Paul and Gamaliel, Forbidden Ancestry, and the Throne of David

Greetings Pascal,

You presented a few questions and challenges in Small(er) Bite #2 – – forbidden ancestry that I’d like to address. First:

Reading through the Bible

When was the last time you read or listened to the entire scripture?  I know that you are one of the few Americans that has actually ingested the whole.

I read the Bible here and there but it’s been too long since I’ve gone straight through from beginning to end. I’m willing. Where are you at in your study? I know Bible reading is often a personal thing, but may be able to commit to reading the same passages on the same day as you if you’re interested. Let me know. 🙂

We read the Bible differently

You said:

I ask because I do think we are assuming a different reading of the Bible.  That is valuable as we go forward and I think either one of us should name the differences we find in an attempt to reconcile and understand the other’s viewpoint.

I’ve attempted to tackle the differences in the way we view the Bible in many of my early posts (Same Bible Verses, Different Conclusions is one example), but I want to address something specific here. In Confessions you said I have a philosophy but you don’t know what it is yet. In truth, I’m still trying to figure that out, too. I’m narrowing in a little. You offered the following as a possibility of my philosophy:

Your approach is that of rationalism.  I would suggest that you are employing strong rationalism.  By that I mean that you are applying the requirement of empiric proof.  Hypothesis generation, appropriate testing, collection of data, interpretation of results, conclusion yielding hypothesis refinement and generation.  What work of philosophy or history survives this approach?  We can’t even talk about Socrates or Aristotle.

I responded to this in Love, Gray holes, Supernatural Ladybugs, and Scripture, and expounded a little more on my philosophy in Is Love a Good Reason to Believe? As a recap, none of those works do, and that’s the point. We shouldn’t assume any works are entirely trustworthy. But I don’t require that high of a standard for the Bible. I’d like to continue clarifying where I find myself, as far as philosophical positions, as I learn more. I’m not what I’d call a strict or strong empiricist. I’m not a rationalist, either, and I don’t think I completely conform to your definition of strong rationalism (which actually sounds very much like empiricism to me) in my expectations of the Bible. I don’t require proof of any Biblical claim (or any claim except an axiomatic mathematical one). I want to believe. I just need evidence proportional to the improbability of the claim that isn’t better explained by what I know of the human condition, science, psychology, The Problem, meta-cognition, etc., and thus more likely to be the result of natural causes.

I’m not a post-modernist. If I had to guess at this moment from what I understand, I’m somewhere on the empiricism side of the spectrum. I think most (maybe all) valid knowledge comes from senses, but not necessarily all – I’m still open here. I trust science but I recognize it’s limits and I don’t trust it further than those limits. I don’t believe science can ever get us to certainty in the ultimate Truth of what actually is there at the bottom of reality. There will always be an unknown and we shouldn’t be too sure of ourselves. We can only sense 1-4% of the known universe, after all, and almost all of that is empty space. I have little assurance about what exists in the rest, and that’s just talking about the four dimensions we have a relatively strong understanding of. We haven’t even begun to talk about ultimate causes, transcendence, a unified theory, other dimensions demonstrated likely by the math, string theory, the implications of infinity, and the possibility of things outside of what we consider our natural universe (see iMultiverse) Still, guided by Occam’s Razor and the success of the assumption of natural explanations and sensory (posteriori) reasoning, I don’t have a compelling reason to move far from these positions into an unknowable reality of supernatural string-pulling. With that said, I think natural explanations are both sufficient to explain what we see and more likely in every case I’ve seen, so they should be the default (due to the base-rate, or the “prior” if we’re talking in Bayesian speak) – but I don’t rule out the supernatural (it just needs to be demonstrated sufficiently in each case – and I haven’t experience such demonstration yet, with the possible exception of an “ultimate cause” if there was one). This is similar to how, even though you claim the supernatural is likely, you might require more evidence about supernatural claims made by those of competing faiths.

Basically, I’m a skeptic who wants to trust the Bible but is finding it difficult or impossible to right now. I can’t fully trust it until I can find a plausible solution to all the problems, but that task seems so daunting. The issues we’ve discussed lately are just those surrounding your very first post about the Bible (Romans 1:1-7). As a skeptic, I obviously read it differently than you do and differently than I used to as a believer. Even if I could find a plausible solution to all the problems we’ve discussed so far, it would barely increase my trust in the Bible given the large number of difficulties that remain. I still have hope that I can come to trust it again, but if I’m honest, it doesn’t seem likely. I haven’t made a post outlining the major issues I have with the other areas, so that point may not be clear to you yet. Maybe the Bible really just wasn’t written in a way that would appeal to those who think the way I do. Maybe it’s true and I’m condemned by possessing a specific phenotype that just isn’t capable of trust in sets of claims that do not pass critical examination.

