Questions From Readers
● How are we to understand Matthew 1:17, which speaks of three sets of generations (fourteen for each set) from Abraham to Jesus Christ, although the previous verses list only forty-one generations?—Belgium.
There is a simple explanation to this seeming difficulty. It is apparent that Matthew counted David twice, not taking into consideration the total but only the uniformity of the three groups of fourteen names or generations as a memory aid. As Matthew himself puts it: “All the generations, then, from Abraham until David were fourteen generations, and from David until the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon until the Christ fourteen generations.”
When such genealogical lists as that found at 1 Chronicles chapters 1 to 3 are taken into consideration, it appears that there were at least forty-six generations from Abraham to Jesus Christ. Matthew abbreviated the list by omitting three kings of Judah who were the offspring of King Jehoram and murderous Queen Athaliah. She was the daughter of wicked Queen Jezebel and usurped the throne of Judah for seven years. After listing Jehoram he omits the next three generations or fruits of this wicked alliance, namely, Ahaziah (who reigned but one year), Jehoash (who began to reign at the age of seven), and Amaziah (who reigned for twenty-nine years). Instead, he next names Uzziah, who had a long and prosperous reign until he presumed to take the place of a priest and offer up incense in the temple and was stricken with leprosy. Matthew also omitted the name of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah from his genealogy as well as that of Hananiah the son of Zerubbabel who in turn became the father of Abiud.
Such omissions on the part of Matthew are not to be wondered at, however, for genealogical lists were at times abbreviated. For example, Ezra lists twenty-three names in his priestly genealogy at 1 Chronicles 6:3-14 but lists only sixteen for the same period when giving his own genealogy at Ezra 7:1-5.
In considering Biblical lists of genealogy there are several things to be kept in mind. First of all, it is well to note that the variations were not due to carelessness. The Israelites were greatly concerned with history and were very careful in keeping records. Thus concerning the Genesis Table of Nations (Gen. 10:1-32) we are told that it is “unique in ancient literature. This interest in the nations accurately reflects the biblical emphasis on history. . . . Such preoccupation with history cannot be found in any other sacred literature of the world.”—The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3, p. 515.
Further let it be noted that all the Bible writers were honest men, guided by the high standard of morals set out in the Bible. And, more than that, they were writing under the influence of Jehovah’s holy spirit.—2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21.
It is also well to remember that the way men went about recording things in ancient times was different from the way such things are done today. For example, certain terms took in more meaning than they do today. Thus Abraham spoke to Lot saying: “We men are brothers.” (Gen. 13:8) Yet Abraham actually was the uncle of Lot. Likewise the Babylonian queen referred to Nebuchadnezzar as the father of Belshazzar, when Nabonidus was evidently his father and Nebuchadnezzar his grandfather. (Dan. 5:11) In fact, often “father” is used to refer to a more remote ancestor. Thus repeatedly in the Christian Greek Scriptures Abraham is referred to as “the father of us,” when actually he was a distant forefather.—Acts 7:2; Rom. 4:12; Jas. 2:21, Kingdom Interlinear Translation.
Taking into consideration such factors helps us to understand why Bible writers expressed themselves as they did in recording certain genealogical lists and so removes apparent difficulties.