After giving Jesus's genealogy in the first chapter, Matthew goes on to point out the number of generations between significant events:

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. —Matthew 1:17

What is the significance of '14 generations'? Does this fulfill a specific prophecy? Does the number 14 itself hold any special meaning? How would a 1st century Jewish reader interpret this fact?

  • Welcome to BH.SE. Thank you so much for including the final question, which really gets at the heart of what we are about here. Matthew makes a big deal about the number of generations, which is strange to us modern readers. Hopefully we can dig down to the way this was understood by the gospel's earliest audience. Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 21:15
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    Just read a really good thesis on the subject. rtforum.org/lt/lt13.html
    – user567
    Commented May 5, 2012 at 4:11

11 Answers 11


If we are to think like the first-century hearers, we must recognize that the importance of the number fourteen is that it is a multiple of (that ever-so-important number) seven. Matthew is implying that the entire flow of God's history of creating a people for himself shows that Jesus the Christ is our Sabbath rest.

Forty-two, not Fourteen

Three sets of fourteen is six sets of seven. The operative number here is not really fourteen but forty-two. And no, forty-two is not the answer to life, the universe, and everything; actually it is the precursor to the one who is the meaning of everything. Jesus Christ is the seventh week of history; he is the completion and the culmination; he inaugurates the last days.

In the Lord Jesus, God's redemptive work comes to a rest. This does not mean that God becomes inert, but that that the finality and totality are invested in him, and history never moves beyond him, as he lives on in his indestructible life, ruling from on high.

Old Testament Prophecies

I am not aware of prophecies that reference the number fourteen. However, when this is seen as a matter of the seventh seven, all the significance of seven and its square come into play. There are a handful of references to forty-two in the Old Testament, but none of them shed a lot of light on this situation. The most relevant prophecy may be Daniel's reference to the week of weeks:

Now listen and understand! Seven sets of seven plus sixty-two sets of seven will pass from the time the command is given to rebuild Jerusalem until a ruler—the Anointed One—comes. Jerusalem will be rebuilt with streets and strong defenses, despite the perilous times. —Daniel 9:25 (NLT)

Admittedly, Daniel is giving a different perspective on the narrative than Matthew, but the same theological meaning of the seventh seven: the Messiah will be the fulfillment of all things.

New Testament Prophecies

The meaning of forty-two is further clarified by the last book of prophecy as the time of the dominion of the nations over God's people:

But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months. —Revelation 11:2 (NLT)


Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. —Revelation 13:5 (NLT)

The Messiah is the one who brings this time to an end, defeating the enemies of God and rescuing his people. Upon his arrival, the time of trampling is over.


In Jon Ericson's answer, he links to an article by Bob Deffinbaugh, who points out the strong connections between Matthew 1 and Genesis 1. Indeed, what we see here is that just as God created progressively over six days, so God revealed himself progressively for six weeks, until on the seventh God himself appeared on earth and became our rest.

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    Please note that the total of 42 is also the Kabbalist number for one of the special names of God.
    – user2824
    Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 1:49
  • (-1) "Forty-two, not fourteen" - this just doesn't ring true when the author finishes this passage by underlining the number fourteen three times, and never mentions the number forty-two: Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. This answer's basis for not taking fourteen as the key number appears to be based on everything except the author and text in focus.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 8:49

I see Bruce stated this in a comment, but I'll give more detail. In Hebrew, David's name adds up to 14 when each letter is treated as a number (called gematria).

You skip the vowel points (nikkud) and just add up the values of the consonants dalet waw daleth (the same character is used for V and W). Dalet counts as 4, Waw counts as 6, and another Dalet adds 4 more. Thus, 14.

The name David means "beloved."

  • Nice. I was going to look that up, but I see I won't have to. Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 17:19


A recent question linked to a reference of meaning of various numbers in the Bible and this passage seem to be the primary source of meaning for the number 14. None of the other references seem particularly compelling and seem to be included for data-mining purposes. I would say that the number 14 has no particular meaning in the Bible outside of this passage.


While there are many Old Testament prophesies that are said to apply to Jesus, I don't know of any that involve 14 generations. It is clear that the Messiah must come from the line of David, but nothing in the Jewish texts require him to be any particular generation away from David.


So why did Matthew make a point of specifying the number of generations? Simply put, genealogy and numerology were important to 1st century Jews as they are to most people throughout history. It's vital that the Messiah descend from Abraham and David. So Matthew recorded the lineage from Abraham to David and from David to Jesus. When he did so, he must have noticed that there were roughly the same number of men from the start of the Jewish people to its height, as from the start of the Jewish kingdom to its end, as from the captivity to Jesus. There weren't 14 generations exactly, however. So Matthew edited the list by jumping from grand- or great-grandfathers to their later decedent ("son of" can mean any male decedent).

