An account of human family pedigrees of ancestors or relatives. Jehovah God is the great Genealogist or Keeper of records of creation, beginnings, birth and descent. He is “the Father, to whom every family in heaven and on earth owes its name.” (Eph. 3:14, 15) Accordingly, we may expect his Word the Bible to contain an accurate record of genealogies that play an important part in his purpose.
Man has an inborn desire to know his ancestry and to keep his family name alive. Many ancient nations kept extensive genealogical records, particularly of the lines of their priests and kings. The Egyptians kept such registers, as did the Arabs. Cuneiform tablets have been found of the genealogies of kings of Babylon and Assyria. More recent examples are the genealogical lists of the Greeks, the Celts, the Saxons and the Romans.
The apostle Matthew opens his Gospel account with the introduction: “The book of the history [ge·neʹse·os] of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” (Matt. 1:1) The Greek word ge·neʹse·os means, literally, “the book of source (generation).” This Greek term is used by the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew toh·le·dhohthʹ, which has the same basic meaning, and evidently denotes “history” in its numerous occurrences in the book of Genesis.
Matthew, of course, gives more than a genealogy of Christ. He goes on to relate the history of Jesus’ human birth, his ministry, death and resurrection. This practice was not uncommon then, for the earliest Greek histories had a genealogical framework. In those ancient times a history revolved around those persons contained in or introduced by its genealogy. Thus the genealogy was an important part of the history, in many cases forming the introduction to it.—See First Chronicles, chapters 1 to 9.
At the judgment in Eden, God gave the promise of the “woman’s” seed that was to crush the serpent’s head. (Gen. 3:15) This may have given rise to the idea of the seed’s having a human line of descent, although it was not specifically stated that the seed would travel an earthly course until Abraham was told that his seed would be the means for blessing all nations. (Gen. 22:17, 18) This made the family genealogy of Abraham’s line of surpassing importance. The Bible is the only record of Abraham’s origins, and not only of his, but also of all the nations descending from Noah’s sons Shem, Ham and Japheth.—Gen. 10:32.
As E. J. Hamlin comments in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 515), the Genesis table of nations is “unique in ancient literature. . . . Such preoccupation with history cannot be found in any other sacred literature of the world.”
PURPOSE OF GENEALOGICAL RECORDS
Over and above the natural inclination of man to keep a record of birth and relationships, genealogy was important to chronology, particularly in the earliest part of mankind’s history. But more than that, due to God’s promises, prophecies and dealings, a record of certain lines of descent became essential.
Following the flood, Noah’s blessing pointed out that Shem’s descendants would be divinely favored. (Gen. 9:26, 27) Later, God revealed to Abraham that what would be called his “seed” would be through Isaac. (Gen. 17:19; Rom. 9:7) It became obvious, therefore, that the identification of this seed would require a very careful record of genealogy. Thus, in course of time, the line of Judah, the tribe that was promised leadership (Gen. 49:10), and particularly the family of David, the kingly line, would be painstakingly registered. (2 Sam. 7:12-16) This record would provide the genealogy of the Messiah, the Seed, the line of extraordinary importance.—John 7:42.
Additionally, under the Law, genealogical records were essential in order to establish tribal relationships for the division of the land and for determining family relationship for individual land inheritances. They served the necessary purpose of identifying the nearest of kin as the go·ʼelʹ, the one qualified to act in brother-in-law marriage (Deut. 25:5, 6), in repurchasing his relative (Lev. 25:47-49), and as avenger of blood upon a manslayer. (Num. 35:19) Also, the Law covenant prohibited marriage within certain degrees of consanguinity or affinity, which necessitated a knowledge of genealogical relationships.—Lev. 18:6-18.
The strictness with which the Israelites held to these genealogies is illustrated in the situation that arose after the return from Babylon, when some, supposedly of priestly descent, were unable to find their register. Nehemiah directed that they not eat of the most holy things provided for the priesthood until they could establish their genealogy publicly. (Neh. 7:63-65) Nehemiah’s registry of the people included the Nethinim, for they, although not Israelites, were officially a group devoted to temple service.—Neh. 7:46-56.
