The Riddle of 13

Photo by Bonnybbx

Critics of the theory of biblical inerrancy will point to “inconsistencies” in the text, seeking to debunk its reliability as the Word of God. Frankly, some of those are just cheap shots. Others deserve to be wrestled with.

One significant “problem” shows up here in the first chapter of Matthew, in the genealogy itself — where it seems Matthew can neither read nor count.

That charge is earned because:

1. He skips four kings in the second portion of the list, though they are plainly listed in every Old Testament record.
2. He proudly declares there are “14 generations” in the third portion of the list, but anyone who counts can see he only listed 13.

Error? Or something else?

There are various theories for the strange discrepancies in the genealogy; most are willing to give Matthew the benefit of the doubt. The man was clearly a capable writer, and as a former tax collector we presume he could count. Most theories have to do with ancient conventions for genealogies (he isn’t required to list every single person in a lineage, and the wording can indicate a grandson or descendant, not just a direct son) and counting (it may be conventional to lump the last name in the second list in at the beginning of the third list, thus making it 14.)

Detail From  A Dead Sea Scroll
Detail From A Dead Sea Scroll

Or maybe Matthew is doing something else.

Maybe the genealogy is a riddle.

Several years ago, William Struse, a fellow writer from Arizona sent me a manuscript to edit called THE 13TH ENUMERATION. The book is a thriller and well worth a read as such, but it lays out a fascinating case for the riddle of 13 found in this passage and what it might mean in the larger context of biblical prophecy, chronology, and eschatology.

Just as a teaser, Bill noticed that the “missing kings” of the second portion of the list are divided in groups of 1 and 3 (and the name of the 1 means “Yahweh raises up.”) Convinced that Matthew was highlighting the number 13 for anyone who would pay attention, Bill went searching for any significance in the Old Testament surrounding that number.

I’d say he found it, but check it out for yourself. Bill posts a ton at his blog, and his series of thrillers (the story has continued since that first one!) has been joined by a series of nonfiction books so you can check out the theories at more depth for yourself. He gives the introductory one away as a PDF, so check it out today.


(Note: Bill also found fascinating corroborence in prime numbers, various astronomical phenomena, historical dates, and a lot of other fun and cool stuff. This is not necessarily a full endorsement of all his theories, but check it out for yourself. I have learned that God is a riddle-master, one who — as the Bible says — is glorified in hiding a matter, while our glory is to search it out.)







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *