On Reading the Begats

Most of us have probably experienced the phenomenon: reading those portions of Scripture heavy on genealogy, resulting in the yawn or the rapid skimming. It seems like a waste of time, since these people have nothing to do with us, and lived thousands of years before us. Not so fast. Slow down and take a deep breath.

First point: the genealogies ensure the covenant succession of God’s people. I remember reading a story of a missionary who was sharing the Gospel with some tribe somewhere, and was getting nowhere. He stated the Gospel in the clearest possible terms, but the tribe simply wasn’t getting it, even after he learned the language well. Finally, he simply started reading to them different parts of the Bible. When he got to the genealogies, all of a sudden, there were mass conversions to Christianity. The missionary, stunned, asked the tribal leaders why it was the genealogies that had led to these conversions. The leader responded that they had genealogies going back only so far. They did not know the ultimate origins, and there were many gaps in their genealogies. But now that those gaps had been filled, they knew that the Bible was truth, and that the Gospel was true. This tribe was part of the covenant succession of God’s people now, and that factor was huge in their conversion to Christ. Never discount the power of God’s Word, even those parts that WE do not find particularly compelling!

Second point (and this goes right along with the first point): ALL Scripture is inspired by God and is useful. The problem is not with the text, but with our attitude towards it. If we take a minimalist approach to the genealogies, then we won’t be expecting to receive any edification whatsoever from it. If, however, we read prayerfully, then the Holy Spirit will guide us into the truth that that Scripture has for us.

Third point: we often do not read genealogies properly. When you read a genealogy that has names associated with particular stories, you are meant to recall the entire story. Genealogies are the Bible’s way of recapping what has come before. What is particularly effective about this is the organic connection of God’s people by covenantal generation. In fact, the story of those people IS our story!

Fourth point: whenever you read a person’s name in the Bible, never forget that your name is also written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life, if you trust in Christ Jesus. Suppose (hypothetically) you were reading the Bible one day, and saw your own name there, referring to you, and not to your namesake. Would that change your attitude towards that history? If you remember that your name is written down, everything changes. You will pay attention. You will see the connections of history, and the organic connection that the earlier generations have to us. You ARE reading your own genealogy: the genealogy of faith.

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19 Comments

  1. justsinner99 said,

    May 23, 2012 at 11:18 am

    How do you preach them? (Have you preached through them?)

  2. May 23, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Helpful post.

    Thanks

  3. greenbaggins said,

    May 23, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Andrew, you’re welcome.

    Andy, I have preached on the genealogies in Genesis. If you click on the Indices category on the left sidebar, you will find an index to all the Genesis sermons, if you scroll down.

    My general practice is to note the form of the genealogy, and then note the details, and the shifts in pattern (especially important for Genesis 5!). For instance, in the PB form of this post, you can find some helpful advice from Fred Greco and Bruce Buchanan on it:

    http://www.puritanboard.com/f40/reading-begats-74365/

  4. justsinner99 said,

    May 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks. I have yet to come to a strictly genealogical section of Scripture in my preaching, but I have wondered how (not if) I would go about the task.

  5. rcjr said,

    May 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Nicely done. We, covenantal people, of all people, should recognize and read the Bible as our family history. My father walked across the dry bottom of the Red Sea. My uncle wrestled all night with an angel. My cousin had his head lopped off and served on a platter. These are not just stories designed to teach us theology. They are history designed to tell us who we are.

  6. Steve Drake said,

    May 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    RCjr,
    I for one thank you for your solid support of a six-day recent mature creation and for what the ‘begats’ have to say about this. I also want to thank you as one brother to another for your counsel and support for my long time friend Chris Keys. Blessings to you brother.

  7. rfwhite said,

    May 23, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    GB: good stuff. I remember former WTS OT prof Ray Dillard commenting that, in sum, genealogies were one way in which the biblical authors confirmed the historicity of their narratives to their readers.

  8. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 24, 2012 at 10:00 am

    For my annual personal trek through the entire Bible, I often listen to recordings of the genealogy chapters. My favorites readers are Max McLean (ESV) and Steven B. Stevens (NASB Update).

  9. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 24, 2012 at 10:12 am

    NOTE to preachers from a Ruling Elder:

    When reading the genealogies from the pulpit, speak slowly, gravely, and reverently. (Don’t rush through them, in other words.) Practice your pronunciation carefully. You owe these names your full attention and excellence in your speech. And, just as important, NEVER chuckle if you stumble or say something like, “Wow, these are hard names.” This is God’s holy and inerrant Word. As has already been said, the genealogies are no less inspired than any other portion of Scripture.

