Generations: Genealogies In The Bible – (part 2)

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In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, the distinctive features are meant to emphasize certain ideas that Matthew wanted us to understand (a few of which were previously discussed). Likewise there are pointers included in the Chronicles genealogies, emphasizing those who can be included in the families of Israel (and remember, both of these also contained pointers to the fact that they were not exhaustive lists). The Genesis genealogies (particularly chapters 5 and 11) must also indicate their purpose in their distinctiveness. They are unique because they are meant to emphasize certain truths, and those truths ought to be found in the points of distinctive emphasis, notably the “begets” and the reported years. The writer was saying very emphatically with his recorded facts that these were real people, fathers and sons, and that we aren’t very far removed from them. They are historically near enough to identify with, to learn from. They had relatively long lives, but still faced certain death (doubly emphasized by the Enoch exception, 5:24). There is emphasis on both their vigor (long lives and fruitfulness) and their mortality. There is no suggestion in the accounts (as there was in Matthew and Chronicles) that the genealogy might omit some names. Nor is there any clear sign in the accounts of compiled or abbreviated source material as there is in the other genealogies we’ve discussed previously (Matthew’s source material would have included Joseph’s family genealogy which retained the fact of Rahab’s marriage to Salmon, never mentioned in the Old Testament; and Luke’s source material (recall Luke 1:1-3) would have included Mary’s family genealogy; and the sources for Chronicles-Nehemiah were mentioned before). We might surmise ancient sources. The statement in Genesis 6:9a (This is the account of Noah) may mean that the preceding account, the genealogy, was passed down from Noah. Genesis 11:27a (This is the account of Terah) may mean that Terah was the source of the preceding record. If those passages are making statements about sources, then what we have is not a summary but a record of the original source material itself. The Genesis genealogies are not presented to us in the same way or with the same circumstances as those in the other genealogies in the Bible, but are themselves everywhere else used as source material (in Chronicles and in Luke, for example).

There are other distinctives in the Genesis lists to show that they are meant to be accepted as direct lists of successive generations (again, Gen. 5 and 11:10-32). Both sections of the list begin with a definite father and son relationship, explicitly described with no possibility for doubt (Adam-Seth and Shem-Arphaxad). Both sections of the list also end with definite father-son relationships (Lamech-Noah and Terah-Abram), again explicitly described with no possibility of mistaking the writer’s intent. We also know that there are definitely other father-son relationships within the lists (actual single generation begettings), as exemplified in the case of Eber-Peleg (Gen. 10:25, 11:18). When you have a demonstrable pattern at the beginning and the end and in the middle, that’s strongly suggestive that the pattern holds throughout, especially lacking any evidence (or even suggestion) to the contrary.

This is also a very nicely filled list in Genesis 5. In the list of ten men the typical age is seen to be in excess of 900 years. Enoch is a special case and Lamech is an unexplained exception, dying at 777. If the list is taken as exhaustive, all 9 of the men mentioned before Noah would have been dead (or gone) when the flood of waters came upon the earth. That would not likely work out by randomly selecting generations. Methuselah’s 782 years after begetting Lamech (Gen. 5:26) exactly equal the period of Lamech’s 182 before begetting Noah plus Noah’s 600 years until the flood (Gen. 7:6), so that Lamech is found to die 5 years before the flood, and Methuselah in the year of the flood, and all the others sooner. Stating things rather laboriously, if this were a partial list it seems unlikely that we’d accidentally have that kind of statistical result from selecting generations here and there. In fact, other than the special case of Enoch (who was removed from earth at an early age of 365 years), none of the others mentioned in the list could have fit into Methuselah’s spot, just ahead of Lamech, without clearly yielding a total of years beyond the year of the flood itself, the sums wouldn’t work. But the sums do work, as listed. In other words, the fact that all the progenitors are found to be dead (or removed)-in harmony with the numbers listed-at the time that the flood came upon the earth-is strongly suggestive that Methuselah is literally Noah’s grandfather and that the list is complete and not a mere sampling of generations. The typical recorded life span after begetting is more than eight hundred years in all the normal cases between Adam and Lamech, except Methuselah. If this list were not meant to be taken as complete we’d have been better off having the law of averages prevail, yielding an unacceptable total of years to the flood! People have only been able to conclude that the list is complete and chronological because the chronology actually works without contradiction. This sort of “coincidence” is the kind of thing that enhances our awareness of the credibility of the record, both here and elsewhere in scripture.

Finally, the New Testament attitude toward Genesis is important to remember here in the context of a believer’s interpretation of this record. We know that Jesus accepted the accuracy and reliability of the Genesis account from his own verbal teachings (Mark 10:6-8) and that other New Testament writers acknowledged the historicity of the book, including chapters 5 and 11 (Heb. 11:5-7, Acts 7:2-4). In one particular reference we are given some insight into how the Genesis genealogy was viewed by the apostles and prophets of the church when Jude mentions “Enoch, the seventh from Adam,” (Jude 14). What Jude did and did not say is significant here. There were all sorts of ways he could have referred to Enoch, but the way he chose suggests a literal acceptance on his part of the genealogy in Genesis. He didn’t say anything like “a descendant of Adam” or “a son of Adam” or any of the other possible things that would have suggested he thought that Enoch was anything but “seventh from Adam.” It’s a simple statement, but an affirmation nonetheless that for this New Testament writer the generations from Adam to Enoch were known and recorded, that the Genesis genealogy was complete and reliable, which is also how it’s presented in its own terms and context.

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