Understanding Matthew's Genealogy and His "Creative Counting" in 1:17

Have you ever wondered why Matthew and Luke's genealogy of Jesus is different? It is clear to most scholars that Matthew is not intending to create and exhaustive genealogy of Jesus (or more specifically Joseph), but rather a dynastic genealogy. Matthew is using the genealogy to show how Jesus is in the line of dynastic succession. As such, the evangelist is not focused on an exhaustive list.

As some of you know, I am in the final stretch of my PhD dissertation. My study has focused on Davidic tradition and typology in the Gospel of Matthew.

Last week Craig Evans and a few of my friends (Greg Monette, Jesse Richards, Brian LePort) were at Bristol and told me about a presentation on Matthew's genealogy by the awesome NT scholar Francis Watson, as part of a forthcoming monograph on the Gospels. They were kind enough to pass along some of his handouts.

My first dissertation chapter is on the incipit and genealogy of Matthew and so I was interested to see what Watson thinks about Matt 1:17 and the 3 x 14 structure of Matthew. If you're quick at math, you'll see that Matthew counts 42 generations and herein lies the problem – there aren't enough names to get to 14 for the 3rd set. I argue in my chapter, along with other commentators, that Matthew was utilizing gematria (letters equalling numbers) on the Hebrew name David, which adds up to 14. But where there has been a wide range of opinion is how to understand Matthew's "creative counting." Here is a list of options:

  • Matthew miscounted
  • Textual corruption or scribal error. E.g. perhaps Jehoiakim or Abner was a name that got missed in early transmission. (Schonfield)
  • Matthew "rounded up" the third grouping to stress the 3 x 14 pattern (Davies and Allison)
  • Jesus counts as 2 (Jesus is one, Christ is the second) (Stendahl)
  • Matthew counts Jechoniah twice. Augustine argued this. From the handouts I received I see that Watson also takes this position. And I noted a while back that Michael Licona stated this in a nice little YouTube video about the genealogy. (He explains gematria in the video quite nicely too!)
  • The Holy Spirit is counted (Nolan)
  • Mary is counted (Gundry)
  • Jesus' "real" biological father is counted (Schaberg)
  • Jehoiakim is present in the count but not Matthew's genealogy (Brown)
  • The exile is counted as a generation (Chrysostom)
  • David is counted twice (Schöllig)

All of the options assume two things: First, Matthew used a name to represent a "generation." Second, all of the options assume Matthew counted "creatively" by either double-counting one person, adding someone without naming them, or rounding up.

The last option was presented by Johann Bengel in 1858, by Hugo Schöllig in 1968, and was also presented by Stephen Carlson in 2009 at a SECSOR regional meeting (see his post). To this list you can now add Zacharias. And trust me, I'm right !  😏

In a nutshell, David and David alone should be counted twice because Matthew emphasizes David and Jesus as Son of David throughout the Gospel. In addition, David is the 14th name in the genealogy (remember Matt 1:17 and its 3 x 14 structure), and Matthew adds additional focus to David by utilizing gematria and calling him "the king" in the genealogy. But more important than any of that is this point: Matthew himself tells us exactly how to count the genealogy:

“Therefore all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ are fourteen generations.” (Matthew 1:17)

It can be visualized in this way:

This way of counting, Matthew's way, gives us 14 names in each division, with David being counted twice, just like Matthew tells us to.

So to sum up,  this is the best option available because:

  1. It doesn't assume error by Matthew or later scribes
  2. Doesn't assume a missing name
  3. Doesn't arbitrarily choose to double-count a name (Jechoniah or Jesus) just to make the scheme work
  4. Fits Matthew's continual emphasis on Jesus as the Son of David through the Gospel
  5. Counts the "generations" exactly how Matthew tells us to


What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below!

And finally, my favorite book on the genealogy is with fellow Highland PhD student (and now graduate) Jason Hood's published dissertation The Messiah, His Brothers, and the Nations. If you're interested in Matthew's genealogy, check it out!




Posted by Danny Zacharias.
Posted on July 8, 2014 and filed under Biblical Studies.