Questions About the Genealogy in The Gospel of Matthew

Hi friends,

As I studied the Sermon on the Mount, I also started to carefully read commentaries on the rest of the Gospel of Matthew.

Recently, I started to pay detailed attention to the genealogy in chapter 1.

Here are two interesting conundrums from the genealogy.

First, in verses 7-8, most English translations read, “…Abijah fathered Asa, Asa fathered Jehoshaphat…”

But if you look at the Greek text of the passage in Nestle-Aland 28, you see this:

I’ve underlined the important word - it reads “Asaph” - the Psalmist.

Likewise, in verse 10, most English translations read, “…Manasseh fathered Amon, Amon fathered Josiah…”

But in the Greek text, we have:

The name here is “Amos” - the prophet.

The question is: why does Matthew place Asaph and Amos in the genealogy of Jesus?

Dr. J. Richard Middleton offers this explanation:

The sum of all the numerical values of the fourteen names—as Matthew spells them—in the list from David to the exile is 560. This is exactly the number we get when we multiply the numerical value of David (14) with Jeconiah (40), the last king listed; this accounts for Matthew’s variant spellings of the names, including Asaph and Amos. While this playing with numbers might seem to contemporary readers as an unnecessary quirk (he could make his points without it), it is another way in which Matthew reinforces his desire to keep the name David before us. If the genealogy of Abraham to David suggests great possibilities for Israel, the genealogy of “from David to the deportation to Babylon” (Matt 1:17) affirms that these possibilities were squandered by the monarchy, beginning with David himself.

Middleton’s explanation of the genealogy relies heavily on discerning how Matthew used gematria - assigning numeric values to names based upon the letters within them - to make theological points.

What is at stake if we accept that Matthew used gematria, rather than historical precision, as his organizing principle for the genealogy?

At a minimum, that interpretation requires us to open our minds to the possibility that Matthew wrote from a very different perspective than our own starting point, which prizes historical exactness and accuracy.

James Snapp offers a sharply different explanation. He argues that in the original text, Matthew did write “Asa” and “Amon”, because it would be inconceivable for him to substitute the names of a well known Psalmist and Prophet into a list of kings for his audience. However, a later scribe made a copying mistake, leading to the manuscripts showing Matthew as using Asaph and Amos. As he puts it:

What has happened, I suspect, is that an early Western scribe, unfamiliar with Old Testament chronology, introduced the names of Asaph and Amos as a primitive attempt to pad Jesus’ Messianic résumé, so to speak, by adding prophets among his ancestry. The tampering of this scribe influenced the Western transmission-line represented by some Old Latin copies. When these Western readings intersected with the Alexandrian transmission-line, they blended into a crowd of orthographic variations – that is, in some Western Old Latin copies, and in Egypt, the names of Asaph and Amos were assumed to be variant-spellings referring to Asa and Amon, and for that reason, they were not corrected. Elsewhere, though, these readings were either never encountered, or were almost always rejected as variants which Matthew had not written and which he had been highly motivated not to write.

From another perspective, the Bible Project team argues that Matthew mentions Asaph and Amos as a “wink” to his audience that Jesus’ “family line” includes every part of the people of God - kings, prophets, and psalmists. They write:

For example, he changed the names of Asa and Amon to Asaph (the poet featured in the book of Psalms) and Amos (the famous prophet). Matthew is winking at us here, knowing that his readers would spot these out of place names. The point, of course, is that Jesus doesn’t just fulfill Israel’s royal hopes, but also the hope of the Psalms(Asaph) and the Prophets (Amos).

Dr. Craig Keener provides a similar perspective, stating,

Scholars have suggested that some ancient genealogies incorporated symbolic material based on the interpretation of biblical texts. Jewish interpreters of Scripture sometimes would modify a letter or sound in a biblical text to reapply it figuratively. Thus the Greek text of Matthew 1:10 reads “Amos” (the prophet) rather than “Amon” (the wicked king—2 Kings 21), and Matthew 1:8 reads “Asaph” (the psalmist) rather than “Asa” (a good king turned bad—2 Chron 16); most translations have obscured this point.

