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It seems that at the time that 1 Timothy was written, "certain people" had become much too interested in genealogies:

1 Timothy 1:3-4
3 I repeat the request I made of you when I was on my way to Macedonia, that you stay in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to teach false doctrines 4 or to concern themselves with myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the plan of God that is to be received by faith. 5 The aim of this instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 6 Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, 7 wanting to be teachers of the law, but without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.

Other passages in the Bible, such as Genesis 10, Genesis 5, and Matthew 1, list various geneologies. These hardly seem to qualify as "endless", unless one has a very short attention span. So what exactly is 1 Timothy talking about? I would guess, especially based on the context, that "certain people" were more or less fabricating geneologies about biblical figures, but on what basis? And is this a prohibition against being interested in any genealogies, or is it referring to a specific sort of interest? Most importantly, is it a prohibition against reading and being interested in the geneological parts of the Bible itself, provided that one remains interested in only what is said therin?

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Gnosticism also incorporated lengthy genealogies of "aeons." –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Apr 2 '13 at 6:04

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The focus of this invective isn't so much on the genealogies themselves as it is the way in which people use them to puff them themselves up. Even barring earthly lineages, the poor of the church of Corinth managed to put themselves into faction. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul writes:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.

Notice Paul's focus here - he is concerned that his church isn't "growing up." When the focus is on where one comes from, the focus necessarily is moved off of what one has become.

Note also in the text you quote, that the problem with 'myths and genealogies' is that they lead simply to 'endless speculation.' Put another way, Paul is admonishing believers to stick to the actual teaching, rather than indulging in the desire to read as much into a text as is desired. The genealogies in Scripture are there for a reason - they place Scripture in a particular time and place, and show that God is no respecter of persons. (Abraham, in Genesis 11, is just another guy in another line). When people dwell on these things, however, they are looking for themselves - puffing themselves up - and that is not the point.

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It is possibly a reference to the gnostic emanations (genealogies of angels) but in this case it seems to do more with Jewish folklore. Timothy does not really seem to attack gnosticism as is done in an Epistle like Colossians. It certainly has nothing to do with he genealogical records of Christ, which were so very important and which were clear enough that no record of disputes is recorded. Most likely These arguments were not about Christ, or angels, but about the law:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. (Titus 3:9, NIV)

The arguments about genealogies seem to be about the law and mixed up with myths, so that the genealogical records were part of the myth and endless stories that had nothing to do with Christ or the gospel:

The expression “myths and genealogies” is one. It must not be divided, as if Paul were thinking, on the one hand, of myths, and on the other, of genealogies. The apostle refers undoubtedly to man-made supplements to the law of God (see verse 7), mere myths or fables (2 Tim. 4:4), old wives’ tales (1 Tim. 4:7) that were definitely Jewish in character (Titus 1:14). Measured by the standard of truth, what these errorists taught deserved the name myths. As to material contents these myths concern genealogical narratives that were largely fictitious.

If you have ever read Jewish Haggadah, it is the most creative kind of biblical exegesis that makes even the weirdest modern day false teachings seem quite tame. From the smallest little idea found somewhere in the Bible they could erect long descriptive claims that had nothing to do with the text or even the Bible. It is fascinating if it were not actually destructive:

We feel at once that here we have been introduced into the realm of typically Jewish lore. It is a known fact that from early times the rabbis would “spin their yarns”—and endless yarns they were!—on the basis of what they considered some “hint” supplied by the Old Testament. They would take a name from a list of pedigrees (for example, From Genesis, I Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah), and expand it into a nice story. Such interminable embroideries on the inspired record were part of the regular bill of fare in the synagogue, and were subsequently deposited in written form in that portion of The Talmud which is known as Haggadah. (NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY Exposition of The Pastoral Epistles, William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker)

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