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Are the Biblical Genealogies Reliable?

The Purpose and Structure of Biblical Genealogies


Biblical genealogies serve multiple purposes, including establishing historical context, demonstrating the fulfillment of prophecy, and confirming the lineage of significant figures such as Jesus Christ. Genealogies are meticulously recorded in various parts of Scripture, such as Genesis, 1 Chronicles, and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The careful documentation found in the Bible highlights the importance placed on ancestry and lineage, particularly in the context of God's covenant promises.


In Genesis 5, the genealogy from Adam to Noah provides not only a list of names but also the ages at which these patriarchs had their offspring and the total years of their lives. This detailed recording underscores the significance of these genealogies in tracing the history of humanity from creation through the flood. Genesis 5:5 states, "So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died."


INTRODUCTION


Genealogy refers to the study of human family pedigrees, tracing ancestors or relatives. Jehovah God is depicted as the ultimate genealogist, holding records of creation, beginnings, birth, and descent. He is “the Father, to whom every family in heaven and on earth owes its name” (Ephesians 3:14, 15). The Bible contains accurate genealogies that play a significant role in His purpose.


People have a natural desire to know their ancestry and preserve their family name. Many ancient civilizations maintained detailed genealogical records, especially for their priests and kings. Egyptians, Arabs, Babylonians, and Assyrians all kept such records. More recent examples include the genealogies of the Greeks, Celts, Saxons, and Romans.


The Hebrew verb for registering legitimate descent is ya·chasʹ, translated as "be enrolled genealogically" (1 Chronicles 5:17). The related noun yaʹchas is translated as “genealogical enrollment” (Nehemiah 7:5). The Greek term genealogia is used in 1 Timothy 1:4 and Titus 3:9 to refer to personal pedigrees or “genealogies.”


The apostle Matthew starts his Gospel with: “The book of the history [geneseos, form of genesis] of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). The Greek word genesis literally means “line of descent; origin.” This term is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew tohledhohthʹ, meaning “history,” as seen in Genesis 2:4.


Matthew's account includes more than just the genealogy of Christ; it also covers the history of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. In ancient times, histories often had a genealogical framework, with genealogies introducing and structuring the narrative. This is evident in the Bible's genealogies, such as those in 1 Chronicles 1-9.


In Eden, God promised the “woman’s” Seed would crush the Serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). This promise led to the idea of a human line of descent for the Seed. God later told Abraham that his Seed would bless all nations, emphasizing the importance of Abraham’s family genealogy (Genesis 22:17, 18). The Bible uniquely records the origins of Abraham and all nations descending from Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Genesis 10:32).


E. J. Hamlin in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible comments that the Genesis table of nations is “unique in ancient literature. . . . Such preoccupation with history cannot be found in any other sacred literature of the world” (Edited by G. Buttrick, 1962, Vol. 3, p. 515).

Genealogical records served several purposes beyond satisfying human curiosity. They were vital for chronology, especially in early human history. Due to God's promises, prophecies, and dealings, it became essential to record specific lines of descent.


Following the Flood, Noah blessed Shem’s descendants, indicating divine favor (Genesis 9:26, 27). God later revealed to Abraham that his “seed” would come through Isaac (Genesis 17:19; Romans 9:7). This required careful genealogical records to identify this Seed. Over time, the tribe of Judah and the family of David were meticulously documented, providing the genealogy of the Messiah, the Seed of great importance (John 7:42).


The next most guarded genealogy was that of the tribe of Levi, especially the priestly family of Aaron (Exodus 28:1-3; Numbers 3:5-10). Under the Law, genealogical records were essential for determining tribal relationships, land division, and individual land inheritances. They identified the nearest kin for brother-in-law marriage, repurchasing relatives, and avenging blood upon a manslayer (Deuteronomy 25:5, 6; Leviticus 25:47-49; Numbers 35:19). The Law also prohibited marriage within certain degrees of consanguinity or affinity, requiring knowledge of genealogical relationships (Leviticus 18:6-18).


