Below are some random observations about the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17. I’m trying to sort through which observations are truly significant and may be part of Matthew’s design that the readers should discern. I welcome any feedback you may have about the points.
(1) There are 41 generations listed from (and including) Abraham to Jesus.
- 14 generations from Abraham to David: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Perez, Hezon, Ram, Amminadab, Nashon, Salmon, Boaz, Obed, Jesse, David
- 14 generations from David to the exile: Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asaph, Jehoshaphat, Joram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amos, Josiah, Jechoniah
- 13 generations from the exile to Jesus: Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, Joseph, Jesus
The reason this is important to observe is Matthew’s comment in 1:17: “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” Why does Matthew say the third group had fourteen generations when he only listed thirteen? I’ve read some answers to this question, but for now I’m just mentioning the issue.
(2) The middle name in the list of 41 generations is Uzziah. I don’t know if this matters at all. But with an odd number of generations, I thought it might be interesting to count to the 21st name and see who’s situated in the center. Would there be any justification for posting a chiasm out of this genealogy? It is interesting to me that the third name from the top (Matt 1:2) and the third from the bottom (Matt 1:15) is Jacob. While those names would match in chiastic form, it is difficult to find compelling matches after that. But if you do find a chiasm appealing, what’s the point of Uzziah occupying the center?
(3) Various commentators suggest the sources of Matthew’s genealogy to be Ruth 4:18-22 and 1 Chronicles 2 — 3. In 1 Chronicles 2, various women are mentioned as well as their descendants, perhaps showing precedent for what Matthew did in his inclusion of four Old Testament women. Tamar’s name appears in 1 Chronicles 2:4. Bathsheba (or Bath-shua) appears in 1 Chronicles 3:5.
(4) If Matthew relied on the genealogies in Ruth 4 and 1 Chronicles 2 — 3, he inserted two female names–Rahab and Ruth–and used a circumlocution (“the wife of Uriah”) for a third (Bathsheba). Perhaps Matthew logically inserts Ruth’s name because of the Ruth 4 genealogy. She is clearly the husband of Boaz in the genealogy there. The inclusion of Rahab is especially interesting, then, since there is neither a reason from Ruth nor a precedent in 1 Chronicles 2 — 3 to use it.
(5) In using 1 Chronicles 2 — 3, Matthew knew that the name Bathsheba (or Bath-shua) was in 1 Chronicles 3:5 but didn’t use it. Instead he referred to Bathsheba as “the wife of Uriah.” Why? I find Luz’s explanation most likely: “Tamar was Aramaic, Rahab a Canaanite and Ruth a Moabite. All three were non-Israelites. Bathsheba, on the other hand, was an Israelite who only became a non-Israelite through her marriage to the Hittite Uriah. This explains why she is not mentioned by her own name” (The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew, 26). So Bathsheba may have been a Jewish lady, given the fact that 1 Chronicles 3:5 says she is “the daughter of Ammiel.” Matthew, in order to emphasize her mixed marriage, refers to Uriah as “the Hittite.” Some scholars say Matthew uses a circumlocution for Bathsheba’s name because he wants to draw attention to the fact that she had been married to Uriah when she slept with David. That argument goes in tandem with the view that the common denominator of all four Old Testament women is their sexual indecency, but I recently explained why I don’t think that’s the unifying factor. Matthew has a Gentile emphasis to make.
(6) Matthew sees these women as providentially located at important stages in Israel’s history. In other words, it seems these four ladies are strategically located. If not, why include four women and not just two or three? Why even bother with Bathsheba? Why insert Rahab when no previous genealogy used her? Because of the sources Matthew used, there was already reason enough to include Tamar and Ruth, and two Gentiles surely would have made his point of Gentile emphasis. But if we look at the time periods these names apply to, we may discern the importance Matthew sees for including all four Old Testament women. Tamar, in her union with Judah, is associated with the age of the patriarchs (for Judah is the son of Jacob) and the Twelve Tribes (of which Judah is one). Rahab is associated with the conquest in the book of Joshua. Ruth’s story takes place in the period of the judges when Israel had no king and did what was right in their own eyes. Bathsheba’s life takes place in the days of King David, the most important of all Israel’s kings. These significant time periods–patriarchs and tribes, conquest, judges, kingship–may provide a clue as to why Matthew included the particular women he did.
(7) The Law, Prophets, and Writings all find representation in these four Old Testament women. Tamar is in the Law, Rahab and Bathsheba are in the Prophets, and Ruth is in the Writings. Is this significant at all? If only one woman could fit into each part of the Tanak, I’d find this more compelling, but the Prophets has two (Rahab and Bathsheba).
(8) All the Old Testament women in the genealogy lived prior to the kingdom’s division. The last one mentioned is “the wife of Uriah,” and the kingdom was still united at that point. Is it significant that no Old Testament women are mentioned in the genealogy after Israel divides?
(9) The three section-endings may be designed to highlight three crucial facts. The first section (Abraham to David) ends with kingship in the Promised Land, the second section (David to the exile) ends with exile from the land and a kingdom destroyed, and the third section (the exile to Jesus) ends with the return from the greatest exile. Jesus came as the son of Abraham and son of David to lead a new exodus from sin and death, and in so doing he would be the Davidic king with eternal rule. Kingship established, kingdom destroyed, True King arrives with eternal kingdom.
(10) The order of the names in Matthew 1:1 is reversed as the genealogy is unpacked. Many scholars acknowledge this. Matthew 1:1 has the names Jesus, David, and Abraham, and when the genealogy itself commences, first up is Abraham (1:2) and later David (1:6) and finally Jesus (1:16-17).
(11) The phrase “and his brothers” occurs twice. The first occurrence of “and his brothers” is in Matthew 1:2 in the phrase “Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.” The first occurrence is probably a summary of 1 Chronicles 2:1-2 as Judah’s line is about to be given. The second occurrence of “and his brothers” is in Matthew 1:11 in the phrase “Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.” This second occurrence is probably a summary of 1 Chronicles 3:15-16. Put another way, Matthew’s use of 1 Chronicles 2 — 3 is probably what leads him to insert the phrase “and his brothers” twice in his genealogy (cf. Matt 1:2, 11).
(12) The second section of Matthew’s genealogy is comprised of kings. This fact contrasts with the first (1:1-6) and third (1:12-16) sections. When Matthew mentions David, he calls him “the king,” and from then on, in the second section, the names are all kings.
Do you have other observations about the genealogy? Do any or all of these observations have merit? Are there any that are just plain crazy?