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Matthew’s Genealogy

As I have pointed out, the reader who first comes to the New Testament, and so begins at the beginning, with Matthew chapter 1, first finds him/herself confronted with a genealogy. This may not seem like an auspicious beginning, but the genealogy is highly significant for understanding Matthew’s Gospel, since this genealogy is mean to emphasize Jesus’ “credentials” precisely as the messiah. And so v. 1 indicates that Jesus he was “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (“son of” in this context obviously means: “descendant from”). And why highlight his relationship to David and Abraham in particular, before giving the details in the genealogy? It is because Matthew’s ancient reader would realize full well that Abraham was “the father of the Jews,” and David was the greatest king in the history of Israel, whose descendant was to resume his rule, enthroned in Jerusalem, reigning over a sovereign state of Israel as God’s anointed. This son of David would be descended from the Jewish greats and would, in fact, be the messiah. Thus Matthew begins his Gospel by indicating that Jesus was a Jew (from Abraham) in the line of the ancient kings (from David)l

This emphasis on Jesus’ Jewishness and his royal family lineage is confirmed by what follows, in the genealogy that traces his family line all the way back to the father of the Jews, Abraham himself. The genealogy is patterned consistently, almost monotonously, tracing fathers and sons first from Abraham (v. 2) to King David (v. 6), then from David to the deportation to Babylon (v. 12), and then from the deportation to Jacob (the father of Joseph, v. 16).

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Matthew’s Genealogy: The Number “Fourteen”
Genealogies of Matthew and Luke

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RyanBrown  December 18, 2012

    I always find it peculiar that in first century Palestine it was possible to trace one’s lineage back 42 (!) generations, while the best I can do is well shy of ten.

    I don’t want to do the math, but with 28 generations between David and Jesus, wouldn’t the potential number of possible messiahs have been huge? I bet every mother in Judea was claiming that her son would be the messiah since their husband could trace his lineage back to David.

  2. Robertus
    Robertus  December 18, 2012

    Of course, it’s common for fundamentalists to claim that Luke’s geneology is really that of Mary, but James Tabor also tries to use this argument in support of his royal interpretation. Are you aware of any other contemporary scholars that try to defend this on serious scholarly grounds. Excluding those do so because of misguided claims of inerrancy, of course.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 18, 2012

    My email box is filling with criticisms of your Newsweek article which I widely circulated. I find this very discouraging because it was such a good article. Does anyone ever criticize the historical facts in your writings or is the criticism always about your being biased and having an agenda and ….?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 19, 2012

      My blood-pressure solution is not to read them. 🙂 And no, rarely does anyone want to deal with the facts….

  4. Avatar
    Jim  December 18, 2012

    Some feel that fourteen is the gematria of David’s name. Still I find it curious for someone to go through all that trouble just to say something that could be said as a one liner. In Matt’s time I would guess that unless you had a lot of cash, you wouldn’t have an OT scroll on your coffee table at home. This would mean going down to the synagogue, digging out the Chronicles scroll and memorizing a bunch of names. Hey that’s it, the answer to the mystery; Matt could only memorize at most 14 names at time; or maybe not ….

  5. Avatar
    hwl  December 19, 2012

    Do you think the contemporary audience of Matthew would have noticed he deliberately omitted some generations in order to make his 14-14-14 pattern to work?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 19, 2012

      Don’t know. It’s striking that hardly *anyone* today (even avid Bible readers) notices unless someone points it out….

      • Avatar
        hwl  December 20, 2012

        I’m sure the 16 year old Pentecostal girl who read the Bible 160 times must have noticed. 🙂

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  December 20, 2012

          Yeah, I wondered about htat. Then I realized that I had probably read the passage over 160 times before someone pointed it out to *me*. But she’s clearly ahead of me at 16….

  6. Avatar
    Mohy  March 6, 2014

    i counted the third set of fourteen generations and its as you said contains only thirteen wow
    i have a question how could a woman (TAMAR) which was a prostitute be included by Matthew in Jesus genealogy
    and also can the history proves that the number of generations between David and the Christ or between Ibrahim and the Christ is wrong regardless of the names ?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 6, 2014

      All four women in the genealogy were involved in questionable sexual activities. Maybe Matthew is trying to say something about Jesus’ own mother, that it would not be unthinkable, given the line of David, for her too to be questioned for her sexual activities.

  7. John4
    John4  August 30, 2015

    Hello Wonderful Bart 🙂

    I’m confused.

    You write that “There were fourteen generations between Abraham and David, fourteen between David and the deportation to Babylon, and fourteen between the deportation to Babylon and the messiah, Jesus.” However, by my count (and please correct me if I have made a “scribal error”, lol) there are in fact only thirteen “generations *between* [emphasis added] Abraham and David” and also only thirteen “between the deportation [of Jechoniah] to Babylon and the messiah, Jesus.”
    Am I missing something here?

    Here’s how I count ’em:

    Thirteen generations *between* Abraham and David:
    1. Abraham
    2. Isaac
    3. Jacob
    4. Judah
    5. Perez
    6. Hezron
    7. Aram
    8. Aminadab
    9. Nahshon
    10. Salmon
    11. Boaz
    12. Obed
    13. Jesse
    14. David

    Fourteen generations between David and the deportation of Jechoniah to Babylon:
    1. Solomon
    2. Rehoboam
    3. Abijah
    4. Asaph
    5. Jehoshaphat
    6. Joram
    7. Uzziah
    8. Jotham
    9. Ahaz
    10. Hezekiah
    11. Manasseh
    12. Amos
    13. Josiah
    14. Jechoniah “at the time of the deportation to Babylon”

    Thirteen generations between the deportation to Babylon (of Jechoniah) and the messiah, Jesus:
    1. Salathiel
    2. Zerubabbel
    3. Abiud
    4. Eliakim
    5. Azor
    6. Zadok
    7. Achim
    8. Eliud
    9. Eleazar
    10. Matthan
    11. Jacob
    12. Joseph “the husband of Mary”
    13. Jesus “who is called the Messiah”

    Many thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2015

      That’s right, the third set has 13, not fourteen. I wasn’t arguing that it contained fourteen; Matthew himself claims that it does. He evidently didn’t check or count closely!

  8. Avatar
    Habib  September 6, 2016

    There is another interesting issue Dr Bart which is to link Jesus to his grandfather, so to speak, Abraham through the linage of Solomon son of David as in Matthew, whereas he is linked to Abraham through the linage of Nathan son of David as in Luke.

    Also compare the fathers of David up to Abraham in both Matthew & luke…. interesting.

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