Genealogies and Bible Canons

A Substantial Portion of What Would Become "The New Testament" Was Available to the Early Churches.....

I received two interesting Bible questions recently and have decided to tie both together in a full article. These are the questions:

1. Why Is Paul so negative about Bible genealogies in 1 Timothy 4? Don't they serve a useful purpose, especially to new students of the Bible?

2. When did the first Christians have the New Testament to read?

Okay, let's tackle these in what I think can be an interesting format:

Futile and Endless Disputings....

As we know, the Bible gives several genealogical lists. Genesis 5 gives the genealogy of Adam to Noah, then Genesis 10, of course, lists many of the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Genesis 11 gives the genealogy of Shem to Abraham. When we come to 1 Chronicles, genealogies make up much of the first nine chapters. Even the New Testament opens with these words: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." (Matthew 1:1). All of this is important: God wants us to clearly know that the personalities of the Bible actually lived in human time and space - they are not some sort of literary invention! But now let us look at 1 Timothy 1:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God's work - which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Timothy 1: 3-7).

Paul Needed to Warn Timothy

Paul the Apostle was warning the much younger Timothy about certain teachers in Ephesus who had lost all sound balance in the way they were explaining Old Testament Scripture. They were mixing in non-biblical myths and were apparently encouraging "controversial speculations," a use - or misuse - of Bible genealogy was also involved in the process. Paul - ever on guard against teachers who perverted Scripture - was keen to warn Timothy about these tendencies. Today we can't be sure exactly how they were twisting and perverting Bible genealogy but apparently they were. Of course, there is nothing wrong with genealogy correctly used, indeed, in 2 Timothy, Paul also states this:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Paul's problem is not the use of Scripture but its misuse; this was probably much more of a problem in the period before the finalized New Testament canon became available, yet problems would still occur because there are always some who love to go into Bible intrigues and conspiracy theories instead of just taking the words of Scripture and applying them exactly as they stand. Haven't you met people like that? I have - scores of them!

When Was the New Testament First Available?

Sometimes people make confusing comments about this. Although the completed New Testament canon of Scripture was not fully available for several hundred years, we must remember that the early churches had pretty much immediate access to the letters of Paul which were addressed to them, then, just a little later, they had access to all his letters (epistles) whichever church they were originally addressed to. These became generally available. A record of the life of Jesus, plus many of His sayings, were also available, of course, long before the Greek New Testament canon was completed and agreed upon, and the epistles sometimes quote some of these sayings. So although a completed Bible canon for the New Testament was hundreds of years away, large sections of it were available pretty soon. The Book of Hebrews too was written somewhere around AD 57-63 and this too would soon be widely available to be read. Occasionally articles are written in which it is suggested that no New Testament was available for hundreds of years but this is very misleading; it is the complete and finalized canon which was hundreds of years away. Just think: if you are in a fledgling church and Paul the Apostle writes to your congregation, then that is a vital part of the New Testament right there in that letter!

Further Comments on Genealogy and The New Law...

By the time Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, the Old Law had been replaced by a new law; read Hebrews 8 in its entirety. From this point, genealogies - though still important for 'believer newcomers' - had less importance. 'Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved' (Romans 10:11-13; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11) now had application to all peoples. For Christians to waste valuable 'assembling together' time in disputing over "foolish" matters, such as, perhaps, one's personal ancestry, had become "unprofitable and useless" (Titus 3:9). It is true to say that by this stage the only genealogy which mattered to Christian believers is that of Jesus Christ. His genealogy certainly serves as a proof of the Bible's inspiration and of the deity of Christ. The Christ would come from the seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), the family of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), and the house of David (Jeremiah 23:5). This, of course, is exactly what happened, as the New Testament writers reveal (Galatians 3:16; Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).

The Need to Move Ahead in Knowledge

A vital part of the Book of Hebrews message was that the time had come for the early Christians to move on in knowledge:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Hebrews 6:1-3).

Some Conclusions...

The early churches had more access to the New Testament than we often realise and even by circa AD 57 were being advised to move ahead in knowledge and in understanding, moreover abusers and perverters of simple and clear Bible truth were already at work in causing confusion to new Christians by encouraging an incorrect focus in areas like the law and the use of genealogy. "They want to be teachers of the law..." confirms that these people were legalistic, for the period of the old covenant law had now concluded. Today, lamentably, such people are still around arguing about Old Testament law, prophecy, and plainly physical areas of teaching, apparently forever blind to the glories of Christ and The New Covenant.

Robin A. Brace. January 29th, 2016.