More on Jesus’ Genealogy

I posted previously on the women in Jesus’ genealogy but wanted to invite discussion on some other aspects of it.

(1) Note that the word translated as “generation� in verse 1 is, in Greek, ‘genesis’. This same word is translated as “birth� in verse 18. It may be that the KJV obscures the connection between these verses and/or between them and the first book of the OT.

(2) One theory why David and Abraham are singled out in verse 1 is that the phrase “son of David� was, at the time the Gospel was written, a reference to the Messiah, while the reference to Abraham alludes to the promises made to the Gentiles through Abraham (see Genesis 18:18). Therefore, the role of Jesus in blessing the Jews and the Gentiles is suggested from the very first verse.

(3) Verse 16 breaks the pattern of the genealogy. What effect does this have on the reader?

(4) Why did Matthew choose the Babylonian captivity as a significant dividing point in the genealogy (see verse 17)?

(5) There are not fourteen generations in the third set of names (see verse 17), unless someone is counted in an unusual way. There are several ways to do this:

(a) counting Mary and Joseph as separate generations
(b) counting Jesus and Christ as separate generations (that is, the mortal Jesus is considered to be a separate generation from the resurrected Christ)
(c) counting David on both the first and the second list

It is also possible that a name was lost during the transmission of Matthew’s Gospel. Do any of these solutions seem reasonable to you?

(6) Judging by verse 17, Matthew felt that it was important for the reader to notice that there are three groups of fourteen generations in Jesus’ genealogy. There are many theories regarding the symbolic meaning of these numbers:

(a) The fourteen generations from the time of the Babylonian captivity to Jesus fulfills Daniel 9:24–27 (if you assume thirty-five year generations).
(b) The cycle of the moon is fourteen waxing days followed by fourteen waning days; this up-and-down pattern is reminiscent of Israel’s history.
(c) 3 x 4 = 6 x 7, putting Jesus at the start of the seventh seven, or the “dawn of the eternal sabbath.�
(d) Others counted fourteen generations from Abraham to David and Matthew expands the series because of a penchant for triple repetitions.
(e) There is a Jewish system for assigning a number to each letter in a word and granting it symbolic significance. The name David (mentioned in verses 1, 6, and 17) has a numerical value of fourteen.

Why did Matthew include verse 17?

(7) Notice JST verse 4 (see KJV verse 16) and JST 2:1 (see KJV 1:18). What difference do these changes make?

(8) Notice footnote ‘e’ on verse 16. How can this information influence your interpretation of Matthew’s Gospel?

(9) Readers have long noted substantial disagreements between the genealogies found in Matthew’s Gospel and in Luke 3:23–38. Warren Carter summarizes the difficulties:

The structure of Matthew’s genealogy, based on three sets of fourteen generations (1:17), presents several problems for the view that this genealogy is a historical record. (1) If one assumes forty years per generation (the biblical reckoning of a generation), the time spans extend over too few or too many years to be covered by fourteen generations (14 x 40 = 560 years). The period from Abraham to David traditionally covers about eight hundred years, from David (ca. 1000) to the Babylonian exile in 587 B.C.E. about four hundred years, and exile to Joseph about six hundred years. (2) In 1:5, Salmon (1 Chr 2:11–13, Ruth 4:21–22) and Rahab are linked, even though Rahab (Josh 2) lives at the time of the conquest, a hundred or so years before Salmon. (3) In the second span (1:6b–11), Matthew omits fifty-nine years or three kings and a queen between Joram (d. 842) and Uzziah/Azariah (d. 783) in v.8, and omits kings Jehoahaz and Eliakim/Jehoaikim from v. 11 to achieve fourteen generations (see 2 Kgs 23:31–24:6; 1 Chr 3:15–16). (4) In 1:13–15 eleven names cover about six hundred years from Zerubbabel, appointed governor of Judah by the Persians after the return in 539 B.C.E. of those exiled in Babylon, to the time of Joseph. (5) The third section (1:12–16) has thirteen names, not fourteen generations.

