The Genealogy Mystery

Friends in Christ, today we begin this series of holy days running up to Christmas. The gospel today contains the genealogy of Jesus, demonstrating Christ’s human lineage, all the way back to Abraham.
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Now gallons of ink have been spilt, commenting on the meaning and symbols of this genealogy. But some scholars, and skeptics, have pointed to the curious phrase that concludes the genealogy: ‘The generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations, and from the Babylonian exile to the Christ fourteen generations.’ Now if we count, we will see that indeed, the first two lists have 14 names, but the final list has only 13. ‘Aha!,’ say the skeptics, an error. St. Matthew miscounted!’
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A professor once told me, ‘when you see something in scripture that seems strange, study it more, because something great is there.’ Many explanations have been attempted to explain this supposed ‘error.’ How can Matthew say that there are 3 sets of 14 generations up to Christ, when the last set – especially the one that includes the birth of Christ – when that one, seems to be missing one generation?
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Well, why don’t we ask the saints? St. Hilary, writing back in the 4th century says that one cannot read Holy Scripture superficially, for there are important hidden meanings there. He says that we are told there are 14 generations until Mary, yet we only count 13. In reality, this is not an error, because Our Lord Jesus Christ did not take his origin from Mary alone. Christ’s Eternal Generation by the Father is also to be included.[i]
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Therefore, Matthew was not mistaken or in error; generation refers to ‘begetting; the one birth of Christ should be considered as having two generations: his being born from Mary as Man, and his being Eternally Begotten by the Father. Matthew therefore listed the 13 human generations, but says that there are 14, in order to include the Divine generation.  He added together the generations from the Father and from Mary, to teach that the eternal Son of God and the Son of Mary are one and the same Person. And this is what we are preparing to celebrate next week.

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[i] Mary and the Fathers of the church, p. 183.

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