As to chronology, in most instances genealogical lists are by no means intended to supply full data. Nevertheless, they are often an aid to chronology in that they provide a check on certain points of chronology or fill in important details. Neither can the genealogical lists usually be taken as supplying the index of population growth, for in many cases certain intermediate links are left out where they are not necessary to the particular genealogy cited. And since genealogies do not usually contain the names of women, the names of the wives and concubines that a man may have had are not listed; likewise not all his sons from these wives may be named; even some of the sons of the primary wife may occasionally be left out.
FROM ADAM TO THE FLOOD
The Bible gives evidence of the existence of lists of family relationships from man’s beginning. At the birth of Adam’s son Seth, Eve said: “God has appointed another seed in place of Abel, because Cain killed him.” (Gen. 4:25) Seth started off a line, representatives of which survived the Flood.—Gen. 5:3-29, 32; 8:18; 1 Pet. 3:19, 20.
FROM THE FLOOD TO ABRAHAM
The line of Noah’s son Shem, who received Noah’s blessing, brought forth Abram (Abraham), “Jehovah’s friend.” (Jas. 2:23) This genealogy, along with the above-mentioned pre-Flood one, constitutes the sole means for establishing the chronology of man’s history down to Abraham. In the pre-Flood list the record runs through the line of Seth, and in the post-Flood list, through Shem, stating the time from a man’s birth to the birth of his son. (Gen. 11:10-24, 32; 12:4) There are no other extensive genealogical lists covering this historical period—an indication that these lists serve the double purpose of genealogy and chronology. In a few other instances the placing of specific events in the stream of time is accomplished by the use of genealogical information.—See CHRONOLOGY.
FROM ABRAHAM TO CHRIST
By God’s own intervention Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac, through whom the “seed” of promise was to come. (Gen. 21:1-7; Heb. 11:11, 12) From Isaac’s son Jacob (Israel) came the original twelve tribes. (Gen. 35:22-26; Num. 1:20-50) Judah was to be the kingly tribe, this being narrowed down later on to the family of David. Levi’s descendants became the priestly tribe, the priesthood itself being restricted to Aaron’s line. In order to establish his legal right to the throne, Jesus Christ the King had to be identifiable as of David’s family and of the line of Judah. But his priesthood being, by oath of God, according to the manner of Melchizedek, did not require the Levitical descent.—Ps. 110:1, 4; Heb. 7:11-14.
OTHER PROMINENT GENEALOGICAL LISTS
In addition to the line of descent from Adam to Jesus Christ and extensive genealogies of Jacob’s twelve sons, there are genealogical registers of the beginnings of the peoples related to Israel. These include the brothers of Abraham (Gen. 11:27-29; 22:20-24); the sons of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13-18); of Moab and Ammon, the sons of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Gen. 19:33-38); the sons of Abraham by Keturah, from whom came Midian and other tribes (Gen. 25:1-4); and the posterity of Esau (Edom).—Gen. 36:1-19, 40-43.
These nations are important because of their kinship to God’s chosen people Israel. Both Isaac and Jacob obtained wives from the family of Abraham’s brother. (Gen. 22:20-23; 24:4, 67; 28:1-4; 29:21-28) God assigned territories bordering Israel to the nations of Moab, Ammon and Edom, and Israel was told not to encroach upon the land inheritance of these peoples or interfere with them.—Deut. 2:4, 5, 9, 19.
It appears that in Israel national records were kept of genealogies, besides the registers kept by families themselves. At Genesis, chapter 46, we find the listing of those born to Jacob’s household down to the time of Jacob’s entry into Egypt and evidently on to the time of his death. A genealogy, primarily of the descendants of Levi, and seemingly copied from an earlier register, appears at Exodus 6:14-25. The nation’s first census was taken in the wilderness of Sinai in 1512 B.C.E., the second year of their coming out of Egypt, at which time they had their descent acknowledged “as regards their families in the house of their fathers.” (Num. 1:1, 18; see also Numbers, chapter 3.) The only other divinely authorized national census of Israel on record prior to the exile is the one taken about thirty-nine years later on the Plains of Moab.—Num. chap. 26.
Apart from the genealogies recorded in Moses’ writings, there are such lists by other official chroniclers, including Samuel, writer of Judges, Ruth and part of First Samuel; Ezra, who wrote First and Second Chronicles and the book of Ezra; and Nehemiah, writer of the book bearing his name. There is also evidence within these writings of other keepers of genealogy: Iddo (2 Chron. 12:15), and Zerubbabel, who evidently directed that genealogical enrollment be made among the repatriated Israelites. (Ezra chap. 2) During the reign of righteous King Jotham, there was a genealogical listing of the tribes of Israel living in the land of Gilead.—1 Chron. 5:1-17.