There are several theories that explain these discrepancies:

(a) Some scholars argue that instead of a literal genealogy, “Matthew forsakes a genealogy of physical descent for Joseph, Jesus’ foster father (so Luke 3:23); instead, he lists royal prototypes of Jesus the King of the Jews. The genealogy has become a large figure of speech for Jesus’ messianic kingship.�
(b) Luke has Salathiel’s physical father Neri but Matthew has Salathiel’s ‘legal’ father Jeconiah because Jeconiah’s real sons were cursed (see Jeremiah 22:24–30).
(c) Matthew left wicked kings out of the genealogy.
(d) Either before or after Matthew’s time, errors crept into the record.
(e) Matthew omits some of the linking generations because they were well-known to the audience, who would simply fill in the blanks.
(f) Luke is presenting Mary’s genealogy, not Joseph’s. Note in Luke 3:23 that the phrase “the son� (of Heli) is assumed by the translators. It is possible that this phrase means ‘of the family of Heli’, that it applies to Jesus, not Joseph, and that Heli is Mary’s father.
(g) Neither genealogy should be taken literally. Reginald Fuller writes, “readers should not be troubled by the discrepancies between Matthew’s genealogy and the one provided by Luke. These genealogies serve not a biological but a theological purpose, and Luke’s purpose is different.�

How do you account for the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies?

(10) What was Matthew’s purpose for beginning the Gospel with a genealogy? What should you learn from it?

11 comments for “More on Jesus’ Genealogy

  1. Re: 5.

    Why couldn’t we count Christ twice, but with the dichotomy being his divine roles as Father and Son, rather than pre and post resurrection?

  2. Generally speaking, I think Jesus’ “patrilineal” genealogy is largely beside the point for establishing his authority. He is the Begotten Son of God, in which capacity he presides over Adam and Abraham, and so on, and not under them in the patriarchal (family) order.

    It seems to me to be a apologetic device for establishing his legitmacy to the Messiahship, and also a fulfilment of several Old Testament prophecies, notably Jeremiah 33:17-21:

    “Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season;
    Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers.”.

    Of course Jesus does not need to be a patriarchal son of David to fulfil this scripture – any son who is a descendant of David would satisfy this prophecy, and Jesus is a son of David through Mary, even though his patriarchal line is through his Father.

    And even then, we should not discount the legitimacy of Jesus adoption to Joseph, even though it appears to be temporary, as I suspect most of the adoptions performed by the nineteenth century Saints (to LDS authorities) will prove to be.

  3. Wow! Thanks for the meticulous work Julie. I think this genealogy is really important, and I have so not known what to do with it. Lots of chewing to do.

  4. The Word Biblical Commentary mentions only two major theories, favoring the second: (1) that one (usually argued Luke) traces Mary’s ancestry whereas the other (Matthew usually) traces Joseph’s ancestry, and (2) that one (usually argued Luke) traces actual biological descent while the other (Matthew usually) traces legal descent.

  5. Me–I think it’s an effort (known by foreknowledge) to give something more intruiging than the Da Vinci code ever dreamed of.

    Joking aside, interesting questions and good work. It may be that when the genealogies show folks we normally wouldn’t find there (not talking about the genealogy designed to show royal lingeage), part of the effort is to show that any one can be saved by Christ — sinners, non-Israelites, etc–anyone can be a part of the redemption he came to bring.

  6. I had to note here however that the Gospel of Mark not only doesn’t have a geneology but also seems to assume that the Messiah need not be of the Davidic lineage as found in Mark 12:36. Alternately John presents both possibilities as found in John 7:40-43.

  7. Responding to Comment 2:

    Sure, it is a possibility. I threw it out to see what the venerable Julie Smith thinks about the theory.

  8. MDS,

    LOL! If nothing else, I am waaaay too young to be venerable.

    For this post, my mindset is more about collecting possibilities than making decisions. But FWIW, I think that is a somewhat weaker possibility because you are in effect putting God into the genealogy as the ‘child’ of people to whom God is a parent. Of the options on the table, I think 5(b) is best but still unsatisfying for my money. I think there is another option that fits better–I just don’t know what it is yet!

  9. On issue 5, I think the name Jehoiakim dropped out of the genealogy.

    On issue 6, I favor explanation e, that the number 14 is gematria for David. (If anyone cares about the details, David written in consonantal Hebrew letters is DWD. Daleth (D) is the fourth letter of the alphabet, and so has a numeric value of 4, and waw (W [or V]) is the sixth letter and has a numeric value of 6. You add up the numeric values of the individual letters to get the numeric value of the word. IE 4 + 6 + 4 = 14.

    On issue 9, I lean towards a, being a little too agnostic on the historicity of Luke’s genealogy for g.

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