The Israelites strictly maintained these genealogies, as illustrated after the Babylonian return when some, supposedly of priestly descent, couldn't find their register. Zerubbabel directed that they not eat the most holy things until they could establish their genealogy publicly (Nehemiah 7:63-65). The registry included the Nethinim, non-Israelites devoted to temple service (Nehemiah 7:46-56).


While genealogical lists are not always complete, they aid in chronology by providing checks on certain points or filling in important details. They usually don't index population growth, as intermediate links might be omitted, and women’s names are typically absent. Even the names of all sons from a man’s wives and concubines are not always listed.


Genealogies as Historical Records


The genealogies in the Bible are not merely symbolic or literary devices; they are treated as historical records. This is evident in the precision with which they are presented. For example, the genealogy in Genesis 11:10-26 meticulously lists the descendants of Shem down to Terah, the father of Abraham. These genealogies link significant historical events and figures, reinforcing their reliability as historical documents.


The historical nature of biblical genealogies is further supported by archaeological evidence and extrabiblical sources that corroborate the existence of certain figures and events. The meticulousness of these records reflects the ancient Near Eastern practice of preserving family histories and tribal affiliations, which were crucial for inheritance rights and social identity.


Theological Significance of Genealogies


Genealogies also carry profound theological significance. They demonstrate the unfolding of God's redemptive plan throughout history. The genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17 traces the lineage of Jesus Christ from Abraham through David to Joseph, His legal father. This genealogy emphasizes Jesus' rightful claim to the throne of David, fulfilling Old Testament prophecies such as those found in Isaiah 11:1 and Jeremiah 23:5.


The genealogy in Luke 3:23-38, on the other hand, traces Jesus' lineage through Mary, His biological mother, back to Adam. This universal lineage underscores Jesus' role as the Savior of all humanity, not just the Jewish people. Luke 3:38 concludes with "the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God," highlighting Jesus' connection to all of humanity.


Addressing Apparent Discrepancies


Critics often point to apparent discrepancies in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke as evidence against their reliability. However, these differences can be understood in light of the different purposes and audiences of the two Gospels. Matthew's genealogy is arranged to highlight Jesus' legal right to the throne of David, emphasizing His royal lineage. It follows a structure that includes notable figures such as David and Solomon, and it is divided into three sets of fourteen generations, which has symbolic significance in Jewish numerology.

Luke's genealogy, on the other hand, is more comprehensive and traces Jesus' biological lineage through Mary. It emphasizes Jesus' humanity and His connection to all people. The differences between the two genealogies can also be attributed to the practice of levirate marriage, where a man would marry his deceased brother's widow to produce offspring in the brother's name (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). This practice can result in differing genealogical records.


Genealogies in the Context of Ancient Near Eastern Culture

Understanding the cultural context of the ancient Near East is crucial for interpreting biblical genealogies. Genealogical records were highly valued in ancient societies for various reasons, including legal inheritance, tribal affiliation, and social status. The Bible reflects this cultural importance, and its genealogies align with the conventions and practices of the time.

In the ancient Near East, genealogies were not always intended to be exhaustive but rather selective, focusing on key figures and omitting others for various reasons. This practice can be seen in the genealogy of Genesis 5, where certain generations are highlighted while others are omitted. Such selectivity does not undermine the reliability of the genealogies but rather reflects their intended purpose and audience.


The Role of Oral Tradition


The preservation of genealogies in ancient times relied heavily on oral tradition, which was highly esteemed and meticulously maintained. The transmission of genealogical records through oral tradition in the Hebrew culture was characterized by accuracy and reverence for detail. This cultural practice ensured that genealogical records were passed down with great care and fidelity.


The reliability of oral tradition in preserving genealogies is supported by anthropological studies of other cultures with strong oral traditions. These studies demonstrate that oral societies can accurately transmit complex genealogical information over many generations. The biblical genealogies, therefore, benefit from this cultural practice of careful oral transmission.


