be raised in the household of David.