Theological Footnotes 21 - Two Kinds of 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,

Genealogies are confusing for most people reading the Bible. We know they should be important and, because it is God's Word, we sometimes slog through these long lists of names without being sure how they should benefit us. In my time studying the genealogies of the Bible, I have noticed some patterns that can help regular Christians read them more profitably. I share a section of my forthcoming book, The Sinews of Scripture, below in the hopes it will get your more excited about reading genealogies (or at least less confused).

Thanks again for your support. If someone shared this issue with you and you would like to receive it in your own inbox, you can sign up by clicking here.

Expansion and Narrowing Genealogies

Broadly speaking, there are two different kinds of genealogies in the Bible: expansion and narrowing. Some genealogies expand from one person into many descendants. This is the most common way we structure our own family genealogies. There is one ancestral couple — whether four or fourteen generations ago — and the genealogy lists their children, their children’s children, and those children’s children’s children all the way down. From two people comes a huge family, a web of people connected to a common ancestor. We see these “expansion genealogies” in Numbers and Ezra. Each tribe is listed, then the sons and their families, then the families that came from them. As an Israelite hearing those lists, it might have been exciting to wait to hear the name of your family. Expansion genealogies emphasize connection. All these various people are actually deeply connected to one another. Throughout later chapters we will cover several expansion genealogies: the descendants of Esau, Ishmael, and Israel. Their purpose is to show the connection between these various people as they spread across the globe.

Expansion genealogies also show the fulfillment of God’s commands in Genesis 1. “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.””(Gen. 1:28). This command — sometimes known as the “Creation Mandate” — involves the growth and spread of humanity across the world. The command was repeated after the devastation of the flood (Gen. 9:7). These expansion genealogies show the earth being filled with people. When it comes to the specific genealogies of Israel, expansion genealogies also connect with God’s promise to Abraham to give him children “like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, [his] offspring also can be counted” (Gen. 13:16). Whether as genealogies of God’s people or the nations, expansion genealogies emphasize the connection between various peoples and God’s promise to fill the earth.

However, other genealogies begin with huge families and nations and narrow down to one person. In narrowing genealogies, the person at the end of the genealogy is more important than the person at the beginning. The power of the genealogy is at its conclusion, not its beginning. Not every single ancestor is included, but the genealogy traces one single family line down to an important individual within God’s purpose of salvation. We saw this already in Genesis 5, where the genealogy of Seth names that people “had many other sons and daughters,” but only follows the one son until it reaches Noah. We will see this again in the genealogy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are multiple children, but the promise remains with one. So the genealogy narrows and even excludes. Only with the sons of Jacob will the genealogy expand again, when the covenant extends not just to one man, but to an entire people. However, even then, the promise of kingship rests with just one tribe — Judah. At the end of Ruth, the genealogy narrows to the birth of David. However, the most prominent example of a narrowing genealogy are the opening verses of the Gospel of Matthew. There, the children of Abraham are followed all the way down to one man: Jesus Christ. The power of the genealogy is found in its conclusion, not in its beginning.

Narrowing genealogies emphasize the fulfillment of God’s promises. In particular, they show how God keeps his covenantal promises, the gospel promises. All the way back in Genesis 3:15, we hear God tell the serpent,

“And I will put enmity

between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

One of the great purposes of biblical genealogies is the search for this promised offspring of Eve who would crush the head of the serpent. Every narrowing genealogy shows the promise carrying forward. The narrow genealogies of Abraham and David show how the promise, not just the promise made to Eve, but the covenant made with Abraham and David, continues in a narrow way with a particular line. This narrowing continues all the way down to the person of Jesus, who is the fulfillment of all the great promises of God.

The expansion genealogies begin with one great ancestor and trace the many families and generations that flow from him. These genealogies emphasize the connection between various peoples and God’s promise to fill the earth. The narrowing genealogies end with the fulfillment of God’s promise. They exclude many people and many details to bring us down to the one that God has chosen to carry forward the covenantal plan of salvation.

We recently added two of our books to our online store. If you like e-books, you can now buy both Rooted and All Things Hold Together directly from us (and save when you buy them together). Physical copies can still be purchased at BookShop, Amazon, my house, and from other major online retailers.


All Things Hold Together: Recovering Christian Worldview

In Christ, all things hold together. Apart from him, things fall apart. The multitude of fractures in our world result... Read more


Rooted: Growing in Christ in a Rootless Age

The soil of our society is not particularly well-suited for growing deep roots of character and Christian identity. The... Read more

Writing Updates

My goal this year was to write or translate 100,000 words. May was a great month as I finalized the latest round of edits for The Sinews of Scripture, worked on the cover and adding discussion questions to the book, and began the final push toward publication. Once we have the cover and a release date, I will send you all a special email with all the exciting details.

The Body of Doctrine - Volume 1: Misery: This book remains in the holding stage as I look for the right Beta readers.

Under the Broom Tree: The bulk of my writing this past month was the initial research, outlining, and pre-draft process for the book. I have begun writing the first chapter in earnest (on pastoral identity and leadership in 1 Kings 17) and still hope to have the first draft of the whole book finished by the end of 2024.

How to Dress a T-Rex is out now and such a fun children's book. I am still so proud of Eden, who wrote this book back in Grade 4 but finally gets to see it in print.

Total Word Count for 2024: 89,298 (89% toward our goal!)

Thank You

We appreciate your prayers for the work we are doing in providing theological resources for the church. One of the best ways to support us to buy our books and tell your friends to do the same. However, if you'd like to contribute in other ways, you can always buy me a coffee.

From the desk of

Stephen C. Shaffer

Author, Pastor-Theologian


Click Here to Read on the Web

43 Stowe Terrace, Brantford, ON N3T6P2
Unsubscribe · Preferences

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.