However, D.A. Carson challenges this interpretation, referring to the scholarship of Robert Gundry. He argues:

Robert Gundry suggests that Asaph is a deliberate change by Matthew to call up images of the psalmist (Pss 50, 73–83), as “Amos” … calls to mind the prophet. This is too cryptic to be believable. Orthography was not as consistent in the ancient world as it is today.

In other words, Carson’s perspective is that in Matthew’s time, names could have alternative spellings without too much concern or confusion.

While conceding that the precision of spelling names was different before computers, spell checkers, and the internet, it does seem that “Asaph” and “Amos” are glaringly different names than Asa and Amon.

Overall, it’s a confusing situation, reflected by the diversity and disagreements within the scholarship.

Have you heard a better interpretation?

Or, of these explanations, which one do you find most convincing?


Hi @Carson , thanks for raising this, it’s really interesting!

I think that by looking at Matthew’s overarching purpose in writing, we get clarification in what may seem most likely on this issue. I haven’t read widely around different scholars yet, but here are a few initial thoughts.

In the article you shared by Richard Middleton, he writes,

Although Matthew states that it is fourteen generations from David to the exile (Matt 1:17), the fourteen generations technically begin with David’s son, Solomon (1:6b) and end with Jeconiah (Matt 1:11)—otherwise we would get fifteen generations. It is possible that Matthew says it is fourteen generations from David (not Solomon) to the exile as a way of continually keeping the name David before the reader.

Similarly, Alan Hultberg writes in his notes on Matthew in the Apologetics Study Bible that,

Matthew omitted several names in his genealogy in order to maintain a three times fourteen generation struction (Gk ἐγέννησεν (egennesen), translated “fathered”, indicated ancestry, not actual fatherhood. “All the generations” must then be taken to imply “as summarised here”.) Matthew was emphasizing Jesus’ birth as a culminating moment in Israel’s history.

What we find is that there are more than 14 generations in each of the parts of the genealogical triad that Matthew has written. It seems, as you quoted, that the number 14 is especially significant as it is the sum of the letters of the name ‘David’. Therefore, I’m more compelled by the notion that Matthew clearly is communicating the name David through his genealogy. He’s much more interested in this significant message of the line of David, than he is about recording an accurate number of descendents in the genaeology. I suspect his ancient readers would have understood that there were missing descendents in this record (Josephus referred to public registers as sources of some of his information, so first century Jews had the opportunity to check public genealogical records) and would have recognised the gammatria that Matthew was reflecting. If this line of thinking works, then I see it reasonably follows that it’s likely that he would have deliberately altered the names Amos and Asaph to attain their correct numerical values. I think it is less likely that a later ignorant scribe changed it by mistake.

Regarding the translation of ἐγέννησεν as ‘ancestry’ rather than ‘fathered by’, I think this a reasonable translation of the verb. This is because it seems Matthew wants to distinguish when he’s actually referring to a ‘fathered by’ situation. Looking at Matt1:6b, we see a differentiation on the birth of Solomon:

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.

There’s a clarification here with the mother’s name too. I believe that this might distinguish this particular generation as ‘fathered by’ to the rest that mean ‘ancestry of’. If we allow for this line of thought, I think it works to release Matthew from charges of mistakes or inaccuracies.

Throughout the rest of Matthew’s genaology, there is something deliberate happening, and I believe that this deliberate altering of names supports the idea that Matthew believed the emphasis on the line of David was much more crucial than literal historical records. We know from the rest of this gospel that Matthew is incredibly interested in the Kingdom of Heaven coming through the promised Messianic son of David.

Alan Hultberg also writes in his introduction to the Gospel of Matthew,

Other features related to the theme of Jesus as promised King include long teaching discourses in which the word of Jesus becomes a new law for the church, a confession of Jesus as the Son of God in divine (as opposed to merely messianic) terms, and an extension of kingdom promises from the Jews to the Gentile nations in fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham.

This theme of the Davidic line culminating in the Kingdom of Heaven seems to be the primary message of Matthew’s work. I think that the genealogy, emphasised by deliberate historical discrepancies as gammatria, fits in nicely with Matthew’s purpose of writing. The whole genealogy makes a lot of sense when seen in this light.


Seeing as how Gematria has been broached throw in Matt 1:17 LEB.

from NT Wright the scribes and Pharisees using Daniel 7:9 LEB counted the days until the coming King. Here we have 3 generations or 3x14=42 or 42/6 =7 or 6 7’s. Jesus is the 7th 7 for 7x70=490. Again this is one way a Jewish reader might read and understand this verse.



Here is a definition from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christiani church

Gematria. A method of interpretation employed by the Rabbis to extract hidden meanings from words. The name ‘Gematria’, which is Hebrew, is perhaps a corruption of the Greek word γεωμετρία (‘geometry’). As in Hebrew every letter possessed a numerical value, it was possible, by counting up the values of the letters in a Hebrew word, to assign to it a numerical value; and on this basis the method operated. Thus the Rabbis argued that Eliezer, the steward of *Abraham (Gen. 15:2), must be worth all the servants of Abraham put together, on the ground that Abraham had 318 servants (Gen. 14:14), and 318 is the numerical equivalent of the word Eliezer.
This strange method of interpretation was also occasionally used by Babylonians and by Greeks in the Hellenistic period, and by early Christians. In Rev. 13:18 the number of the Beast is given as 666, and this is the numerical equivalent of the two Hebrew words for ‘Nero Caesar’. In the Ep. of Barnabas (c. 9) gematria is applied on the basis of the corresponding number of the Greek numerals, to give a mystical significance to the number of Abraham’s servants. 300 = τ = the Cross, and 18 = ιη the first two letters of the name Jesus. Therefore the number of servants typifies Jesus and the Cross.

Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A., eds. (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 662). Oxford University Press.

Whether or not it is helpful is debatable, but it was definitely a thing in the 2nd Temple and early church.



Thanks @jimmy for further explanation. I deleted my question on what gematria meant as I later realized Carson defined the basic meaning in the original post.

The whole methodology seems very speculative and I also have concerns that it is related to the occult. Another problem I see is that if there are textual variants in transmission of the original manuscripts, we would end up losing the hidden code. The hidden code then would only apply to the original inspired texts.


@lakshmi, there can definitely be some difficulty in that, if you manipulate numbers enough, you can usually create something that seems like it has meaning. This is particularly true in cases like this where it is not simply adding the letters of a word or name together, but instead involves multiplication of different words. In this sense it can be quite speculative.

However there is archaeological and textual evidence of the use of gematria in both Greek and Hebrew contemporary with the New Testament - some of which @jimmy listed. So in that sense, it is historical rather than speculative; we know that there is evidence such methods were in use by Greek and Hebrew culture, including in Jewish and Christian writings and commentaries, around the time of the writing of the New Testament. So, though I do not if it may also be used by others in connection with the occult, such use would not negate the fact that it was used by religious communities contemporary with the New Testament and, thus, that it is possible it may have been used by the authors of the New Testament.

For this case, @alison provided a strong argument that the genealogy purposely creates sets of 14 generations to emphasize David (and thus the coming Davidic king) - since the value of his name is 14. This emphasis is backed up by the repetition of David’s name and his centrality of placement in the genealogy, so, it is not just arrived at by gematria. If Matthew is using gematria here with the number 14, it makes it more likely that he could also be using it with the name changes (as we now know that it is a method he employs).

Personally though, I’m not fully convinced the 14 generations is a gematria for David, as there is also a strong case that the author is simply using a multiple of 7 (The number commonly used as a measure of completeness throughout the Bible and Jewish tradition) to show the complete fulfillment of the messianic promises that has come in Jesus Christ.


Even though these verses do not have evidence of the use of Gematria I think they do confirm the fact that 2nd Temple folks and 1st-century believers were very much in a discussion about ‘who was in’ and ‘how do you stay in’ as it related to that ‘Great day.’

1 Timothy 1:4
4 and not to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which cause useless speculations rather than God’s plan that is by faith.
Titus 3:9
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and contentions and quarrels about the law, for they are useless and fruitless.


Hi @blake,

Appreciate your insights on the historical uses of Gematria in Jewish and Greek literature. It’s very interesting but its use in biblical interpretation has been debated. I came across this article, The Christian use of Jewish numerology by William Varner in The Master’s Seminary Journal, 8/1 (Spring 1997) 47-59.

He writes -

A book called the Zohar emerged during the Middle Ages, giving rise to a Jewish form of mystical speculation known as the “Cabala” and creating strong interest in the system’s mystical teachings in both Jewish and Christian circles. During the Renaissance, Pico, Reuchlin, and Ricci led in applying the Zohar’s mystical teachings to the OT in defense of Christian doctrines such at that of the Trinity. The Cabalistic doctrine of emanations provided a solution to the tension between the doctrines of God’s transcendence and His immanence. Another exegetical method of the Cabalists was gematria, a system for discovering secret truths from the OT through various techniques of assigning numerical value to letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Christians should resist the temptation of using Cabalistic means for discovering truth from the Bible, because it deviates so widely from the grammatical-historical method of exegesis.

Similarly, Irenaeus in Against Heresies 2.25.1 warns -

If any one, however, say in reply to these things, What then? Is it a meaningless and accidental thing, that the positions of names, and the election of the apostles, and the working of the Lord, and the arrangement of created things, are what they are?–we answer them: Certainly not; but with great wisdom and diligence, all things have clearly been made by God, fitted and prepared [for their special purposes]; and His word formed both things ancient and those belonging to the latest times; and men ought not to connect those things with the number thirty, but to harmonize them with what actually exists, or with fight reason. Nor should they seek to prosecute inquiries respecting God by means of numbers, syllables, and letters. For this is an uncertain mode of proceeding, on account of their varied and diverse systems, and because every sort of hypothesis may at the present day be, in like manner, devised by any one; so that they can derive arguments against the truth from these very theories, inasmuch as they may be turned in many different directions. But, on the contrary, they ought to adapt the numbers themselves, and those things which have been formed, to the true theory lying before them. For system does not spring out of numbers, but numbers from a system; nor does God derive His being from things made, but things made from God. For all things originate from one and the same God.

Numbers mentioned in the Bible certainly seem to have significance and this interpretation being more direct makes more sense to me. Another explanation I have seen is that in 1 Chronicles 1–2 there are 14 generations listed between Abraham and David and from that Matthew structured the rest of the genealogy in that scriptural style to continue the story of Chronicles (Got questions). Michael Krueger makes a similar comment from Dale C. Allison, Jr. and W. D. Davies, International Critical Commentary on Matthew.

Davies and Allison conclude that Matthew “thought of his gospel as continuation of the biblical history—and also, perhaps, that he conceived of his work as belonging to same literary category as the scriptural cycles treating of the OT figures.”

Several likely explanations! Was interesting to think about. Thanks for your reply.


@Carson, your question is why did Matthew place Asaph, the psalmist and Amos, the prophet in the genealogy of Jesus? Appreciate the different perspectives you have provided. As I have looked over this the past few days, I am drawn to James Snapp’s commentary because of the manuscript evidence that the earliest manuscripts that modern bibles rely on use ‘Asaph”, but the later manuscripts or Textus Receptus, the base-text for KJV bible reads ‘Asa’.

If Matthew’s intent in tracing the genealogy in three sets of 14 generations from Abraham to king David, from David to Babylonian exile, and finally from the exile to Jesus, is to prove the fulfillment of the promise of the messianic king in Jesus, one would expect the second section of the genealogy contain only the names of kings. Having the name of a psalmist and a prophet would be inconsistent with the likely intention of Matthew. If Asaph and Amon are the words Matthew used, then Asaph could have been another way of writing Asa or Matthew may have actually written Asa with a very early scribal error of Asaph.

A helpful commentary I have seen is, “Asa or Asaph in Matthew 1: A Teaser for the THGNT Textual Commentary” – Elijah Hixson.

Evidence for textual variants in manuscripts-

The Tyndale House edition, UBS, NA and SBL editions all go with Ἀσάφ. The earliest manuscripts support Ἀσάφ, as well as much of the Old Latin tradition, all of the Coptic tradition, and most of the ‘minor’ versions. On the other hand, the majority of Greek, Latin and Syriac manuscripts support Ἀσά, as it is supported by the Byzantine Greek text and the Vulgate, as well as some Old Latin and most Syriac versions.

Copyists were not unaware of this difference—in GA 1582 (which is close to the archetype of fam. 1), the text has Ἀσάφ, but a marginal note mentions that “Ασα” is the name according to 1 Kings (see Amy S. Anderson, The Textual Tradition of the Gospels: Family 1 in Matthew. NTTS 32. [Leiden: Brill, 2004], 62.)

The reason for including “Asaph” –

The text is adopted on the basis of its early evidence. The king’s name is given as Ἀσά thoughout 1 Kings 15, which could have led scribes to think the reading Ἀσάφ is an error, even as some modern scholars have suggested.[1] The similarity of the names Ἀσάφ (also note the Psalmist of the same name) and Ἀσά could have led to confusion as well.

The name used in the Hebrew text of 1 Kings 15 is אָסָא (Asa), and a legitimate interpretation of this name is that it is a hypocorism (a shortened name)—an alternative form of the same name,אָסָף (Asaph).[2] An alternative explanation for the use of Ἀσάφ might be that Matthew knows Hebrew better than his later copyists, and for the king who is called Asa in 1 Kings 15, Matthew uses the longer form of his name, Asaph.

Bruce Metzger explains why the committee rejected the idea of early scribal error in his commentary, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.). London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1-2, 1994.

Although most scholars are impressed by the overwhelming weight of textual evidence supporting Ἀσάφ, Lagrange demurs and in his commentary prints Ἀσά as the text of Matthew. He declares (p. 5) that “literary criticism is not able to admit that the author, who could not have drawn up this list without consulting the Old Testament, would have taken the name of a psalmist in place of a king of Judah. It is necessary, therefore, to suppose that Ἀσάφ is a very ancient [scribal] error.”

Since, however, the evangelist may have derived material for the genealogy, not from the Old Testament directly, but from subsequent genealogical lists, in which the erroneous spelling occurred, the Committee saw no reason to adopt what appears to be a scribal emendation in the text of Matthew 1:10 Ἀμώς, Ἀμώς {B}

The textual evidence for the reading “Amos,” an error for “Amon,” the name of the king of Judah, is nearly the same as that which reads Ἀσάφ in verses 7 and 8.

In 1 Chr 3:14 most manuscripts present the correct Ἀμών (or its near equivalent Ἀμμών), but Ἀμώς is read by A B (B* and one minuscule read Ἀμνών). In the narrative account concerning King Amon in 2 Kgs 21:18–19, 23–25; 2 Chr 33:20–25 several Greek witnesses erroneously read Ἀμώς.

Despite Lagrange’s preference for Ἀμών, the Committee was impressed by the weight of the external evidence that attests Ἀμώς.

I find the shortened name perspective if true preserves the idea that original manuscripts were inerrant in line with claims of scripture and thus more acceptable.

This raises the question about the trustworthiness of scripture when there are so many textual variants in the manuscripts. This can be another long discussion, but Daniel Wallace’s article may ease some concerns.

This discussion opened my eyes to the world of textual criticism, something we don’t usually encounter at church. Thanks for starting the thread!