    (The same counsel holds, of course, when reading any name in the Bible. If they’re hard for you, take more time to get them right.)

  10. greenbaggins said,

    May 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Amen, Frank! And I usually take the time while reading lots of names to get their Hebrew pronunciations learned. For many names, it is the only way to go. I usually stick with Anglicized versions of very familiar names like Abraham, but I will go Hebrew with less familiar names like Abimelech, which should be pronounced AH-vi-MEL-ek, not uh-BIM-a-lek.

  11. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    If we believe in plenary verbal inspiration, we know that God choose, in His good and wise providence, just those names and not other names. Thus, each one is precious.

    Besides, better Maher-shalal-hash-baz than Jimmy-Joe-Billy-Bob.

  12. Cris Dickason said,

    May 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Frank @ 8 & 9 – This ruling elder will second your motion. I’ve benefited tremendously from using McLean’s reading of ESV & NIV. I agree that the public reading of Scripture must not be rushed. I think public reading of Scripture as measured – not rushed – and reflective, not rushed, recitation of the creeds should taught in liturgy courses at the seminaries.

    Lane – I too have always taken care to learn how to read/pronounce the names of persons in Scripture, and will follow the lead of the Hebrew text.

    The one name I just can’t “fix” for myself is the North African saint, Augustine. I just can’t break the /Au-gus-TEEN/ habit and say /Au-GUS-tin/. Fortunately he’s not in the canon, so it never comes up when leading worship!

    -=Cris=-

  13. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    There’s an old saying: Au-gus-TEEN is in Florida. Au-GUS-tin is in heaven.

  14. Alan D. Strange said,

    May 25, 2012 at 10:37 am

    How to put this? I want to agree with my good brothers here who want a proper reading of the Scripture from the pulpit. So do I, of course.

    I agree entirely with “reverently,” and “clearly” as proper adverbs for pulpit reading. I think, however, that “gravely” and “slowly” have often communicated the wrong things and have proven detrimental to hearers.

    The text should be read naturally and fluently, maintaining the proper flow of Scripture. Grave and slow can sound halting and unnatural. We want to read Scripture in a natural and accurate way that makes its intelligibility clear to the hearers. It is the Word of God and thus unique. But the way it is to be read is not markedly different than the proper reading of other literature. The Bible should be read in a way that enhances the understanding of the text, never giving the impression that this is something so ancient and obscure as to be beyond understanding.

    I tell my students that the public reading of the Word is of utmost importance. Too fast is certainly not good, but neither is too slow. Among those with a high view of the Word, I have historically heard much more of the latter error (too slow) rather than the former (too fast).

    I think something like a reverent naturalness is what we wish to aim for. It’s not dissimilar to preaching, in which the “preacher’s tone” is to be avoided and naturalness of speech and gestures is most fitting. Just as a writer must find his voice, so must a preacher and express God’s truth in those tones and that diction. As Spurgeon put it, the preacher is most fully himself in preaching (or ought to be). So in public reading, in which one needs to be natural, employing proper inflection, cadence, volume, pitch, as well as pronunciation.

  15. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 25, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    You’re entirely correct, Alan. I meant “slowly” in contrast to “rushed.” Your terms “naturally and fluently” are exactly what I intended to say.

    By the way, the finest professional readers who have recorded the entire Bible excel in “reverent naturalness.” We can learn a lot from them, even if we lack their golden voices.

  16. Cris Dickason said,

    May 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Alan – Thanks for that nuance and expansion, well put. Another angle on public reading of Scripture (and literature in general).

    Sometime you need to read out loud even if to yourself. Perhaps the family dog or cat.* You might catch or appreciate a flow of thought, or turn of phrase, better when you read out loud. I sometimes reflect on the passage in Aug-GUS-tin’s Confessions where he found Ambrose reading silently. To Aug-GUS-tin that was a revelation – a new idea. I guess if were aren’t going to be off in monastic cells, silent reading is a necessity.

    * English Setters are great listeners-I’ve even resorted to reading boring technical manuals to mine from time to time.

  17. Richard L. Lindberg said,

    June 22, 2012 at 8:18 am

    When I teach genealogy classes, I use the genealogies of the Bible as an example of the history of genealogies. I use Lane’s first use of the genealogies to explain why they are important.

  18. Andrew Buckingham said,

    June 22, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Ronald Dee ?!

  19. Andrew Buckingham said,

    June 22, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Scratch that. Thought you were someone else.

    Mind is playing tricks on me,
    Andrew


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