12 Observations and Questions about the Genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel

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?

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2 thoughts on “12 Observations and Questions about the Genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel

  1. Pingback: Those Four Old Testament Women in Matthew’s Genealogy | Soli Deo Gloria

  2. Hello Mitchell Chase!
    Today I discovered your blog with the twelve observations on Matthew’s genealogy. Having studied this in depth myself over a period of several years, I have a few comments to make which may help you in your own study. To keep this brief, I will use your numbering system and go point by point, then add at the end. Please don’t be offended by any of my criticisms, even if you don’t like what I have to say. I want to save you from some of the rabbit trails I have been down due to obvious errors I followed from the commentators I read.
    “(1) There are 41 generations listed from (and including) Abraham to Jesus.” This is a mistake. There are actually 42 generations here. The “missing man” is Mary. Harry Allen Ironside and a few others have pointed this out previously. One of them made the point that Mary is the only human parent of Jesus. Therefore, the missing man is a woman. I will explain more about this below.
    “(2) The middle name in the list of 41 generations is Uzziah. I don’t know if this matters at all. …But if you do find a chiasm appealing, what’s the point of Uzziah occupying the center?” I had never considered this, so Bravo! Although I do not think that the genealogy is a chiasm, the center of any list is always a possibility to check anyway. In this case, since Matthew is trying to demonstrate that Jesus is the rightful king of Israel, Isaiah 6:1 is a very revealing verse along the lines of your thinking, since the Lord is sitting on a throne when Uzziah dies.
    “(3) Various commentators suggest the sources of Matthew’s genealogy to be Ruth 4:18-22 and 1 Chronicles 2 — 3.” I disagree here. Matthew probably did not write any of this genealogy himself, but merely copied it from the legal records in the Temple (which later burned down as you know). Matthew’s aim was not just recording genealogy, but demonstrating a line of succession of a king which would withstand tests as a legal document.
    The scribes had already edited the records of 1 Chronicles 2-3 in recording the lines of succession. This is the reason for the names included and those left out. Matthew is the one who observed the 14 generation patterns.
    “(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).” The names of Tamar, Rahab and Ruth are included due to the problems of their nationality, which have to be explained in a line of succession to show that it is a legitimate line.
    Although Tamar’s behavior was not commendable as far as her method went, her results, to continue Judah’s tribal line, were commendable, since Judah had failed to obey God in this matter. Tamar’s courage was therefore much like Esther’s–she risked her life for her family’s continuance. Tamar is Hebrew for palm tree, which is a symbol of righteousness. So Tamar was actually a heroine. Ruth was notable for her devotion and love of God’s people and God, which she demonstrated in courage by leaving her homeland to follow Naomi and by taking Naomi’s advice in relation to Boaz. Ruth also built the tribe, as we see at the end of Ruth. Ruth is Hebrew for friend and is the name often given even now to female converts to Judaism. Ruth is also a heroine.
    Rahab was another woman of courage (despite her nationality and unclean sinful behavior) which she demonstrated by protecting the spies, helping Israel to overthrow Jericho, because she believed in God and wanted to be on His side. Notice that she too saved her family. Rahab was a battlefield bride, which required her to go through the cleansing and mourning process told about in the Law before she could marry or join the assembly.
    This also has nothing to do with chiasm, but everything to do with legitimacy of the royal line (back into the tribal period).
    “(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.” As I noted before, the scribes created this record, not Matthew. Bathsheba was left out because she was unimportant. She represented no threat to the succession–but Uriah did! As one of David’s “mighty men” he had a lot of status, even though he was a Hittite. The fact that he was foreign had to be taken into account in case anyone from his family should try to use his connection to David through Bathsheba to challenge for the throne. So the scribes recorded Uriah’s name and not Bathsheba’s.
    “(6) Matthew sees these women as providentially located at important stages in Israel’s history.” Although one can profitably use this genealogy as a guideline for the study of Israel’s history, the main point of it is to prove that Jesus is a legitimate king.
    “(7) The Law, Prophets, and Writings all find representation in these four Old Testament women.” This is another interesting observation, but again probably beside the point. You may be overanalyzing a bit here.
    “(8) All the Old Testament women in the genealogy lived prior to the kingdom’s division.” This is only significant in as far as the legitimacy of the monarchy and the tribal line it is based on are kept in view. Bathsheba is not to be grouped with the tribal division just because she is a woman. She is the mother of a king, not mother of a chieftain.

    “(9) The three section-endings may be designed to highlight three crucial facts.” In this I think you are close to being right, but think of it more in terms of the promise given begins to take shape then dies and is brought back and fulfilled in Christ. Bypassing the curse on Jeconiah is important to understanding the “missing man.”

    “(10) The order of the names in Matthew 1:1 is reversed as the genealogy is unpacked.” This is a good observation of the genealogical formula. The person whose genealogy it is linked to illustrious ancestors, then proven to be their descendant. In this case, to be Messiah of Israel Jesus had to be linked to both Abraham and David.

    “(11) The phrase “and his brothers” occurs twice.” This may fit a chiasm, but the point really is to designate them as the same generation. This is important in the case of the original brothers who became tribal heads (since the first king was from Benjamin and not Judah). The “brothers” of Jeconiah actually included his uncle, who reigned in Jeconiah’s generation rather than his own due to interference by a foreign power. The scribes wanted to make clear that they were considered the same generation in terms of succession.

    “(12) The second section of Matthew’s genealogy is comprised of kings.” As I already stated, this demonstrates the kingly succession and God’s fulfilling of his promise to Abraham.

    Getting back to my promise on point (1):
    The “missing man” is Mary. Harry Allen Ironside and a few others have pointed this out previously. One of them made the point that Mary is the only human parent of Jesus. Therefore, the missing man is a woman.
    Luke shows that Mary comes from a collateral line going back to Solomon’s brother Nathan (whose mother was also Bathsheba). Her line was adopted into Joseph’s while she was pregnant with Jesus in order to protect his kingship rights from any other children Joseph may have had previously (as the Roman Catholics think) or any further children he might have with Mary or any other wives or concubines. Abraham protected Isaac in this way when he sent away Ishmael and Keturah’s children. Since putting Mary’s name in a man’s place sets off the illegitimacy alarm, Matthew immediately explains the situation surrounding Jesus’ birth, and the reader discovers how to write a virgin birth into both a genealogy based on primogeniture and a line of royal succession. The it will take the courageous faith of Tamar, Ruth and Rahab to believe it.

    I believe it. Don’t you?

    Please also note that when Joseph adopted Mary’s line, it put her in a succeeding generation whether their ages were close or not. Also Roman law gave Joseph manus over Mary and all her offspring, so that getting Mary to Bethlehem had legal benefits on the human level as well as fulfilling prophecy.

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