(Mt. 1:17) Why does Matthew emphasize 14 generations?

The three sets of fourteen generations bring us from Abraham to Jesus: First, Abraham to David (14), then David to the Exile (14), and finally, the Exile to Jesus (14). Why does Matthew arrange his material in this way?

Some argue that Matthew typically arranged his material by numerals of seven or three.[1] The number fourteen is twice seven, which is the perfect number. Hence, this is Matthew’s way of showing a completion or perfection to God’s plan. While this is possible, this only adds one speculation upon another. This sort of explanation reads too much into the meaning of these numbers and their use, and it borders on the bizarre when commentators keep adding and multiplying numbers to make some sort of schema work. Indeed, we wonder if we are seeing something objective in the text, or just the imagination of the commentator!

Some argue that Matthew chose fourteen because it is the numerical value of David’s name.[2] Hebrew and Greek letters also served as numbers. For instance, the Beast (or Antichrist) has a name which adds up to 666 (Rev. 13:18). The method of adding up a number from a person’s name is referred to as gematria (pronounced gem-OTT-tree-uh). The letters in David’s name can also be added up to the number fourteen (D = 4, W = 6, D =4). Under this view, Matthew was trying to frame his genealogy to show that Jesus was the true Jewish King—the son of David (v.1). This is also possible, but there is only one undisputed case of gematria in the NT, and it is explicitly told to us.

We are most inclined to think that Matthew organized the genealogy for it to be easily memorized. Perhaps Matthew organized it this way as a “mnemonic technique”[3] for the ease of memorization. We simply aren’t sure. But we prefer this agnostic view to the speculations of many commentators on the subject.

[1] France, R. T. (1985). Matthew: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 1, p. 80). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 69). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[3] Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 68). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.