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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Genealogies

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The value attached by the Hebrew people to genealogies is seen in the long and, to modern readers, somewhat wearisome, lists of Scripture. Their exaggerated importance was in some measure due to family pride, which loved an old descent; and therefore it was considered a laudable ambition to build up legendary pedigrees of heroes and founders such as are met with, e.g. in the Book of Jubilees. As Judaism became politically impotent, it took to dreaming of the glories of the past, and there sprang up a ‘rank growth of legend respecting the patriarchs and other heroes’ (Hort, Judaistic Christianity, Cambridge and London, 1894, p. 136). This genealogical matter is found in Hebrew and in Greek, and appears in both Philo and Josephus.

In the genealogies a religious interest is also apparent. We know from the NT how obstinately the later Judaism clung to the merely positive and perishable precepts of the Law, and how at the same time, under a narrow and literal doctrine of inspiration, the attempt was made to extract nourishment for the spiritual life from every part of the OT. The most fantastic doctrines were drawn, even from the names in the genealogical lists, in the interests of a supposed edification.

For a time Judaism bitterly opposed the Church; then, entering it as Judaistic Christianity, it sought to capture the new movement, in the interests of a sect, by binding upon it the yoke of the Law, which Peter, in the Jerusalem Council, said ‘neither our fathers nor we were able to bear’ (Acts 15:10). ‘Lastly, it becomes a fantastic heresy inside the Church, and sinks into profane frivolity, “Pretended revelations are given as to the names and genealogy of angels; absurd ascetic rules are laid down as ‘counsels of perfection,’ while daring immorality defaces the actual life” ’ (Plummer, The Pastoral Epp. [Expos. Bib., London, 1888], p. 34; also Expositor, 3rd ser., viii. [1888] 42); cf. Revelation 2:9 ‘I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and they are not.’

With this ‘unwholesome stuff’ (Hort, p. 137) there was combined the doctrine of aeons of the Jewish philosopher Philo-the incipient Gnosticism of the Colossian heresy. The γνῶαις of the NT is the special lore of those who interpreted mystically the OT, especially the Law (cf. Hort, pp. 139-144). This so-called Gnosticism may be traced through Philo, the Book of Wisdom, and Sirach, ‘back to the Persian speculations with which the Jews became familiar during the Captivity’ (Dods, Introd. to NT, London, 1888, p. 141f.). This is the situation, atmosphere, and tendency lying behind the stern rebukes of the Pastoral Epistles.

In 1 Timothy 1:14 the warning is given, μηδὲ προσέχειν μύθοις καὶ γενεαλογίαις ἀπεράντοις, αἵτινες ἐκζητήσεις παρέχουσι, ‘neither to give heed to fables and endless genealogies, the which minister questionings.’ These genealogies are ‘legendary pedigrees of Jewish heroes’ and ‘haggadic embroidery of Jewish biographies’ (Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., Edinburgh, 1911, pp. 406, 408). They are called ἀπέραντοι (ἄπαξ λεγ. in NT)-‘endless,’ because they led nowhere, and, where all meanings were equally possible and equally worthless, one interpretation was as good as another. ‘They minister questionings’-that was their end. ‘Fanciful tales merely tickle the ears and loosen the tongue. They have no relation to the serious business of life … They end in conversation, not conversion’ (J. Strachan, The Captivity and the Pastoral Epistles [Westminster NT, London, 1910]. p. 203, where Köhler is quoted [p. 205]: ‘the author can think of no more striking contrast than that between the endless prattle of the false teachers and the gospel of the glory of the blessed God’ [1 Timothy 1:11]). Life is a stewardship of God (οἰκονομία θεοῦ), but this trashy and unwholesome stuff,’ which occupied ‘men’s minds to the exclusion of solid and life-giving nutriment’ (Hort, p. 137), hinders the fulfilment of the trust of life. It is contrary to sound doctrine. It does not belong to the healthy (ὑγιαινούσῃ) mind. In Titus 3:9 the warning is repeated: ‘shun foolish questions and genealogies.’

The scornful method adopted by the Pastoral Epistles of dealing with these ‘silly questions and genealogies’ has been objected to as un-Pauline, and is cited as an argument for the late date of the Epistles. Without raising the question of authorship, one may feel, on general considerations, that, in the interests of the Church, the question was a vital one-should Christianity be allowed to degenerate into a blend of Mosaism and Gentile philosophy or theosophy? Even in religious controversy, rank growths are not to be eradicated with a pair of tweezers. Moffatt’s rejoinder (Encyclopaedia Biblica 5083) to McGiffert (Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897, it. 402) may be regarded as justified and satisfactory: ‘This movement [represented by fables, genealogies, etc.] is met by … methods, which seem denunciatory merely because we no longer possess any statement of the other side, and are, therefore, prone to forget that such rough and decisive ways are at times the soundest method of conserving truth.… Firmness and even ridicule have their own place as ethical weapons of defence.’ See Fable.

W. M. Grant.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Genealogies'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/g/genealogies.html. 1906-1918.

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