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Answering The Atheist
March 18, 2007 / Volume 7, Issue 11

How many generations from Jesus to Abraham? Matthew 1:17 says there are 42 generations (14x3), but if we look at Matthew 1:2-16, there are only 41. Is there a contradiction?

If the record of generations given in Matthew 1 were to be a mere mathematical problem, then the questioner would be correct, 14x3=42, but there are only 41 listed. However, we are not looking at a mathematical problem, but at a record of history. There are at least a couple of viable explanations to this supposed contradiction.

The wording of verse 17 has caused some to suggest that David's name is included in both the 1st and 2nd grouping of generations. Notice, "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations..." The writer does not express his intent as revealing 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus, but 3 segments the Jewish history, each comprised of 14 generations. It is plausible that David's name being mentioned twice (v 17) indicates his inclusion in both the first and second groupings. If so, then:
the 1st begins with Abraham and ends with David, 14 generations;
the 2nd begins with David and ends with Josiah, 14 generations;
the 3rd begins with Jeconiah and ends with Jesus, 14 generations.

In the listing of Jesus' forefathers, there is a name missing. Excluded from the list is Jehoiakim (a.k.a. Eliakim), who was Josiah's son and Jeconiah's father (1 Chronicles 3:15-16). The reason for his exclusion may be that he was a puppet king, given his rule by the Pharaoh of Egypt. The first phase of the captivity of Judah by Babylon began at the end of Jehoiakim's reign, prior to his son Jeconiah coming into power. Thus, the 3 groupings of 14 generations would include:
1 Abraham to David;
2 Solomon to Jehoiakim (he is not mentioned, but was among the first to be carried off into Babylon);
3 Jeconiah to Jesus.

There may be other possible explanations for the existence of only 41 names in the genealogy of Matthew 1, even though verse 17 speaks of 3 groupings of 14. Regardless, these two suffice to demonstrate that there is not a contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible