Others have asked the significance of '14 generations' in Matthew's account, so it is relevant to a fuller understanding of the development of the gospels to note that Luke uses a different genealogy that is based on groups of seven generations, and to determine the significance of this sequence.

Luke had great men occur in multiples of 7 generations starting from Adam, with: Enoch at 7; Abraham at 21; David at 35; Jesus at 77. He also had: Joseph at 42 and 70; Jesus (Jose) at 49. To do this, he had to insert his own fictitious people into the Old Testament list: Kainan at 13; Admin at 28.

  • 1
    A good question but I didn't appreciate the matter-of-fact assertion that he inserted his own fictitious people. I think that is an unnecessary comment. It would be more tasteful in my opinion to at least say "it seems" or something to that effect.
    – Jas 3.1
    Nov 8 '13 at 4:37
  • Objectivity sometimes require a certain amount of matter-of-factness, otherwise what should be historical or theological discussions become ways to avoid actually saying anything. The biblical scholar, Joachim Jeremias says that the pre-exilic portion of Luke's genealogy is historically worthless, a far stronger statement than anything I have said, and then goes ahead and proves his case. Nov 11 '13 at 6:54
  • The main contention is the word 'he', not the word 'fictitious', as Niobius's answer indicates. The NET translators notes have a useful summary of the difficulties with manuscript evidence here. Dec 27 '13 at 13:02
  • He had to insert his own fictitious people into the Old Testament list: Kainan at 13. - Luke is simply following the Septuagint.
    – Lucian
    Oct 5 '17 at 14:27

Here's the list, in groups of seven, as some translations have it:

1 Jesus - Joseph - Heli - Matthat - Levi - Melchi - Janna
2 Joseph - Mattathiah - Amos - Nahum - Esli - Naggai - Maath
3 Mattathiah - Semei - Joseph - Judah - Joannas - Rhesa - Zerubbabel
4 Shealtiel - Neri - Melchi - Addi - Cosam - Elmodam - Er
5 Jose - Eliezer - Jorim - Matthat - Levi - Simeon - Judah
6 Joseph - Jonan - Eliakim - Melea - Menan - Mattathah - Nathan
7 David - Jesse - Obed - Boaz - Salmon - Nahshon - Amminadab
8 [Admin] - Ram - Hezron - Perez - Judah - Jacob - Isaac
9 Abraham Terah - Nahor - Serug - Reu - Peleg - Eber
10 Shelah - [Cainan] - Arphaxad - Shem - Noah - Lamech - Methuselah
11 Enoch - Jared - Mahalalel - Cainan - Enosh - Seth - Adam
- God

"Admin" in group 8, is not well attested by Greek manuscripts. Some translations choose to include him, and some don't. In the words of Metzger, "Faced with a bewildering variety of readings, the Committee adopted what seems to be the least unsatisfactory form of the text".

"Cainan" in group 10 is better attested by manuscripts, though some early manuscripts do not include him. However, it is more likely that the name "Cainan" was added than that it was removed - it would be very easy for a copyist copying a list of weird names to accidentally copy the same name twice (cf its undisputed occurrence in group 11).

Another argument against the inclusion of these two names is that the author of Luke knew the Old Testament well - it is difficult to see how he might have screwed up the genealogies between David and Adam, as these are easily found in Chronicles, and partially also Genesis (though "Cainan" is found in the LXX, though it was probably added either by a series of mistakes, or intentionally to create a 7+7+7+etc. symmetry - this was probably incorporated later into Luke by copyists). Albeit, though less likely, it is possible that the changes went the other way.

In short, I think it is likely that the author of Luke intended to chronicle the actual genealogy of Jesus, and that later copyists added a couple of names to make the genealogy fit well in groups of seven, and possibly also to make the genealogy fit the Septuagint's genealogy in Gen 11. These groups of seven probably are not intended have any symbolic value per se, but rather make the genealogy look "pretty" by making it into parallel groups with a "biblical" number. It is unlikely that the genealogy was manufactured to have more prominent people at the beginning of each group - the Old Testament chronology already has Enoch seven generations from Adam, and the modifications to Luke's chronology bring only two prominent people (3 with Jesus) to the beginning of groups - and do so by placing a fictitious person at the beginning of a group (#8, Admin). The duplication of names at the beginning of groups is not significant, as it would be even weirder if the beginning of groups did not duplicate names - many names are repeated often in this list (Jesus x2, Joseph x3, Matthat x2, Levi x2, Mattathiah x2 (in addition to Matthat and Mattathah), Judah x2).

