The Value of Bible Genealogy
PERHAPS you have begun to read the Bible through from Genesis to Revelation (Apocalypse) and found the reading to be very absorbing. But when you came to the books of Chronicles and saw verse after verse and chapter after chapter giving a genealogical list of names that you could not pronounce and that were without meaning to you, you may have said, ‘Why is this here? Why such boresome details?’
It is true that, for mere reading, such a list is monotonous. Nevertheless, these genealogical lists are very valuable. Why? For one thing, they support the authenticity of the Bible. They constitute proof that God wants those who worship him to worship with spirit and TRUTH, not as a fictitious or imaginary god. (John 4:23, 24) Is it not true that when you hear or read an account of some event, you want names and places? You immediately ask, Who? Where? When you know these details, there is a ring of truth to what is said or written, and much more reality. Also, with this information at hand you can check for more details to verify what was said, referring to other parts of the Bible or secular historical works. If the Bible were fiction or written by impostors it would certainly avoid such details. But these details in the Bible harmonize with other accounts and help to make the Bible one united whole. It is an honest presentation of actual historical facts.
Furthermore, we must keep in mind that the Hebrew Scriptures were the constitution, the law and the record book of the Hebrew people. They formed the chief archive of the nation. Many of the genealogical lists were compiled from other written legal records, since the cities kept a register of those born in the locality. They are a part of real history.—Luke 2:1-5.
HELPS TO IDENTIFY THE MESSIAH
The genealogies are valuable in another very important way. That is, they help us to identify the Messiah. When Jesus Christ appeared, he did not announce ‘I am the Messiah (or, Christ).’ (John 5:31-37) Many other persons have done this through the ages, but they had no credentials. One’s mere claim is not sufficient to justify others’ faith in him. Among many proofs of Jesus’ Messiahship, the genealogical records of the Jews, kept in their own city registers, testified that he was of the right line of descent—from King David of the tribe of Judah. (Luke 2:1-6) Jesus said that he was the TRUTH, fulfilling all things the Hebrew Scriptures said of him, including his genealogy.—John 14:6.
The need for keeping a record of lineage was seen in the first prophecy, where God foretold a “seed,” or offspring, that would deliver mankind. (Gen. 3:15) About 2,000 years later, because of Abraham’s great faith, God favored him with the promise that the seed would come in his line of descent. (Gen. 22:17, 18) In time, the line of the promise was narrowed down to Judah, one of the 12 sons of Jacob and the great-grandson of Abraham, then, further, to King David’s line. (Gen. 49:10; 2 Sam. 7:8, 12-16) Jesus’ human birth met all these qualifications, for he was acknowledged as being of the tribe of Judah and the son of David.—Matt. 9:27; 2 Tim. 2:8; Heb. 7:14.
RECORD OF PRIESTLY LINE IMPORTANT
Besides keeping a record of the kingly line through David, the Jews had to keep records of the descendants of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi. This was because their priesthood all had to be of that tribe. (Ex. 28:1-3; Num. 3:5-10) A large portion of the genealogical record in Chronicles serves this purpose. Before David died, he made arrangements for the temple service, assigning the Levites to specific services. (1 Chron. chaps. 24-27) After the return of Israel from exile in Babylon these records were vital because the priesthood and temple services had to be restored. The books of Chronicles outline these arrangements made by David and, along with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, show how worship was again established in the same pattern after the restoration. The lines of descent were strictly adhered to. This is illustrated by the fact that some men thinking that they were of the priestly family but unable to establish their genealogy were excluded from serving until they could prove their lineage.—Neh. 7:64, 65.
So the truthfulness of the Bible is upheld by these genealogies. Ezra, the writer of Chronicles, lists about 20 official sources that he used in compiling his work. These were public records, and not merely the fanciful works of writers who had nationalistic or selfish motives. But how can these genealogies benefit us today?
SHOWS HOW ALL NATIONS CAME FROM ONE MAN
Bible genealogy helps us in other ways. It supports the apostle Paul’s statement that “[God] made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) The account is very clear that Adam and Eve were the parents of the entire human race. (Gen. 1:28; 3:20) Their descendants through their son Seth are listed down to the Flood. (Gen. chaps. 5, 7) Then Noah’s family (eight persons in all) survived, to grow to 70 families, from whom the entire earth has been populated.—Gen. chap. 10.
