Symbolism of numbers in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus

Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy of Jesus Christ. Numbers play a special role in this genealogy. They are not just numbers, but they have a clear symbolic value. For example, they refer to the kingship of David or to creation. The Old Testament is of great importance to Matthew. In his genealogy, Matthew regularly returns to the Old Testament. For example, in the first sentence of his Gospel he refers to the Bible book of Genesis.

The symbolic meaning of numbers in the genealogy

Numbers are there to count. With a number you can indicate how much or how little it concerns. This is how we use numbers in everyday life. In the Bible, numbers not only have a literal meaning, but also a symbolic meaning. Numbers often refer to something else, a different reality. Numbers then acquire religious meaning. Matthew wanted to pass on a deeper message in his genealogy with numbers and figures.

The three names before and after the list

The genealogy starts with three names. The number three in the Bible often represents fullness. The evangelist Matthew writes: ‘Outline of the ancestry of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham’ (Matthew 1:1). At the end of the list these three names are mentioned again, but in reverse order: ‘The list therefore contains fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian exile to Christ.’ (Matthew 1:17). The introduction begins with Christ, then David and finally Abraham. The conclusion of the genealogy begins by mentioning the names Abraham, then David and finally Christ. The literary scheme of these names is then ABCCBA. This shape is called a chiasm. A chiasmus is a literary form with the scheme ABBA. The parts of A belong together and so do the parts of B. In the case of the names, these are identical parts. For example, Jesus is at the beginning and at the end in the genealogy. As if Matthew wants to say what Jesus himself said when he said: ‘I am the first and the last’ (Revelation 1:17).

Three times the number fourteen

Matthew has a clear preference for divisions into threes. In the genealogy he therefore assumes the trio. He distinguishes between three series of fourteen genera. First fourteen generations until the climax of the history of the people of Israel, namely the reign of King David. Then fourteen generations until the low point of Israel’s history, the captivity of the people in Babylon. Finally, fourteen generations to a new climax Jesus who is conceived from Mary.

Matthew constructed the genealogy

It is no coincidence that Matthew mentions fourteen generations three times. It is a clear construction of the evangelist Matthew to compile the genealogy in this way, because in the Old Testament there are more names and genera than Matthew mentions in his genealogy. For example, Matthew omits names between Joram and Uzziah (see 2 Kings 8).

The numerical value fourteen and the name King David

Since Hebrew has no separate signs for numbers, each letter also has a certain number value. If we look at the numerical value of the name David, it appears that this name has the numerical value fourteen in Hebrew. According to the Hebrew spelling, David’s number value is fourteen: D (=4) + v (=6) + d (=4). In addition, David’s name is mentioned exactly at fourteenth place in this genealogy (Matthew 1:6). David’s name is the most common name in this passage (verses 1, 6 (2x), 17 (2x)). In verse six David is said to be ‘the king’. No one else on this list says that. David’s name is mentioned five times in total. In Jewish tradition, five stands for the Torah, the five books of Moses. With this number symbolism, Matthew can tell that in Christ the Torah, the law, is fulfilled in a royal way.

The Jewish Eighteen Prayer

In the age-old Jewish Eighteenth prayer, the fourteenth prayer asks God for the restoration of the kingship of David and the coming of the Messiah.

Have mercy, O LORD our God, in your great mercy on Israel your people, and on Jerusalem your city, and on Zion the habitation of your glory, and on the temple, and on your habitation, and on the kingdom of the house David, the Messiah of your righteousness. Blessed are You, O LORD God of David, who builds Jerusalem. (Eighteen Prayer, 14th Prayer).


The six days of creation and the birth of Jesus Christ

Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy. The first words are ‘Book of Genesis’. ‘Biblos genesoos’ is written in Greek. The word genesis refers to the first book of the Bible. Genesis starts with the story of creation. There are six days when God creates. The seventh day, the Lord’s day, is a day of rest. Matthew makes a connection with Genesis. He does not tell about six days of creation, but about three times fourteen generations. Three times fourteen can also be written as six times seven. Six days of creation and six times seven generations. In the Bible, seven is the number of fullness, perfection.

Book of Genesis

‘Book of Genesis’, wrote Matthew. In Greek: ‘Biblos genesoos’ . In the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament), the so-called Septuagint, these words ‘Biblos genesoos’ also appear. They are found in Genesis 5:1. There the origin, the genesis, of the human race is told. From the general human lineage onwards there is an increasing narrowing down. From the general human race to the genesis of one people. Matthew narrows even further to the genesis of Christ.

The Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ

Matthew literally calls his Gospel: The Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ. By beginning the Genesis story with Christ, Matthew tells us that God’s creative action does not end with the first creation story. In Christ, God has begun a new creation story.

The symbolism of the number forty

Within the strict list of names in this genealogy of Christ, the evangelist Matthew mentions the word ‘begotten’ exactly forty times. The number forty in the Bible stands for interim. The people of Israel wandered through the desert for forty years to arrive in the promised land. Jesus spent forty days in the desert before making his public appearance. It took forty generations for Jesus to be born, according to Matthew.

The symbolism of the number four

The number four in the Bible refers to the four directions, east, south, west and north. Four women are included in the genealogy. They are Tamar the daughter-in-law of Judah, Rahab the Jericho, Ruth the Moabite, and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah). These four women are of foreign origin. None of these women originally belonged to the Jewish people. Matthew means by this that Christ not only came as Messiah for the Jewish people, but that all people, from all directions, can see their Savior in Him.

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  • The symbolic meaning of numbers in the Bible
  • Four women in the genealogy of Jesus according to Matthew

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