Justin Martyr and the Genealogy of Mary

Writing in the first half of the third century, Julius Africanus is our earliest writer to raise the two genealogies of Jesus as a potential apologetic issue.1 But before Africanus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and apparently even Celsus all refer to the two genealogies, yet mention not a word about any conflict between them.

Thus, Origen takes Celsus to task for his failure to mention discrepancies between the genealogies that caused “some difficulty even to Christians.”2 Irenaeus mentions both genealogies by name, but makes no comment on their use of different ancestors.3 With Justin the citations are less clear, though, if we follow one plausible conjecture, he too apparently alludes to both genealogies without any comment on their differences.

Why were these early writers silent about any conflict between the two genealogies?

One possibility is that they believed one of the genealogies to belong to Mary. The obvious choice would have been Luke. While Matthew asserts that Jacob “begat” Joseph, Luke does not say specifically how Jesus was known as “the son of Joseph.”4

The problem is that none of these writers states explicitly that the Lukan genealogy belongs to Mary. Except perhaps Justin.

In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin is quite interested in Mary’s ancestry.

  • In 43.1 Justin writes of Jesus as “born of a virgin, of the family of Abraham and tribe of Judah, and of David.”5
  • In 45.4 Justin refers to “this virgin of the family of David.”6
  • In 100.3 Justin again refers to “the virgin … of the family of David, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham.”7

Of course, the biblical text never states that Mary belonged to the tribe of David. It is possible though that Justin inferred this from her betrothal to Joseph.

But did Justin have any more secure reason for his belief that Mary, like her husband, was of the tribe of David? Did Justin believe that he had access to Mary’s genealogy?

A Lukan Genealogy of Mary?

It is often thought that Justin alludes to the Lukan genealogy in Dialogue 100.3. In most editions, Justin refers here to a genealogy headed by Adam “from whom Mary derives her descent.” Presumably, this would refer to the Lukan genealogy.8 Thus:

“Jesus said then that he was the Son of man, either because of his birth by the virgin, who was … of the family of David, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham; or because Adam was the father both of himself and of those who have been first enumerated from whom Mary derives her descent.”9

Unfortunately though the word Adam is a conjecture. While this conjecture is popular among editors, our only surviving manuscripts have Abraham where most editors put Adam.10

Editors seem to prefer Adam because it makes better sense in the context.11 After all, it makes little sense to call Abraham the father of a list of patriarchs that includes himself. Moreover, since Justin is trying to explain why Jesus called himself Son of Man, it makes sense that he would refer to the first man in his argument.

So Adam is not a bad guess. But if this is Justin’s intention, in a context that also invokes the descent of Mary, in order to explain why Jesus called himself Son of Man, we have to wonder, did Justin regard the Lukan genealogy as the genealogy of Mary? Perhaps this is why he mentions no conflict between the genealogies.

Fathers of Daughters and their Sons

But Justin leaves us with one more clue. Almost as an afterthought, he adds:

“For we know that the fathers of women are the fathers likewise of those children whom their daughters bear.”12

Is Justin calling Mary’s child the child of Mary’s father? Is Justin connecting Jesus to Luke’s genealogy through Mary? After all, Mary is the only woman or daughter mentioned in the context.

Maybe Justin is referring to the patriarchs as the fathers of Mary. But this hardly makes sense. The patriarchs already had sons to trace their lineage. By invoking the daughter as bearer of her father’s lineage, Justin seems to be referring to Mary’s immediate father and, more specifically, to her father’s lack of sons. Perhaps it is better then to understand Justin’s expression the fathers of women as fathers who have no sons.13 So it is possible that Justin understood Joseph to be the adopted son of Heli, presumably because in his view Mary had no brothers.14

Does Justin believe that the Lukan genealogy is the genealogy of Mary?

We cannot be certain. But his obscure reference to fathers passing their inheritance to the sons of their daughters suggests that he was prepared to understand Mary’s child, Jesus, as the son of her father. At the same time, Justin’s confidence in repeatedly mentioning Mary’s lineage from the family of David suggests that he had a text in mind to back this up. But Justin would have been hard pressed to find such a text outside of the genealogies of Jesus. Of course, since Justin argues passionately on behalf of Jesus’s miraculous birth, this would only have offered him more incentive to emphasize Mary’s tangible role in the genealogy of Jesus.

Footnotes

  1. Eusebius, Church History 1.7.
  2. Origen, Against Celsus 2.32 (ANF 4:444).
  3. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.21.9; 3.22.3-4.
  4. Matt 1:16; Luke 3:23.
  5. Justin, Dialogue 43.1 (ANF 1:216).
  6. Justin, Dialogue 45.4 (ANF 1:217).
  7. Justin, Dialogue 100.3 (ANF 1:249).
  8. The Lukan genealogy includes Adam as “the son of God.” The Matthean genealogy begins with Abraham.
  9. Justin, Dialogue 100.3 (ANF 1:249, modified).
  10. The two manuscripts are Parisinus gr. 450, dated 11 September 1364, and Claromontanus 82, dated 2 April 1541. The latter is a direct copy of the former, effectively reducing the attestation to a single witness.
  11. The conjecture is favored among editors by S. Thirlby (1722), P. Maran (1742) followed by J.P. Migne (PG 6, 1857, 1884), J. Otto (1877), G. Archambault (1909), E. J. Goodspeed (1915), and M. Marcovich (1997). P. Bobichon (2003), however, prints Abraham in his edition.
  12. Justin, Dialogue 100.3 (ANF 1:249).
  13. πατέρας … τοὺς τῶν θηλειῶν.
  14. Thus, in Ezra 2:61 we hear of a certain Barzillai “who had married one of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name.” Ezra 2:61 NRSV.

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