Genealogies and the Fulfillment of Prophecy


The genealogies of Jesus Christ in Matthew and Luke serve to confirm the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah. The Messiah was prophesied to come from the lineage of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 9:7), and both genealogies affirm this lineage. Matthew 1:1 states, "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."


By tracing Jesus' lineage through both Joseph and Mary, the genealogies address different aspects of His identity and mission. Matthew's genealogy underscores Jesus' legal right to David's throne, while Luke's genealogy emphasizes His universal mission as the Savior of all humanity. These genealogies, therefore, play a crucial role in validating Jesus' Messianic credentials.


Genealogies and Chronology


The genealogies in the Bible also provide a framework for understanding biblical chronology. By tracing the lineage from Adam to significant figures such as Noah, Abraham, David, and ultimately Jesus, the genealogies offer a timeline that connects key events in biblical history. This timeline is essential for understanding the unfolding of God's redemptive plan.


The chronological information provided in the genealogies allows for the calculation of the time spans between major events. For example, the genealogy in Genesis 5 provides the ages of the patriarchs at the time of their firstborn sons, enabling the calculation of the period from Adam to Noah. Genesis 5:32 states, "Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth."


The Testimony of Extrabiblical Sources


The reliability of biblical genealogies is further supported by extrabiblical sources that corroborate the existence of certain figures and events. Ancient Near Eastern records, archaeological findings, and other historical documents provide additional evidence for the accuracy of the biblical genealogies. These sources validate the historical context in which the genealogies were recorded.


For example, the existence of King David is corroborated by the Tel Dan Stele, an ancient inscription that refers to the "House of David." This extrabiblical evidence supports the biblical account of David's lineage and his significance in Israel's history. Such corroboration enhances the credibility of the genealogical records found in Scripture.


From Adam to the Flood


The Bible provides evidence of family relationships from the beginning of humanity. When Adam's son Seth was born, Eve said: “God has appointed another seed in place of Abel, because Cain killed him” (Genesis 4:25). The line that began with Seth continued through the Flood. Representatives of this line survived the Flood, ensuring the continuation of humanity through Noah’s family (Genesis 5:3-29, 32; 8:18; 1 Peter 3:19, 20).


From the Flood to Abraham


Noah's son Shem, who received Noah’s blessing, had descendants that included Abram (Abraham), known as “Jehovah’s friend” (James 2:23). The genealogies of the pre-Flood and post-Flood periods are crucial for establishing the chronology of human history up to Abraham. The pre-Flood genealogy follows Seth’s line, and the post-Flood genealogy follows Shem’s line. These genealogies detail the time from a man's birth to the birth of his son, creating a timeline (Genesis 11:10-24, 32; 12:4). There are no other extensive genealogical lists for this period, highlighting their dual role as both genealogy and chronology. In some cases, specific events are placed in the timeline using genealogical information.


From Abraham to Christ


God intervened for Abraham and Sarah, enabling them to have a son, Isaac, through whom the “seed” of promise was to come (Genesis 21:1-7; Hebrews 11:11, 12). Isaac’s son Jacob (Israel) had twelve sons, who became the original twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 35:22-26; Numbers 1:20-50). Judah was designated the kingly tribe, later narrowed down to the family of David. Levi’s descendants became the priestly tribe, with the priesthood restricted to Aaron’s line. For Jesus Christ to establish His legal right to the throne, He needed to be identifiable as a descendant of David and of the tribe of Judah. However, His priesthood was according to the order of Melchizedek, not requiring Levitical descent (Psalm 110:1, 4; Hebrews 7:11-14).


Other Prominent Genealogical Lists


Besides the genealogies from Adam to Jesus Christ and the extensive genealogies of Jacob’s twelve sons, the Bible includes genealogies of nations related to Israel. These include the brothers of Abraham (Genesis 11:27-29; 22:20-24); the sons of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13-18); Moab and Ammon, sons of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:33-38); the sons of Abraham by Keturah, including Midian and other tribes (Genesis 25:1-4); and the descendants of Esau (Edom) (Genesis 36:1-19, 40-43).


