Paul being a descendant of Jonathan would have some appeal from a devotional perspective since Jesus' more direct saving of Paul could be viewed as fulfilling the covenant of friendship between David and Jonathan and their descendants (1 Samuel 20:42).

From Philippians 3:5 we know that he was from the tribe of Benjamin (like Jonathan) and Paul's other name, Saul, might be more common among descendants of King Saul than among Benjaminites generally. On the other hand, with the purging of the house of Saul (2 Samuel 9:3 indicates that Mephibosheth might be the bottleneck as a sole survivor) there might have been few if any descendants of Jonathan in the first century A.D.

Is there any other evidence supporting or falsifying this possibility or is this merely a wild speculation where even tradition is silent?

Optional bonus question: Has this speculation been written about earlier in Church history? (Allegory and other somewhat fanciful conceits seem to have been more popular earlier in Church history, so I would not be surprised if someone had considered this possibility given its devotional attractiveness.)

  • 6
    Is this your own speculation or did it come from someone else originally? Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 17:55
  • @Mr.Bultitude It is my own speculation, but someone else may very well have thought of it earlier. (It is even remotely possibly that I read/heard about it years ago and I am mistaking a imperfect memory as an original/rediscovered thought. My memory is very imperfect, but this does not seem to have the "flavor" of any likely candidates. E.g., the covenant+individual emphasis seems more modern and the devotional speculation a bit more archaic.)
    – user3331
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 18:25
  • The only speculation about Paul's Benjamiteness that I know of in the "church fathers" is Tertullian's claim in Chapter 1 of Book 5 of Against Marcion that Paul is the fulfillment of the Benjamite Wolf Prophecy ("Because even the book of Genesis so long ago promised me the Apostle Paul..."). (Gen 49:27) Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 2:16
  • I would argue against the possibility because Jonathan did not have descendants. All Saul's descendants that could become king eventually died leaving David unopposed - something Saul understood after Endor. That is why he got up and ate - he accepted his and his family's fate for the greater good of Israel. What is a bit curious is that in one legend Mordechai and Esther (my family) were direct descendants from Saul. So I like this question. Paul might be family. Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 18:34
  • @gideonmarx Mephiboseth was Jonathan's son. He lived and had children.
    – One Face
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 15:39

2 Answers 2


If Church tradition, or other explicit sources, are silent, the underlying thought behind the question can surprisingly be answered mathematically. Paul, like everyone, had 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents etc. A thousand years before his time he would have had around a billion ancestors, far more than the population of the whole world. This means that if Jonathan's line had not died out completely, then he would have been an ancestor, many times over, of every Jew then living.

Either no first century Jew was descended from Jonathan, or every first century Jew was descended from Jonathan. If this is so, then the direct saving of Paul, in particular, cannot have been a particular fulfilment of David and Jonathan's covenant, appealing as the idea seems.

This article from National Geographic looking at the European population over the 2nd millennium AD, rather than the much smaller Jewish population in the first millennium BC, concludes:

The most recent common ancestor of every European today (except for recent immigrants to the Continent) was someone who lived in Europe in the surprisingly recent past—only about 600 years ago. In other words, all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man or woman who lived around 1400. Before that date, according to Chang’s model, the number of ancestors common to all Europeans today increased, until, about a thousand years ago, a peculiar situation prevailed: 20 per cent of the adult Europeans alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 per cent would turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today.

To misquote2 Corinthians 11 22; if Paul was descended from Jonathan so was everyone else.

  • This is quite interesting, but I can't say that I buy this is universally applicable to all peoples. If you show there are studies that this is true for Africans, Asians, Indians, and south Americans, then it would seem universal.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 16:10
  • Good point. My reading of the article is that Chang came up with a mathematical model which would theoretically apply to any breeding group. Chang's model, when applied to the European population, gave the actual figures quoted. Due to its smaller size, the Jewish population would take less than a thousand years, again according to the model, to reach the situation described. The article then quotes some empirical genetic observations as corroborating the model in Europe. I don't know of any empirical evidence for other peoples. The mathematical model would still apply, would it not?
    – davidlol
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 18:05
  • Well, that's what I just don't know. I don't know enough about biology or mathematics to say if this model can be said to be universally applicable without needing empirical data. Perhaps there's a question here that should be referred to Biology SE or Skeptics SE.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 19:01

I'm not sure if this question has arisen in Christendom. As, most of Christendom is fascinated by Moses, King David, Jesus, Peter, and Paul. I'd say it's 'unlikely' but...there are billions who have gone before us. :) I'm sure it's come up before but I'm not sure that the question has been documented.

As to the question itself. My current understanding is no jew desired to keep a detailed tally of their heritage, with exception to the descendants of David (Luke 2:4) since they were ancient jews, it was their conviction that the Messiah would come through the line of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). The only identification they, all Israelites, used are two fold. Whom was their parent and what tribe did they come from? As you can see this thread throughout scripture.

  • The prophetess Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36)
  • king Saul, son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin (Acts
  • Bezalel, son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah
    (Exodus 31:2)
  • Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan (Exodus 31:6)

If you want a lot of these examples, go here.

In conclusion, someone throughout the ages could've asked this same question but I haven't seen it yet. Also, the jews simply wouldn't ask this question because they were focused on the Davidic line to find the Messiah.

  • 1
    You are wrong. The priests had to keep strict genealogy. The Jews always keep genealogies. That is why Paul repeatedly asked to avoid vain genealogies.
    – One Face
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 15:42
  • Where is your proof/sources other than a vague statement from Paul?
    – Hei Matau
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 16:01
  • How about 1 chronicles chapters 1 to 8?
    – One Face
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 16:36
  • 1
    I don't think every chapter applies. Since the Jews were a unique people and that they were looking for the Messiah within the line of David, I can see why, those that have the line of David, continued to cite their heritage. But the later of 1 Chron 2, and all of chapters 4-9 reaffirm your perspective. Hmm, solid citation, I stand corrected. Thanks.
    – Hei Matau
    Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 17:50
  • Also it was a very serious thing with the priests. See Ezra 2:60-62
    – One Face
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 3:43

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