Getting to Grips with a Genealogy

What do you do when you are preaching through a book and there is a genealogy? I have faced this a few times, although I don’t claim to have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to the challenge. Here are a few tips:

1. Study the function of the genealogy. The author included it for a reason. How does it fit with the flow of thought in the book? It is easy to get caught up in the details of the list, but miss the function of it.

2. Select the preaching passage carefully. If you are able to divide the preaching passages, do not assume lots of verses in a genealogy mean lots of preaching material. It may be that the genealogy can be summarized briefly, leaving plenty of time for an adjoining text.

3. Survey the framing of the genealogy. What does the author write as a lead in, and what are the first comments leading out of the genealogy? Consider, for example, Luke 3:21-23 and 4:1-3.

4. See if any pattern is broken. Sometimes there is a pattern in the way the text is written, which can become quite rhythmic to the ear. Be sure to check for any breaks in that pattern that might suggest a place of emphasis. For example, consider the change in pattern for Enoch in Genesis 5:24.

5. Scrutinize the places of emphasis. Be sure to consider carefully the first and last names in the list. Often a genealogy is a bridge through time linking one place in history with another. For example, see Ruth 4:18-22.

6. Scan for misfits. In light of the apparent function of the genealogy, are there individuals whose inclusion might be considered surprising? For example, the presence of, and similarities between the women, in Matthew 1:1-17. Be careful not to allow an interesting observation to overwhelm the rest of the genealogy. This example in Matthew has more than one interesting feature!

7. Search for every clue to the author’s intent. Your goal is not to preach random details from a list, nor to exhaust listeners with exhaustive historical details, but to search diligently for the author’s intent when he wrote and/or included the genealogy. This is a repeat of the first point, but this is worthy of restatement in this final position of emphasis!

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