I am a believer. I believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah. I believe Matthew chapter 1 does an adequate job of presenting Jesus as the Messiah. So then, what does someone like me do with the very real problems presented in Matthew chapter one??? What do I do when Matthew declares something as fact, when it isn’t? Do I face the problems, or ignore them? What about you?
Well, I don’t believe it is a good thing to ignore or make excuses for the hurdles that are presented in this chapter. I’m actually fascinated by them and accept them for what they are. We can learn something from them. Shall we begin?
So, what is the problem?
Matthew declares as fact that there are 14 generations from King David to the deportation of Babylon. He declares it in Scripture as fact. 1 Chronicles says there are 18, and tells their stories in subsequent chapters and books. Something appears to be seriously wrong. This is very important and I will explain.
When you compare Scripture with Scripture, the genealogy in Matthew has some glaring omissions. Here is a side-by-side comparison of Scriptural accounts concerning the same, exact genealogical line containing the portion from King David to the time of Babylonian Captivity.
Matthew 1: 6-16
1 Chronicles 3:10-16
As you can see, Kings Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, and Jehoiakim are all missing from Matthew’s list. In one slot, Matthew skips over three generations when declaring “Joram the father of Uzziah”. Joram was actually the great, great, grandfather of Uzziah and not merely the “father of Uzziah”. Josiah was actually the grandfather of Jeconiah. The omission of these four kings causes Matthew’s list to appear to lose some degree of exactitude and preciseness. Compared to 1 Chronicles, Matthew’s list is incomplete.
Why is the genealogical record so important?
1. Because God had made specific messianic promises to five people! He told Adam, Abraham, Judah, Jesse, and David that the Messiah would be one of their descendants. If a person bypassed any of these people they could not be the Messiah.
|Adam||Genesis 3:15||Luke 3:38|
|Abraham||Genesis 22:18||Matthew 1:1-2, Luke 3:34|
|Judah||Genesis 49:10, Micah 5:2||Matthew 1:2-3, Luke 3:33|
|Jesse||Isaiah 11:1, 10||Matthew 1:5-6, Luke 3:33|
|David||2nd Samuel 7:12-13||Matthew 1:1 & 6, Luke 3:31|
So what is Matthew trying to do with his genealogical list?
Matthew is writing to the Jewish people and trying to establish the Kingly lineage of Jesus Christ and link Him as the heir to the throne of David. He is trying to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah, and that Jesus is a descendant of Abraham. In this case, Matthew is showing the lineage of Joseph (the legal father of Jesus). Luke showed the biological lineage through Mary. So, this is a very important list.
By our standards, the account in Matthew appears incomplete when compared to 1 Chronicles. But we have to ask, are our standards the same as Jewish standards of that time?
Clarke’s commentary on the Bible gives us a consoling explanation: It is observed that omissions of this kind are not uncommon in the Jewish genealogies. In Ezra 7:3, Azariah is called the son of Meraioth, although it is evident, from 1 Chronicles 6:7-9, that there were six descendants between them! This circumstance the evangelist was probably aware of; but did not see it proper to attempt to correct what he found in the public accredited genealogical tables; as he knew it to be of no consequence to his argument, which was merely to show that Jesus Christ as surely descended, in an uninterrupted line from David, as David did from Abraham. And this he has done in the most satisfactory manner; nor did any person in those days pretend to detect any inaccuracy in his statement; though the account was published among those very people whose interest it was to expose the fallacy, in vindication of their own obstinate rejection of the Messiah, if any such fallacy could have been proved. But as they were silent, modern and comparatively modern unbelievers may for ever hold their peace. The objections raised on this head are worthy of no regard; yet the following statement deserves notice. St. Matthew took up the genealogies just as he found them in the public Jewish records, which, though they were in the main correct, yet were deficient in many particulars.”
Does this explanation solve the problem?
Not entirely. If Matthew had just written his list and left it alone, we may not have a problem. We would just view it as a jewish genealogical trait. But, Matthew compounds the problem for us by declaring with stated precision that there are 14 generations from David to Babylon. He couldn’t just leave the list alone, he went ahead and declared it as truth that there are 14 generations. “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.” According to the list in 1 Chronicles, they were 18 generations from David to Babylon, not 14. In the fullest literal sense, one of these lists is incomplete or wrong. Read slowly and carefully to the words I’m about to write: If you take what Matthew writes in ink, that there are 14 generations from David to Babylon, to be entirely and fully absolute, then it becomes a false statement.
How do we resolve this? Is there a valuable lesson to learn in this?
Yes, we would be wise to compare scripture with scripture to get the full picture from anything that is written in Scripture. You can’t read everything in the fullest, literal sense. If you read the scripture which says, “with God nothing is impossible” and took that to the fullest literal sense, you would have to absolutely believe that God could lie, since absolutely nothing is impossible. But the Scripture also says, “It is impossible for God to lie”. In another instance, Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “For there is not a just (hebrew word: ṣad·dîq) man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” Yet, Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a just (hebrew word: ṣad·dîq) man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”
If you take all of these verses to their fullest, most literal, absolute extent, then you have a battle of dried ink vs. dried ink. We must depend first and foremost upon the living, flowing Holy Spirit to explain what is written in dried ink. Maybe Matthew was reading from a Jewish list that only had 14 generations. So, Matthew would have been right in stating “this list has 14”, but that doesn’t mean the list is fully true. You have to view everything.
Matthew shows us that we have a living, breathing King Jesus, who came to us as a baby that could be held, touched, and embraced in our arms. You can hold Him while He holds you. Whether 14 or 18 generations, He is the living fulfillment of God’s promises to the 5 men. He is Grace personified. He is the true Word of God. The Living Word was conceived through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brought forth Living Word. We must also let the Spirit bring forth that which is written and promised to us. He was given the name “Jesus”. Jesus is the one who saves now. He is Emmanuel, and He is with us now.
My trust is in the one whose blood flows and covers me now to show me the truth of what was dried in ink long ago. Remember, Peter listened to the breathing voice in the book of Acts that said “Go and eat” animals that the written word had forbidden for him to eat. What should he have done?…Listen to the Spirit? Or continue in the written word and abstain from these things? Tough questions. Peter knew the voice of the Spirit. Be filled with the Spirit.