These genealogies were carefully preserved down to the start of the Common Era. This is proved by the fact that each family of Israel was able to go back to the city of its father’s house to be registered in response to Caesar Augustus’ decree shortly before Jesus’ birth. (Luke 2:1-5) Also, John the Baptist’s father Zechariah is noted as of the priestly division of Abijah and John’s mother Elizabeth as from the daughters of Aaron. (Luke 1:5) Anna the prophetess is spoken of as “of Asher’s tribe.” (Luke 2:36) And, of course, the extensive listings of Jesus’ forefathers at Matthew, chapter 1, and Luke, chapter 3, make it clear that such records were kept in the public archives, available for examination.
The historian Josephus gives testimony to the existence of Jewish official genealogical registers when he says: “Now, I am not only sprung from a sacerdotal family in general, but from the first of the twenty-four courses; and . . . of the chief family of that first course also.” Then, after pointing out that his mother was descended from Asamoneus, he concludes: “Thus have I set down the genealogy of my family as I have found it described in the public records, and so bid adieu to those who calumniate me.”—The Life of Flavius Josephus, par. 1.
The official genealogies of the Jews were destroyed, not by King Herod the Great, as some have supposed, but by the Romans at the destruction of Jerusalern in 70 C.E. Since that time the Jews have been unable to establish their descent in even the two most important lines, David and Levi.
PROBLEMS IN THE IDENTIFICATION OF GENEALOGICAL RELATIONSHIPS
In determining relationships, often the context or a comparison of parallel lists or of texts from different parts of the Bible is necessary. For example, “son” may actually mean a grandson or merely a descendant. (Matt. 1:1) Again, a list of names may appear to be a register of brothers, the sons of one man. On closer observation and by comparison with other texts, however, it may prove to be the register of a genealogical line, naming some sons and also some grandsons or later descendants. Genesis 46:21 evidently lists both sons and grandsons of Benjamin as “sons,” as can be seen by a comparison with Numbers 26:38-40.
The above situation is found even in the genealogies of some major families. For example, 1 Chronicles 6:22-24 lists ten “sons of Kohath.” But in the eighteenth verse, and at Exodus 6:18, we find only four sons attributed to Kohath. And examination of the context shows that the listing of “sons of Kohath” at 1 Chronicles 6:22-24 is in reality part of a genealogy of families of the line of Kohath who had representative members present for appointment by David to certain temple duties.
Conversely, “father” may mean “grandfather.” (Dan. 5:11, 18) In many places, such as at Deuteronomy 26:5; 1 Kings 15:11, 24, and 2 Kings 15:38, the Hebrew word ʼav (father) also is used in the sense of “ancestor,” or “forefather.” Similarly, the Hebrew words ʼem (mother) and bath (daughter) are used occasionally for “grandmother” and “granddaughter” respectively.—1 Ki. 15:10, 13.
Cities and plural names
In some lists a man may be said to be the “father” of a certain city, as at 1 Chronicles 2:50-54, where, for example, Salma is called “the father of Bethlehem” and Shobal “the father of Kiriath-jearim.” Evidently the cities of Bethlehem and Kiriath-jearim were either founded by these men or populated by their descendants. The same list reads, further: “The sons of Salma were Bethlehem and the Netophathites, Atroth-beth-joab and half of the Manahathites, the Zorites.” (Vs. 54) Here Netophathites, Manahathites and Zorites were evidently families.
At Genesis 10:13, 14, the names of Mizraim’s descendants have what appear to be plural forms. It has been suggested that they represent the names of families or tribes rather than individuals. However, it should be borne in mind that other names in dual or plural form, such as Ephraim, Appaim, Diblaim, Meshillemoth, and also the above-named Mizraim, son of Ham, each refer to one individual.—Gen. 41:52; 1 Chron. 2:30, 31; Hos. 1:3; 2 Chron. 28:12.
Often the Bible writers greatly abbreviated a genealogical list, evidently naming only family heads of the more prominent houses, or important personages, or persons most important to the particular history being considered. At times descent from a certain remote ancestor was apparently all that the chronicler was concerned with showing; therefore he could leave out many intermediate names.