These nations are significant because of their kinship to Israel, God’s chosen people. Isaac and Jacob both obtained wives from the family of Abraham’s brother (Genesis 22:20-23; 24:4, 67; 28:1-4; 29:21-28). God assigned territories to the nations of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, which bordered Israel. Israel was instructed not to encroach upon these lands or interfere with these peoples (Deuteronomy 2:4, 5, 9, 19).


Official Archives


In Israel, besides the genealogical registers kept by individual families, national records were maintained. Genesis 46 provides a listing of those born to Jacob’s household up to the time of Jacob’s entry into Egypt and likely extends to his death. Another genealogy, primarily of the descendants of Levi and seemingly copied from an earlier register, appears in Exodus 6:14-25. The nation’s first census was taken in the wilderness of Sinai in 1445 B.C.E., the second year after their exodus from Egypt. This census involved acknowledging their descent “as regards their families in the house of their fathers” (Numbers 1:1, 18; see also Numbers 3). The only other divinely authorized national census before the exile was conducted about 39 years later on the Plains of Moab (Numbers 26).


Beyond the genealogies recorded in Moses’ writings, there are lists compiled by other official chroniclers, including Samuel, who wrote Judges, Ruth, and part of First Samuel; Ezra, who wrote First and Second Chronicles and the book of Ezra; and Nehemiah, who authored the book bearing his name. Additional genealogical record keepers mentioned in these writings include Iddo (2 Chronicles 12:15) and Zerubbabel, who directed the genealogical enrollment of the repatriated Israelites (Ezra 2). During the reign of King Jotham, there was a genealogical listing of the tribes of Israel living in the land of Gilead (1 Chronicles 5:1-17).

These genealogies were preserved until the start of the Common Era. This is evidenced by the fact that each family of Israel was able to return to their ancestral city to be registered in response to Caesar Augustus’ decree shortly before Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:1-5). Additionally, John the Baptizer’s father Zechariah is noted as belonging to the priestly division of Abijah, and John’s mother Elizabeth was from the daughters of Aaron (Luke 1:5). Anna the prophetess is identified as “of Asher’s tribe” (Luke 2:36). The extensive listings of Jesus’ forefathers in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 confirm that these records were kept in public archives and were available for examination.


The historian Josephus attested to the existence of Jewish official genealogical registers. He stated: “My family is no ignoble one, tracing its descent far back to priestly ancestors... Not only, however, were my ancestors priests, but they belonged to the first of the twenty-four courses—a peculiar distinction—and to the most eminent of its constituent clans.” He also noted that his mother descended from Asamonaeus and concluded: “With such a pedigree, which I cite as I find it recorded in the public registers, I can take leave of the would-be detractors of my family” (The Life, 1, 2, 6).


The official genealogies of the Jews were destroyed not by King Herod the Great, as Africanus claimed in the early third century, but evidently by the Romans during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. (Against Apion by F. Josephus, I, 30-38; The Jewish War, II, 426-428; VI, 354). Since then, Jews have been unable to establish their descent in the two most important lines, David and Levi.


Identification of Relationships


Determining relationships in biblical genealogies often requires examining the context or comparing parallel lists and texts from different parts of the Bible. For instance, the term “son” can refer to a grandson or a descendant (Matthew 1:1). A list that appears to be of brothers, sons of one man, might actually be a genealogical line including sons, grandsons, or later descendants. Genesis 46:21 lists both sons and grandsons of Benjamin as "sons," which is clarified by comparing it with Numbers 26:38-40.


This situation is also evident in the genealogies of major families. For example, 1 Chronicles 6:22-24 lists ten “sons of Kohath,” but Exodus 6:18 and 1 Chronicles 6:18 attribute only four sons to Kohath. Context reveals that the list in 1 Chronicles 6:22-24 is part of a genealogy of Kohath's families, including those appointed by David for temple duties.


