How Should We Read Genealogies in the Bible?

As I approach Luke 3 for preaching this week, I find myself staring down upon one of the dreaded begats found throughout the Bible. As a pastor, I am uncertain if I am allowed to say this, but the genealogies in the Bible can be pretty boring. Often, they are simply scattered throughout certain places, yet occasionally, we find ourselves reading texts like the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles and end up wanting to curl into a little ball out of boredom.

Though I believe that it is fine to admit our lack of enthusiasm for particular parts of Scripture, we must do so with 2 Timothy 3:16-17 in mind. Therein, the apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” These verses remind us that genealogies are a piece of Scripture and, therefore, are just as Spirit-inspired as any other text from the Bible. But notice that Paul does not stop at inspiration, he also claims that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training. Once more, genealogies are not exempt from this statement. The genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3 is just as much God-breathed Scripture as, for example, the Christ hymn of Colossians.

Of course, it is one thing to claim that genealogies are profitable for teaching and such, but it is another entirely trying to figure out how to profit from them. I aim, therefore, not to leave you simply with the truth that genealogies are important; rather, I hope to give some guidance for understanding their presence in Scripture and how to study them well.

1. They Remind Us of the Bible’s Historicity

The Bible is not a book of ancient myths and folk tales, as some may read it; instead, we believe that the Scriptures are completely accurate portrayals of history. Reading the Bible’s genealogies can help remind us of the Bible’s historicity. We may find it boring to read about some guy named Maath or Mahalaleel, but in seeing their names, we should remember that they were living, breathing people that walked this earth.

2. They Show That God Keeps His Promises

We are told repeatedly throughout the Bible that the promises of God are true, yet sometimes we have difficulty seeing them as such. Often in the Scriptures, God’s promises are not fulfilled within one generation. Look at Abraham, for example. Yes, God did accomplish the promise of giving him a son within his life; however, he died having never seen the great multitude that came from him nor did he ever possess the land promised to him. These do not make the promises of God untrue; rather, God fulfilled them over the course of many generations. Genealogies can aid us in understanding that God is faithful, even if we do not see some workings in our lifetime.

3. They Reflect the Nature of Life

This one is a little bit Ecclesiastes-esque, but hear me out. Viewing a list of generations should remind us of the brevity of life. Even though some men in Genesis lived for over nine hundred years, the fact is that all of them are now dead. Regardless of our age, power, wealth, or status, each of us will face the same end. Very, very few of us will ever be remembered in a substantial way. Some of us might be fortunate enough to have our name in a list for future generations. Most of us, however, will pass through this life, leaving behind little or nothing to be remembered.

Of course, this does not have to be terribly depressing. As followers of Christ, we do not live life for our own glory or legacy; instead, we are more interested in furthering the fame of Jesus. Countless Christians have died and been forgotten on earth, but because of their work for the kingdom of God, their lives were not wasted or without meaning. Thus, genealogies can also be a reminder for us to disciple others, so that the glory of Christ might be known throughout each generation.

4. They Give Us a Bird’s Eye View of Grace

Genealogies also provide for us a large lens for viewing the grace of God. For example, Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew lists people like Ruth and Rahab. Ruth was foreigner from the pagan Moabites, and Rahab was a prostitute. Yet through the grace of God, both of these women became a part of the lineage of Jesus! Our view of grace, however, is not limited to individuals. Genealogies also show the breadth of God’s common grace upon humanity. Even through generations of sin, we might find times when God would be completely justifiable in issuing another flood-level wipeout; however, generation after generation, we find our God patiently bearing with us.

5. They Are Ultimately Pointing to Jesus

This is the most important aspect to understand regarding genealogies. In listing the generations of people, we see the storyline of the Bible unfold. From Adam to Joseph, God promised a savior to the humanity. After the Fall, God told Adam that this savior would be the offspring of woman. Abraham was promised that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his offspring. God, further, declared that David’s offspring would sit upon the throne forever. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of these. The end and goal of the entire Bible, really of all of history, is Jesus, and genealogies display God’s faithfulness is sending Christ.

The End of the Matter

With that said, one question still stands: will this make genealogies any less boring to read? If we are honest, maybe not, but perhaps, this will help you to see the depth of meaning and grace that can be found within them.

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