One example of such abridgment is found in Ezra’s own genealogy. (Ezra 7:1-5) He records his descent from Aaron the high priest, but in a parallel listing at 1 Chronicles 6:3-14, several names appear in verses 7 to 10 that are dropped at Ezra 7:3. Likely Ezra did this to avoid unnecessary repetition and to shorten the long list of names. Still, the list was perfectly adequate to prove his priestly descent. Ezra says that he is the “son” of Seraiah, meaning that he was his descendant, for he must have been Seraiah’s great-grandson, or possibly his great-great-grandson. Seraiah was high priest and was killed by Nebuchadnezzar at the time of the exile to Babylon (607 B.C.E.), his son Jehozadak being taken into exile. (2 Ki. 25:18-21; 1 Chron. 6:14, 15) Joshua (Jeshua) the high priest, who returned seventy years later with Zerubbabel, was Seraiah’s grandson. (Ezra 5:2; Hag. 1:1) Ezra traveled to Jerusalem sixty-nine years after that, which circumstance would make it impossible for Ezra to be Seraiah’s actual son and Jehozadak’s brother.
Another thing that we learn from comparing genealogies here is that Ezra, though descended from Aaron through Seraiah, was evidently not from that line of Seraiah in which the office of high priest was hereditary, namely, from Jehozadak, but from a son born later to either Seraiah or Jehozadak. The high-priestly line from Seraiah ran through Joshua (Jeshua), Joiakim and Eliashib, the latter being high priest during the governorship of Nehemiah. Ezra, then, achieved his objective with his abridged genealogy, supplying just sufficient names to prove his position in the lineage of Aaron.—Neh. 3:1; 12:10.
SOME REASONS FOR VARIATIONS IN GENEALOGICAL LISTS
A son who died childless was often not named; in some cases the man may have had a daughter but no son, and the inheritance may have been transmitted through a daughter who, in marriage, went under another family head in the same tribe. (Num. 36:7, 8) At times the genealogy may merge a less prominent family under another family head, so that such minor family is not listed. Therefore childlessness, transmission of inheritance through women, perhaps adoption, or failure to establish a separate ancestral house caused names to be dropped out of some of the genealogical lists, while new houses formed might add new names to the lists. It is obvious, therefore, that the names in a later genealogy might differ at many points from those in an earlier listing.
A number of family heads may appear in what seems to be a list of brothers but which may actually include nephews, as in Jacob’s “adoption” of Joseph’s sons, Jacob saying: “Ephraim and Manasseh will become mine like Reuben and Simeon.” (Gen. 48:5) Later, therefore, Ephraim and Manasseh are counted alongside their uncles as tribal heads.—Num. 2:18-21; Josh. 17:17.
Nehemiah, chapter 10, presents a number of names attesting by seal a “trustworthy arrangement” to perform God’s commandments. (Neh. 9:38) In these lists, the names given are not necessarily the names of the individuals entering into the agreements, but may refer to the houses involved, the ancestral head being named. (Compare Ezra 10:16.) This may be indicated by the fact that many of the names listed are the same as those listed as returning with Zerubbabel from Babylon some eighty years earlier. So, while those present may in some cases have had the same name as the ancestral head, they may have been merely representatives of the ancestral houses listed by those names.
Repetition of names or different names of the same person
Quite often in a genealogical list there is a recurrence of the same name. The use of the same name for a later descendant was no doubt a method that made it easier for that person to identify his line of descent, although, of course, sometimes there were persons of the same name in separate family lines. The very fact that a name was used by a number of individuals in the same line of descent in the course of several generations is a further indication that the Israelites kept a record of their ancestry. Some of the many instances of such recurrences of names in the same ancestral line are: Zadok (1 Chron. 6:8, 12); Azariah (1 Chron. 6:9, 13, 14); and Elkanah.—1 Chron. 6:34-36.
