by J. R. Church –

For a few moments, let us go back in time some 2,000 years, and visit Nazareth, a little village in the Galilee region of Northern Israel. Let us look in on five brothers playing in the courtyard of a small family compound. An undetermined number of sisters are also there. It is the home of Joseph, a local carpenter. Four of those boys belong to Joseph and Mary, but one is hers alone. Matthew records the attitude of the local towns people toward Jesus:

"Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

"And his sisters, are they not all with us?" (Matt. 13:55,56).

All five boys and their sisters have a royal family lineage in the tribe of Judah that goes back to King David. They are all royalty. Since it is not customary for girls to inherit the throne, we should only consider the qualifications of the royal brothers.

James is named first, in Matthew’s account, and was probably the second child born to Mary. Though his father is Joseph, he looks so much like Jesus, he might have been mistaken, on occasion, as a twin. The other three boys, Joses, Simon, and Judas, were probably born in that order, with maybe some sisters interspersed among them. Of these five boys, only one can qualify to become king. The other four cannot qualify. Nor can any royal cousin qualify.

There is a scriptural reason why only Jesus can qualify for the royal title. Only Jesus was born when Mary was a virgin.

The virgin birth is the foundational doctrine of Christianity. It is the only viable and reasonable explanation for Jesus being the "Son of God. If He was born of a human father, then God could not be His father in the literal sense. Also, if Mary and her espoused husband, Joseph, had conceived Jesus in the conventional manner, she would not have been considered a virgin. She would have been thought of as any other wife before her. If, on the other hand, she had consorted with another man, a dark cloud of adultery would have hung over her life. She would have been declared a harlot — certainly not a virgin.

Isaiah had prophesied that a "virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). One would think that this would have settled the matter. But, having rejected Jesus, the Jews could not bring themselves to admit to the possibility of a virgin birth. They would rather change their theology, than to admit that their promised messiah would be the "Son of God."

Ignatius (A.D. 30-107), was a personal friend of Polycarp, and disciple of John.

Aside from the Apostles, he was one of the earliest theologians to address this subject. He wrote an epistle to the Trallians, saying: "Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly begotten of God and of the Virgin, but not after the same manner. For indeed God and man are not the same. He truly assumed a body; for "the Word was made flesh," and lived upon earth without sin" (Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, ch. 9). Furthermore, he wrote: "Mary then did truly conceive a body, which had God inhabiting it" (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, ch. 10).

In another epistle, Ignatius wrote: "And, indeed, the altogether peculiar birth of the Lord was of a virgin alone. [This took place] not as if the lawful union [of man and wife] were abominable, but such a kind of birth was fitting to God. For it became the Creator not to make use of the ordinary method of generation, but of one that was singular and strange, as being the Creator" (Ignatius, An Epistle to Hero, a Deacon of Antioch, ch. 4).

Around A.D. 150, Justin Martyr debated a Jew named Trypho, who had complained that Isaiah was merely referring to a "young woman," rather than a virgin. Justin wrote: "But since you and your teachers venture to affirm that in the prophecy of Isaiah it is not said, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive,’ but, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son;’ and [since] you explain the prophecy as if [it referred] to Hezekiah, who was your king, I shall endeavor to discuss shortly this point in opposition to you, and to show that reference is made to Him who is acknowledged by us as Christ" (Dialogue of Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew, ch. 43).

As you can see, not long after the crucifixion, the Jews changed their theology about Isaiah’s "virgin" in order to combat the Savior’s qualifications to claim their royal title.

The doctrine of the virgin birth was so important to the early church that Tertullian (c. A.D. 200), the father of Latin Christianity, wrote: "Whosoever wishes to see Jesus the Son of David must believe in Him through the Virgin’s birth. He who will not believe this will not hear from Him the salutation, ‘Thy faith hath saved thee.’ And so he will remain blind, falling into antithesis after antithesis, which mutually destroy each other. Just as ‘the blind man leads the blind down into the ditch." (The Writings of Tertullian, part 2, ch. 36).

Now, we know that Jesus could not have been the "Son of God" without being born of a virgin. But what could disqualify Him from inheriting the royal title from David? What makes Him different from His other four brothers?

The story that demands a virgin birth can be found in the prophecy of Jeremiah. Jehoiakim was the throne name of Eliakim, second son of Josiah, appointed by Pharaoh Necco in the autumn of 609 B.C., following the removal of his older brother, King Jehoahaz. Their father, Josiah, had been killed in a battle with Necco’s forces in the valley of Megiddo in the spring of 609 B.C. Jehoahaz succeeded his father for three months; only to be replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim. However, the king of Egypt would soon have to give up Judah to the Babylonians. Jerusalem fell into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, in Jehoiakim’s third year (606 B.C.).

This was the first of three Babylonian invasions (606 B.C., 597 B.C. and 586 B.C.), the third of which led to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple.

In 597 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem once again; this time because Jehoiakim had renounced his allegiance to Babylon. During the siege, his eighteen-year-old son, Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah and Coniah), became king and ruled for three months and ten days. The naive Jeconiah brought his family out to meet the Babylonian king and was promptly arrested. His entire family was deported and imprisoned in Babylon. Jeremiah recorded God’s curse upon Jeconiah’s posterity:

"Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?

"O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.

"Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah" (Jer. 22:28-30).

Henceforth, Jeconiah’s lineage would be disqualified from claiming the throne of David. Jeconiah is listed in Matthew’s genealogy (Matt. 1:11). Therefore, this curse would have affected Jesus had He been the begotten son of Joseph. According to the consequences of this curse, Jesus had to be virgin born.

And what about Jesus’ four brothers? Well, they were disqualified from claiming the royal title, by reason of the curse of Coniah!