Theological Footnotes 19 - Biblical Genealogies


Theological Footnotes

I am a pastor-theologian and author creating resources to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus. My goal is to make Christian theology comprehensible so that it will build up the church. I write and publish books through Peniel Press.

Hello Reader,

Maybe Holy Week is an odd time to consider genealogies in the Bible. But maybe not. I argue below that the genealogies help hold the whole Bible together as one coherent book. What better time to see how the whole story holds together than when we celebrate its climax in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the dead?

I also made some huge strides in writing this month and preview a whole new project I am working on. Check it out below.

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Genealogies - The Connective Tissue of the Bible

Have you ever tried to read all the way through the Bible, cover to cover? If you have, you have probably experienced coming across a genealogy — listing all sorts of names you have trouble pronouncing and never see again in the Bible — and feeling like you hit a pothole. You are driving along through the story of Scripture and then, clunk, you hit a genealogy. Some of us plough through it, hoping to get to the good stuff later. Others pull over the side of the road and get out of the car. We give up trying to read, because we don’t know what to do with what we read.

What if I told you that the genealogies in the Bible did not have to be a pothole on the road of reading? What if, instead, they could be a place to pause and see the whole Bible more clearly? I want to briefly give you three key reasons the Bible includes so many genealogies.

1: The Bible is a Family Story

According to my family history, our Irish ancestors, the Carneys, came to the United States on a boat during the Irish Potato Famine. Even though I clearly do not remember those events (nor does anyone alive in my family), whenever I read about the Irish Potato Famine, I felt connected to the story. The story involves my family and so it becomes more personal. This is family history.

In a similar way, the genealogies are important in the Bible because this is family history. The Bible deals with individuals and nations, but always within the contexts of larger families. The twelve tribes of Israel were originally twelve brothers. The nations of Edom and Israel were originally twins - Jacob and Esau. Egypt comes from one of the sons of Ham. The Bible is not simply dealing with ancient geo-politics, but with the joy and drama of family.

One of the chief reasons that God placed these genealogies in the pages of Scripture was so that his people would see this story as their story. They belonged to the people and family of God. What took place long ago matters for who they are and who they are called to be. This connection was particularly important for the people of Israel, as they carried the promises and covenant of God. They needed to know intimately that they were part of this people, that the promises, the commands, and the calling were all for them.

2: The Birth of the Son

The second reason so many genealogies are included in the Bible is that the drama of scripture centers around the promise of a child. From the moment sin entered into the world, all of creation has been waiting for the birth of the Son.

Adam and Eve fall and God pronounces judgment on them and the serpent who deceived them. Contained in the judgment on the snake was a promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). This promise came to be known as the “proto-evangelium,” that is the “original gospel.” God promised that there would be an offspring of Eve, a son, who would crush the head of the serpent. Though this Son’s heel would be struck, the serpent would be defeated. This is the first promise that there would be good news on the other side of sin, that God would one day send a deliverer.

Ever since that moment, with every birth of every child, there is hidden the question, “Is this child the one?” When Cain kills Abel, there must be another line through which this child would be born. Seth’s lineage is traced to Noah and the flood. Each child is born, but is not the child.

The birth of children and the tracing of families becomes so important in the Bible because it is all part of the anticipation of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the perfect son of Eve who will redeem us and set things right. The Bible contains so many genealogies because the whole Bible is longing for Christ. It is no accident that both the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke contain long genealogies of Jesus in their opening chapters.

3: The Sinews of Scripture

The various portions of Scripture are drawn and held together by the genealogies. The genealogy of Genesis 5 connects the narrative of creation and fall - of Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel - to the story of Noah and the flood. It serves as a bridge between the two, connecting the Biblical past to the Biblical present. Genesis 10 does the same when it connects Noah and the flood to Babel and Abram. The genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke serve to create a deep connection between the Old and New Testaments. These genealogies hold the two testaments together as one book.

Genealogies also provide interpretive context for understanding later stories in the Bible. In many of the early genealogies we are told the ancestors who would give rise to entire nations and peoples: the Moabites and Ammonites result from Lot’s incestuous union with his daughters (Gen 19:37-38). Both the Egyptians and the Canaanites comes from Ham, who was cursed by Noah for looking upon his father’s nakedness (Gen 10:6). Jacob and Esau - both in their birth and in their genealogy - foreshadow a contrast and conflict that will carry on throughout the biblical story. Jacob’s blessings on his sons foreshadow their later actions and character. The genealogy of Ruth tells us we should see this struggle for a child in the context of the future birth of David.

The genealogies are the connective tissue of the Bible. Their purpose is to hold the Scriptures together, to forge connections such that the story of the Bible is a coherent and connected whole. They are an instrument in the hand of the Spirit to transform the Bible from a collection of short stories, teachings, songs, and letters, into a unified whole. The narratives might be like the muscles that pull the story of Scripture forward. The law and the letters might be like the bones that give us structure and stability. But without the genealogies holding the whole together, it can become easy for us to see each book of the Bible or even each chapter or verse within a book as a separate and unrelated entity. By connecting past, present, and future together, the genealogies help us see the Bible as a whole book. Our sinews and ligaments help connect our muscles and bones so we can walk. The genealogies, the sinews of Scripture, help us be able to walk as disciples of Jesus.

The genealogies have been included in the Bible for at least three reasons. First, the Bible is a family story. Tracing the family tree reminds us and invites us into the story. Second, from the moment we exited Eden, we have been waiting for the promised child of Eve who would save. Every birth recorded, every son born, is an echo of that promise until the birth of the Son. There are no genealogies in the Bible after the birth of Jesus. His birth is the fulfillment of all the genealogies of the Bible. Lastly, the genealogies connect the past, present, and future together, so that we can see the various parts and characters of Scripture in light of one another.


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Writing Updates

It has been a good month for writing. We now have three separate projects in the works and I have hit 29,393 words for the year just this morning. This puts me ahead of pace to reach 100k by the end of the year!

The Sinews of Scripture - Status: Second Draft (25% done) - You already started to get a sense of this book from the essay above, but I am working hard on editing this one. Once I hit 50% editing on this draft, I will start calling for beta readers, so if you are interested in getting an early look at chapters from this book and giving me some feedback, keep your eyes open here and on social media.

The Body of Doctrine, Part 1 - Status: First Draft (100% done) - This was a huge accomplishment about a week ago. After months of slogging through Latin (and feeling like an imposter most of the time), I finished the first draft of the first part of Zacharius Ursinus' commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. It sits at around 42,000 words. I am currently doing some reading on Ursinus before I write the translator's preface and start working on the second draft.

Under the Broom Tree (tentative title) - Status: Research & Outlining (10%) - With a break in translation and only editing left on Sinews, I had to figure out where to go next. I have been playing with the idea of writing a book on pastoral ministry reflected through the calling and ministry of Elijah and Elisha. Think of it as my attempt at Peterson's Under the Unpredictable Plant. If I can come even close to that book, I will be astounded. You can check out my stack of research material below. I already have a table of contents for the book and some ideas of where it will go, but I am excited for the writing journey this book will lead me on.

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Theological Footnotes

I am a pastor-theologian and author creating resources to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus. My goal is to make Christian theology comprehensible so that it will build up the church. I write and publish books through Peniel Press.