Skip to main content

Nine Purposes of Biblical Genealogies (Marshall Johnson)

ht: Dan Roach, located in Andrew Hill, 1&2 Chronicles

"The basic purpose of the genealogy is to identify kinship relationships between individuals, families, and people groups. Marshall Johnson has isolated nine distinct functions that genealogies serve in the Old Testament"
  1. Demonstrate existing relationships between Israel and neighboring tribes by establishing common ancestors (e.g., the relationship of Lot’s descendants to Israel, Gen. 19:36–38)
  2. Connecting isolated traditions of Israelite origins into a coherent literary unit by means of an inclusive genealogical system (e.g., the toledot formulas in Genesis [5:1; 10:1; etc.])
  3. Bridge chronological gaps in the biblical narratives (e.g., Ruth 4:18–22)
  4. Serve as chronological controls for the dating of key Old Testament events (e.g., the date of the book of Esther in relationship to the Babylonian exile, Est. 2:5–6—although the selective nature of biblical genealogies may compromise the accuracy of the genealogy as a chronological device)
  5. Perform a specific political and/or military function, as in the taking of a census (e.g., Num. 1:3–46)
  6. Legitimize an individual or family in an office or enhance the stature of an individual by linkage to an important clan or individual of the past (e.g., Zeph. 1:1)
  7. Establish and preserve the ethnic purity of the Hebrew community, as in the case of the records found in Ezra and Nehemiah (e.g., Ezra 7)
  8. Assert the importance of the continuity of God’s people through a period of national calamity (prominent in Chronicles, e.g., the line of David in 1 Chron. 3:17–24)
  9. Express order, structure, and movement in history according to a divinely prearranged plan (e.g., identifying Haman, the son of Hammedatha, as an Agagite, Est. 3:1, 10).
[Marshall D. Johnson, The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies, 2d ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), 77–82.]

There may be other purposes but asking questions about each of these is a good start in taking seriously genealogy as a part of the Biblical texts. We don't study them because genealogies are fascinating in themselves, or to construct some super-biblical genealogy, but because 'all' scripture is God breathed, and when read with all of it included it makes us wise for salvation. Genealogies occur relatively frequently in the Biblical narratives and we're overlooking substantial portions of scripture if we omit them. It's not that we expect them to yield meaning in the same way that a sentence in a Pauline letter might, but because they contribute to the literature which God has chosen to use to reveal himself to us.

See also: Ed Goode on the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1-9


  1. According to Chuck Missler (Hidden Treasures in the Biblical Text) there's more to some of the genealogies than meets the eye. Gen 5. apparently reveals a prophetic message about Jesus' coming if you translate the meanings of the names. We did a study on this at House Group this week. Lots of other hidden messages and numerical patterns described in his book...

  2. I want to be careful about over reading things - the Bible isn't secret code, but names do have meanings, and the gospel is definitely there in Genesis 5, above all in the coming of a saviour called Noah...

  3. Noah's name is connected to one of the Hebrew words for rest. We named our son Noah in the hopes that it would prove prophetic for his parents (getting enough sleep to function!) and prophetic for Noah himself (sharing in God's eschatological rest).


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"Big eyes full of wonder"

Books. Fiction. Libraries. Second only to churches as are the best gateways in your community to ultimate reality and new possibilities.

Our local library has just re-opened after refurbishment, and I love that our boys have spent several mornings there during the summer holidays, discovering some wonderful new stories.

I realised a few months back that I wasn't reading enough fiction. My work necessitates reading a lot of non-fiction, a mix of historical and contemporary thinking, biblical studies and theology. But fiction is the cinderella. Easily overlooked, and yet able to awaken my imagination and show me the way things are meant to be.

So I've picked up a few more lately - bought and borrowed. Not every book attempted flies, and that's ok. These have been winners though.

Ink. This is Alice Broadway's debut novel. It's young adult fiction and tells the story of Leora who lives in a world where the events of your life are tattooed on your skin. Nothing gets hid…

Uniquely Matthew

Reading gospel accounts in parallel is sometimes used to blur the differences in perspective between the evangelists, seeking to harmonise the texts and find a definitive historical account of what happened. No such thing exists because every account is biased and limited. You simply can't record everything. You have to hold a vantage point. And that's not a problem.

Matthew, Mark and Luke take a very different vantage point to John who was of course an eyewitness himself of the events. Comparing the text of Matthew, Mark and Luke across the death and resurrection of Jesus yields two steps.

Firstly, the common ground. All three accounts tell of...
Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross…. · Jesus labelled as King of the Jews…. · Criminals crucified with Jesus… · Darkness in the daytime… · Jesus' loud final cry… The women who witnessed Jesus death, and Jesus' burial… · The tomb lent to Jesus by Joseph of Arimithea… · The women who went to the tomb on the morning of the…

Songs we're singing in Church

Christians are a singing people, it's part of what we do when we gather.

Our church meets morning an evening on a Sunday - normally using 5 songs in each service. So, over the year that's about 520 song-slots available. The report from the database system we use ( tells us that in the past year we've sung about 150 different songs.

Our current most used song has been sung 11 times in the last year, just under once a month. Our top 10 are used about every 6 weeks. By #30 we're talking about songs used every two months. The tail is long and includes loads of classic hymns from across the centuries, plus other songs from the past 40 years, that we have used around once a term or less.

1. Rejoice - Dustin Kensrue

2. Come Praise & Glorify - Bob Kauflin

3. Man of Sorrows - Hillsong

4. Cornerstone - Hillsong

Rejoice was a song I didn't previously know, along with a couple of others that have quickly become firm favourites for me: Chri…