The Threefold Structure of Matt. 1:2-16 – Part 1

I have been suggesting that a possible solution (I will be suggesting another solution later also!) to the “missing generation” problem in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ  is that Matthew’s three groups of 14 “generations” (in v.17) are actually three groups of 14 begettings/births. (The relevant verb in these verses is gennao – to beget, bring forth or give birth to.) In this post and the next I wish to see how this works out when we attempt to allocate the 40 instances of “begetting” or “giving birth to” described in verses 2-16 to these three groups. Matthew never actually mentions the number 42 (i.e. 14×3): but it is nevertheless clear from the numerical difference between 40 and 42 that there will be two “overlaps” in the allocation. If we are on the right track, our task should be reasonably straightforward – after all, at the start of v. 17, Matthew says “Therefore all the genai from Abraham to David . . etc.” Matthew expects us to see that v.17 follows on logically from what has gone before! However, I think Matthew also expects us to be pretty familiar with some OT history – history which he would have known thoroughly and intimately.

Now, Matt. 1:2-16 is broadly chiastic, and we have two “break-points”, symmetrically located, to separate our three groups. These are easy to identify since Matthew has used a particular verbal pattern for them – as I hope to demonstrate.

The first break point is signalled by the two births with which David was involved: his own and that of Solomon. Here’s what Matthew says (vs. 6):

Jesse begat David the king.

David the king begat Solomon (of her of Urias).

(I’m using the Textus Receptus here. Nestle-Aland etc. omit the second occurrence of the words “the king”.)

There is something interesting here – a point to which I will return later: Matthew is referring to David as the king at the moment of his birth – even though he only officially became king of Judah aged 30 years (and king of all Israel aged  37 years 6 months)  later. Now a schoolboy might write in his homework, “Elizabeth of York gave birth to Henry the Eighth”. This  is (fortunately) not correct, even though we know what he means – but Matthew surely has his reasons for deliberately speaking in this way!

Anyway, David is referred to twice, and both times as “the king”. The actual “becoming king” event occured at some point in time between the two begettings.

When we come to the second break point, we have the same pattern, but this time, instead of David, we have Jechonias (i.e. Jechoiachin), and instead of the description, “the king”, the description is “the carrying away of (to) Babylon” (v.11):

Josiah begat Jechonias (and his brethren) at the time of the carrying away to Babylon.

After the carrying away of Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel.

We note, that the begetting of Jechonias is said to take place “at (epi) the time of the carrying away to Babylon”. In fact, as Matthew (and everyone else) knew, Jechonias was born 18 years before the first, (the main) carrying away. (There were actually two carryings away, the second, which completed the first, 11 years later). (There again, I could press the point that David, in a sense, became king in two phases – first in Hebron over Judah and the second, which completed the first, in Jerusalem over all Israel and Judah seven and a half years later. (2 Sam. 5:5)). The carrying away itself, by any reckoning however, separates the two begettings involving Jechonias. (For example, in 1 Chron. 3:17, Salathiel (Shealtiel) is described as the son of Jechoniah the captive.)

Thus, we have the same, analogous, pattern at the two break points:

1) At David’s birth he is said by Matthew already to be king – even though that event occurred later.

2) Jechonias’ birth is said by Matthew to be “epi (around, near etc.) the carrying away of Babylon” – even though that actual event occurred later.

3) The event of becoming king separates the two “begetting” events of David’s life (i. e. being born and begetting).

4) The event of the Babylonian deportation separates the two corresponding begetting events of Jechonias’ life.

5) Both of Matthew’s break points contain one additional piece of information – the notice about Uriah’s wife and the notice about the brethren of Jechonias. These additional notices are “chiastically” placed with regard to the overall structure of vs. 2-16:


. . . . .

1st begetting involving David

2nd begetting involving David (+mention of the wife of Uriah)

. . . . . . .

midpoint of chiasm

. . . . . .

1st begetting involving Jechonias (+mention of his brethren)

2nd begetting involving Jechonias

. . . . .

Jesus Christ


6) Furthermore, the (unnamed) Bathsheba is involved in David’s begetting event, (since she is Solomon’s mother) and the (un-named) brethren of Jechonias are involved in Jechonias’ begetting event – since they also are “begotten of Josiah”! There is much more to be said about these brethren – a topic to which we will return. For now, we note that Zedekiah (actually Jehoiachin’s uncle – 2 Ki. 24:17) was a son of Josiah and he is described as Jehoiachin’s brother (2 Chron. 36:10) and he also went into captivity to Babylon! I believe Matthew takes “brother” literally here (i.e. not just a general reference to “kinsman”).

7) Perhaps I could just slip in one additional point about this. Matt. 1:2-16 is 240 words long (in the Textus Receptus). This is 80×3. The break points by word count occur between the 80th and 81st words, and between the 160th and 161st words. The first break point is exactly between the name (David) and the key descriptor of his life – “the king”. Thus it corresponds to the point in time that divides his begettings (i.e. his accession to the kingship – the moment in time when David makes the transition from not being a king to being king):

ton   Dabid        ton  basilea  (this is the 1st of the two occurrences of these words.)

the   David   //   the   king

79       80      //     81     82  (this is the word count)

The second break point is:

ton Jechonian        kai tous       adelphous autou         epi tes metoikesias Babylonos

the Jehoiachin      and the       brothers   of him          at   the deportation of Babylon

 159   160   //     161         162   (this is the word count)

Once again, this is the first of the two occurrences of the words “Jechonias” and “the deportation of Babylon”.

Can you see that the break point once again comes exactly between the name of the individual (Jehoiachin) and the key descriptor of his life – the deportation of Babylon? Thus the break point corresponds to that point in time which divides his two begettings – the moment of transition from being free to being a captive in Babylon. Furthermore, in this case, the division is also in the very middle of the notice about the brothers. This notice is split in the middle because they participated only in the first of the begettings, but not the second. Had they participated in both, the break would have been at 162//163. Had they participated in neither, the break would have occurred at 158//159. The mathematical precision of the positioning of the two break points – both with regard to Matthew’s three time periods (for the allocation of the 40 births/begettings) and particularly with regard to the notice regarding Jechoniah’s brethren, is devastating!! As a point of interest, Zedekiah, one of the “brothers” was indeed taken into captivity in Babylon, but had his sons slain first (2 Kings 25:7) – a dramatic inversion of the fate of Jehoiachin who subsequently fathered sons in captivity.

7) The “additional notice” about David refers to a begetting which took place during the time period when he was actually king. The other begetting took place before the kingship. The chiastically corresponding additional notice about Jechonias refers to a begetting which took place during a time period which Matthew calls “epi (around, on or near) the deportation of Babylon”. The other begetting took place after (Gk: meta) the deportation.

This is all getting rather complicated! I’m sorry it’s complicated – I suspect it is complicated for us because we don’t really tend to think, or write, along the same sort of lines as Matthew. If we knew, and had “lived amongst”, all the history, prophecy, Psalms etc. in the way Matthew clearly did, I think we would follow it all much more readily. Anyway, I will save the discussion of how I think Matthew intends us to allocate the 40 births/begettings to the three groups for the next post.

Categories: Matthew's Genealogy of Christ

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