Matthew 1:4

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This item has been selected by Peter Kirby as a "Featured Smackdown". You are heartily encouraged to debate the claims made on both sides.

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and Ram begat Amminadab; and Amminadab begat Nahshon; and Nahshon begat Salmon; (ASV)



To My Honored Teacher Rabbi Maimonides


JW: According to 1 Chronicles 2:10:

"And Ram begat Amminadab, and Amminadab begat Nahshon, prince of the children of Judah;"

it was Ram that begat Aminadab. The earliest extant Greek manuscripts though have the Greek equivalent of the English "Aram" for Matthew 1:4. In the big picture UBS has "Aram" as likely original. Raymond Brown confirms in "The Birth Of The Messiah" that "Aram" was likely original. The International Critical Commentary also confirms "Aram". This apparent error by "Matthew" can be relatively easily explained by the observation that the early Christian Greek translations of the Jewish Bible (often referred to as "LXX") have "Aram" in the genealogy instead of "Ram" so "Matthew" likely copied an error that already existed in the Greek.

Here is an interesting genealogy chart from Chris Weimer.

"Aram"/"Ram" is the seventh name on the list (coincidence?). An observation which ranks relatively low on the evidence scale is that Peshitta Old has "Ram" and Peshitta New has "Aram" (Judge, look out!).

I think most Apologists would agree here that "Aram" is likely original so the question becomes is using "Aram" instead of "Ram" an error? First let me say that if this is an error it certainly isn't a serious error. Even if they are different names they only differ by one letter and it's possible that they were variants of the same name so either could be used to refer to the same person. On the other hand minor errors like this aren't commonly discussed so most people don't even realize that there is an issue here or consider that this is evidence that "Matthew" was not fluent in Semitics and therefore not the best person to be explaining Semitics to non-Semitics.

I think though that "Ram" and "Aram" were two different names in Biblical Hebrew for the following reasons:

1) Both names are used in the Jewish Bible.

2) There is nothing explicit or implied outside of "Matthew" that "Ram" and "Aram" were anything other than two distinct names.

3) A one letter difference is a big difference in the compact and small word Biblical Hebrew.

4) The LXX of Chronicles lists "Ram" and "Aram" as sons of Hezron.

5) There are many more examples of "Matthew's" problems with names in the genealogy.

6) Origen testifies that in his time the Greek manuscripts were filled with errors regarding Hebrew names:


"In the matter of proper names the Greek copies are often incorrect, and in the Gospels one might be misled by their authority. The transaction about the swine, which were driven down a steep place by the demons and drowned in the sea, is said to have taken place in the country of the Gerasenes. Now, Gerasa is a town of Arabia, and has near it neither sea nor lake. And the Evangelists would not have made a statement so obviously and demonstrably false; for they were men who informed themselves carefully of all matters connected with Judaea. But in a few copies we have found, "into the country of the Gadarenes; "and, on this reading, it is to be stated that Gadara is a town of Judaea, in the neighbourhood of which are the well-known hot springs, and that there is no lake there with overhanging banks, nor any sea. But Gergesa, from which the name Gergesenes is taken, is an old town in the neighbourhood of the lake now called Tiberias, and on the edge of it there is a steep place abutting on the lake, from which it is pointed out that the swine were cast down by the demons. Now, the meaning of Gergesa is "dwelling of the casters-out," and it contains a prophetic reference to the conduct towards the Saviour of the citizens of those places, who "besought Him to depart out of their coasts." The same inaccuracy with regard to proper names is also to be observed in many passages of the law and the prophets, as we have been at pains to learn from the Hebrews, comparing our own copies with theirs which have the confirmation of the versions, never subjected to corruption, of Aquila and Theodotion and Symmachus."

JW: I think we've established that "Matthew" likely wrote "Aram" here while based on the original Hebrew genealogy it should be "Ram". Let's look at some additional details.

