The Genealogies of Matthew

Thanks to @JRM for this next article in this epic series on genealogies in the Bible!

Part 1 of the Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus: Matthew's Genealogy of Jesus: Part I - Article - BioLogos

I will post Part 2 in this same thread next week so that the conversation can be continued. Thanks to @Jay313 for that recommendation.


Solid piece. I was honestly reminded of much in Brown’s Birth of the Messiah when reading this. His treatment of the Matthew genealogy is quite good and much of this work is very similar to his.

it is certainly true that matthew’s genealogy, along with Luke’s, are theological, not biological. Brown writes, “What I mean by “artificial” is that even God did not arrange things so nicely that exactly fourteen biological generations separated such crucial moments in salvation history as the call of Abraham, the accession of David, the Babylonian Exile, and the coming of the Messiah. The spans of time covered by the three sections of the genealogy are too great to have contained only fourteen generations each, since some 750 years separated Abraham from David, some 400 years separated David from the Babylonian Exile, and some 600 years separated the Babylonian Exile from Jesus’ birth.” pg 74-75

In discussing why Matthew changes the spellings of some names, Middleton writes:

For a long time scholars have puzzled over this, wondering what his motivation was. The answer to Matthew’s changes (you may have guessed it) is gematria.24 When the numerical values of the Hebrew consonants behind Matthew’s Greek spelling of the fourteen names from Abraham to David (Matthew 1:2-6) are added up, their sum is 574. That turns out to be exactly the numerical value of Abraham (41), the first name in the list, multiplied by the numerical value of David (14), the last in the list. The numbers would have been different (and would not have matched) if Matthew had kept the original spelling. Matthew clearly wanted to emphasize the names Abraham and David for his readers at this point in the genealogy.

I don’t recall seeing this in Brown and he tried to explain some things at length that might otherwise be accounted for more easily by gematria. It is interesting and I am wondering if it resolves a different problem. I am wondering if part four will essentially use gematria to answer a question proposed by Brown: Could Matthew Count? (Birth pg 81)

The first fourteen generations has only 13 generations per Brown (with 14 names). The same occurs in the third list of 3x14. There are only 13 generations there as well. Brown spells this out:

Could Matthew Count?
Although Matthew (1: 17) insists on the presence of a 3 X 14 pattern of generations in the genealogy of Jesus, when one actually counts the generations in the three sections of the list, it seems as if Matthew’s arithmetic leaves something to be desired. In the first section, from Abraham to David, there are fourteen names but only thirteen generations or begettings (see Table II). Of course, Abraham., whose name is listed first, had to be begotten; and so Matthew may intend the unmentioned generation of Abraham to be counted as the fourteenth generation. Only in the second section, from David to the Babylonian Exile, are there fourteen genertions explicitly listed (but at the price of omitting four historical generations and six kings who actually ruled-see Table III). In the third section, from the Babylonian Exile to Jesus, there are again only thirteen generations; and this time apparently one cannot solve it by appealing to the unmentioned generation of the first person named (Jechoniah) because his generation was the last of the second section!" pg81-82

I do think the article hits the nail on the head for the genealogy in Matthew. Brown concluded his discussion on the issue: “This means that, while the two NT genealogies tell us how to evaluate Jesus, they tell us nothing certain about his grandparents or his great- grandparents. The message about Jesus, son of Joseph, is not that factually he is also (grand) son of either Jacob (Matthew) or of Eli (Luke) but that theologically he is “son of David, son of Abraham” (Matthew), and “Son of God” (Luke).”

The interesting thing is theology doesn’t end with the genealogy. Matthew moves on quickly presenting Jesus as a new Moses in the rest of his infancy narrative. Most of the details of it are clearly just as much a theological creation as the artificial structure of the genealogy.

I am interested to read part four and see if gematria solves Matthew’s counting issues for section 3 of his list as well.


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Agree with almost everything. A couple of minor points:

I don’t think gematria is needed to solve the problem of Matthew’s maths. His lists have 14 names rather than “generations,” for whatever reasons. It strikes me as an overly literal reading (uncharacteristic of Brown) to “ding” Matthew on that score, particularly since he took enough care to incorporate gematria into his genealogy. My guess is something besides an inability to count is at work.

Brace yourself: The theology doesn’t end with the infancy narrative. :wink: Comparisons of Jesus to Moses and Elijah appear in all four gospels, both explicitly and by allusion. In the Synoptics, the climax of the first half is Peter’s confession of Christ followed by the Transfiguration. The gospels are theological biographies. The material is arranged and interpreted to make a point, which was the accepted style and methodology of bios in Greco-Roman literature. As with the structure of the genealogy, the gospels are structured to lead each reader to the question: And who do you say that I am?

That said, the overall question of “artifice” (meaning authorial license) is similar to the question about the words of Jesus. Do the gospels capture his “very words” (ipsissima verba) or his “very voice” (ipsissima vox)? This applies to inspiration too. Did the Spirit dictate the exact words to the gospel authors, or is some other model of inspiration more appropriate? I think we would generally agree to the answer, and it doesn’t require undue skepticism about the text.

I have a different question(s) for @JRM. How common was gematria in the first century? Meaning, was it limited only to Hebrew scribes, or was it commonly known in the Mediterranean world? How far back does the practice go?

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I don’t think Brown is being overly literal. That is the whole point of Matthew’s 3x14 lists per his own statement. He artificially created three fourteen generation segments (or inherited them) and failed to include 14 generations in all of them:

Matthew 1:17: Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon . . .

Brown writes concerning section 2s omissions:

“Let us probe more closely by considering the omissions in Matthew’s second section, omissions not known to us in any OT list of kings. (For instance, I Chr 3:10-14 has sixteen names inclusive from Solomon to Josiah, compared to Matthew’s thirteen.) In the NOTE on VS. 8, we have seen that between Kings Joram and Uzziah (“Joram was the father of Uz- ziah”) Matthew skipped some sixty years and the three generations of Kings Ahaziah, Jehoash, and Amaziah. It has been suggested that these three kings were omitted from the ancestral list of the Messiah because they were wicked·· (but even more wicked was Manasseh who was in- cluded in the list), or because they were assassinated (but so was Amon who is included). A further refinement of this theory is that the three omitted kings were regarded as accursed.·li A more plausible explanation is that the omission was accidental caused by the similarity between the Greek forms of the names of Uzziah (Azariah) and Ahaziah, so that “Joram was the father of Uzziah” is a mistake for “Joram was the father of Ahaziah.”·6 Certainly there are other instances of confusion in the monarchical list, e.g., Asaph for King Asa, and Amos for King Amon (NOTES on 7 and 10). If there is truth in the theory expounded above that Matthew found the basis for his pattern of fourteen in genealogical lists that served as his sources, then the lists were already in Greek and already contained errors.”

In the NOTE on vs. 11, I have called attention to the second omission in the monarchical section of Matthew’s list, namely, that instead of saying “Josiah was the father of lechoniah and his brothers,” Matthew would have been true to history if he said, “Josiah was the father of Jehoiakim and his brothers [King Jehoahaz II and Zedekiah]); Jehoiakim was the father of Iechoniah.” Once again we may be dealing with an omission caused by confusion between similar names, viz., the name of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, and that of Jehoiachin (Jechoniah), the grandson of Josiah. The fact that both Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin had a brother named Zedekiah (the former’s brother was King Zedekiah; the latter’s brother never ruled) already caused confusion in antiquity as we see in II Chr 36:10 which incorrectly identifies King Zedekiah as Jehoiachin’s brother. The confusion between Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin (Jechoniah) may have been facilitated by Greek orthography since occasionally the LXX uses the same spelling (loakim) for both names.

Brown then writes about the counting errors (qt least the third one):

A more plausible explanation traces the difficulty to the beginning of the third section. If the last listing in the second section should have read “Jehoiakim and his brothers,” then there would have to be another listing for the begetting of Jechoniah: “Jehoiakim was the father of Jechoniah.” Could Matthew have recognized that a generation was omit- ted and counted this implicit generation by mentioning Jechoniah at the beginning of his third section, even as he counted the implicit generation of Abraham at the beginning of his first section. With ingenuity then, one can salvage Matthew’s reputation as a mathematician. But from the viewpoint of a modem reader, he certainly could have been of more assistance in clarifying the 3X 14 pattern of generations that he claims for the genealogy of the Messiah.

This is not being over-literal. Brown is exegetically thorough as solid scholarship should be. We agree its artificial but I think there could be more to there only being 13 generations in the first and third set. Matthew clearly omitted many generations in every case. It would have been very easy to include a14th in each. The number14 clearly refers to David. Gematria is clearly at work here. If the Abraham to David listing has odd misspellings and only 13 generations instead of 14 and the names as they stand add up perfectly to 574 as Middleton suggests, this seems very intentional.Assuming this isn’t just an odd coincidence. Though if we cannot find something similar for the third list does that call it into question?

I also agree the Gospels are theology and history intertwined from start to finish. However, some parts are more theological and less historical and some parts are more historical and less theological. The Matthean infancy narrative is probably one of those that is mostly theological.

I’ll generally go with vox over verba. I can’t guarantee Jesus never said anything in Greek or that the Gospel traditions in some cases could not be a single step (translation) removed from them. But in many cases you might be seeing the voice of the evangelist rather than the historical Jesus (e.g. Mark claiming Jesus declared all foods clean in chapter 7, his controversy stories in 2:1-3:6 and so on). We get the voice of Jesus blended with the voice of the evangelists. If not for belief in some form of inspiration, this would be a big problem as the historical Jesus might have some beliefs attributed to him 40 years later quite strange.


I’m not accusing Brown of not being thorough or of not being solid scholarship. I’m saying that his argument about 13 generations v. 14 names strikes me as something similar to arguing whether Jesus was entering Jericho or leaving Jericho when he encountered the blind beggar (or beggars). It’s imposing an unnecessarily literalistic interpretation on the text. Honestly, my response to such textual difficulties is “who cares?”