Conversely, the term “father” can mean “grandfather” or even a royal predecessor (Daniel 5:11, 18). In many places, such as Deuteronomy 26:5, 1 Kings 15:11, 24, and 2 Kings 15:38, the Hebrew word ʼav (father) is used for “ancestor” or “forefather.” Similarly, the Hebrew words ʼem (mother) and bath (daughter) are sometimes used for “grandmother” and “granddaughter” (1 Kings 15:10, 13).


Cities and Plural Names


In some lists, a man may be referred to as “the father” of a certain city. For example, in 1 Chronicles 2:50-54, Salma is called “the father of Bethlehem,” and Shobal “the father of Kiriath-jearim.” These men likely founded these cities or their descendants populated them. The list further reads: “The sons of Salma were Bethlehem and the Netophathites, Atroth-beth-joab and half of the Manahathites, the Zorites” (1 Chronicles 2:54). Here, Netophathites, Manahathites, and Zorites were likely families.


In Genesis 10:13, 14, Mizraim’s descendants have plural forms, suggesting they represent families or tribes rather than individuals. However, names in dual form, like Ephraim, Appaim, Diblaim, and Mizraim, son of Ham, refer to individuals (Genesis 41:52; 1 Chronicles 2:30, 31; Hosea 1:3).


Abbreviated Lists


Bible writers often abbreviated genealogical lists, naming only family heads of prominent houses or individuals important to the history being discussed. Sometimes, chroniclers only aimed to show descent from a remote ancestor, omitting many intermediate names.

An example is Ezra’s genealogy. In Ezra 7:1-5, he traces his descent from Aaron the high priest, but in 1 Chronicles 6:3-14, several names appear that are omitted in Ezra 7:3. Ezra likely did this to avoid unnecessary repetition and to shorten the list while still proving his priestly descent. He says he is “the son” of Seraiah, meaning he is a descendant, likely Seraiah’s great-grandson or great-great-grandson. Seraiah was high priest and was killed by Nebuchadnezzar during the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E., with his son Jehozadak taken into exile (2 Kings 25:18-21; 1 Chronicles 6:14, 15). Joshua (Jeshua) the high priest, who returned with Zerubbabel, was Seraiah’s grandson (Ezra 5:2; Haggai 1:1). Ezra traveled to Jerusalem 69 years later, making it impossible for him to be Seraiah’s actual son and Jehozadak’s brother.


Comparing genealogies reveals that Ezra, though descended from Aaron through Seraiah, was not from the high-priestly line of Seraiah through Jehozadak. The high-priestly line ran through Joshua (Jeshua), Joiakim, and Eliashib, who was high priest during Nehemiah’s governorship. Ezra’s abridged genealogy sufficed to prove his lineage from Aaron (Nehemiah 3:1; 12:10).


Some Reasons for Variations in Lists


A son who died childless was often not named. Sometimes, a man had a daughter but no son, and the inheritance was passed through the daughter, who took her husband’s family name. Childlessness, inheritance through women, adoption, or failure to establish a separate ancestral house could cause names to be dropped from genealogical lists, while new houses might add names. Thus, names in later genealogies might differ from those in earlier lists.


Family heads might appear in lists that seem to include brothers but actually include nephews. For example, Jacob “adopted” Joseph’s sons, saying, “Ephraim and Manasseh will become mine like Reuben and Simeon” (Genesis 48:5). Therefore, Ephraim and Manasseh are counted as tribal heads alongside their uncles (Numbers 2:18-21; Joshua 17:17).

Nehemiah 10 lists names attesting to “a trustworthy arrangement” to follow God’s commandments (Nehemiah 9:38). These names might refer to houses involved, with the ancestral head named. Many names listed are the same as those who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylon 80 years earlier. While those present might share names with their ancestors, they were likely representatives of the ancestral houses.


Repetition of Names


In genealogical lists, names often recur. Using the same name for later descendants made it easier to identify one's lineage, though sometimes different individuals in separate family lines shared the same name. Examples of such recurring names in the same ancestral line include Zadok (1 Chronicles 6:8, 12), Azariah (1 Chronicles 6:9, 13, 14), and Elkanah (1 Chronicles 6:34-36).


Sometimes, names in parallel lists differ because individuals had more than one name. For instance, Jacob was also called “Israel” (Genesis 32:28). Slight alterations in spelling could give a name a different meaning. For example, Abram (meaning “Father Is High (Exalted)”) became Abraham (meaning “Father of a Crowd (Multitude)”), and Sarai (possibly, “Contentious”) became Sarah (“Princess”). The prophet Samuel’s ancestor Elihu is also called Eliab and Eliel (1 Samuel 1:1; 1 Chronicles 6:27, 34).


In the Greek New Testament, surnames were sometimes used. Simon Peter was also called Cephas, from the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek name for Peter (Luke 6:14; John 1:42). John Mark is another example (Acts 12:12). A name might be given due to a characteristic trait. Simon “the Cananaean” or “the zealous one” distinguishes this apostle from Simon Peter (Matthew 10:4; Luke 6:15). Another method of differentiation includes expressions like “James the son of Alphaeus,” distinguishing him from James the son of Zebedee and brother of John the apostle (Matthew 10:2-3). The place of origin might be added to a name, such as Joseph of Arimathea and Judas the Galilean (Mark 15:43; Acts 5:37). Judas Iscariot possibly means Judas “Man From Kerioth” (Matthew 10:4). Similar methods were used in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 25:20; 1 Samuel 17:4, 58). Women with the same name were distinguished by naming their father, mother, brother, sister, husband, or son (Genesis 11:29; 28:9; 36:39; John 19:25; Acts 1:14; 12:12).


Family Names and Titles


In both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek New Testament, family names or titles were used, with identification determined by the individual’s name or the historical events associated with them. Abimelech was either a personal name or a title for three Philistine kings, comparable to “Pharaoh” among the Egyptians (Genesis 20:2; 26:26; 40:2; Exodus 1:22; 3:10). The specific Abimelech or Pharaoh would be identified by the time and circumstances. Herod was a family name; Caesar was a family name that became a title. Referring to one of the Herods could involve using their personal name or combining it with Herod, such as Herod Antipas or Herod Agrippa. The Caesars were similarly identified, like Caesar Augustus and Tiberius Caesar (Luke 2:1; 3:1; Acts 25:13).


Names of Women


Women were occasionally named in genealogical registers for historical reasons. In Genesis 11:29-30, Sarai (Sarah) is mentioned because the promised Seed was to come through her, not another wife of Abraham. Milcah is named because she was the grandmother of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, showing Rebekah’s lineage from Abraham’s relatives, since Isaac was not to marry from other nations (Genesis 22:20-23; 24:2-4). Genesis 25:1 mentions Abraham’s later wife, Keturah, showing that Abraham married again after Sarah’s death and that his reproductive powers were still active more than 40 years after their miraculous renewal by Jehovah (Romans 4:19; Genesis 24:67; 25:20). This also reveals the relationship of Midian and other Arabian tribes to Israel.


Leah, Rachel, and Jacob’s concubines, along with the sons they bore, are named in Genesis 35:21-26, helping us understand God’s later dealings with these sons. Other women’s names in genealogical registers are included for similar reasons, especially when an inheritance was transmitted through them (Numbers 26:33). Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth are notable examples, each having a remarkable story about their inclusion in the lineage of the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Genesis 38; Ruth 1:3-5; 4:13-15; Matthew 1:1-5). Other instances of women’s names in genealogical lists are found in 1 Chronicles 2:35, 48-49; 3:1-3, 5.


Genealogy and Generations


In some genealogies, we find a man and his descendants listed down to great-great-grandsons. These could be counted as four or five generations. However, the man first named might live to see all these generations of descendants. So, from his viewpoint, a "generation" could mean the time from his birth until his death, or until the most remote descendant he lived to see. This kind of "generation" would involve a much longer period than the previous viewpoint mentioned.


For example, Adam lived 930 years and had sons and daughters. During that time, he saw at least eight generations of his descendants. His lifespan overlapped with Lamech, Noah’s father. From this viewpoint, the Flood occurred in the third generation of human history (Genesis 5:3-32).