Ruth 4:19 gives the narrative version from the Jewish Bible:

"and Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab," (ASV)

This is further confirmation that "Ram" is likely original. I don't believe that Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia gives any variation here. Now lets look at the Septuagint for 4:19:

"????? ?? ????????? ??? ????? ??? ????? ????????? ??? ????????"

The relevant word is "?????" which translates as "Arran". This should give the reader some idea of the textual problems facing "Matthew" as he had to deal with name variation in the Greek and presumably could not read the original Hebrew.

1 Chronicles 2:9 provides further potential confusion for "Matthew". According to the Jewish Bible:

"The sons also of Hezron, that were born unto him: Jerahmeel, and Ram, and Chelubai." (ASV)

Hezron had three sons, one of which was "Ram".

According to the LXX though:

"??? ???? ?????? ?? ????????? ???? ? ??????? ??? ? ??? ??? ? ????? ??? ????"

Hezron, had four sons, ??????? (Jerahmeel), ??? (Ram), ????? (Chelubai) and ???? (Aram).

Of course it's possible that the LXX was edited to add "Aram" here to make it agree with "Matthew".

Now let's look at "Ram" and "Aram" in original language Hebrew to see if the Hebrew Bible distinguishes the two. First, 1 Chronicles 2:10:

?  ?????, ??????? ???-???????????; ????????????? ??????? ???-?????????, ??????? ?????? ????????. 10 And Ram begot Amminadab; and Amminadab begot Nahshon, prince of the children of Judah;

Note that the first word on the right for the Hebrew is the Hebrew word for "Ram", " ??? " (Ram), " ?? " (and).

Now 1 Chronicles 1:17:

??  ?????? ????--?????? ??????????, ??????????????? ?????? ???????; ?????? ??????, ??????? ?????????. {?} 17 The Sons of Shem: Elam, and Asshur, and Arpachshad, and Lud, and Aram, and Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Meshech.

Note that the fifth word from the left for the Hebrew is the Hebrew word for "Aram", " ????? " (Aram), " ?? " (and).

So we can see that Hebrew had two separate names for the English "Ram" and "Aram". I already mentioned that I don't believe there is any evidence in Biblical Hebrew that the two names were used to refer to the same person. Having an aleph, ?? , "a" at the beginning gives the name a different meaning in Hebrew.

Keep in mind that Raymond Brown referred to "Matthew's" use of "Aram" as "a variant form of "Ram". Since Justin is now an Administrator I'll just say that I think Brown was expressing Christian kindness towards "Matthew's" translation.

Now let's consider differences and similarities between the Hebrew names for "Ram" and "Aram". According to:

Aram = highness, magnificence, one that deceives; curse

Ram = elevated; sublime

so the names have differences and similarities.

Here's famed Internet Apologist JP Holding's defense against the original abbreviated version of my claimed error (apparently he's reading this and was alerted to the problem at his site):

"Behind this contorted complaint there lies a host of idiocies. "Ram" and "Aram" are nothing more than legitimate variations of spelling on the same name -- much like "Joe" and "Joseph" or "James" and "Jim." The LXX does indeed use Aram and this is an acceptable, non-erroneous spelling variation, of the sort we also find in Josephus. The idea that Matthew was not fluent in Hebrew flounders on the simple fact that Matthew regularly uses the Hebrew version of the OT text; it is simply a ridiculous and unsupported assertion to make based on a spelling variation, which appears in the LXX -- composed by persons who were themselves fluent in Hebrew! The "LXX was changed" idea is a throwaway without substantiation, of the sort that Wally loves to throw out without documentation or critical examination, much less showing relevance."

JW: Let me say in general that Holding's brief response primarily consisting of assertions rather than evidence such as examples, authority and detailed reasoning wouldn't carry much weight against my detailed article here with examples, appeal to authority and detailed reasoning. Holding does mention "acceptable, non-erroneous spelling variation" and "spelling variation" seems to be the most popular "defense" here so I'll address that.

