Bible Genealogies

David Dann
The New Testament opens in the book of Matthew by introducing, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” (Matt. 1:1). Matthew’s opening statement is followed by a lengthy list of names, that establishes a direct family line from the patriarch Abraham to Jesus Christ.

Anyone who has even casually read the Bible knows that it contains numerous genealogical lists, the first of which is found as early as Genesis 4. In fact, there are so many genealogical lists in the Old Testament that we are often tempted to rush through them or even skip over them altogether, rather than take the time to patiently try to pronounce the various names included in the list. Why does the Bible include these genealogies? Since the Scriptures are a product of the mind of God (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21), our Creator must have had some purpose for including them in the inspired text. And, the great frequency with which they occur further points to the importance and necessity of their inclusion. But, what exactly is that purpose, and why are they necessary?

Bible Genealogies
1. Are an evidence of the historical authenticity of the Scriptures. While many may view the genealogies recorded in the Bible as boring and tedious, they actually serve to support the historical integrity of the Scriptures. For example, Genesis 5 contains the genealogy of Adam all the way down to Noah and his sons. The genealogical record of Genesis 5 contains important details, as well as the various ages of the patriarchs mentioned. We live in an age in which it is popular to dismiss the early chapters of the book of Genesis as nothing more than mythical poetry. But, the genealogies are present as a testimony to the historical authenticity and accuracy of the Genesis record. The genealogies serve to show that the men mentioned in Genesis are real individuals who lived real lives and fathered real sons and daughters, who in turn, raised real families of their own. The history of the nation of Israel recorded in the Old Testament is replete with detailed genealogical records. One cannot simply discredit the historical accuracy of the Old Testament without having to grapple with the fact that the Israelites were able to carefully preserve these detailed genealogies.

2. Help to establish an accurate chronology of events. We know from secular history that approximately two thousand years have passed since the coming of Christ. Secular history and archaeology also affirm that roughly two thousand years elapsed from the time of Abraham to the time of Christ. In Luke 3:23-34, Luke presents a genealogy of Jesus in which he includes 55 generations within the period of time falling between Abraham and Christ. If each generation spans about 40 years, we have approximately 2000 years from Abraham to Christ. Luke continues his genealogical record from Abraham all the way back to Adam, which covers twenty generations (Luke 3:34-38). Since Genesis 5:1-32 provides the ages of those mentioned in Luke’s genealogy, we can estimate the time from Adam to Abraham to have been no more than a few thousand years. It is possible to cover this span of time with only twenty generations due to the fact that the ages of the patriarchs mentioned in Genesis 5 often exceed nine hundred years. Since we know that the earth is only five days older than Adam (Gen. 1:1-31; Exod. 20:11), we can be sure that the earth’s age should be referenced in the context of thousands, rather than billions, or even millions, of years.

3. Were necessary in order to keep the Law of Moses. The law of the Old Covenant that God gave Israel at Mt. Sinai made it necessary for the nation of Israel to keep careful genealogical records. One of the key components of the Law of Moses was the Levitical priesthood. God instructed Moses saying, “And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel. And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest’s office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death” (Num. 3:9-10). The only way the Israelites could keep the Law of God was to make sure that the priests were descendants of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi. And, the only way to be make sure of that was to keep genealogical records. Because of this, we should not be surprised that God commanded Moses to make a careful record of the families of the Levites (Num. 3:14-39). Correct genealogical records had to be maintained in order to ensure that the priests were selected from the proper tribe and family.

4. Are not important under the New Covenant. The only genealogies recorded in the New Testament are the two genealogies of Christ found in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, respectively. These genealogies are necessary in order to show the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the family line of Christ. However, the New Testament includes no other genealogies beyond these. There is no longer a need to keep track of the families of the priests, since the priesthood and law have been changed (Heb. 7:12). Genealogical records are conspicuously absent throughout the New Testament. We do not have genealogical records of the apostles and evangelists of the New Testament, nor do we need them. In fact, the apostle Paul warned Titus to “avoid foolish questions, and genealogies”(Tit. 3:9). He gave similar instructions to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:4). Under the gospel, genealogies are of no spiritual importance, since we are to “rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

The genealogical records presented in the Bible serve an important purpose in unfolding the story of mankind’s redemption, and in upholding the historical accuracy and validity of the Scriptures. Before you skip over those    genealogies, remember that God put them there for a reason, for “his work is perfect” (Deut. 32:4).

2 Wesley St. #5, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M8Y 2W3
Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 24  p9  December 21, 2000