The genealogy in Matthew 1 consists of seventeen carefully crafted verses. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- (1) Matthew 1:1 is the headline that introduces the genealogy.
- (2) Matthew 1:2-16 is the genealogy proper, falling into three sections (1:2-6a, 6b-11, 12-16).
- (3) Matthew 1:17 an exercise in counting, where Matthew points to each section and says, “This one is fourteen generations, and this one, and this one too.”
Fourteen may seem like an unexpected number, given the prevalence of others in the Bible like seven or twelve or three. So why fourteen?
The most commonly argued suggestions among scholars are these:
- (1) Since fourteen is seven doubled, to have three fourteens is to have six sevens. And since the sixth seven (or third fourteen) ends with Jesus, perhaps he launches the seventh seven, or time of perfect fulfillment. Hagner likes this option, and even France prefers it over the next possibility.
- (2) The fourteen is an example of gematria, a practice that assigns numbers to Hebrew letters. The Hebrew letters for David’s name add up to fourteen, so perhaps that explains Matthew’s interest in the number. Osborne and Nolland favor this view, as do Davies and Allison.
The second view seems more likely for the following reasons:
- (1) Jewish readers would be aware of the practice of gematria, so although Matthew’s words were written in Greek, it would not have prevented access to awareness they had about David’s name and the sum of his letters. The strange use of fourteen might in fact invite deeper reflection that would put gematria on the table as an interpretive option.
- (2) The genealogy has an unmistakable Davidic emphasis. David heads the middle section of the genealogy, he is mentioned in the genealogy’s headline (Matt 1:1), and he is the only king given the title “the king” in the genealogy. The first section ends with the arrival of David (1:2-6a), the second section ends with the end of the Davidic throne by exile (1:6b-11), and the third section ends with the arrival of the Son of David, the true king who establishes an eternal rule (1:12-16).
- (3) Matthew uses 1 Chronicles 2–3 as a source for names, and the first section of the genealogy (Matt 1:2-6a) imitates the descent found in 1 Chronicles without omitting a generation from Abraham to David. The count is fourteen names of descent, including both Abraham and David. The number fourteen, then, is not only the count from Abraham to David but is also the sum of David’s name in Hebrew. The other two sections of Matthew’s genealogy are then conformed to a fourteen pattern. Matthew 1:6b-11 and 1:12-16 are incomplete lists not because Matthew is ignorant but because he sees a theological purpose in using a pattern of fourteen. The fourteen maintains the Davidic emphasis he wants to display.
- (4) If Matthew wanted to draw attention to sevens instead of fourteens (as Hagner and France deem likely), then he could have done so by using the number seven explicitly. But Matthew didn’t. He drew attention to three fourteens, and I think we may unintentionally downplay the Davidic emphasis (or at least not fully appreciate Matthew’s design) by halving the three fourteens into six sevens simply because the number seven is used symbolically elsewhere. If Matthew mentioned “fourteen” three times (Matt 1:17), then we should ponder that number. And if we do, then we should see how (through his dependence on 1 Chron 2 and the use of gematria), Matthew is highlighting David. Why is David so important in this scheme of things? Because in 2 Samuel 7, God made a covenant with David, and Jesus is the Son of David who has come to bring fulfillment to those promises.
- (5) If the fourteens should be understood as six sevens that leave the reader longing for fulfillment that only Jesus can bring, then it is important to observe that Jesus’ name doesn’t actually begin a seventh seven, and I think this fact is a weakness of Option 1. Jesus’ name ends the third section of fourteen generations, and thus the seventh seven is not begun by a name Matthew lists. So though it’s commonly asserted that Jesus’ name suggests fulfillment in the genealogy because of a seventh seven Matthew sets up, I’d find the argument more compelling if Jesus’ name actually began a seventh seven. Again, though, his name is the last of the sixth seven. If the third section ended with Joseph’s name, and if Jesus’ name began a seventh seven, I think Option 1 would have more to commend it.
Do you find this argument convincing for why Matthew used “fourteen” to divide his genealogy into three sections? Or is there another view that seems more compelling? Maybe the two common views aren’t mutually exclusive?