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From David Powlison’s essay, “Reading the Bible for Personal Application” (registration required) in the ESV Study Bible:

Application is a lifelong process, seeking to expand and deepen wisdom. At the simplest level, simply read through the Bible in its larger chunks. The cumulative acquisition of wisdom is hard to quantify. A sense of what truth means and how truth works is overheard as well as heard. But also wrestle to work out the implications of specific passages.

. . . [Genealogies and censuses] are directly irrelevant to your life. Your name is not on the list. The reasons for the list disappeared long ago. You gain nothing by knowing that "Koz fathered Anub, Zobebah, and the clans of Aharhel" (1 Chron. 4:8). But when you learn to listen rightly, such lists intend many good things--and each list has a somewhat different purpose. Among the things taught are these:

  • The Lord writes down names in his book of life.
  • Families and communities matter to him.
  • God is faithful to his promises through long history.
  • He enlists his people as troops in the redemptive reconquest of a world gone bad.
  • All the promises of God find their "Yes" in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

You "apply" a list of ancient names and numbers by extension, not directly. Your love for God grows surer and more intelligent when you ponder the kind of thing this is, rather than getting lost in the blizzard of names or numbers.


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12 thoughts on “How Do You Apply the Geneaologies and Censuses of the Bible to Your Life?”

  1. John says:

    This is interesting, because it has little to do with “secular” understandings of ANE geneaologies and the purpose of their inclusion in the Biblical writings. Sort of a TIS understanding of geneaologies.

  2. Dan Olinger says:

    I think the genealogies in particular have a far more significant purpose than the devotional. They demonstrate a historical tie between the stories being told and the story-tellers (the biblical writers). That tie militates against the idea that the stories are “myth” (a la Joseph Campbell or Rudolf Bultmann) or “upper story” Heilsgeschichte (Barth). They are history, in a way that, say, the boy who cried wolf is not. (No one ever makes the claim that the 97-greats grandson of the boy who cried wolf is the mayor of Cleveland.) This in turn has everything to do with the reliability of the Scripture and with the real effectiveness of the atonement. I would argue that the genealogies are at the core of the faith; in fact, they played a major role in rescuing my faith from a crisis of doubt many years ago.

  3. THOMAS says:

    Concerning the geneologies provided by Matthew and Luke, I would highly receommend reading the essays found in the appendices of Robert L. Thomas’ A Harmony of the Gospels. They are priceless and prove that geneologies are extremely valuable!!!

  4. Nancy A. Almodovar says:

    wrong view. You took an anthropocentric view and tried to apply this to us. From a Christocentric view, geneologies point to the humanity of the Messiah, show us the sovereignty of God in maintaining the lineage of His People and thereby encourage us to know God is in charge even if it looks the very opposite. The censuses, which were forbidden, were indeed forbidden because Israel was to depict the True Israel (the Church of God from believing Adam to the last of the elect) which is, as Revelation states, an innumerable host and as the promise to Abraham said, as the stars in the sky. Again, you looked at these first as what we can get out of it, how to apply it and forgot that Scripture is first and foremost about Jesus (think his conversation with the two on the road to Emmaus). It is not a “how to” book for believers but rather a book that tells us How Christ saved His People, How He would come, How He would fulfill the promises and prophecies, How He would live. First look for Christ. Also, you took passages that are historical and tried to make them the imperatives we’re supposed to live by. Again, start with a wrong and improper hermeneutic and your exegesis will be all over the road.

    1. Again, start with a wrong and improper hermeneutic and your exegesis will be all over the road.

      QED.

      1. sean says:

        Nancy,

        I’m sure you didn’t intend it this way, but that comment seemed pretty accusitive. And slightly overbearing. I think it’s more in the way that you wrote it than anything else, it’s just that there’s a lot of “you did this… you did so and so… you did… you did…” when Justin didn’t even write the article. And I also think that your reasoning behind the banning of all censuses is not technically correct – I can think of a few of them that were mandated by God himself. Plus, the section is in “Reading the Bible for Personal Application,” and within that section, this kind of questioning is totally appropriate.

        But, truly, no offense taken and (I hope) none given. The internet leaves some communicative options to be desired.

        -SeanR.

  5. CMM says:

    The reasons for the list disappeared long ago. You gain nothing by knowing that “Koz fathered Anub, Zobebah, and the clans of Aharhel” (1 Chron. 4:8).

    The idea that we are supposed to ignore the actual text of Scripture and glean a personal application from any passage that appears irrelevant to us personally seems dangerous to me. There’s nothing wrong with finding a practial way to apply such texts, but we can’t do it this way, by completely ignoring the information the text conveys.

  6. Mike says:

    Tim Keller’s sermon from a couple years ago entitled “The History of Grace” on Matthew 1 was monumental for me on this topic in that it helped me see that all scripture is useful for teaching and growing in grace, even genealogies. After seeing the social outcasts and misfits in Jesus’ line, I was shocked that Matthew would include them – and yet it reminded me that Christ came in humility, not in loud and perfect fanfare, to seek and save the lost, not the self-made squeaky clean.

    Give it a download, it was a blessing to me.

  7. AE says:

    Great post, Justin, as many pastors will be preaching through Matthew & Luke in coming weeks!

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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