Matthew begins his Gospel with a selective list of Jesus’ ancestors that both omits from and adds to the official records in First Chronicles 1-3. His intent is not to recite a detailed family tree but to make three points about Jesus. First, Jesus is the prototype of a new creation. The word “genealogy” in Matthew 1:1 translates the Greek word genesis, as does “birth” in Matthew 1:18 in the better manuscripts. Matthew’s opening phrase, “The book of the genesis of,” appears ten times in the Greek version of Genesis, where it organizes those ancient stories of origins (Gen. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:2). For Matthew, Jesus represents a new “Genesis,” a new beginning for Israel and all the world.
Furthermore, Matthew tells us that he lists three sets of 14 names representing the period of patriarchs, the time of kings, and the era of the Exile (Matt. 1:17). However, he lists only 41 names, not 42, so someone must be counted twice. Some scholars count David twice, as the last patriarch and as the first dynastic king. Others count David only once (in the first group), ending the second group with the Exile (as Matthew states), which leaves only 13 people in the third group. These scholars believe that Matthew intended for his readers to count Jesus twice — once as the last of David’s royal descendants, then again as the beginning of a new era in human history.
Second, Matthew wants us to see Jesus as David’s messianic descendant, which he underscores by using three sets of 14 names. The Jews used letters of their alphabet for numbers, and 14 is the numerical value of “David” spelled in Hebrew: D (4) + W (6) + D (4). “David — DAVID — DAVID!” Matthew is saying. As royal heir by adoption of the great king of old, Jesus fulfills God’s promises to David and the ancient prophecies concerning the Davidic ruler to come (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Isaiah 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6).
Third, Matthew shows us Jesus as the man in whom God is uniquely present among humankind. Matthew names four women in this genealogy, Tamar (v. 3), Rahab (v. 5) Ruth (v. 5) and Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife (v. 6). Like Jesus’ mother Mary, these four women were also subjects of scandalous gossip. However, Matthew is careful to defend Mary’s reputation. Throughout this genealogy, Matthew uses the verb “generated” (KJV “begat”) with regard to each man named. But he does not say that Joseph “generated” Jesus. Instead he says that Joseph was “the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (v. 16). Matthew explicitly says that Jesus is God’s son, supernaturally conceived by Mary (Matt. 1:18, 20). For this reason, he is also called “Emmanuel” which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). The greater miracle is not that a virgin becomes pregnant, but rather that her child is deity in human flesh.