Matthew's False
Prophetic Pattern

Joseph Francis Alward
May 8, 1998

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Divine Arithmetic

Because creation lasted six days and god rested on the seventh, the number seven is perhaps the most sacred in the Old Testament. Likewise, multiples of seven are part of what Old Testament writers may have regarded as a divine arithmetic. Thus, one speaks of a week of days, or a week of years (seven years). The prophet Daniel, for example, predicted that there would be a period of seventy weeks (490 years) from the end of the Babylonian exile until the coming of the messiah (Daniel 9:24-27).  As we shall see below, Matthew, apparently in a misguided belief that Jesus' genealoogy should contain a prophetic numerical pattern based on divine "weeks", forced Jesus' genealogy into a grouping of two "weeks" of ancestors, and in so doing, had to omit four names, and count one twice.

Matthew's Prophetic Pattern

At the end of his genealogy Matthew presents a summary of the generations he listed. Matthew says, "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations." (Matthew 1:17 )  Matthew, evidently, was impressed with the apparent existence of such a perfect prophetic pattern of three consecutive two-week groupings. As Randel Helms [1] points out,

Fourteen equals two "weeks" of generations, and three two week periods (14 +14+14) equal six 'weeks' of pre-Christian generations in the royal line of Israel; thus, with Jesus begins the seventh, the 'sabbath' week of Jewish monarchical history--the kingdom, restored under Christ. Matthew included a genealogy not because he was really interested in the ancestry of Jesus--presumably he had the wits to grasp the pointlessness of tracing the genealogy of Joseph, who his own narrative denies is Jesus' father--but because he was interested in the pattern, the prophetic fulfillment.

Note above that even though Matthew includes a tale of virgin birth elsewhere (see
Virgin Birth), he seems bent on convincing the reader that Jesus descended from King David. There were thus at least two reasons for including the genealogy: (1) to prove that Jesus was a blood descendant of King David, as prophesied in the Old Testament, and (2) to emphasize the existence of a divine pattern of generations leading down to Jesus. Let us now take a close look at Matthew's genealogy of Jesus to see how his verses have been deceiving readers for almost two thousand years.

Matthew's Genealogy of Joseph and Jesus

We have taken the genealogy listed in Matthew 1:1-16 and compared it to the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1:34 - 3:17. Readers who check Chronicles will note that Jacob's old name, Israel, was used. The names shown in the brackets--Ajaziah, Joash, Amaziah, and Jeohoiakim--appear in Chronicles but not in Matthew.

to David
1 Abraham   2 Isaac   3 Jacob   4 Juda   5 Phares   6 Esrom   7 Aram   8 Aminadab
9 Naasson  10 Salmon  11 Booz  12 Obed  13 Jesse  14 David
David to
the Exile
1 David  2 Solomon  3 Roboam  4 Abia  5 Asa  6 Josaphat  7 Joram  8 [Ahaziah]  
9  [Joash]   10 [Amaziah]
 11 Ozias  12 Joatham  13 Achaz  14 Ezekias  15 Manasses  
16 Amon  17 Josias  
18 [Jehoiakim]       (Matthew omitted names in brackets.)
Exile to
1 Jeconias  2 Salathiel  3 Zorobabel  4 Abiud  5 Eliakim  6 Azor  7 Sadoc  8 Achim  
9 Eliud  10 Eleazar  11 Matthan  12 Jacob  13 Joseph  14 Jesus

The generations from Abraham to David are, indeed, fourteen, just as Matthew said. But, the second group of names poses a problem for Matthew. The Old Testament shows that from David until the carrying away into Babylon are eighteen generations, not fourteen. The four names in the brackets seem to have been deliberately snipped out of the list by someone, perhaps Matthew, perhaps to fit the imagined or hoped-for prophecy pattern. It is not as if these men were insignificant; two of them--Ahaziah and Jehoiakim--were kings.

We will perhaps never know whether Matthew deliberately omitted the four names from his genealogy, or whether the sources upon which he based his writings were incomplete or faked. Either way, it is evident that there were not, as Matthew asserts, fourteen generations from David to the time of the exile into Babylon; there were eighteen.

An Attempted Harmonization

An inerrantist from Bristow, Virginia, attempts to harmonize the author's allegation of error as follows:

The 'fourteens' of Matthew represent a Hebraic practice of grouping to create symmetry, or facilitate recollection. Such literary devices are common and perfectly acceptable. One need not assume that Matthew claimed only fourteen generations existed between David and the exile; all that must be assumed is that all the generations can be encompassed in a fourteen generation summary.

Thus, according to this fundamentalist's logic, it would have been legitimate for Matthew, for example, to have made a list of fourteen names beginning with Adam and ending with Jesus and claimed that "there are fourteen generations between Adam and Jesus" (there are actually dozens). This is an obvious contrivance, invented to hide evidence which clearly shows that the Bible is in error.  

A second inerrantist, Horace A. ("Buster") Dobbs, a Church of Christ minister, offered these words to the author in lieu of a harmonization:

That there should be difficulty in these genealogies is not surprising, considering, first, the want of sufficient materials of comparison; second, the double or triple names given to the same persons; third, the intermediate names omitted; fourth, the name of sons given to those who were only in the direct line of descent, and of brothers to those who were only collaterally related; and, finally, the Levirate law, by which one is called the son, not of his actual, but of his Levirate father. From these causes great perplexity and much discussion have arisen, nor is it possible to solve every difficulty.

The Dobbs explanation fails: there is no evidence that any of the names listed in Chronicles are repeats, and if intermediate names were omitted in Chronicles that would have only worsened the discrepancy. The same remarks apply to naming of sons: if some sons were left out of the Chronicles genealogy, then there were actually more than eighteen generations, and Matthew's error becomes even greater.



It may not have escaped the attention of the reader that I've included David's name twice: once at the end of the first group, and again at the beginning of the second group. I do--even though it makes Matthew's precious groupings seem even more contrived than it already is--to give Matthew the benefit of the doubt. If I did not include David in the second group as well as the first, then Matthew's second group would have to include Jeconias at its end. However, if we place Jeconias at the end of the second group, I would have to remove his name from the top of the third group, which would leave the third group with only thirteen names.

Matthew's genealogy not only has the big problem with the discarded four names from the Old Testament, but it also is guilty of double-counting David's generation. One may thus conclude that Matthew's description of the genealogy as being in the form of three paired weeks of generations is not only seriously flawed but seemingly contrived.  This is not necessarily a deliberate deception; it is more likely a reflection of the sincere belief by the author of Matthew that the genealogy of Jesus must somehow be related to the sacred number seven.

[1] Gospel Fictions, Randel Helms, Prometheus Books, page 46-47.