The image that Matthew seems to invoke that of a deep plan in human history managed by God and culminating in the person of Jesus. It is the story of the rise and fall of a people and the redemption of that story when a new "King of the Jews" was born. We are meant to be reminded of the very familiar names that take up the bulk of Jesus' genealogy and remember their triumphs and failures.

For a fairly exhaustive interpretation of this passage, I highly recommend Bob Deffinbaugh's article on bible.org.

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    In Hebrew, the values of the letters of David's name add up to 14. Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 5:57

The numerical values of David's name adds up to 14, as has already been stated. Besides there were exactly 14 generations between Abraham and David. But Matthew had to skip 3 generations to make 14 from David to the captivity in Babylon, and had to skip many more to make only 14 from Babylon to Jesus. The numerical value of David's name itself may explain why the number 14 is chosen, but does not explain why any number had to be chosen at all: why not list every person in the genealogy?

I think the answer lies in the fact that Matthew is more interested in theology and parallelism than in historicity and chronology. Often Matthew will mention only briefly what Mark describes in great detail, and will move the accounts of events around to make them fit his structure and theological emphasis (note, however, that he never claims that these events are in chronological order). In the genealogy, I believe he is drawing parallels between each set of 14 names in order to emphasize two points: David (from whom the Messiah would come), and Babylon (which took away from Israel the kingdom which Christ was to restore). In addition to emphasizing these two points in the chronology, the 14x3 generations may be meant as a mnemonic aid for anyone wanting to memorize them (as was more common in their time than in ours).


As explained by @Frank Luke, the original Jewish audience for Matthew would immediately have connected the number 14 to David. This was anticipated in verse 1 where Jesus is introduced as the "Son of David". It is crucial for Matthew to underscore that Jesus was the Messiah=Son of David. Of course, "son" is here used in an extended, Hebrew sense. When one person in the genealogy is said to be the father of another person, this can mean either father, grandfather or ancestor. Likewise a "son" can be a son, grandson or descendant. The word "son" can also mean "someone like" as in "sons of thunder". So, it is not a problem for Matthew to leave out certain names in the genealogy in order to arrive at the significant number 3x14.

It is irrelevant that this adds up to 42, and that 14=7x2, but it is relevant that we have 3 sets of 14. The symbolic meaning of 3 is what comes from God or relates to God's intervention on earth. The number 4 stands for people or humanity. By combining God with people we get the perfect and complete number 3+4=7. By multiplying God and people, 3x4=12, we get the people of God. The OT people of God is represented by the 12 sons of Jacob, and the NT people of God is represented by the 12 apostles. These two peoples are combined in Revelation and represented by 24 elders.

So, Matthew is telling his audience that Jesus was not a regular earthly king like David. He did not come to restore the physical kingdom of David. It was a different kingdom he was to be the ruler in, the Kingdom of Heaven = the Kingdom of God. Jesus was sent by God into this world as the Son of God, the spiritual King David.

Many people have looked at the symbolic meaning of numbers in the Bible. Some deny any symbolic meaning of any number, while others see dubious symbolism in every number. My own little contribution can be found here: https://www.academia.edu/1040939/Number_symbolism_in_the_Bible


Drawing on "The Adoption of Jesus" by Ra McLaughlin, I'd suggest that the counting here is not intended as a hidden numerological code or fulfillment of any prophecy but is simply a literary device used to place Jesus in squarely as part of Israel's history. Says McLaughlin:

The generations are not counted in a precisely similar fashion — Jeconiah is counted twice. This is not inappropriate given that [the genealogy] is primarily a literary device intended to highlight the four markers [viz., Abraham, David, the exile, and Christ]. Moreover, Jeconiah rightly belongs in both groups: in the first group, he is in a line of kings; in the second group, having been deposed, he is merely counted as a man.

In particular, Matthew was self-consciously writing, Michael Kruger argues, to complete the story of Israel recorded in the Old Testament and that he saw Jesus as the continuation and consummation of that story:

[Matthew] turns immediately to a genealogy, placing the Jesus story into the story of Israel, with a special emphasis on David. The genealogy, of course, is a well-known Old Testament genre that is frequently used to demonstrate the historical unfolding of God’s redemptive activities among his people. In this regard, Matthew’s closest parallel is the book of Chronicles which also begins with a genealogy that has an emphasis on the Davidic line.

If by the first century Chronicles was regarded as the final book in the Hebrew canon, as some scholars have argued, then Matthew’s gospel would certainly be a fitting sequel. An Old Testament canon ending with Chronicles would have placed Israel in an eschatological posture, looking ahead to the time when the messiah, the son of David, will come to Jerusalem and bring full deliverance to his people.

If so, then Matthew’s opening chapter would be a clear indication that he is intending to finish this story. He is picking up where the Old Testament ended, with a focus on David and the deliverance of Israel.


Many of the answers given are quite good and useful. Niobius and Steve Can Help and John are very good answers indeed. I wouldn't bother to add but that for the oft repeated observation by the many authors here, "just because XYZ is equal to 14, doesn't mean Matthew's reason for doing this is because of it." True.

