Three 14 Generations
Matthew’s genealogy tracks down the forefathers of Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. Matthew divides the genealogy into three divisions of fourteen generations. “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17).
Matthew’s three-part division of the genealogy is created to provide a historical clear-cut eras for the Jews. During the first, from Abraham to David, the Hebrew system was basically patriarchal; during the second, the Hebrew system was monarchic; and during the third, the Hebrew system was under the rule of different foreign nations.
Shortened Lists to Aid Memorization
It is obvious from the account that Matthew 1 leaves out at least four names the author would have added if he intended to write a full genealogy (Matthew 1: 8, 11). There may have been other exclusions in that part of the list dealing with the intertestamental period, for from Abraham to Christ, with everything included, Luke gives 56 names to Matthew’s 41 (Matthew 1:15).
For that reason, when Matthew 1:17 mentions the phrase “all the generations” he obviously points to those he has listed, and not to all the forefathers of Jesus who actually lived and might have been included in a full list. Perhaps the number of names in the second and third parts of the genealogy were modified to match with the number in the first part. Matthew may have used a shortened, numerically uniformed list, to be easy for memorization.
The OT and Jewish Historians Used Abbreviated Lists
Shortened lists are common and are used in the Old Testament. For example, in Ezra 7:1, 5, the scribe probably omits the names of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, who were not famous, and affirms his descent from Seraiah, the last high priest to minister in Solomon’s Temple (2 Kings 25:18).
But that shortened genealogy was clearly regarded as acceptable evidence of Ezra’s descent from Aaron, at a time when others were not accepted to the priesthood because they could not provide the proper evidence of their decent. This is seen in the following passage: “These sought their listing among those who were registered by genealogy, but they were not found; therefore they were excluded from the priesthood as defiled” (Ezra 2:62 also Nehemiah 7:64).
Also, the Jewish philosopher Philo and the Jewish historian Josephus, who were contemporaries with Jesus, wrote shortened genealogies that they clearly regarded as sufficient to confirm their ancestry.
42 or 41
Three divisions, each consisted of 14 generations, would add to 42 instead of the 41 documented by Matthew 1. This apparent difference has been explained in different ways. Some suggest that the name Jechonias should be counted twice, as the last name in the second group and the first in the third group. Others believe that Matthew initially listed the name Jehoiakim between those of Josias and Jechonias (Matthew 1: 11).
In His service,
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