Paul and Gamaliel

Here’s your next question in Small(er) Bite #2 – – forbidden ancestry:


What is there to be said for training at the feet of the greatest rabbi of his day, Gamaliel the Elder?


I’m not sure. Did he? I don’t know that it matters. I have no doubt that he was brilliant and likely well-trained, understood classical Greek and was well-versed in the rhetoric of the day. I think that position is well-justified based on his words alone even without the appeal to Gamaliel.


What happened? You’ve said before that you need not argue the authorship of scripture as Ehrman and others have done, but rather that internal contradictions are enough to shake trust. So I was surprised that a natural reading of Acts 22 did not remind you that Paul claimed to have been trained by Gamaliel. I accept the arguments of those who say Luke did not write Luke/Acts and that the recorded words were fabricated later. That’s a fair argument. I disagree with it, but it is internally consistent. But you’re willing to examine a natural reading of scripture and you’re willing to listen to my perspective and interpretation. Thank you for that. I said that Paul trained at Gamaliel’s feet because Paul is recorded as saying it in Acts 22.

When I wrote “I’m not sure. Did he?” I was not forgetting that Acts records that Paul was Gamaliel’s student. Nor was I trying to raise concern over the authorship of Acts (it was anonymous anyway and the author isn’t relevant to this issue). I was just expressing doubt that Paul trained with a well-known thinker of the day because it was a claim that could have been easily forged to boost Paul’s reputation. There are several places in the Bible where this possibility stands out. This is one of them. I’m not saying I think it is untrue. I’m just saying I’m at least a tad skeptical. Have you seen the letters between Paul and Seneca. Read here and here. Seneca was widely respected and admired by the early Christians due to his high office, thoughts, and writings. You can think of Seneca like Gamaliel in terms of a boost to Paul’s authority in the eyes of the Christian audience. What’s the story with Seneca? A number of letters between Paul and Seneca were discovered where Seneca admired and praised Paul. These letters were circulated and believed until around the 16th century, when they began to be seen as forgeries. Again, I’m not saying I disbelieve what Acts says about Paul and Gamaliel. I’m just saying it’s not unreasonable to question, “I’m not sure. Did he?” You may put you trust at 100% certainty. I may put it at 90% because I don’t fully trust the Bible. That’s all I’m saying. 🙂

Jehoiakim and the cursed line – revisited


Back to Jehoiakim and Jesus.  I couldn’t understand your objection.  Why?  Jesus entered a cursed creation to redeem it.  Was Jesus cursed?  Of course he was cursed.  Galatians 3:13 says that he became cursed to redeem us from the curse of our sin and the curse that the law brings to all who disobey it (everyone).  Does Jesus sit on the throne of David?  That’s like asking if Gepetto sits on the throne of Pinocchio.  Jesus is the king of kings.  David is a man after God’s heart – – a wonderfully flawed man.  Jesus is God.  Perhaps that is why John’s birth account is so very different from that of Matthew and Luke.  John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

The issue with Jehoiakim is a serious problem that must be addressed if I’m to trust the Bible. Yes, Galations 3:13 paraphrases Deutoromony 21:23, but the curse at Jesus’ crucifixion does not begin to address the issue of his right to fulfill prophecies of bloodline and covenants from God. It’s not that Jesus was cursed by God when he died and took on our sins (according to the Bible). It’s that many read the Bible to mean that his ancestry disqualifies him from being the Messiah to begin with. According to most Jews, the messiah needs to have a certain bloodline to fulfill the covenants God made. By most Jewish and Christian interpretations, Jehoiakim’s bloodline is prohibited from having the Messiah as a descendant. This is not a fringe idea. Most of the 20 or so videos and articles I saw addressing Jesus’ genealogy, including the books Piper cited, were careful to cover this point. The links I provided in A Skeptical Response to the Bible – Romans 1:1-7 also seriously addressed this issue. We can go into detail about this later if you like. I’ll try to avoid a long exegesis or something like I just presented in The Genealogies of Jesus.