We find in the Bible a few cases of this latter method of reckoning. Jehovah promised Abraham that his seed would become an alien resident in a land not theirs and that they would return to Canaan "in the fourth generation" (Genesis 15:13, 16). The census in Numbers 1-3 indicates many father-to-son generations during the 215-year stay in Egypt, with 603,550 men aged 20 and upward shortly after the Exodus (aside from the tribe of Levi). The 'four generations' of Genesis 15:16, counting from the time of entry into Egypt until the Exodus, could be reckoned as follows: (1) Levi, (2) Kohath, (3) Amram, (4) Moses (Exodus 6:16, 18, 20). These persons averaged well over a hundred years in lifespan. Each of these four "generations" saw numerous descendants, possibly down to great-great-grandchildren or farther, explaining how 'four generations' could result in such a large population by the time of the Exodus.


Another problem for Bible scholars concerns the same census. Numbers 3:27-28 states that four families sprang from Kohath, totaling 8,600 males (8,300 in some manuscripts) from a month old upward at the time of the Exodus. It appears Moses had thousands of brothers, male cousins, and nephews. Some conclude that Moses was not the son of Amram, the son of Kohath, but of another Amram, with several generations between, allowing time for such a large male population in just four Kohathite families by the time of the Exodus.


This problem can be resolved in two ways. First, not all of a man’s sons were always named. Thus, Kohath’s four named sons might have had more sons than those listed. Second, Levi, Kohath, Amram, and Moses represent four generations from their lifetimes' viewpoint, but each could have seen several generations during his lifetime. Allowing 60 years each between the births of Levi and Kohath, Kohath and Amram, and Amram and Moses, many generations could have been born within each 60-year period. Moses could have seen great-great-grandnephews and possibly their children by the time of the Exodus. Hence, the total of 8,600 (or 8,300) would not necessitate another Amram between Amram, the son of Kohath, and Moses.


A question arises in connection with the line of the promised Seed, the Messiah, in the genealogy from Nahshon, who was chieftain of the tribe of Judah after the Exodus. Ruth 4:20-22 lists Jesse as the fifth link from Nahshon to David. The period from the Exodus to David is about 400 years. This would mean the average age of each of David’s forefathers was possibly 100 years at the time of his son’s birth. This is not impossible and may have been the case. These sons listed in Ruth might not have been firstborn sons, as David was the youngest of several sons of Jesse. Jehovah may have brought the line of the Seed through this almost miraculous course to show that He had been directing the affairs of the promised Seed, as He had done with Isaac and Jacob.


It is also possible there were intentional omissions of names in this 400-year portion of the Messianic genealogy, recorded in 1 Chronicles 2:11-15, Matthew 1:4-6, and Luke 3:31-32. The fact that all these lists agree in this section may mean no names were left out. Nevertheless, if the chroniclers compiling these lists did leave out certain names not considered important or necessary, it would present no problem. Assuming several additional generations intervened would not conflict with other Biblical statements or chronology.


Bible Genealogy Is Reliable


A careful and sincere student of Bible genealogy will not accuse the Bible chroniclers of carelessness, inaccuracy, or exaggeration to glorify their nation, tribe, or individuals. It is essential to remember that those who included genealogies in their writings, such as Ezra and Nehemiah, referred to national archives and drew their material from official sources available to them. These sources provided the information needed to prove whatever was necessary at the time. Evidently, their genealogical listings were fully accepted by those living then, people who had access to the facts and records. Ezra and Nehemiah compiled these genealogies during times of reorganization, and the genealogies they compiled were essential to the nation’s functioning.


These genealogical lists varied from period to period; new names were added, and others were dropped. Often, only the more important family heads were named in lists dealing with the more remote past, while some less important names might appear in certain lists due to current interest. The sources used might have given only partial lists, or portions may have been missing, or the chronicler might have skipped sections not necessary for his purpose. These omissions are not necessary for our purpose today.


In some instances, copyist errors may have crept into the text, particularly in the spelling of names. However, these do not present problems that significantly affect the lineages necessary for understanding the Bible, nor do they impact the foundation of Christianity.

A careful examination of the Bible disproves the false idea that the ancient genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 and other Bible books contain imaginary or fictitious names to suit some scheme of the chronicler. These chroniclers were dedicated servants of Jehovah, not nationalists; they were concerned with Jehovah’s name and His dealings with His people. Other Bible writers and Jesus Christ himself referred to many of these individuals as real persons (Isaiah 54:9; Ezekiel 14:14, 20; Matthew 24:38; John 8:56; Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45; 1 Timothy 2:13, 14; Hebrews 11:4, 5, 7, 31; James 2:25; Jude 14). To contradict all this testimony would be accusing the God of truth of lying or needing some artifice to promote belief in His Word. It would also deny the Bible’s inspiration.


As the apostle states, “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Therefore, we can fully rely on the genealogies recorded in the Bible. They provided vital statistics for their time and for us today. Through them, we have full genealogical assurance that Jesus Christ is the promised Seed of Abraham. They greatly aid in establishing chronology back to Adam, something found in no other source. We know that God “made out of one man every nation of men to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth” (Acts 17:26). We see that “when the Most High gave the nations an inheritance, when he parted the sons of Adam from one another, he proceeded to fix the boundary of the peoples with regard for the number of the sons of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:8), and we understand how the nations are related.


By knowing the origin of mankind and that Adam was originally a “son of God” and that we all descended from Adam (Luke 3:38), we can clearly understand the statement: “Just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned” (Romans 5:12). This knowledge helps us understand how Jesus Christ can be “the last Adam” and the “Eternal Father” and how “just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive” (Isaiah 9:6; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45). We can better grasp God’s purpose to bring obedient men back into the relationship of “children of God” (Romans 8:20, 21). We see that Jehovah’s loving-kindness is expressed toward those loving Him and keeping His commandments “to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9). We observe His faithfulness as the covenant-keeping God and His careful preservation of a historical record on which we can safely build our faith. Genealogy, as well as other features of the Bible, proves God to be the great Recorder and Preserver of history.


Paul’s Counsel Regarding Genealogies


Around 61-64 C.E., the apostle Paul advised Timothy not to get involved with “false stories and genealogies, which end up in nothing, but which furnish questions for research rather than a dispensing of anything by God in connection with faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). This warning is better understood when considering the extremes to which the Jews later went in researching genealogies, minutely investigating any possible discrepancy. The Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim 62b) states, “between ‘Azel’ and ‘Azel’ [1 Chronicles 8:38–9:44, a genealogical portion of the Bible] they were laden with four hundred camels of exegetical interpretations!” (Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, translated by H. Freedman, London, 1967).


Engaging in studying and discussing such matters was pointless, especially at the time Paul wrote to Timothy. It was no longer necessary to maintain genealogical records to prove one’s ancestry, as God no longer recognized any distinction between Jew and Gentile in the Christian congregation (Galatians 3:28). The genealogical records had already established Christ’s descent through the line of David. Furthermore, shortly after Paul wrote this admonition, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jewish records were lost. God did not preserve them.


Paul was keen that Timothy and the congregations should not be sidetracked into spending time on research and controversy over personal pedigrees, which contributed nothing to Christian faith. The genealogy provided by the Bible is sufficient to prove Christ’s Messiahship, the genealogical matter of prime importance to Christians. The other Biblical genealogies stand as a testimony to the authenticity of the Scriptural record, clearly showing that it is a genuinely historical account.


Conclusion of Points


The biblical genealogies are reliable historical records that serve multiple purposes, including establishing historical context, demonstrating the fulfillment of prophecy, and confirming the lineage of significant figures such as Jesus Christ. They are meticulously recorded and supported by archaeological evidence and extrabiblical sources. Understanding the cultural context of the ancient Near East, the role of oral tradition, and the fulfillment of prophecy further reinforces their reliability. These genealogies provide a framework for biblical chronology and validate the unfolding of God's redemptive plan throughout history.


About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).


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