As most Bible students know, Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, contains several genealogies. Genesis chapter five gives the genealogy of Adam to Noah. Genesis 10 lists many of the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Genesis 11 gives the genealogy of Shem to Abraham. Genealogies make up the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles. What’s more, the New Testament opens with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1, emp. added). In light of such extensive genealogies, some wonder why the apostle Paul instructed Timothy and Titus not to “give heed to...endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:4), but rather “avoid” them (Titus 3:9). One Bible critic has alleged that “if we follow this advice we would ignore most of the Bible” (Wells, 2008). Just how is it that we can trust a book that says to “avoid...genealogies,” when that same book contains several extensive genealogies? Is this a contradiction?
First, for one to interpret Paul’s commands to mean that it is sinful simply to read or discuss the biblical genealogies is indefensible. Paul obviously believed in the inspiration of the Old Testament. In fact, to the same individual who he instructed not to “give heed to...endless genealogies,” he wrote: “All Scripture,” including the many Old Testament genealogies, “is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16, emp. added). To conclude that an apostle who claimed to be guided by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21) would command Christians to avoid the words of the Holy Spirit (cf. Samuel 23:2), even on the surface, is a forced interpretation.
Second, a closer look at Paul’s command to “avoid...genealogies” reveals that he was not alluding merely to the reading or study of biblical genealogies. Rather, in contrast to being peaceable, gentle, and humble (Titus 3:2), while at the same time engaging in good, profitable works (3:8), Paul wrote, “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless” (3:9, emp. added). In Greek, as in English, “All four nouns” [disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings—EL] are without the article,” which “stresses the quality of these things” (Hiebert, 1981, 2:447). Just as the Ephesians were not to “give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification” (1 Timothy 1:3-4), Titus was to avoid “various ‘foolish’ or senseless inquiries,” including “speculations about the OT genealogies,” that “resulted in sharp dissensions and open quarrels” (Hiebert, 2:447, emp. added). According to Paul, such foolishness is “unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9).
Third, genealogies were necessary under the Old Law in order to distinguish tribes, disseminate land, discern duties (e.g., the responsibilities of Levites were very different than other Israelites), and, most important, to disclose from which nation, tribe, and family the prophesied Messiah would come. Yet, those genealogies were not “endless.” Though several chapters of the Old Testament are comprised of genealogies, they certainly do not make up “most of the Bible,” as critic Steve Wells alleged. The genealogies that Paul likely had in mind were those the Jews kept, that through the centuries became “numerous, complicated, and extended—so that they might without much exaggeration be called ‘endless’” (Barnes, 1997). To these “[t]he Jews attached great importance...and insisted on their being carefully preserved” (Barnes).
Finally, by the time Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, the Old Law had been replaced by a new law (Hebrews 8:7-13). There was no need for Jews to use genealogies to dispute over their identity as a nation, tribe, or family. In Christ “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (Romans 10:11-13; cf. Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). For Christians to waste valuable time disputing over “foolish” matters, such as one’s ancestry, is “unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9). The only genealogy that ultimately matters to Christians is Christ’s. His genealogy serves as a proof of both the Bible’s inspiration and the deity of Christ (see Butt, 2006). The Messiah would come from the seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), the family of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), and the house of David (Jeremiah 23:5). Indeed, this is precisely what happened, as the New Testament writers, including the apostle Paul, reveal (Galatians 3:16; Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).
Barnes, Albert (1997), Barnes’ Notes (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Butt, Kyle (2006), “The Predicted Messiah,” Reason & Revelation, January, 26:1-7, [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/2812.
Hiebert, D. Edmond (1981), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Wells, Steve (2008), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, [On-line], URL: http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/1tim/1.html.