Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Best of Both Worlds: Genealogies in the Bible

I enjoy genealogy, so I thought it would be fun to do a bit of exploring about some of the various genealogies in the Bible. At least it seemed that this might be an area that I could write about that not too many genealogy blogs cover. You probably think I'm crazy. Who would want to dive into that labyrinth of unpronounceable names? Yet there is a lot of information in these accounts if you can get past the seemingly endless lists of names. I know that some of you may not regard the Bible as inerrant or factual, but that will be the subject of another post some time in the not-too-distant future. At that time I'll explain that there is a whole lot of evidence for trusting the accuracy of the Bible. Right now, just give me the benefit of the doubt and see if you don't think that it at least has the potential to be interesting. At any rate, the subject is one about which all genealogists should probably have at least a passing understanding.

First of all, let me say that all genealogies in the Bible are not alike. The writers of various Scriptural books often had their own purposes in including these lists of names. Sometimes the accounts are linear, that is, they proceed from father to son and so on. In another account, the generations may be telescoped. That is, generations may be left out. Actually, 'left out' may not be the best way to express that concept. Sometimes the unnamed generations between the names were just assumed to be familiar to the reader, so they didn't need to be listed. For example, nearly everyone knows at least the bare-bones account of Adam and Eve's sons Cain and Abel, and the sad story of the world's first murder. These genealogical lines are listed in Genesis (chapter 4). However, later on in Genesis 4:28, we are told that after Abel has been murdered and Cain banished, another son named Seth is born. As the writer of Genesis continues his account, Genesis 5 gives a kind of recap as to what has happened so far. The genealogy lists Adam, then continues right on to his third son, Seth, as though Cain and Abel never even existed. It is not an error, or a sign of disrespect. Rather, the focus throughout the Bible is upon God's plan, and how He reveals it to the world through a family line and a nation. So in this case, the author just moves right on through to the next link in this account so that this story can continue.

In some cases, the writer just wanted to let it be known that the person at the focus of the genealogy or of the account was a member of a certain tribe, yet the writer didn't need to spell all of the other details out because they were not important to his purpose at the moment. So although detractors may smugly point out the 'errors' in various Scriptural passages which contain genealogies, it may just be that the author edited the material for his own purposes, and the full genealogy is available elsewhere in another Bible book. The author just wanted to let it be known that the individual descended from this particular family. In this case, when someone is said to be a 'son of' someone, it may be that they are a descendant of this individual. It can be tricky to figure out the actual lines, and in some cases, they may not be fully spelled out anywhere in the Bible, but one thing that we can be sure of is that we will be given all of the information that we need in order to make an intelligent response to this most important story. For the Bible, although it may not contain all of the information which we might want to know, can be trusted to provide a true account of what it does reveal. (Next post: More on the Genesis 5 genealogy)

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