1) The first consideration for possible "spelling variation" is was there spelling variation in the original language of Hebrew for "Ram"? My detailed article above indicates no evidence for this in the Jewish Bible, in contemporary Jewish writings and from Biblical Hebrew language experts. If Holding wants to make an argument here he's reduced to the secondary argument of demonstrating that similar but different names in the Jewish Bible had this type of variation and still referred to the same person. Good luck.

2) The second consideration for possible spelling variation is was there spelling variation in the translated language of Greek for "Ram"? Consider that Greek had no existing equivalent of "Ram" as a Greek name. When it was used in Greek it was transliterated. Therefore, the only potential spelling variation would be based on letters which had the same sound. Let's look at the related sounds in tortuous detail (read right to left):

Hebrew Masoretic:  ??  ?

English Sound: M Ra

Greek (1:4):  ?  ??  ?

English Sound: M Ra A

Note that the Greek transliteration used by "Matthew" is a different sound ("A" at the start) and not simply a spelling variation for the same sound. I levy it to Mr. Holding to prepare a convincing analysis based on examples that this type of sound variation in a transliterated name from the Hebrew Bible would likely not be an error.

In any case Holding is still stuck with the problem that the last time I checked, the Jewish Bible was still part of the Christian Bible and most Christian English translations have "Ram" for this genealogy place in the Jewish Bible while I've likely demonstrated that "Matthew" used "Aram". According to the Christian Bible then, at a minimum this would be a mistransliteration of not just the same name but the name of the same person. Error.

So in Summary, the evidence that "Matthew's" use of "Aram" at 1:4 is an Error, ranked by weight of evidence is:

1) According to the Masoretic text "Ram" was the correct name for the genealogy "Matthew" was trying to present.

2) The detailed narrative from the Jewish Bible also confirms "Ram" as correct.

3) The original Hebrew name "Ram" was transliterated into Greek. "Matthew's" "Aram" would be an incorrect transliteration based on sound.

4) The LXX has "Aram" here in the genealogy which would explain "Matthew's" error. He copied it from the LXX.

5) "Aram" and "Ram" are two different names in the original Hebrew used to refer to different people in the Jewish Bible.

6) There is no evidence in the Jewish Bible that "Ram" and "Aram" were anything other than two distinct names.

7) A one letter difference is a big difference in the compact and small word Biblical Hebrew.

8) The LXX of Chronicles lists "Ram" and "Aram" as sons of Hezron indicating they were two separate names in Greek as well.

9) There are many more examples of "Matthew's" problems with names in the genealogy.

10) Origen confesses to us that in his time the Greek manuscripts were filled with errors regarding Hebrew names. This would have been well before any extant manuscripts.

11) Some Christian English translations use "Ram" for 1:4 implying that "Aram" was a mistake.

12) The meaning of "Aram" and "Ram" in Hebrew is different.

The evidence that "Matthew's" use of "Aram" at 1:4 is not an Error, ranked by weight of evidence is:

1) "Aram" and "Ram" differ by one letter so it's possible they could refer to the same person.

2) The LXX has "Aram" here in the genealogy which supports "Matthew's" "Aram" as original and the extant LXX is older than the extant Masoretic. This weight is reduced by the LXX use of "Arran" in the detailed narrative.

3) The meaning of "Aram" and "Ram" in Hebrew is similar.

In my opinion, the weight of the Evidence above is that "Ram" is the correct name at this point in the genealogy and "Matthew's" use of a different name ("Aram") is an Error. Let me also point out something for the benefit of Fundamentalists here. If you want to believe that "Aram" and "Ram" referred to the same person then "Matthew's" use of "Ram" would still have been a better choice and therefore, the existing genealogy by "Matthew" is not "perfect".



Edit this section if you doubt error.


Genealogy in Matthew

The Matthean genealogies are definitely a difficulty for inerrancy arguments. However, it should be noted that GoMatthew structured his genealogies in three groups of fourteen--this provides an almost poetic balance to the chapter, and while the poetry isn't necessarily pleasing to the modern reader, it's possible that the "balanced structure" fulfilled some literary convention of the time.

