Without going into a lot of details, I have been having an interesting exchange with an Israeli about his objections to Jesus’ genealogy. I thought it might be wise to reflect upon the way doctrine in Scripture is always tied to divine purpose.
His specific objection to Jesus’ genealogy is that Jesus is not a physical son of Joseph and therefore cannot end up being counted within the lineage of David or of the tribe of Judah. There’s a lot to this objection, and it is a common one among more sophisticated anti-missionaries (those who officially oppose the gospel and engage in Jewish polemics). While it has left me a few nights pondering his arguments in my mind and losing a little sleep, it has been good training for me not only in terms of apologetics but also in terms of the intersection of apologetics and theology in general.
One of the questions I posed to him is: how can a child born to human parents be preexistent? One of them has to be more than human. You see, we know that Jesus’ mother was indeed human, so by process of elimination this means that for Jesus to be preexistent, His father must be more than human. After making such a statement I might be asked where I got the idea that Jesus was preexistent. I refer to the following Scriptures: “Now gather yourself in troops, O daughter of troops; He has laid siege against us; they will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek. ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:1–2, NKJV).’”
Yes, there is sometimes disagreement over the phrase miqedem mi-yemey ʿolam (מִקֶּ֖דֶם מִימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם׃) 1. Yes, sometimes the term olam; does refer to an indefinite period of time and proper scholarship requires that we acknowledge this fact. However, the use of olam as eternity is well documented and unless the context dictates otherwise, olam should be translated as eternity. There are reasons for this fact. First, this term is used of God about His eternality, as in Psalm 90:2 where God’s existence is described as me ʿolam weʿadʿolam, “from eternity to eternity” (cf. NJPSV).2 Second, the phrase mi-yemey ʿolam (מִימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם׃) is preceded by the term מִקֶּ֖דֶם (miqedem), best translated as “from of old.” This means a natural rending of olam in this particular section would be eternity, with “days of old” already indicated by miqedem.
With that argument out of the way, let’s return to the key issue. If Jesus cannot have a physical father, because the father must be more than human and thus not merely a man, it follows that the virgin birth is the best explanation for how this unique exception could occur. Now, I realize that there are many other reasons why the virgin birth is necessary within the plan of God for salvation. However, my point here is that doctrine exists for a purpose, and in the case at hand, the doctrine of the virgin birth served the purpose of answering one of my Israeli friend’s objections to the gospel. God does not tell us truths with no reason, and there is always a purpose, or many, behind each doctrine. Doctrine is both logical and practical.
1 Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003),
2 all Hebrew text taken from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Mic 5:1.