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Matthew’s Genealogy: The Number “Fourteen”

Like my previous post, this one takes material over from my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.

I pointed out in the previous post that Matthew presents a numerically significant genealogy of Jesus in order to show that something of major significance happen every fourteen generations:  from Abraham, the father of the Jews, to David, the greatest king of the Jews: fourteen generations; from King David to the Babylonian Captivity, the greatest disaster for the Jews: fourteen generations; and from the Babylonian Captivity to the Messiah Jesus, the ultimate savior of the Jews: fourteen generations.

It’s a terrific genealogy.  But to get to this 14-14-14 schema, Matthew had to manipulate the names in a couple of places, for example, by leaving out some of the generations and by counting the final set of names as fourteen, even though there are only thirteen.   And so, we might wonder whether the number fourteen, in particular, was for some reasons significant for Matthew.  Why not 15, or 12?

Over the years interpreters of Matthew have puzzled over the question and have suggested two, in particular, that strike me as interesting.

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Another Instance of Gematria
Matthew’s Genealogy



  1. Avatar
    wisemenwatch  December 20, 2012

    I think that that Matthew is a little too magical minded to be a Christian! Add numerology to astrology, that makes 2 strikes against him. This is starting to sound like the Qabalah or Hermeticism or something Egyptian.

    “The ancients divided the week into seven days, probably because they believed that there were seven planets.”

    Those planets have the names of gods, as do the days of the week to this day.

    • Avatar
      bobnaumann  December 22, 2012

      Wait a minute. Only five days are named for planets. Sunday Is Sun day and Monday is moon day.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  December 22, 2012

        Are you talking about Romans or Jews? I’m away from my books now and don’t remember off hand how different cosmologies worked….

  2. Avatar
    Jim  December 20, 2012

    Paul (in his late 50s CE correspondence (Rom 1.3)) also mentions a link to David, so this blood line connection to David seems to appear quite early on. You get the idea from Chronicles that the Jews were quite into tracking family trees. What are your thoughts on whether Jesus was actually a descendant of David (via either mom and/or dad) or if this was something that could have even be traced at that time. The Levites seemed to have had a tracking device for ancestors for priestly duties if some of Luke 1 is accurate.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 20, 2012

      My sense is that Chronicles is the exception, not the rule. You simply don’t get extensive genealogies like this in other authors, as a rule. We don’t have any evidence of Davidids keeping genealogies and I don’t think there’s much chance that all the descendants (or any ofthem) could actually trace their full lineage (there must have been tons and tons and tons of descendants of David, once you bring women/mothers/grandmothers/and so on into the equation). With Levites it was simpler: if your dad was one, you were one too. You didn’t have to know the names of your remote ancestors.

  3. Avatar
    Gerhardt  May 28, 2020

    Speaking of the numerical value of letters, what do you make of the Bible Code (that the Bible has encoded words hidden within the Hebrew text of the Torah, that according to its proponents, have seemingly predicted significant historical events)?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2020

      It’s completely bogus. For one things, it assumes that the words of the Hebrew Bible we have are the words that were originally written, and that just ain’t so in many, many instances. (One of the oldest forms of the book of jeremiah is 15% shorter than the other oldest form. Uh, that kind of destroys the code….)

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