Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Timing of Jesus (Matthew 1:17)

How many generations are there between Abraham and Jesus? 42 (Matthew 1:17)

The Gospel of Matthew, and consequently the New Testament as whole, begins with a genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17). It is one of two messianic lineages preserved in the New Testament (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). Georg Strecker (1929-2004) proposed that the genealogy predates Matthew’s gospel (Der Weg der Gerechtigkeit, 138ff) though most now believe the material is entirely the evangelist’s.

From its opening verse Matthew’s “origins story” stresses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1 NASB) and validates this claim by tracing Jesus’ ancestry through David to Abraham (Matthew 1:1-17). In doing so, Matthew makes the Old Testament Jesus’ back story and places him firmly into the history of Israel.

The genealogy is carefully constructed. M. Eugene Boring (b. 1935) notes:

Matthew follows the biblical pattern of incorporating genealogical material into the narrative as a constituent element of the story, adopting the pattern found in Ruth 4:18-22: “A begot B.” ...Thus the genealogy in Matthew is not a list, but a series of short sentences leading from Abraham to Jesus, the narrative unit of the larger story that follows. (Leander E. Keck [b. 1928], Matthew - Mark (The New Interpreter’s Bible), 129)

The passages’s concluding summary statement further reveals its meticulous alignment (Matthew 1:17). Matthew trisects the data into three fourteen generation epochs.

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. (Matthew 1:17 NASB)
The breakdown is not as simple as the summary statement makes it appear; the list has been deliberately edited to elicit literary symmetry (Matthew 1:17). Ulrich Luz (b. 1938) details:
The genealogy consists of a long series of monotonous, short main clauses. Its organization is decoded by Matthew 1:17: it consists of 3 × 14 generations. However, these cannot be found exactly like this in the text: If one follows Matthew 1:17 literally then David must be counted twice, and the second series of 14 goes from him until Josiah. If one counts Josiah also twice, then one gets a second series of 14 until Jesus. Matthew 1:17, however, accentuates the exile as a break, which is clearly marked also in the genealogy. If one does not begin the third series until Matthew 1:12, then one has only 13 generations for it. The structure given in Matthew 1:17 is not patently clear. It can only be explained by literary criticism. (Luz, Matthew 1-7 (A Continental Commentary), 117)
The genealogy is not exhaustive, clearly omitting generations to meets its trifold pattern. This is especially true of the last series of fourteen (Matthew 1:12-16).

R.T. France (1938-2012) recognizes:

In order to keep the number of generations between David and Jehoichin to fourteen, Matthew has had to omit five of the actual kings recorded in Old Testament history: he goes straight from Joram to Uzziah, omitting the three generations of Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (together with the usurping queen-mother Athaliah), and the brothers Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim are omitted between Josiah and Jehoiachin. (France, The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 30)
This strained calculation is purposeful. Michael J. Wilkins (b. 1949) assures:
Matthew skips some generations in Jesus’ family tree so that the structure can be made uniform for memorization, while other members are given prominence to make a particular point. (Clinton E. Arnold [b. 1958], Matthew, Mark, Luke (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 10)
This is not atypical for genealogies. Robert R. Wilson (b. 1942) observes that though omissions occur for various reasons, they are not typically found at the outset of lists where founders are important nor at the end where living memory prevails but rather in the middle of the document (Wilson, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World). This impression fits Matthew’s lineage.

Due to the neglected names, the genealogy is unbalanced chronologically. Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) approximates:

The spans of time covered by the three sections of genealogy are too great to have contained only fourteen generations each, since some 750 years separated Abraham from David, some 400 years separated David from the Babylonian Exile, and some 600 years separated the Babylonian Exile from Jesus’ birth. (Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, 74-75)
In Matthew’s genealogy theology trumps historical precision. William D. Shiell (b. 1972) informs:
As with any other genealogy in the ancient world, Matthew does not include everyone related biologically to Jesus. His is a theological list rather than a family tree, so the list contains the significant names for Matthew’s purposes that reflect a certain picture of Jesus. (Shiell, Sessions with Matthew: Becoming a Family of Faith, 5)
In spite of the summary statement’s assertion (Matthew 1:17), not all of the divisions encompass precisely fourteen names. Craig L. Blomberg (b. 1955) argues that this too is not abnormal to the genre:
The actual number of generations in the three parts of the genealogy are thirteen, fourteen, and thirteen respectively, but ancient counting often alternated between inclusive and exclusive reckoning. Such variation was thus well within standard literary convention of the day (for a good rabbinic parallel, see m. ‘Abot 5:1-6). When once compares the genealogy with Luke’s account and with various Old Testament narratives, it is clear that Matthew has omitted several names to achieve this literary symmetry. But the verb consistently translated...“was the father of” (more literally begat) could also mean was the ancestor of. (Blomberg, Matthew (New American Commentary), 53)
This pliable enumeration is particularly noticeable in the last sequence. As such, many explanations have been offered to explain the purported discrepancy. One of the most common theories is conflation.

Michael J. Wilkins (b. 1949) typifies:

The third group of fourteen generations, from the deportation to Jesus, begins again by counting Jeconiah and ends with Jesus’ name...The name “Jeconiah” may serve as a double entendre to indicate both Jehoiakim and the end of the second group of generations, and also to indicate Jehoiachin and the beginning of the third group of generations after the deportation. On this supposition, the name “Jeconiah” is counted twice to indicate the two different rulers and eras in Matthew’s genealogy. (Wilkins, Matthew (The NIV Application Commentary), 64)
Others, including Krister Stendahl (1921-2008), have conjectured that Jesus and Christ should be tallied as two different generations, with the latter representing the returning Christ (Matthew 1:16).

Though it defies Matthew’s established literary pattern, Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) suggests that Matthew counts Joseph and Mary as separate generations:

To get this third fourteen Matthew probably counts Mary as well as Joseph; i.e. the one chronological generation carries two other kinds of generations within it, a legal (Joseph’s) and a physical (Mary’s)...The counting of Mary harmonizes with Matthew’s distinction between the royal lineage of Jesus through Joseph (cf. Joseph’s being addressed as “son of David” in Matthew 1:20) and the divine generation of Jesus through Mary. (Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution, 19)

Stanley Hauerwas (b. 1940) postulates:

The last group has only thirteen generations because the church that Jesus calls into existence constitutes the fourteenth generation. (Hauerwas, Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 31)
Regardless of how the names are calculated, it can be assumed that the oversight is intentional. Frederick Dale Bruner (b. 1932) asserts:
Matthew knows that some of his audience can read, that they can check his kings with the Old Testament. Matthew is not trying to put something over on us; with the sovereign freedom appropriate to the Messiah’s evangelist, Matthew is simply helping history preach doctrine. He drops about four chapters and four kings from his Old Testament genealogy in order to have a smoother, more memorable chronology — in order to get fourteen....This was John Calvin [1509-1564]’s solution too...Matthew does not falsify, he simplifies — Uzziah was the son of Jothan according to the rabbinic rule that “the sons of sons are also sons.” In obedience to the point of Scripture — Jesus the Christ — Matthew sharpened the pointers to him — the roughly comparable number of generations between Abraham, David the Exile, and Christ — because Matthew believes that this rough comparability best “makes the point” of God’s ordering and gracious providence. (Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 1-12, 17)
Stanley P. Saunders (b. 1953) concurs:
When Matthew repeatedly names “fourteen generations,” he issues an engraved invitation to go back and count. When one does so, however, it becomes clear that the last segment, which runs from Sheatiel to Jesus [Matthew 1:13-16] is defective, yielding but thirteen generations...Did Matthew make a mistake? If so, it likely an intentional “mistake.” Throughout the genealogy Matthew has included surprises, incongruities, and broken patterns. Matthew is training us to attend to the details. Here he creates a puzzle for us to grapple with. Is Jesus to be counted twice, once as Jesus and again as the Christ? Or does Matthew understand Jesus as the one who simultaneously stands as the sole survivor of his generation (cf. Matthew 2:16-18) and again as the firstfruits of the time of resurrection (cf. Matthew 27:51-54). Is he both the “Son of Humanity” (or “the human one” or “Son of Man”) and Son of God, the representative of both God and humankind? Does the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 1:20) represent the thirteenth generation, and Jesus the fourteenth? Matthew does not resolve the puzzle, but compels us to become active interpreters who, in the light of the larger story, must sort out for ourselves who Jesus is. By the end of the genealogy we already know that we should expect the unexpected, look for God’s agents among the vulnerable and powerless, and learn how Jesus fulfills Israel’s history while radically disrupting it. (Saunders, Preaching the Gospel of Matthew: Proclaiming God’s Presence, 4)
While the specifics can be debated, the overarching theme cannot. Donald Senior (b. 1940) determines:
If some of the details remain enigmatic, the overall intent of Matthew’s genealogy is clear. His distillation of Israel’s history brings attention successively to Abraham and patriarchal history, to the image of David the king, to the shattering experience of exile, and to the renewal of hope through the Messiah. (Senior, Matthew (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 37)
David L. Turner (b. 1949) professes:
However one handles this problem, D.A. Carson [b. 1946]’s point (1984: 68) is noteworthy: “The symbolic value of the fourteens is of more significance than their precise breakdown.” Matthew certainly knew basic arithmetic as well as modern scholars do, but Matthew’s literary conventions are ancient, not modern. By modern standards, Matthew’s linear genealogy is artificial because it not exhaustive...It is not that Matthew has erred, since he did not intend to work exhaustively and precisely. (Turner, Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 27)
Whereas Luke’s genealogy is organized around the number seven (Luke 3:23-38), Matthew goes to great lengths to structure Jesus’ ancestry with the integer fourteen (Matthew 1:17). Leon Morris (1914-2006) interjects:
Clearly the number is significant for him, but unfortunately he does not explain why. But the note of fulfillment is strong, and perhaps Marshall D. Johnson (1935-2011) gives us the answer: “The function of the genealogy — the note of fulfillment — explains the lack of a precise and exact parallel with contemporary sources: the two genealogies of Jesus in the New Testament are the only extant Messianic genealogies which are written to prove that the Messiah has come.” We should perhaps bear in mind also the point made by Louis Finkelstein [1895-1991] that the number fourteen was regarded as significant in contemporary Judaism. He says, “The number, ‘fourteen, is not accidental. It corresponds to the number of high priests from the establishment of Solomon’s Temple; the number of high priests from the establishment of the Temple until Jaddua, the last high priest mentioned in Scripture. It is clear that a mystic significance attached to this number, in both the Sadducean and the Pharisaic traditions.” Matthew would have been aware of this and may be producing an argument that would impress Jews. (Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 25)
Charles H. Talbert (b. 1934) further chronicles the precedent:
The number fourteen was conventional in genealogies. In I Chronicles 1-2 are fourteen generations from Abraham to David; in 2 Baruch 53-74 world history is divided into fourteen periods from Adam to the messiah; in m. Avot 1.1-12 are fourteen links in the chain of tradition between Moses and the last of the pairs of teachers. So Matthew’s auditors would have experienced nothing out of the ordinary in this opening of his narrative. (Talbert, Matthew (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 33)
Craig S. Keener (b. 1960) considers:
Perhaps fourteen was simply Matthew’s average estimate of the generations from one period in Israel’s history to the next, Matthew preferred a round number for each set of generations, perhaps for ease of memorization (cf. II Maccabees 2:25); some argue that occasional Talmudic lists also edited lists to fourteen elements (Shulamit Valler 1995). But he probably did so especially to imply that, as in the case of the new Elijah of Matthew 3:4, Israel was due for its Messiah to come when Jesus was born (cf. Donald A. Hagner [b. 1936] 1993:7). (Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 74)
Numerous justifications have been given for the use of the number. Some have seen a connection to the cycle of the moon. W. D. Davies (1911-2001) and Dale C. Allison, Jr. (b. 1950) trace:
The cycle of the moon covers twenty-eight days, fourteen of waning, fourteen of waxing. Perhaps, then, the idea behind Matthew 1:2-17 is this: the time between Abraham and David was one of waxing, with David being the climax; next the period after David was one of waning, the captivity being the low point; finally, there followed a time of waxing, the zenith coming with the birth of Jesus. In his Gnomon of the New Testament, Johann Albrecht Bengel [1687-1752] already mentioned this interpretation and ascribed it to...James Rhenford [1653-1712]. In more recent times it has been championed by Chaim Kaplan [1880-1942]. Just such a scheme does, in fact, lie behind Exodus Rabbah on 12.2. There, however, the cycles of the moon, given as 15 + 15 = 30, are explicitly cited. (Davies and Allison, Matthew 1-7 (International Critical Commentary), 161-62)
Herbert Basser (b. 1942) expounds:
Just as the lunar cycle has twenty-eight nights (the cycle ends at dusk on the twenty-ninth day), so the night of the fourteenth-fifteen signals the moon at midmonth. We can construe that Matthew’s genealogy rises to the height, or fulness, with David in the fourteenth generation, after which, starting with Solomon, the genealogy descends through fourteen generations to the lowest point, or the darkness of moonless nights, that is the Exile. And fourteen generations after the darkness of the Exile, like the moon in its nightly waxing, the genealogy rises again to the height, or fullness, which is Jesus. According to this scenario, both David and Jesus are at “full moon” positions in a complete fourteen/fifteen generation repeating cycle. (Basser, The Mind Behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Matthew 1-14, 26)
Many have found a connection to the number seven, as 14÷2=7. Seven is found often in the Bible, commonly representing wholeness. Suzanne de Diétrich (1891-1981) communicates fourteen as “the symbol of plenitude of something complete.” (Diétrich, The Layman’s Bible Commentary, 16)