After years looking at Matthew, I believe there is a more pressing reason for Matthew using 14 as a key number in his genealogy. In short, Matthew uses 14 as a literary tool to write his Gospel and group his stories into a meaningful whole. And Matthew "tells us" this by doing the same to the introduction ( which is the geneology).

I have taught on this many times but not published as of yet. But to keep this abbreviated, allow this explanation.

Matthew wrote his Gospel and separated out the genealogical history of Jesus into 3 groups of 14 (self evident, IMHO). But the next question is why...and all the above is in play. However, Matthew has a more over-arching reason for separating the 42 (seeming) generations into 3 x 14 (and NOT 6X7). Matthew wants his readers to follow him in groups of 14 throughout His Gospel. David Palmer has one of the better renditions of this in His book on Matthew. And even if you don't initially see the fourteen used as groupings (Matthew is not going to number like John), those groupings enables Matthew to communicate much that is clouded without his groupings into 14. Most notably is dead center of His Gospel (chapter 13) where 14 mini-stories are set in inverted-parallel so to communicate his Gospels focus on discipleship. And that number 14 is used throughout as Matthew's breakdown of the life of Jesus.

In short, the third reason is literary...and used quite deftly by Matthew. And as others have said quite well...there are not 3 groups of 14 persons in Matthew's genealogy. Shoot, the name Exile isn't even a name (needed to get 14). :) But Matthew seperates his genealogy into 14's because he is going to do that same thing throughout his book so to build a literary frame that helps the reader focus on the crucial elements more clearly. JJ

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    – Anne
    Commented May 18 at 7:26

The sons of some of the people were adopted as their father's sons...not their own so maybe there are cases in the genealogies that Matthew knew about that we don't know about. Some examples I've found of these sons being adopted even though he has his own parents are 1. Jacob claiming Joseph’s children as his own. Gen 48:5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 2. Joseph’s grandchildren were credited as his children. Gen 50: 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the 3rd generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own.


The genealogy of Yeshua is 14+14+14 which leads us to the Christ generation or those that become ONE (Echad) with Christ. Added together it sums to 42. There were 42 stops in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. That means that 42 is a number that signifies the end of one place and transitioning into another. As stated in Rev 11:2 and 13:5, it signified the end of evil domination. If you know Hebrew gemetria, the proper name of Jesus is Yehoshua. You can find that spelled various ways, but we know that when Yeshua died and received his glorified body he became one with the Father, YHVH. Since the Hebrew letter Shin represents the Shekinah or Glory of God, you would spell the name by putting the Shin within the other letters or YHSVH (Yud, Hey, Shin, Vav, Hey). If you know how to do the milui (full letter value) of this name it works out to 1260. 1260 in days is the same as 3.5 years or in months is 42. So, 42 also represents the name of Jesus in the glory which is YHSVH or Yehoshua. Yes, I don't think it was a coincidence that it is a popular saying but yet no one knows exactly why, but even the youth are wearing sweatshirts saying; 42- the answer to all life.

The number 14 by itself is the gemetria of the word "beloved" in Hebrew, is 7x2 which since 7 is a spiritual completion number means double completion or the reward of double for the first born. Being double completion, it can also mean the passing through of the 2 veils in the tabernacle, and the two resurrections.

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    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 22:18

The first 3 words of the Hebrew bible contain 14 letters.

The following 4 words also contain 14 letters and complete the verse.

David דוד has value 4+6+4=14.

The letter Nun נ, has a standard value of 50, but is the 14th letter.

Shaddai (שדי) has value 314 as in God Almighty, (El Shaddai אל שדי).

I AM THAT I AM (אהיה אשר אהיה) has ordinal value 21+42+21. (21+21=42) Exodus 3:14


One is a number that points to God, "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is ONE" and four is a number of completion in terms of earth, (the four cardinal directions, the four sets of tribes around the Tabernacle Tent. Four is also the number of Angels and the four symbols in Ezekiel which the Patristic Fathers saw as symbols for completion.) Fourteen becomes a combination of Heaven and Earth just as the Incarnation is God becoming Man.

I have no reference for this interpretation and offer it as just one way to see the number 14. Jesus is one of the three co-equal persons of the Blessed Trinity and He has descended from the Father to earth through a human line of descent, men and women who co-operated with God represented by the 3 sets of 14 generations. Some have pointed out that in actual historical counting of the generations in Mathew is off but I believe Mathew was using 14 as a symbolic number which the Jewish audience would have readily recognized.

I enjoyed reading all the explanations given by others and some of the impressive articles that were posted.

  • A friendly reminder that the focus here is interpreting the original text. You seem to have put down what 14 means to you. My view is that it's highly unlikely to have meant that for Matthew. If you think it did, then you should show your supporting evidence. Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 21:42

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