One of the unique aspects of the Bible are the many lengthy genealogical lists it contains. Apart from DNA researchers and ancestry enthusiasts, most contemporary believers are likely not accustomed to reading such long lists. Indeed, the way Christians have viewed biblical genealogies has changed over time. In the early church, believers focused upon genealogies so much that Paul had to warn his readers twice (!) not to “give heed to . . . endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith (1 Tim. 1:4; cf. Titus 3:9). In the modern church, however, many—if not most—believers who are reading Scripture are prone to skip over the genealogical lists in the Bible, as they seem to have little practical relevance to Christian living.
Some of the more important genealogies in the Old Testament are given at Gen. 5:1–32, Genesis 10, Ruth 4:18–22 and 1 Chronicles 1–10. In the New Testament, the two most important genealogies are recorded at Matt. 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–28. These genealogies in the Gospels are essential, for they reveal the family lineage of Christ. Believing that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16), many contemporary Christians sense that the biblical genealogies are important; nevertheless, it is often difficult to understand how these ancient lists of hard-to-pronounce names apply to the church. Yet, upon consideration of the biblical genealogies—especially those that record the lineage of Jesus in Matt. 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–28—we can make the following five observations that show the importance of genealogies.
- Biblical genealogies show that God is working in history. Given the fallenness of the world, it is sometimes tempting to believe that the world is out of control. Yet, Jesus’ genealogy reveals that God was always at work, sometimes through otherwise unknown people, to bring about the birth of Jesus in an unremarkable small town in Palestine. The fact that we often cannot detect God’s hand never means that He is not at work.
- Biblical genealogies show that God can use imperfect people for His purposes. Christ’s lineage names five women—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary—all of whom were involved in sexual scandals for different reasons. Furthermore, in Jesus’ genealogy we read the names of evil kings whom God used, including Amon and Manasseh. God is pleased to use imperfect people, for it highlights His glory.
- Biblical genealogies show God’s grace. The fact that God uses imperfect people to accomplish His purposes reminds us that not only are God’s purposes not contingent upon mankind, but also God’s grace extends to mankind. Just as God was patient with and forgave imperfect people in the past, so is God longsuffering toward us and full of grace. Note, too, that the Gentiles in Jesus’ lineage hint at the universality of the gospel.
- Biblical genealogies show that God cares about families. Just as we care about our own families, so God cares about His family. Observe that the Bible is full of family language, such as God adopting believers, God calling His children sons and daughters, and God inviting those in relationship with Him to call Him Father. Human families are the foundation of society, and God’s family is the foundation of the Kingdom of God.
- Biblical genealogies show that God fulfills His promises. Note that the genealogies in Matt. 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–28 differ, for Matthew begins with Abraham and follows Joseph’s line through one of David’s sons, while Luke starts with Adam and follows Mary’s line through another of David’s sons. Yet, both genealogical lists show that Jesus was the fulfillment of promises God made to David in 2 Samuel 7:1–17.
So, for these five reasons, and surely for others, biblical genealogies ought not be viewed as just a curiosity in Scripture, but as essential revelation in the Word of God. In reading through the account of the lineage of Christ in the Gospels we can locate Him in history. More importantly, however, reading through and learning about Jesus’ genealogy can help us to understand our own history, for in addition to being our Savior, the Bible tells us that we have been adopted into God’s family (cf. Eph. 1:5), Christ is our brother (cf. Heb. 2:11), and Jesus is our husband (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2). In fact, the book of life that will be read at Christ’s second coming, contains a much longer genealogical list—including the names of all believers—which will prove that those who have taken on the name of Christ are members of God’s family.