Others have taken the connection with seven a step further and interpreted the genealogy as a period of six weeks with Jesus inaugurating a seventh week, an eschatological Sabbath. N.T. Wright (b. 1948) concedes:

His three periods of fourteen generations may well be intended to hint at six periods of seven generations so that Jesus starts the seventh seven, the climactic moment of the series. (Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 385)
Others adopting this stance include John P. Meier [b. 1942] 1980: 3-4; Fabrizio Foresti 1984; Herman Hendrickx [1933-2002] 1984, The Infancy Narratives: 23-24 and Ben Witherington III [b. 1951] 2006: 41.

W. D. Davies (1911-2001) and Dale C. Allison, Jr. (b. 1950) explain:

Because seven but not fourteen is a prominent number in the Bible, Matthew’s three fourteens can be regarded as the equivalent of six sevens (3 × 14 = 6 × 7), in which case Jesus would stand at the head of the seventh seven, the seventh day of history, the dawn of the eternal sabbath. A parallel to this could be found in the ‘Apocalypse of Weeks’ (I Enoch 93:1-10; 91:12-17)...Yet it must be said that Matthew expressly writes of three fourteens, not six sevens. (Davies and Allison, Matthew 1-7 (International Critical Commentary), 162)
Mervyn Eloff (b. 1957) also expresses incredulity (Eloff, “Exile, Restoration and Matthew’s genealogy,” 84).

George F. Moore (1851-1931) proposes that if one measures a generation as 35 years, Matthew’s fourteen generations would span 490 years (35×14= 490 years) thus duplicating Daniel’s seventy weeks of years (490 years; cf. Daniel 9:24-27). This reckoning has Jesus’ coming corresponding to the fulfillment of prophecy (Moore, “Fourteen Generations – 490 years,” Harvard Theological Review (1921) 97-103). The difficulty with Moore’s theory is that assigning 35 years to a generation is arbitrary.

