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So, several places in the bible are just lists of names:

  • Genesis 5
  • I Chronicles 1 - 10
  • Matthew 1
  • Luke 3

all come to mind.

In Matthew 1, in particular, I have pulled sermons out of the only four women named (each one has a really good story!), but I wonder what use a genealogy is from a theological point of view. Obviously, there are good reasons to include them or they wouldn't be there, but I wonder how/if one should make use of these in a pulpit.

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I don't have a pulpit, but I am teaching 8th and 9th graders about the purpose and import of tabernacles throughout the Old and New Covenants. Anything that shows Jesus as the High Priest and King seems pertinent to this subject. Unfortunately I can't remember which one was which or why.... –  Peter Turner Dec 12 '11 at 16:29
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You may wish to use caution when attaching importance to the genealogies. For example, the summary of the Matthew 1 genealogy places theological significance on the three sets of fourteen generations in the line from Abraham to Jesus. The careful reader will note, however, that there are only two groups of fourteen and one of thirteen. If a major doctrine is dependent on this point, it will fail. –  George Cummins Dec 12 '11 at 19:02
    
In addition to the select answer, I'd recommend taking a look at a video by Fr. Robert Barron (Catholic) for the additional significance of Christ's genealogy -- that is in addition to validating his Jewish and messianic status. –  svidgen Nov 10 '12 at 3:03
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I'm not Catholic, but the Catholic Encyclopedia does a good job of outlining the importance of the genealogies here.

There are several purposes for including the genealogies in Scripture, some theological, some merely cultural.

On the cultural side:

The Hebrews shared the predilection for genealogies which prevailed among all the Semitic races. Among the Arabs, for instance, no biography is complete without a long list of the hero's ancestors.

On the theological side:

The priests and Levites had to prove their legal descent in order to fulfil the honourable and remunerative functions of their respective offices. On returning from the Babylonian Captivity several were excluded from the priestly class because they could not prove their Levitical pedigree (Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64).

Finally (and most importantly), the genealogies help to establish Jesus as the Messiah, since the Messiah was to come from the line of David.

As for how to use them from the Pulpit, use them as they were intended, and don't fall into the trap of making more of them than what they really are. It's very easy to take a few verses and read a whole lot of meaning into them that aren't there. Stick to the Word, and what it says, and you can avoid a whole lot of confusion.

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There are a lot of things about the numerology of the Bible which have been lost to time. The genealogy of Matthew actually has a good deal of this (see pg. 224). (Note the repetitions of 14). As Matthew has traditionally been seen as the Gospel "to the Jews" it is also noteworthy that his genealogy starts with Abraham (while Luke, writing to the gentiles, goes all the way back to Adam).

As far as the pulpit is concerned, I've only ever heard these used as a gloss: "notice the saints and sinners" type stuff. It would have been more significant at the time, but most of us are not big genealogy buffs.

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The counting method used on the linked page is ludicrous. The fact that the referenced cultures did not use zero does not mean that the first element of a list is equivalent to our zero. Whether they referred to the lack of an item as "zero" or "none" would not cause all of the remaining elements to be shifted to different number. –  George Cummins Dec 12 '11 at 19:21
    
@GeorgeCummins Sorry, I only glanced at that reference. I remember reading about the significance of the 14s and how they are all numerically significant, but I can't seem to find verification online. –  cwallenpoole Dec 12 '11 at 22:09
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