Monday, December 05, 2011

"Fourteen" Generations?

This week I preached from Matthew 1:1-17 on the genealogy of Jesus.  Talk about a fun text!  Needless to say, one of the elements of this text that is troubling (at a certain level) is the emphasis by Matthew on "fourteen generations" from Abraham to David, then David to the exile in Babylon, then the exile to the Christ.  When one counts the names in each list it becomes readily apparent that there are not fourteen in all three.  The first is fine, but the other two are not. 

There have been a number of proposals for resolving this and I'll just mention them briefly followed by my own proposal.
1) At least one of the names should be counted in both lists.  For instance, David or Jeconiah.
2) The three groups of fourteen are meant to refer to six groups of seven (which is considered a number of completion).
3) Fourteen should be understood as gematria (where the letters of the alphabet represent numbers) and David in the Hebrew (דָּוִד dawid - only the consonants have numeric value) is 4+6+4 which equals 14.  Thus, David and Jesus connection to him as the Christ is the central point.

The first should be rejected because there is actually no clear indication of adding only one name twice.  It fails to work out intelligibly in any counting.  The second proposal fails because Matthew emphatically notes "fourteen" and not seven.  This would also place Jesus within the groups and fails to actually count the names.  The third (being the leading preference for interpreting this passage) falls short (in my opinion) because it requires a Hebrew gematria reading of a Greek text, which seems overly complex.  The use of a name being equal to the number is also not noted (as elsewhere in Scripture - cf. Rev.13:18).

My own proposal is simply to consider the "fourteen" generations for each of the groups as referring to the fulness of time.  This is then taken to point to Jesus as the Christ coming in the line of the promise to Abraham to bless all the nations, and to king David to have a son who would sit on the throne forever.  Thus, making this text a wonderful fit for Advent season (on which also see the post by Dan Thompson concerning "hope").  To be certain, the number "fourteen" in this context is ambiguous at best.  One can only guess that Matthew's original audience understood what was meant.  So what are your thoughts?


  1. I had always thought that fourteen was chosen to enable a three-fold symmetry. i.e. Each section of the geneology is the same length. This would emphasize the three. However, this does not answer whether the fourteen also has significance in some other way.

    As to that, I can't think of anything that isn't convoluted. The sum to forty-two reminds me of the forty-two months in Revelation. I cannot think of a valid connection, besides the actual number, though. Purim takes place on the fourteenth of Adar. Again, I can't think of a good connection.

    I can't think of a reasonable answer for the implications of the fourteen itself.

    1. I totally agree that is intended for symmetrical purposes (and not as a mathemetical-historical total counting of generations...which it patently can not be). Its intention beyond that it is intentional and creates symmetry and speaks to Christ as fulfillment of the promise and hope in Abraham and David is lost to me. Perhaps this is all that really is intended, but the rather emphatic use of "14" leaves me to wonder at its greater significance. Thanks for your comment.


Your comments and questions are always appreciated. :-)