Jesus and the Throne of David

As for comparing Jesus sitting on the throne of David to Gepetto sitting on the throne of Pinocchio, I don’t think that adequately addresses the issue. When the Bible records God cursing Jehoiakim’s line from inheriting the throne of David, that was a serious thing to many people. The resurrected Jesus may be above the requirements and expectations of Old Testament blood lines, but his fulfillment of Old Testament requirements which authorize Jews and Christians to believe he is the Messiah is a real issue. The metaphysical idea of the throne of David is clear in the Old Testament, as is the concept of the Messiah fulfilling the promises of God as interpreted from the Messianic prophecies.

We may not be comfortable with or understand the concept of a creator sitting on the throne of one of its creations, but we didn’t write the narrative. I agree that it sounds odd in some respects, but it is what it is. As you know, according to the Bible there are several places throughout time that the creator has chosen to dwell in his creation. The garden of Eden, Mt. Sinai, a whirlwind, the Arc of the Covenant and its accompanying Mercy Seat, and the Holy of Holies in the middle of the Temple, are a few examples in the Old Testament. We may question why God would choose to represent his presence on earth, but we can’t seriously the argue that the Bible doesn’t make that case. In addition to the literal throne of David (the man after God’s own heart that God called to replace Saul as king), God chose to bless his line and set up the future salvation of Israel through that metaphysical throne of David. This was to be a place from which God would reign supreme forever. Many argue that the Old Testament paints this as a future literal place on earth with a reign ushered in by a Messiah king – which is what the Jews were primarily looking for. Some of the New Testament authors reinterpreted Jesus as the Messiah who would reign on this metaphysical throne from heaven (or the new Jerusalem on earth) and the Holy Spirit in the temple of the heart of believers. The point is that the Bible paints this picture. If the Messiah is to be legitimized he must fulfill the promises the prophets claimed that God made of bloodline and ancestry. That is, unless we’re presenting a deliberate attempt from God to deceive the Jews (or a series of mistakes in the Bible). If Jesus is an heir of Jehoiakim (there are potential ways around this, but if he is), then according to the Bible, there is a problem somewhere. This is what I tried to demonstrate in A Skeptical Response to the Bible – Romans 1:1-7 and referenced somewhat in The Genealogies of Jesus.

Here are a few verses that might help explain what I mean by Jesus sitting on the throne of David. It’s a thread that is woven from the literal throne of David to a metaphysical concept, through Christ’s birth, resurrection and reign. These are certainly not all the relevant verses that can be found.

The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and the statutes I teach them, then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever.” – Psalm 132:11-12

Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. – Jeremiah  22:2

“This is what the Lord says:… none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David” – Jeremiah 22:30

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David[a] a righteous Branch, King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. – Jeremiah 23:5-6 (see also 33:15-16, 18, 21)

“‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’”Ezekiel 37:24 – 28

For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim: Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days. – Hosea 3:4-5

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” – Luke 1:30-33 (NIV)

Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. – Acts 2:29-30

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. – Rev 20:6 NIV

Where’s he reigning from? I think that would be the metaphysical throne of David, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is – did the author of Matthew, inspired by the same God that inspired the prophets who promised the Messiah would be in David’s lineage but not in Jehoiakim’s, present a consistent message with theirs? It’s possible, but not at a surface reading in English. We have to investigate to see if we can find a plausible solution that keeps things consistent and the Bible accurate. I suspect you know all this. I was just confused by your response. The verse in bold above is the problem related to the Jehoiakim issue.

In A Skeptical Response to the Bible – Romans 1:1-7 I tried to demonstrate some of the problems that are caused by Matthew mentioning this cursed line in Joseph’s ancestry. Are there potential solutions that would not preclude Jesus from being the Messiah? Possibly, I’ve found hints of a solution but nothing yet that doesn’t require assuming either another Bible mistake or a whole lot of unlikely scenarios and probably a bit of deception. That’s part of what I was searching for in The Genealogies of Jesus. For me, the cursed line is a very relevant issue that I’d need to find a plausible solution to, but it’s all tied up in the rest of the genealogy issues I discussed at length in The Genealogies of Jesus so maybe I can get a two-for-one some day. 🙂

I’ll respond to your third bite soon. 🙂

Gentleness and respect,



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