How Do 13 Names Make Up 14 Generations in Matthew 1:12-16?

Matthew 1:17 talks about three sets of 14 generations. It is well recognized that 14 different names occur from Abraham to David (1:2-6a) and 14 different names from David to Jechoniah (1:6b-11), but there are only 13 different names from 1:12-16.

Has Matthew miscounted? Hardly. There are at least two good explanations for this number of names in the last section of his genealogy.

First, Matthew may be counting inclusively, meaning he is counting a name that was already used in a previous section. This means Jechoniah, who ends the second section as the 14th name, should also be counted as the 1st name in the third section. Matthew’s count would be inclusive because Jechoniah would be included in the generations for both the second and third sections of the genealogy. If Jechoniah can be counted twice, then the count in the third section would be 14 generations, consistent with Matthew’s words in 1:17 (“from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations”).

Second, Matthew may be using the name Jechoniah for two purposes. I’m intrigued by John Nolland’s suggestion that Jechoniah may be “a cipher” for his father Jehoiakim (The Gospel of Matthew, NIGTC, 84). After all, another way to render Jechoniah’s name is Jehoiachin (2 Kgs 24:8-17; 2 Chr 36:9-10), very close to Jehoiakim. Nolland notes that in the LXX, both Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin can be evoked with the same Greek word. In Matthew 1:11, the phrase “Jechoniah and his brothers” is interesting in that Jechoniah didn’t have any brothers mentioned in the Old Testament. Jehoiakim, however, had brothers (cf. 1 Chron 3:15), such as Zedekiah who would succeed his nephew Jehoiachin on the throne. Why didn’t Matthew just end that section of his genealogy with Jehoiakim by name? Because it wasn’t with Jehoiakim that the Babylonian exile began, and apparently Matthew wanted to take the reader to the exile in the second section of the genealogy. But why skip Jehoiakim at all? Why not include his name and then add Jehoiachin (or Jechoniah) too? Because then the count would exceed 14 names, and Matthew is sticking to 14 for his own reasons.

According to Nolland, therefore, Matthew’s addition of “and his brothers” in 1:11 is an indication that Jechoniah points to his father. If Jechoniah (in the second section) serves as a cipher in 1:11 for his father Jehoiakim, then the second occurrence of Jechoniah (or Jehoiachin) in 1:12 isn’t counting the same person twice in the same sense. Put another way, in 1:11 Jechoniah is a cipher for Jehoiakim, and in 1:12 Jechoniah represents only himself. But if Nolland is wrong and Jechoniah isn’t a cipher for Jehoiakim, then the phrase “and his brothers” may remain inexplicable.

Therefore, by either counting Jechoniah inclusively or reckoning him a cipher, the third section of Matthew’s genealogy (1:12-16) contains 14 generations: Jechoniah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, Joseph, and Jesus.

How do you explain 13 names representing 14 generations in Matthew 1:12-16? Do you find Nolland’s suggestion compelling?

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3 thoughts on “How Do 13 Names Make Up 14 Generations in Matthew 1:12-16?

  1. Am I understanding this correctly: Two generations can have their names spelled the same way? Would it be possible that there was a copy error early on, resulting in one generation being left out because a scribe eliminated the other, thinking it was repeat made by mistake?This seems more plausible than Matthew creating a cypher.

    • Jenny,

      Thanks for dropping by. It’s probably not a scribal error because Matthew is following the LXX of 1 Chronicles, which translates at times the same Greek name either as “Jehoiakim” or “Jechoniah.” I won’t reiterate Nolland’s full argument, but if you consult his NIGTC commentary on the matter, you’ll see in fuller form why his argument is very plausible.

      Merry Christmas!

  2. I think Matthew was speaking about 14 × 3 generations which mean PERIODS NOT KINGS.

    1- So from Abraham to David are fourteen generations (periods of time)

    2 – from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations (From David to the time when Jeconiah was still a king and when Babylonians first comes to take Jeconiah in captivity and destroy the city).

    3 – And from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
    (It is another, the third ,period begins when the people went to Babylon to the coming of the Messiah).

    God Bless Everyone.

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