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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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(gee nee al' oh gieess) Records of family lineage that trace the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor.

Old Testament Genealogies are recorded in the Old Testament as early as Genesis 4:1 . Various enrollments by family lineage are referenced at significant junctures in Old Testament history (Numbers 1:19-49; Ezra 8:1 ). The writer of Chronicles offered abundant genealogical records (1 Chronicles 1-9 ).

Genealogies occur in several different forms. A linear genealogy lists one person in each generation, usually father, son, grandson, etc. A segmented genealogy lists several people of at least the first generation and often of following generations, usually the sons of a father, the children of each son, the children in the next generation, etc. Descending genealogies begin with a parent and list the following generations. Ascending genealogies begin with the last member named and trace ancestry back through parent, grandparent, great grandparent, etc. to the original ancestor of the family, clan or nation. The linear genealogy seeks to show that the final person listed has a legitimate right to the position or honor the person occupies or claims. Such legitimation comes from the first ancestor listed or from the established family position. A segmented genealogy shows the relationship between the various individuals or groups named. Genealogies may serve family, political, or religious purposes. In their purposes of legitimation, genealogies describe not only kinship relationships but also geographical, social, economic, religious, and political relationships.

At least nine functions of genealogies may be described: 1. Demonstrate the relationships and the differences between Israel and other nations (Genesis 10:1 ); 2 . Demonstrate the unity and coherence of Israel (Exodus 1:1-5 ) or of all nations (Genesis 10:1 ); 3 . Build a historical bridge connecting Israel through periods of history for which few narratives are available (1 Chronicles 1-9 ); 4 . Reveal a pattern of cycles in world history (Matthew 1:1-17 ); 5 . Describe military functions (Numbers 1:5-16 ); 6 . Show a person or group's right to an office or function (1 Chronicles 6:1; 1 Chronicles 24-26 ); 7 . Preserve the purity of the nation (see Ezra 10:1 ); 8 . Assure a sense of national continuity and unity in a period of national despair (1 Chronicles 5:1 ); 9 . Show the movement of history toward God's goal (Genesis 4:1; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 11:10-32; 1 Chronicles 1-9 ).

Such genealogies thus provided a wide range of functions in Hebrew life—from establishing inheritance rights, to tracing priestly and royal descent, to ensuring racial purity. Such concerns heightened following the Babylonian Exile.

New Testament Matthew began his Gospel with a genealogy tracing Jesus' lineage from Abraham through David. Luke also included a genealogy reaching back to Adam and God (Matthew 3:23-38 ). The relationship between these two records is not clear, though a respective focus on messiahship and salvation offered to all mankind is apparent.

Genealogies later came under question. Hebrews 7:3 ,Hebrews 7:3,7:6 assigns value to the fact that Melchizedek was a priest without genealogy—a fact that set him apart from the Jewish priesthood. Paul condemned a distorted use of genealogies in his later writings ( 1 Timothy 1:4; Titus 3:9 ), though the exact role such genealogies played is not certain. They perhaps were the source of disputes about authority and leadership in some churches. Michael Fink

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Genealogies'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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