The most widespread theory regarding the genealogy’s structure is that the number fourteen is affixed to King David. Though Matthew’s genealogy prominently features Abraham (Matthew 1:1, 2, 17), it accentuates Jesus’ connection to David (Matthew 1:1, 6, 17). Before Arabic numerals, letters and consequently words carried a numeric value known as gematia. As Hebrew was scripted with no vowels there are three letters in David’s Hebrew name. August Friedrich Gfrörer (1803-1861) recognized that the sum of these three letters totals fourteen.

David L. Turner (b. 1949) computes:

Matthew has evidently chosen fourteen generations to structure his genealogy because David is the fourtheenth name in the genealogy and fourteen is the numerical value of “David” in Hebrew. Consonantally, דןד (dwd) is 4 (d) + 6 (w) + 4 (d) when the places of the consonants in the numerical order of the Hebrew alphabet are added together. This gematria, which assigns numerical values to letters, stresses the centrality of David in Jesus’s background as well as the centrality of great David’s greater son, Jesus, for Matthew’s readers. (Turner, Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 58)
Craig A. Evans (b. 1952) acknowledges:
Interpreting the numerical value of the letters that make up a name (called gematria in Hebrew) may strike us today as very strange, but it held significance for the ancients and was practiced by Jewish interpreters of Scripture (e.g. b. Shabbat 70a, in reference to Exodus 35:1) and Greek interpreters of oracles and various traditions. (Evans, Matthew (New Cambridge Bible Commentary), 37)
W. D. Davies (1911-2001) and Dale C. Allison, Jr. (b. 1950) add:
Gematria was practised in both Jewish and Christian circles close to Matthew’s time; and the numerical interpretation of David’s name can account for both the number three and the number fourteen. Still, objections have been raised. First, the use of gematria in Greek documents is customarily accompanied by an explicit statement indicating such. Reference need be made only to Revelation 13:18 and Sibylline Oracles 5.12-51. And even when, as in rabbinic sources, gematria is not explicit, it is only because its presence is unmistakable, as in Numbers Rabbah on 5.18 and 16.1. Secondly, the list of fourteen names in Matthew 1:2-6a was surely traditional and therefore ought not to be regarded as the product of a numerical play on David’s name. (Davies and Allison, Matthew 1-7 (International Critical Commentary), 163-64)
Further criticism reminds that the nuance would likely have been lost on Matthew’s original audience. Donald A. Hagner (b. 1936) rejects:
The Book of Matthew, it should be remembered, is written in Greek, and the numerology of the Hebrew name would not be at all evident to Greek readers without explanation. That David’s name in Hebrew is equal to fourteen may well be only a coincidence; in any event, it can hardly be determinative in a Greek text. (Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (Word Biblical Commentary), 7)
The use of gematria is not commonly found in the New Testament. R.T. France (1938-2012) discerns:
Revelation 13:17-18 is the only clear New Testament parallel to this sort of calculation, known as Gematria (but see also Epistle of Barnabas 9:8, a very early Christian work), but it is well attested in Rabbinc circles, and the clear emphasis on David through genealogy suggests it may be in Matthew’s mind. If he did not do it deliberately, he would probably have been delighted to have it pointed out to him! (France, Matthew (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 75)
There can be little doubt that a connection to David is being accentuated. David’s name pervades the list. It appears five times, more than any other name and is situated at the beginning, middle, end and (Matthew 1:1, 6, 17 [twice in Matthew 1:6, 17]). David is further emphasized as, despite being featured in a list replete with kings, he is the only character designated as such (Matthew 1:6).

Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957), L. Scott Kellum (b. 1964) and Charles L. Quarles (b. 1965) note:

Although the genealogy of Jesus contained the names of many kings ranging from David to Jechoniah, only David was specifically identified as a king. This implies that Matthew stressed Jesus’ Davidic lineage in order to demonstrate that Jesus was qualified to reign as king. Old Testament prophecies foretold that the Messiah, the eternal King of Gods people, would be a descendent of David. In II Samuel 7:11-16, the prophet Nathan prophesied that God would raise up a descendant of David and establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (Köstenberger, Keller, and Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament, 219)

W. D. Davies (1911-2001) and Dale C. Allison, Jr. (b. 1950) resolve:

We suspect gematria because David’s name has the value of fourteen and because in Matthew 1:2-16 there are 3 × 14 generations. But there is an additional observation to be made. David’s name is fourteenth on the list. This is telling. In a genealogy of 3 × 14 generations, the one name with three consonants and a value of fourteen is also placed in the fourteenth spot. When one adds that this name is mentioned immediately before the genealogy (Matthew 1:1) and twice at its conclusion (Matthew 1:17), and that it is honoured by the title, king, coincidence becomes effectively ruled out. The name, David, is the key to the pattern of Matthew’s genealogy. (Davies and Allison, Matthew 1-7 (International Critical Commentary), 165)
The blatant connection to David paints Jesus as the long awaited Davidic Messiah. Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) deduces:
The point is to establish Jesus’ authentic descent from “King David” (Matthew 1:6), from whose line Nathan promised David that the Messiah would come (II Samuel 7:13-14). This descent is by way of Jesus’ putative father Joseph, of the same line. (Schnackenberg, The Gospel of Matthew, 16)
Douglas R.A. Hare (b. 1929) concurs:
By structuring the Davidic posterity in this way, Matthew announces that Jesus is not just a son of David (as is said of Joseph, Matthew 1:20) but is the long-awaited Messiah, David’s ultimate successor. (Hare, Matthew (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 6)
Part of the human experience is being rooted in a past. Like all of us, Jesus’ destiny is shaped in part by his roots. Matthew’s genealogy stresses that Jesus is the rightful king of Israel.

Why does Matthew’s summary statement enumerate the genealogy differently than its most natural reading (Matthew 1:17)? How important is knowing the Old Testament background to understanding Jesus? Do you attach any significance to the number 14? How would you begin telling the story of Jesus? What does Jesus’ genealogy tell you about him? How far back can you track your family tree? How has your lineage shaped you?

In beginning the gospel with a genealogy, Matthew places Jesus squarely within an historical framework, more specifically Israel’s. J. Andrew Overman (b. 1955) remarks:

Unmistakably, in Matthew Jesus is ensconced within the history of Israel’s divinely driven story. He is Jesus the messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. These two heroes of Israel’s story are signaled out...as touchstones of the genealogy in Matthew 1:17...By Matthew’s peculiar reckoning, at the birth of Jesus Israel was due another anointed agent. Jesus is in the same family and in the same league with these two great figures and reformers in Israel’s story. This sets a tone for Matthew’s own story about Jesus and sets a series of expectations for the informed reader. (Overman, Church and Community in Crisis: The Gospel According to Matthew, 31)
Matthew’s genealogy not only places Jesus in a specific time and place, it frames history (Matthew 1:1-17). As could only be determined after the fact, Matthew generates neat divisions from otherwise seemingly messy data. Matthew’s gospel is not the first to make this attempt.

Herbert Basser (b. 1942) researches:

Although Matthew does not give explicit meaning to the pattern he develops, attention to Jewish texts helps ascribe some meaning to it. Babylonian Talmud tractate ‘Abodah Zarah 9a also divides Jewish history into three equal periods, though this text focuses on years rather than generations, and it understands history to be 6000 years in duration. (Basser, The Mind Behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Matthew 1-14, 19)
David E. Garland (b. 1947) inserts:
When the biblical historians schematized generations they declared their faith that “history is the sphere in which God works out his purpose” (Helen Milton [1916-1994], “The Structure of the Prologue to Matthew,” JBL 81[1962]: 176). Apocalyptic writers, however, arranged history into epochs to assess the present age and the future (see 2 [Syriac] Apocalypse of Baruch 53-74). The question in 4 Ezra 6:7 is typical of apocalyptic writings: “When will the end of the first age and the beginning of the second age be?” Matthew knows the answer to that question after the fact and fashions the table of genealogy to demonstrate that Jesus inaugurates the new age. At the appointed time (see Galatians 4:4), God has stepped in with the birth of his son. W.D. Davies [1911-2001] concludes: “The genealogy is an impressive witness to Matthew’s conviction that the birth of Jesus was no unpremeditated accident but occurred in the fulness of time and in the providence of God, who overruled the generations to this end, to inaugurate in Jesus a new order, the time of fulfillment” (Setting, 73). The genealogy is not the record of one birth after another. It discloses that God has been working within history to achieve foreordained purposes and that Jesus, the last person of the last epoch, is the fulfillment of God’s plan for Israel and the beginning of the new messianic age. (Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 20)
The structure of the genealogy arranges history as a whole. Joel Kennedy (b. 1970) advances:
Matthew 1:17 emphasizes there has been a structural order to the genealogy as well as an order to the history of Israel that it recapitulates...Matthew 1:17 makes explicit the thrust implicit in Matthew 1:2-16. Christ stands dramatically and climactically at the end of Matthew’s teleological genealogy. For Matthew, the order of history through the providence of God has led to this point. Consequently, Matthew 1:17 intends that as one adds up the meaning of Israel’s history, the only appropriate sum will be Jesus Christ. (Kennedy, The Recapitulation of Israel: Use of Israel’s History in Matthew 1:1 - 4:11, 74-75)
Maris McCrabb (b. 1951) reviews Frederick Dale Bruner (b. 1932) characterization of Matthew’s epochs:
The message of the first fourteen on the list is mercy; the message of the second fourteen is justice or judgment; and the message of the final fourteen is faith, especially God’s faith: he promised and he fulfills his promise. “Jesus is the fulfillment of everything the Old Testament is trying to say.” (Matthew: A Commentary, 15). (McCrabb, Reflections on the Gospel of Matthew)
The underlying current of the genealogy is God’s guidance of history. Richard A. Jensen (b. 1934) informs:
The genealogy...lays out Matthew’s view of history...History has a plan. God is in charge of that plan. All of history comes to fruition and fulfillment in the birth of a baby boy. The name of the baby is Jesus. The destiny of history is bound up in this child. (Jensen, Preaching Matthew’s Gospel, 33)
God’s sovereigny is on display. Thomas G. Long (b. 1946) upholds:
The strongest explanation for the pattern of fourteens in the genealogy is that Matthew is following a Jewish literary technique of dividing epochs into equal parts, thereby making the theological claim that history is not haphazard, but under the control of God. Jesus’ appearance in history, Matthew wants us to know, was no mere accident, no random birth. Other human births may be the result of a spin of the biological wheel of fortune, but not Jesus’ birth. It was orderly, arranged, the result of God’s careful plan and providence. What might appear to be the uncontrolled flood of generations can now, in retrospect, be seen for what it truly is—a mighty river whose channel was carved out by the guiding and arranging hand of God, causing all of Israel’s history to flow in orderly fashion toward this critical moment of passion. (Long, Matthew (Westminster Bible Companion), 10)
John P. Meier (b. 1942) concludes:
The basic affirmation of the genealogy is two-fold: (1) Jesus’ origins lie in the old people of God, Israel; and (2) Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s history, a history carefully guided by God to its goal. (Meier, Matthew (New Testament Message), 3)
Though to those who had long awaited the Messiah, Jesus’ coming likely seemed delayed, Matthew convinces that Christ arrives at the proper interval. He appears in time to die for all and in doing so, redeems both his ancestors and descendants.

Do you find Matthew’s ordering of history to be contrived? How would you divide the past into epochs? How does Jesus disrupt history? How predetermined do you feel life is? Why was Jesus born at this specific time and place; how did it benefit him, the rest of humanity? When have you waited for something only to have later benefitted from its delay?

“Right time, right place, right people equals success.
Wrong time, wrong place, wrong people equals most of the real human history.”
- Idries Shah (1924-1996), Reflections, p. 82

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