RANSOM BY ONE MAN
This information, in turn, reveals how it is possible that, since one man fathered the human race, one man could give his life as a ransom price for the salvation of mankind. (Matt. 20:28; John 11:49-52) For, as the “last Adam,” Jesus can purchase the human race, to administer the merit of his sacrifice, thereby becoming the “Eternal Father” to as many as take hold of the ransom. Had there been many original fathers of the human race one man could not have served as a ransom price.—1 Cor. 15:45; Isa. 9:6; 53:10.
Other benefits of the Bible’s genealogical record are probably of less importance, but nonetheless valuable. In some parts of the Bible, they are essential for establishing the length of chronological periods. For example, in Genesis chapters 5 and Ge 7:6, 11, the time from Adam’s creation to the Flood is shown to be 1,656 years. Then, in Ge chapter 11 the 427-year time period from the Flood to the Abrahamic covenant is accounted for.—Gen. 12:4.
Without these records it would be impossible to calculate how long humankind has been on the earth. The length of the time period is not revealed in the case of the animal creation, or in the preceding creative epochs. Although Bible scholars cannot be definite about the time that elapsed before man appeared on the scene, they can determine very accurately that the period of God’s dealings with mankind to date is about 6,000 years.*
Additionally, genealogical lists help us to understand matters otherwise obscure. For instance, Samuel appears to be an Ephraimite at 1 Samuel 1:1, where Samuel’s father Elkanah is called an Ephraimite. If so, there appears to be something amiss, for Samuel served in the tabernacle, assisting Eli the high priest, also wearing an ephod, a garment signifying his work as one ministering there.—1 Sam. 2:11, 18.
On this problem the genealogical list of 1 Chronicles 6:19-28 helps us out. Here the descendants of Levi are listed, as shown by 1 Ch 6 verse 19. In 1 Ch 6 verses 27 and 28, Elkanah and Samuel are listed. So Samuel was actually a Levite, qualified for tabernacle service. His father was called an Ephraimite because he lived in Ramathaim-zophim, or Ramah, in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim. This is similar to our custom today of calling a person a Londoner because he has resided there for some time, whereas he may have been born in another locality.
As to showing the fulfillment of prophecy, an instance is found with regard to Jehovah’s prophetic covenant with Phinehas, son of Eleazar the High Priest, of “a priesthood to time indefinite for him and his offspring after him.” (Num. 25:13) How was this promise fulfilled?
The high priesthood apparently continued in Phinehas’ line until the time of High Priest Eli, descendant of Phinehas’ uncle Ithamar. This change was probably due to some temporary disqualification in Phinehas’ line. But King Solomon removed Abiathar, the descendant of Ithamar, because he had joined King David’s son Adonijah in an attempt to seize the throne of Judah while King David was sick. (1 Ki. 1:1-14; 2:26, 27) He made Zadok, Phinehas’ descendant, high priest in his place. (1 Ki. 2:35) As far as the historical record shows, this line apparently continued in the high priesthood for many years afterward.
IDENTIFICATION OF INDIVIDUALS
The genealogical record often helps us in establishing the relationship between certain persons mentioned. (Gen. 35:21-26) We are also happy, when confused as to the identity of someone we are reading about, to find that we are able to distinguish between persons of the same name because Bible genealogy often names a father, mother, brother, or son, or designates the city or locality from which an individual came.—Luke 6:14; Acts 12:12; Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 15:43; Acts 5:37; 1 Sam. 17:4, 58; Gen. 11:29; 28:9.
NEEDED BY JEWS FOR LEGAL MATTERS
Other points of value in the genealogical lists are: The Jews needed these for establishing tribal relationships for the division of the Promised Land and for determining family relationships for individual land inheritances. The genealogies identify the nearest of kin as the one on whom the legal responsibility devolved to perform brother-in-law marriage with his brother’s widow in order to carry on his brother’s name. This nearest relative also was the one to act in repurchasing his relative out of slavery, and to be avenger of blood upon a manslayer.—Deut. 25:5, 6; Lev. 25:47-49; Num. 35:19.
So, while the genealogical lists may seem complicated, we can be thankful that they were preserved for a purpose, both for those living in ancient times and for those who want to get an understanding of God’s Word today.
From the time of the Abrahamic covenant (about 2,083 years from Adam’s creation), the statements at Exodus 12:40, 41; 1 Kings 6:1, the record of the kings of Judah and Israel and the exile in Babylon, we are brought into the time of reliable secular chronology.