Problem: The genealogy in Matthew is too short
Verses: Matthew 1:1-17; Status: Serious

The differences between Luke and Matthew's genealogies of Christ are well known, but another problem is that Matthew's genealogy appears to be too short. Luke goes from King David to Joseph in 41 generations, whereas Matthew takes just 26. In order for this to work, the average age of fathers in Matthew's genealogy has to be much older than normal. It's known from history that David reigned around the year 1000 BC, so to get to Joseph in 26 generations, the average age of a father in this genealogy needs to be about 37 or so, which is an extremely high average, especially two to three thousand years ago when life was short. There is no reason it should be this high.

It's clear that Matthew skips some generations. This alone might be consistent with the Bible's inerrancy, yet Matthew also claims that there are 14 generations between David and deportation to Babylon, and 14 generations between deportation and the Messiah. This is Matthew 1:17:

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (ESV)

Since Matthew is skipping generations, he's not entitled to say that he is also giving the correct number of generations between David and Jesus. He can't possibly do both.

Probably the best defense of verse 1:17 is this, from the ESV Study Bible:

Matthew does not mean all the generations that had lived during those times but "all" that he included in his list [...] Perhaps for ease of memorization, or perhaps for literary or symbolic symmetry, Matthew structures the genealogy to count 14 generations from each major section.

But to me, it looks like 1:17 is talking about reality itself, not merely the list.

Updated: 2009-03-15

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