  • Both Matthew and Luke include the great Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel in their genealogies of Joseph and then Jesus. If the author of Luke knew the Old Testament well and intended to chronicle the actual genealogy of Jesus, then why does he give Neri as the father of Shealtiel and then go back through a line of commoners to David. Both Matthew and 1 Chronicles say that Zerubbabel was of the royal line (although 1 Chron says that Shealtiel was only his uncle, while Matthew says his father). This line of commoners seems as much a theological construct as the '7 generations'. Oct 30 '13 at 20:08
  • I considered including the rest of my thoughts about the genealogies in my answer, but that wouldn't really be relevant to the question. I believe that Jehoiachin was childless (cf Jer 22:30), and that the kingship passed from him to Shealtiel (as Matthew tracks the line of kings), but Shealtiel's father (or whoever 'adopted' him) was Neri. Even if the Zerubbabel of 1 Chron 3 is the same person as Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, this does not pose a problem: Luke was tracking the genealogy in a different way - e.g. biologically, legally, by inheritance/birthright, etc.
    – Niobius
    Oct 31 '13 at 11:16
  • Matthew does not call Shealtiel Zerubbabel's father any more than he calls Abraham David's father (Mt 1:1) - all genealogies are not through direct biological lineage. But either way, the issue of whether the genealogies themselves are historical is outside the scope of your question.
    – Niobius
    Oct 31 '13 at 11:19
  • Do we know whether the second Cainan (and Admin) is found on any manuscripts produced before the Common Era? This would indicate whether the author of Luke copied them or a late LXX redactor copied Luke. Oct 31 '13 at 20:18
  • The second Cainan is found in LXX manuscripts, but some think that the second Cainan was added to the LXX because scribes saw the name in Luke - thus it could have gone either way. As far as I could tell, there is no evidence of Admin in the LXX or any other Old Testament manuscript - though it seems that particular part of Chronicles is missing from the available LXX manuscripts. But there may be evidence of which I am not aware - my sources are the LXX, the BHS textual notes, and a few commentaries on Luke.
    – Niobius
    Oct 31 '13 at 20:32

If the genealogy in Luke's Gospel is historical, we should not look for significance in the series of groups of seven ancestors, merely a surprising coincidence. So historicity, or otherwise, is the first thing to establish. Joachim Jeremias states in his book, Jerusalem, “...the custom of using the names of the twelve progenitors of the nation as personal names did not appear until after the exile ...When Luke cites the names of Joseph, Judah, Simeon, and Levi as descendants six through nine...this is an anachronism that proves the pre-exilic portion of Luke's genealogy to be historically worthless.” Raymond E. Brown states in his book An Introduction to the New Testament "While Luke's list may be less classically monarchical than Matthew's, there is little likelihood that either is strictly historical." Thus this strange series of coincidences could have a significance and we should seek to understand this significance.

Some of the groups of seven were contributed by the Yahwist in the Book of Genesis, some may well have been contributed by an LXX redactor/copyist(s) and some were certainly contributed by the author of Luke. Nevertheless it was the author of Luke who created the final genealogy with its long pattern of seven ancestors, and any meaning to the pattern can be found in the context of Luke's Gospel.

The number seven appears frequently in the Old Testament and particularly so in the Book of Revelation. Seven is the number of branches on the Menorah, and around the first century there were thought to be seven heavens. Generally, it appears to be a propitious number.

When the author of Matthew wrote a different but parallel genealogy for Jesus, he used a very similar pattern, this time using groups of fourteen, two times seven. He points this out in Matthew 1:17, implying that this was significant in proving that Jesus was destined for great things. I believe that the author of Luke also chose groups of seven generation to prove that Jesus was destined for great things.

  • Matthew lists three groups of fourteen (the double of 7). Highly doubtful that Luke's 77 generations are any less intentional.
    – Lucian
    Oct 5 '17 at 14:26
  • Also, note that by excluding God and Christ from the list, we have 75 names, which coincides with the number of Gentile nations according to (Hellenistic) Hebrew tradition, based on Exodus 1:5 (LXX), quoted by Saint Stephen in Acts 7:14, which is also ascribed to Luke, the disciple of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Certainly, this cannot be all just a coincidence.
    – Lucian
    Oct 5 '17 at 15:26

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