If you’ve spent much time reading either the Old Testament or the gospels, you’ve noticed that there is a tendency for the writers to make long lists of names. The Old Testament is so committed to making long lists of names that there’s actually an entire book dedicated to this task: Numbers. So, why were the Bible writers so dedicated to genealogies?
The Genealogies Provided Historical Credibility
Throughout the Bible, the writers go to extreme lengths to demonstrate that the events being described happen within the context of reality. Unlike most mythology, the writers reference historic figures, points of reference for dating, and extensive genealogies. You can’t read a verse in the book of Acts without tripping over an externally verifiable historic event or person.
The genealogies tie the Bible to history. From the earliest chapters of scripture, they wanted to make sure we knew that this was real.
The Genealogies Demonstrate Inheritance and Rights
In Jewish culture, family heritage was of extreme importance. Birthrights and privilege were intricately connected to family lines. This naturally led to the creation of extensive genealogies. The greatest example of the Jewish cultures focus on birthrights comes from God’s promises to Abraham. Starting in Genesis 12, God made many promises to Abraham about His descendents. The fulfillment of those promises led to the nation of Israel and the Messiah Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Genealogies and Jesus
Jesus’ heritage was extremely important when it came to validating Him as the Messiah. For Jesus to be the Messiah, He had to be from the bloodlines of Abraham and David.
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Paul makes it clear that Jesus was the fulfillment of this promise:
8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
Later, God made a similar promise to David:
2 Samuel 7
12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
For Jesus to be the Messiah, He needed connection to both Abraham and David. The gospel writers were so committed to this task that they included two genealogies of Jesus. One tracks His LEGAL connection to Abraham and David through His stepfather Joseph (the genealogy in Matthew). The other, in Luke, tracks his BIOLOGICAL claim to this inheritance through His mother, Mary.
The genealogies may be unpleasant to read at times, but they verify that these aren’t just stories, but they are history. Jesus wasn’t just a good teacher. He was the fulfillment of prophecy.
FROM THE ESV STUDY BIBLE
Matthew 1:1–17 The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah. Jews kept extensive genealogies to establish a person’s heritage, inheritance, legitimacy, and rights (cf. Josephus, Life of Josephus 1–6). Matthew likely draws on the genealogies of the OT, with some omissions (see note on Matt. 1:17). He demonstrates Jesus’ legal claim to the throne of David, emphasizing Jesus’ legal descent from David and Abraham, while Luke’s genealogical record (Luke 3:23–38) emphasizes Jesus’ biological descent from David and Adam. Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (1820). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.