If you want me to play along, Brown’s explanation is plausible, and Matthew certainly could have been more explicit regarding the generations. Here’s what I think happened. The first set of 14 obviously would include the first name as a “generation.” Regarding the final set, the actual names of Jesus’ grandparents, great-grandparents, etc., are unknown, so in theory Matthew could have added a name to “perfect” his list. Taking the overall gematria into account, I suspect Matthew tried out numerous variations and additions, but none of them achieved the final figure that he wanted. Repeating a name left the final number unchanged and put 14 names into the period from the exile to Jesus’ birth.

True. See John 3. Two Jews meet in the environs of Jerusalem, and even if they were trilingual, one would expect them to speak in Aramaic. Yet the whole conversation revolves around double-entendres in Greek – “wind/spirit” and “again/from above.”

Good thoughts. Thanks for the conversation.

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It does seem strange that Matthew skipped three or four ancestors in the lineage.

With the additional names, the three sets of 14 are not literal history — if the Old Testament is accurate.

And, of course, the differences between Matthew and Luke are problematic: One has Jesus as a descendant of David’s son Nathan and the other has Jesus as a descendant of David’s son Solomon.

Here is part 4!


Very interesting. Nice explanation on the missing generation in the third list. This has been a fascinating read because the explanations for the missing generation have been legion. I know one commentator says that Matthew himself tells us how to count and they David is to be used twice for the end of set 1 and beginning do set 2. That would seemingly throw off some of the number patterns though. I quoted Brown’s alternative above.

Many scholars have considered the idea of Jesus and Messiah to be two generations (one post resurrection) to be quite forced. I tended to agree but thats before seeing the potential number patterns throughout. That may really be the main thing going for it though as Brown says Matthew wanted to show Jesus as the Messiah from conception and that he is acknowledged as the Messiah in the gospel proper (16:16). But I wonder if all the scholars dismissive of this notion were aware of all the potential numerical patterns? Many commentators I read don’t seem to touch on it all all besides the 3x14.

Gematria is miles beyond my abilities to fully evaluate but this four part series has been very informative and fascinating and has offered a different perspective on Matthew’s genealogies that also helps clean up some of its difficulties. I am also interested in seeing a scholarly critique of this specific view for balance.

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Can you share the evidence you have which proves what you state here? I think whoever wrote these parts of this gospel didn’t consider comparing Christ to anyone, intentionally, nor did he have in mind what was acceptable in style and methodology of bios in Greco-Roman literature.

Sure. Sorry I took so long to get back to you. Starting with bios, which is “biography” in Greco-Roman literature, the question concerns the genre of the gospels. Helen Bond and Craig Keener argue persuasively for bios:

Helen Bond, The First Biography of Jesus: Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel

Craig Keener, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels
Here’s a review

In short, interpreting any piece of literature begins with identifying the genre. Is it a letter, a poem, apocalyptic, prophetic, historical narrative, mythological, etc.? This applies to every written communication, not just the Bible. When dealing with non-current authors, the historical context comes into play. When was it written? What cultural factors influenced the author? After that, there are questions about the audience (to whom was it written?) and the author’s reason for writing (authorial intent). The evangelists were educated men of their time. They wrote in a style that was familiar to them and that their audience would recognize. They borrowed some conventions of Hebrew history taken from Chronicles, such as anonymity and genealogy, and tossed in some conventions of Greco-Roman history and biography. The result is a bit of an amalgam, which is why biblical scholars have debated the genre of the gospels for generations. Overall, bios has gained support as the best fit.

Take a look at Luke’s prologue, for instance. Unlike modern historians, the Greeks preferred eyewitness (oral) testimony, and only afterward turned to written sources. They also highlighted the hand of “fate” in determining the course of events. Greco-Roman biographers were likewise not “objective” (by our modern standards) in presenting the life of the protagonist. The point was not just to relate the exact details of the hero’s life, but to present that life as an example worth emulating.

The authors of the gospels went out of their way to point out the comparisons between Christ, Moses, and Elijah. Expectations of the Messiah were rampant in 1st century Judaism. Take a look at the exchange between the Sanhedrin’s emissaries and John the Baptist in John 1: “Are you Elijah? No. Are you the Prophet (like Moses, Deut. 18:18)? No.” Elijah as forerunner and Jesus as the prophet like Moses run throughout the gospels. Why do you think it is those two who appear on the Mount of Transfiguration?

Why did the evangelists adopt this motif? I’d say Jesus himself suggested it. Take a look at the first section of the Sermon on the Mount. The structure is “You have heard it said … But I say …” Clearly, the author is alluding to the prophet like Moses. Jesus is presented as a new lawgiver and the initiator of a new and better covenant between YHWH and his people.

In my next post, I’d like to hit Pt. 2 of Middleton’s post on Matthew’s genealogy.


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