However, that's modern speculation on my part: I'd like to see some input on whether or not there are similar "balanced structures" in other Greek texts of this period--especially texts from Antioch in Syria.

--JustinEiler 21:04, 21 Aug 2005 (CDT)

The Greek:


Matthew: "????????"

Josephus: "??????????"

Philo: "????????"

--JoeWallack 20:08, 23 May 2006 (CDT)


Matthew: "??????"

1 Chronicles 2:11: "??????"

Ruth 4:20: "??????"

--JoeWallack 10:52, 26 May 2006 (CDT)

I think that this deserves a more general discussion of strategies for borrowing Hebrew names and words into Greek. There are two strategies that one finds:

1. Give the word a Greek declensional ending and then treat it like any other Greek word with that ending, usually a noun. Thus, a word would be given some ending like -os, -on, -es, -as, -a, -e, -is, etc., which would then be changed according to its number and case. This approach is almost universal outside of the Septuagint and Septuagint-influenced authors.

2. Borrow the word in its original form and making it indeclinable, altering it only to fit Greek phonology (sh -> s, etc.).

Classical Greek had five noun cases, of which all but the dative have survived in Modern Greek.

Vocative (case of direct address)
Nominative (subject case)
Accusative (direct object case)
Dative (indirect object case or to-case)
Genitive (of-case)

And prepositions would often change their meanings depending on which noun case they were associated with, something common in the older or more conservative Indo-European languages like Latin and Russian and German.

So making nouns indeclinable produces a serious risk of ambiguity in Greek.


Exxxcellent Lpetrich, with Apologies to Chris Weimer, your clarification above is most welcome. As near as I can tell there doesn't seem to be much written concerning the Issues of presenting original Hebrew Names in Greek. Josephus represents the Classical Style whereby he normally adds the "??" ending and follows conventional Greek Declination. Don't get me started on the use of "Septuagint". In Greek versions of the Jewish Bible, generally by Christian hands, and commonly referred to as the "LXX", the transliterated Form is indeclinable presumably because this is representative of the indeclinable Hebrew source and as it is a transliteration of a name that usually wouldn't otherwise exist in Greek keeping it indeclinable would reduce confusion over identification.

This brief discussion gives some idea of issues faced by "Matthew" in trying to figure out which Greek version of a Hebrew name to select. Some of this discussion probably should go on the related Discussion page eventually but this article on the Infancy is still in its Infancy.

Apologists will be claiming that variation in Name spelling was common, as a Defense against "Matthew" sometimes appearing to identify the wrong person in his Genealogy. They will for instance cite Josephus as evidence of Name variation in General or for a specific name. However, if Josephus is consistently adding the "??" ending to make Names declinable and "Matthew" never adds such an ending or uses Declinable form, it's not much of a Defense, is it?

--JoeWallack 10:13, 28 May 2006 (CDT)

This makes me recall the time I (LP) did a study on the name "Mary" in the New Testament. It sometimes appears as "Maria", following the a-stem declension, and sometimes as "Mariam", the Septuagint indeclinable version. And it does so rather inconsistently between the various versions I looked at, though a few patterns were evident. The Stephanus and Scrivener's versions almost always agreed, while the Westcott-Hort and York versions usually agreed. And the genitive ("of Mary") was always the declined form of Maria, Marias, rather than the indeclinable Mariam.


1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament
1550 Stephanus New Testament
1894 Scrivener New Testament
 online in The Bible Gateway
The University of York Greek New Testament

I have also discovered a case of a workaround for the indeclinability problem: attach an article, which can then be declined. Greek has a definite article ("the"), though some other inflection-heavy languages like Latin and most Slavic languages lack articles. Revelation 20:8 refers to Gog and Magog as:

ton go:g kai mago:g (the Gog and Magog (acc.); Westcott-Hort, York)
ton go:g kai ton mago:g (the Gog and the Magog (acc.); Stephanus, Scrivener's)

However, that does not seem to be a very common strategy; Gog and Magog themselves are mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament.

-- Lpetrich

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