In a number of cases the names appearing in parallel lists differ. This may be because certain persons had more than one name, as, for example, Jacob, who was also called “Israel.” (Gen. 32:28) The rabbis claim that Moses’ father-in-law Reuel had seven names. Then, too, there might be a slight alteration in spelling of a name, at times even giving the name a different meaning. Some examples are: Abram (“father of exaltation [or, height]”) and Abraham (“father of a multitude”), Sarai (“contentious”) and Sarah (“princess”). The prophet Samuel’s ancestor Elihu appears to be the same person also called Eliab and Eliel.—1 Sam. 1:1; 1 Chron. 6:27, 34.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures surnames were occasionally used, as with Simon Peter, who was called “Cephas,” from the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek name for “Peter” (Luke 6:14; John 1:42); also there was John Mark. (Acts 12:12) A name might be given to a person because of some characteristic trait. Simon the “Cananaean” (or, “the zealous one”) distinguishes this apostle from Simon Peter. (Matt. 10:4; Luke 6:15) In some instances a differentiation is made by expressions such as “James the son of Alphaeus,” distinguishing him from James the son of Zebedee and brother of John the apostle. (Matt. 10:2, 3) The city, district or country from which one came might be added, such as Joseph of Arimathea and Judas the Galilean. (Mark 15:43; Acts 5:37) Judas Iscariot is thought to mean Judas “a man of Kerioth.” (Matt. 10:4) The same methods were employed in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Gen. 25:20; 1 Sam. 17:4, 58) The name of one’s brother might be given to clarify identity. (John 1:40) Women with the same name were similarly distinguished by also naming the father, mother, brother, sister, husband or son.—Gen. 11:29; 28:9; 36:39; John 19:25; Acts 1:14; 12:12.
In both the Hebrew and Christian Greek Scriptures a family name or a title may be used, the identification of the person being determined by his individual name or else by the time and historical events with which the person was connected. For example, Abimelech was evidently either a personal name or a title of three Philistine kings, comparable to “Pharaoh” among the Egyptians. (Gen. 20:2; 26:26; 40:2; Ex. 1:22; 3:10) The Abimelech or Pharaoh under discussion would therefore be identified by the time and circumstances. Herod was a family name; Caesar was a family name that became a title. In referring to one of the Herods, the speaker (if there was a danger of ambiguity) could designate the one meant by using the personal name or additional title, such as, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, and the Caesars similarly, as Caesar Augustus, Tiberius Caesar; or by using his personal name only, such as Agrippa.—Luke 2:1; 3:1; Acts 25:13.
NAMES OF WOMEN
Women were named in the genealogical registers occasionally when there was a historical reason to do so. At Genesis 11:29, 30, Sarai (Sarah) is mentioned, evidently for the reason that the promised Seed was to come through her, not through another wife of Abraham. Milcah may be named in the same passage because she was the grandmother of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, thereby showing Rebekah’s lineage as being from Abraham’s relatives, since Isaac was not to have a wife from the other nations. (Gen. 22:20-23; 24:2-4) At Genesis 25:1, the name of Abraham’s later wife Keturah is given. This shows that Abraham married again after Sarah died and that his reproductive powers were still alive more than forty years after their miraculous renewal by Jehovah. (Rom. 4:19; Gen. 24:67; 25:20) Also, it reveals the relationship of Midian and other Arabian tribes to Israel.
Leah, Rachel and Jacob’s concubines, together with the sons they bore, are named. (Gen. 35:21-26) This helps us to understand God’s later dealings with these sons. For similar reasons we find the names of other women in the genealogical registers. When an inheritance was transmitted through them their names might be included. (Num. 26:33) Of course, Tamar, Rahab and Ruth are outstanding. In each case, there is something remarkable about the manner in which these women came to be in the line of ancestry of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. (Gen. chap. 38; Ruth 1:3-5; 4:13-15; Matt. 1:1-5) Among other instances of the mention of women in the genealogical lists are 1 Chronicles 2:35, 48, 49; 3:1-3, 5.
GENEALOGY AND GENERATIONS
In some genealogies we find the names of a man and his descendants listed down to great-great-grandsons. These could be counted, from one viewpoint, as four or five generations. However, the man first named might live to see all these generations of descendants. So from his viewpoint a “generation” could mean the time from his birth until his death, or until the most remote descendant whom the man lived to see. If this kind of “generation” is referred to, it would, of course, involve a much longer period of time than in the case of the previous viewpoint mentioned.
To illustrate: Adam lived 930 years, having sons and daughters. During that time he saw at least eight generations of his descendants. Yet his own life-span overlapped or linked with that of Lamech, Noah’s father. Thus, from this viewpoint, the Flood occurred in the third generation of human history.—Gen. 5:3-32.
