What Is the Purpose of Bible Genealogies?

Why are all those lists of names in the Bible?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

In several places in both the Old and New Testaments, we find long lists of names documenting family lineages.

Some have claimed that much of the genealogical information is irrelevant to the overall theme of the Bible.

While the purpose of some of these Bible genealogies appears to be obvious, others don’t seem to be very relevant.

What Is the Purpose of Bible Genealogies?

A genealogy is a record of family lineage.

It documents a family’s background and serves as a valuable historical and legal instrument.

The general interest in genealogies in our modern world should signal the usefulness of such records. Historically, people have attached great value to family lineages, including those in scripture.

Here are some general facts regarding biblical genealogies.

  • Genealogies for the most part trace family histories through males.
  • The relationships frequently are father-son connections, though this is not the case always.
  • The genealogies of scripture had both material and spiritual values.

Let us briefly amplify these points.

Women in the Biblical Genealogical Records

While most of the genealogical lists deal with males, due to the patriarchal nature of the family as designed by God, occasionally women are mentioned.

For example, Matthew’s record includes the names of Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, and alludes also to Bathsheba (Mt. 1:3, 5, 6). These women were a mixture of Gentile heritage and sin-stained lives.

Their inclusions likely suggest God’s interest in nations beyond the Hebrew family and also his concern for sinners.

The sinless Son of God derived his physical existence from a sinful ancestry mingled with Gentile genetics. Christ thus became a light to the Gentiles and a Savior for sinful humanity.

Gaps in the Bible Genealogies

There obviously are some gaps in some of the genealogical records.

A comparison of Ezra 7:3-4, with 1 Chronicles 6:6-10, reveals that six names are missing from Ezra’s list.

In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, which was designed to demonstrate that the Lord was descended from Abraham and David (Mt. 1:1), four names are omitted between Joram and Uzziah (Mt. 1:8).

These deletions are known, of course, due to the fact that they are supplied in parallel lists. Minor deletions, however, and do not nullify the primary objectives of genealogical proximity.

Some have suggested gaps in the Bible genealogies may provide room for millions of years accommodating the evolutionary view of history.

Such is not the case because we can compare various genealogies and identify the relative insignificance of these gaps in terms of time.

For example, we have a substantial genealogical record from Christ back to Adam (Lk. 3:23-38). When we combine this information with our knowledge of post-Christian history, there is no reasonable way to dismiss the chronological data of scripture in deference to the evolutionary theory that humankind has been on earth for several million years.

As Professor John Klotz observed: “God apparently did want to show us that the earth is not billions of years old” (1970, 91; cf. Jackson, 2003).

Genesis Genealogies and World Population

The genealogies in the Genesis record that catalog the great ages of the patriarchs. This demonstrates how the early earth could have been populated so rapidly — possibly seven billion souls by the time of the Flood (Morris 1976, 144).

Additionally, the declining longevity of humanity highlights the gradual debilitating effects of sin upon mankind. Compare the ages of the pre- Flood patriarchs with those who followed (Gen. 5:1ff; 25:7-8; Psa. 90:10).

Bible Genealogies and the Nation of Israel

The genealogies were important in maintaining the theocratic regime of the nation of Israel through which Christ would descend.

It also provided the basis supporting the integrity of the Hebrew priesthood, as well as the preservation of tribal property rights under the Mosaic economy.

Bible Genealogies and the Messianic Line

Some of the genealogies pertain principally to the nation of Israel and the development of the Messianic line.

Certain Old Testament prophecies specifically had to do with the heritage of Jesus. Those lineage records establish the historical fact that Christ was of the Abrahamic and Davidic bloodlines (cf. Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17; Isa. 11:1).

And here is another crucial point.

Since . . . the period of their destruction as a nation by the Romans, all [Hebrew] tables of descent seem to be lost, and now [the Jews] are utterly unable to trace the pedigree of anyone Israelite who might lay claim to be their promised and still expected Messiah. Hence Christians assert, with a force that no reasonable and candid Jew can resist, that Shiloh [Gen. 49:10] must have come (McClintock and Strong 1969, 771).

There are, therefore, important reasons for the several genealogical catalogs within the library of sacred literature.

Let no one, therefore, criticize what he doesn’t understand.

  • Jackson, Wayne. 2003. Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth. Stockton, CA: Courier Publications.
  • McClintock, John and James Strong. 1969. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
  • Morris, Henry. 1976. The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.