Recently Jesus’ genealogies (Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23-38) came up in a discussion with some colleagues. Someone remarked, “Why talk about them? What do Jesus’ genealogies have to do with me as a modern Christian?” This fits a pattern you have probably seen in your church or study group. How often have you been in a Bible study or Sunday school and either groaned at the idea of reading a genealogy or, more likely, just simply skipped it for the reading? Have you ever questioned the relevance of genealogies for your own faith?
The genealogies of Jesus are quite telling. Ancient Christians reading or hearing the Gospels would have picked up on their importance. The Gospel of Matthew’s genealogy ties Jesus to important Jewish figures, while the Gospel of Luke links Jesus back to Adam. The popular scholarly theory is that Matthew’s Gospel was circulated to a Jewish audience, whereas Luke’s to a Gentile audience.
What I would argue though is that the genealogies are vital to a modern Christian faith. Not so much in that the genealogies contain spiritual truths, though the differences between the two versions are interesting. The genealogies are crucial to modern faith because they confront Christians with a difficult truth: Not everything in the Bible was meant for you.
While it might seem shocking on first read, most Christians would likely agree with that last statement. Even the most ardent literalist would read through lists of tribes, genealogies, and others in the Bible with a slightly more disinterested eye as compared to Jesus’ teachings, the actions of well-known characters of the Old Testament, or even the legal material. Is it because genealogies are dry and uninteresting? Or is it because they are not in a narrative structure and lack the aforementioned spiritual truths? Why is it, precisely we dismiss them?
If the genealogies were important for the ancient world, but are not deemed applicable to the modern Christian, then what else in the Bible meets the same criteria? More importantly, how do Christians establish the standard by which biblical passages are judged in terms of their relevance to modern faith?
Here is another example that shows the same problem. Leviticus 11 contains several examples of clean animals that are acceptable to consume and unclean animals that the Israelites were not to eat. Without going too in depth with a historical and theological analysis, it is safe to say that most Christians ignore these passages today, specifically regarding pork. However, in the debate surrounding LGBT+ rights, Leviticus 18:22 is constantly referenced and pointed to as a source of divine authority on the matter. For Christians, what separates these two passages? The laws, as far as the Bible is concerned, are on equal footing, yet at some point, we have allowed certain passages to take precedence over others. As Christians, we should grapple with this. What source provides the authority that permits certain passages to be ignored and others to seep into American political life?
Is there divine influence in which parts of the Bible speak to us today? I believe so. However, I also know that nearly any sentiment or aspect of faith that one grounds in the Bible can also be countered by another passage in the Bible. Like so much of Christianity, as much as we focus on God, so much of our history is rooted in the decisions and interpretations of humans. No, Jesus’ genealogies are probably not relevant for your faith (unless you are a first year seminary student furiously writing an essay for an exam). What is relevant for modern faith is the extremely difficult task of constantly asking what is relevant for modern faith. It is not easy and being consistent with your beliefs and interpretations is also equally difficult. But if you want to follow the Bible, erring on the side of love is always a wise choice. Love is always relevant to modern faith.