“Now all the births from Abraham to David: fourteen births . . . ” (Matt. 1:17)

In a previous post, I suggested that one possible solution to the “missing generation” problem in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ is that the “generations” that Matthew speaks of in Matt. 1:17 are the 40 births or begettings from Abraham to Christ described in vs. 2-16, not the 41 male individuals comprising Jesus’ family tree – as, it seems, is more-or-less universally understood by commentators (please let me know of any exceptions!)

Although, on reflection,  I think I actually currently prefer a second solution –  the one sees the missing generation as King Jehoiakim – in this post I wish to show how the above “generation = birth” solution works out in practice.

On the “generation = birth” hypothesis, the account of 40 births in vs. 1-17 leads naturally into v.18 where Matthew begins his detailed account of the last and most important of these births – that of Jesus Christ: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way . . . .

I think part of the difficulty with recognising this possibility is that our bible translations use a number of different English words to translate Greek words that are cognates and closely connected in meaning. Thus, in the RSV, v.1 speaks of the genealogy of Jesus Christ , verse 2 tells us that Abraham was the father of Jacob, v. 16 that Jesus was born of Mary and v. 17 that the generations from Abraham to David were 14 in number. This really obscures the fact that these four words, genealogy, father, born and generation are all from the same root in Greek – a word meaning “to be born”. Thus, in v.17 for example the word for generations in v.17 is geneai the plural of genea. This, according to the NIV theological Dictionary of New Testament Words is “derived from the root gen- and means birth, also (noble) descent, then descendants, family, race. . . Those born at the same time constitute a generation.” Thus, I suggest we are not at all obliged to translate this word as generation. Likewise, genealogy in v.1 is the familiar Greek word genesis meaning birth, (and hence) origin, and (also hence) lineage. It is in fact the very same word as occurs in v.18 – where it is translated as “birth”. So, why not be consistent, and use the same translation in both places for the same word – instead of obscuring the link that Matthew has made? The root meaning birth fits well in both instances. The objection that “the word in v.1 cannot mean birth because Matthew immediately goes on in vs. 2-16 to give a genealogical table” is countered by the observation that one can argue that actually, Matthew doesn’t give a genealogical table in vs. 2-16, he gives a series of births – all the ones in fact that lead up to the most important birth of all. Finally, “was the father of” is the Greek word, egennesen – “beget, bring forth, birth”. I think by the time readers and listeners in Greek reached v.18 –  and the 46th occurrence of a “gen-” word – they would have got the picture and be well and truly  ready to settle in for Matthew’s exciting account of a marvellous birth!

Once we start to work with the “birth” meaning of “geneai” in v. 17, we will find that the problems that scholars have found in attempting to fit the male names in Jesus’ family tree in vs. 2-16 into three groups of fourteen of v. 17 will disappear. But will they be replaced by other difficulties?! Please let me know what you think!

Categories: Matthew's Genealogy of Christ

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