We find in the Bible a few cases of the latter method of reckoning. Jehovah promised Abraham that his seed would become an alien resident in a land not theirs and that they would return to Canaan “in the fourth generation.” (Gen. 15:13, 16) The census at Numbers, chapters 1-3, indicates that there must have been many father-to-son generations during the 215-year stay in Egypt, the total number of men twenty years old and upward shortly after the Exodus being 603,550 (aside from the tribe of Levi). But the ‘four generations’ of Genesis 15:16, counting from the time of the entry into Egypt until the Exodus might be reckoned in one of two ways: (1) Levi, (2) Jochebed, (3) Aaron, (4) Eleazar (Num. 26:59, 60); or (1) Levi, (2) Kohath, (3) Amram, (4) Moses (Ex. 6:16, 18, 20). These persons averaged well over a hundred years in individual life-span. Each one of these four “generations” thus saw numerous descendants, possibly down to great-great-grandchildren or farther, allowing twenty or sometimes even thirty years from father to the birth of his first son. This would explain how ‘four generations’ could see such a large population come into being by the time of the Exodus.—See EXODUS.
Another problem for Bible scholars concerns the same census. At Numbers 3:27, 28, it is stated that four families sprang from Kohath, totaling, at the time of the Exodus, the high number of 8,600 males from a month old upward. Thus it would appear that Moses had, at this time, 8,599 brothers, male cousins and nephews. Some have concluded from this that Moses was not the son of Amram the son of Kohath, but of another Amram, with several generations between, so as to allow sufficient time for the development of such a large male population in just four Kohathite families by the time of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
But the problem may be resolved in two ways. First, not all of a man’s sons were always named, as illustrated earlier. Therefore it is possible that Kohath, Amram and Amramʹs four named sons had more sons than those specifically listed. Second, even though Levi, Kohath, Amram and Moses represent four generations from the viewpoint of their four lifetimes, each could have seen several generations during his lifetime. Thus even though we allow sixty years each between the births of Levi and Kohath, Kohath and Amram, and Amram and Moses, many generations could have been born within each sixty-year period. Moses could have seen great-great-grandnephews, and possibly even their children, by the time of the Exodus. Hence the total of 8,600 would not necessitate another Amram between Amram the son of Kohath and Moses.
A question arises in connection with the line of the promised Seed, the Messiah, in the genealogy from Nahshon, who was chieftain of the tribe of Judah after the Exodus. At Ruth 4:20-22, Jesse is the fifth link from Nahshon to David. The period of time from the Exodus to David is about 400 years. This would mean that the average age of each of these forefathers of David was eighty years at the time of his son’s birth. This would not be impossible, and may have been the case. These sons listed in the book of Ruth would not have had to be firstborn sons, even as David was not the firstborn but the youngest of several sons of Jesse. Also, Jehovah may have brought the line of the seed through this almost miraculous course so that it could be seen in retrospect that he had all along been directing the affairs of the promised Seed, as he had definitely done in the cases of Isaac and Jacob.
Again, it may be that there were intentional omissions of names in this 400-year portion of the Messianic genealogy, which is recorded also at 1 Chronicles 2:11-15; Matthew 1:4-6 and Luke 3:31, 32. But the fact that all the lists agree in this section of the genealogy may mean that no names were left out. Nevertheless, even though the chroniclers compiling these lists did leave out certain names not considered important or necessary for their purpose, it would present no problem, for the assumption that several additional generations intervened would do no violence to other Biblical statements or chronology.
BIBLE GENEALOGY IS RELIABLE
The careful, sincere student of Bible genealogy will not accuse the Bible chroniclers of carelessness, inaccuracy or exaggeration in an effort to glorify their nation, a tribe or an individual. It must be kept in mind that those including genealogies in their writings (Ezra and Nehemiah, for example) referred to the national archive and drew their material from the official sources available to them. (See CHRONICLES, THE BOOKS OF THE.) They found there the information that filled their need. They used these lists to prove satisfactorily to all that which needed to be proved then. Evidently their genealogical listings were fully accepted by those living at that time, persons having access to the facts and the records. Consequently, we must recognize the situation with which they were dealing. Ezra and Nehemiah were dealing with these matters in times of reorganization and the genealogies they compiled were essential to the functioning of things vital to the nation’s existence.
Such genealogical lists were bound to vary from period to period, new names being added and others being dropped, often only the more important family heads being named, especially those of the more remote past. In some cases less important names might appear on certain lists because of being of current interest. The sources employed in some cases may have given only partial lists. Some portions may have been missing, or the chronicler himself may have skipped over sections because they were not necessary for his purpose. And they are not necessary for our purpose today.
In a few instances, copyists’ errors may have crept into the text, particularly in the spelling of names. But these do not present problems that have any significant bearing on lineages necessary to our understanding of the Bible; nor do they affect Christianity’s foundation.
A careful examination of the Bible will eliminate the false idea sometimes advanced that the ancient genealogies in Genesis, chapters 5 and 11, and others contain imaginary or fictitious names, to suit some scheme of the chronicler. These chroniclers were dedicated servants of Jehovah, not “nationalists”; they were concerned with Jehovah’s name and dealings with his people. Furthermore, not only did other Bible writers refer to many of these persons as real characters, but so did Jesus Christ. (Isa. 54:9; Ezek. 14:14, 20; Matt. 24:38; John 8:56; Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13, 14; Heb. 11:4, 5, 7, 31; Jas. 2:25; Jude 14) To contradict all this testimony would be accusing the God of truth of lying, or of needing some artifice or expedient to promote belief in his Word. It would also deny the Bible’s inspiration.
As the apostle states, “all Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) Therefore, we may rely fully on the genealogies recorded in the Bible. They provided vital statistics, not only for the time they were written, but also for us today. By them we have full genealogical assurance that Jesus Christ is the promised, long-awaited Seed of Abraham. We are aided greatly in establishing chronology back to Adam, something found in no other source. We know that God “made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth, and he decreed the appointed seasons and the set limits of the dwelling of men.” (Acts 17:26) We see that truly, “when the Most High gave the nations an inheritance, when he parted the sons of Adam from one another, he proceeded to fix the boundary of the peoples with regard for the number of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 32:8), and we understand how the nations are related.
By knowing the origin of mankind, Adam being originally “the son of God” (Luke 3:38), we can clearly understand the statement: “Just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) Also, such knowledge makes understandable how Jesus Christ can be “the last Adam” and the “Eternal Father”; how, because of the common source of all men from Adam, “just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive.” (Isa. 9:6; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45) We can better understand God’s purpose to bring obedient men back into the relationship of “children of God.” (Rom. 8:20, 21) We observe that Jehovah’s loving-kindness is expressed toward those loving him and keeping his commandments “to a thousand generations.” (Deut. 7:9) We observe his trueness as the covenant-keeping God and his careful preservation of a historical record on which we can safely build our faith. Genealogy, as well as other features of the Bible, proves God to be the great Recorder and Preserver of history.—See GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST; individual names where genealogy is involved.
PAUL’S COUNSEL REGARDING GENEALOGIES
The apostle Paul, writing about 61-64 C.E., told Timothy not to pay attention to “false stories and to genealogies, which end up in nothing, but which furnish questions for research rather than a dispensing of anything by God in connection with faith.” (1 Tim 1:4) The force of this warning is more appreciated when we know of the extremes to which the Jews later went in researching genealogies, and how minutely they investigated any possible discrepancy. Thus the Talmud makes the statement that “900 camel-loads of commentary existed on 1 Chron. viii. 37 to ix. 44” (a genealogical portion of the Bible). The Jewish Encyclopedia (1903, Vol. 5, p. 597) also deplores the pride manifested by many Jews as to their pedigree.
To engage in studying and discussing such matters was pointless, and even more so at the time Paul wrote to Timothy. For it was no longer vital to have the genealogical records maintained, since God did not now recognize any distinction between Jew and Gentile in the Christian congregation. (Gal. 3:28) And the genealogical records had already established the descent of Christ through the line of David. Also, it would not be long after Paul wrote this admonition that Jerusalem would be destroyed, and along with it the Jewish records. God did not preserve them. Accordingly, Paul was anxious that Timothy and the congregations should not be sidetracked into spending time in research and in controversy over matters of personal pedigree, which contributed nothing to Christian faith. The genealogy furnished by the Bible is sufficient to prove Christ’s messiahship, the genealogical matter of prime importance to Christians. The other Biblical genealogies stand as a testimony to the authenticity of the Scriptural record, manifesting clearly that it is a genuinely historical account.