Traditionally, people have tried to avoid religion and politics in their daily conversations because, even with the most respectful and friendly participants, attitudes and moods often take a turn for the worst when there are disagreements. In these days of economic and social turmoil, however, people tend to be pretty open about their political opinions. Yet, God continues to be a taboo subject in our talk.
Even though it is not popular to acknowledge them in our discussions, Biblical principles and Judeo-Christian values influence many people, directly and indirectly. Whether native, slave, or immigrant, many of the people who built the foundations of America, assimilated, promulgated, and practiced Christian values. In reflecting on these things, I started to focus on the influence of the Bible on man’s quest to know and record his family history. I’m no theologian or minister, and my aim is not to present a devotional or study. However, I do want to explore with you what the Bible has to say about family history, especially since actual Bibles often serve as useful resources to genealogy researchers.
Based on what I’ve been reading, there are at least 3 classes of references to family history in the Bible: those that mention a person’s immediate relatives for identification purposes; extensive family histories covering multiple centuries of generations; and proverbs and instruction regarding the value of knowing family history. First, there are countless instances in which a person is identified by who his parents are. It’s like the writers are answering that age old question you get at the grocery store in Smalltown, America, “Who are your people?” For example, in Zechariah, the title prophet is introduced as “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet.” There were probably a lot of Zechariahs, Berechiahs, and Iddos, so the author had to make sure its readers knew exactly which one he was really discussing. Later in Chapter 6, the author discusses Zechariah’s work with Joshua. Which Joshua? You know, it’s the one who is “the son of Josedech, the high priest”!
Then, there are lists of genealogies all throughout the Bible. For example, we learn early on in the history presented in Genesis 5 who the descendants of Adam were all the way (i.e., until about 1700 years later) to Noah and his three sons, Shem, Japheth, and Ham. After the story of the flood is presented in Genesis 10, we read a list of the descendants of Shem, Japheth, and Ham and about how they re-populated their new world. Shem’s great-grandson Eber fathered the people known as Hebrews, and one line, in particular, becomes the focus of the rest of the Old Testament. That is, Eber’s 4th great-grandson Abraham becomes a key figure throughout the Bible, as does (perhaps, more importantly) Abraham’s grandson Jacob (also called Israel). Even in the New Testament, the importance of family history is emphasized. One of the first tasks that Matthew and Luke take up in their gospels is to list the generations leading back in time from Jesus Christ, the main character of the New Testament. Matthew lists the ancestors of Joseph (Jesus’ adoptive father), documenting 40 generations from Jesus to Abraham, whereas Luke, in Chapter 3 of his book, lists the ancestors of Mary, documenting 74 generations from Jesus to Adam.
Finally, the Bible instructs parents to teach their children about God’s laws and Israel’s history. It also encourages children to seek knowledge about and to learn from the nation’s and their family’s experiences. There is evidence of these expectations from the many scriptures that exhort families to value the elders, spend time with them, and discuss and read about family history and what it means to and for them. There is a good overview of that concept in Psalm 78:2-8, but here are a few scriptures that illustrate my point.
- Psalm 77:5. I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.
- Deuteronomy 32:7. Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.
- Job 8:8-10. For enquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers: (For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow:) Shall not they teach thee, and tell thee, and utter words out of their heart?
- Romans 15:4. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
- Proverbs 17:6. Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers.
- 1 Corinthians 10:11. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Research Tip: Find that family Bible! Your (or someone else’s) ancestor’s Bible may contain a trove of information that will be helpful to you in your research. You might discover dates of birth, death, and marriage as well as obituaries. For example, my Grandma Farrell recorded in her Bible the birthdates of her siblings as well as their deaths and marriages. A photo of her father lying in his casket was even stuck in its pages!
In conclusion, researching family history is a valuable endeavor, and the Bible is a big proponent of it. Maybe that’s why so many people used the Bible as a place to record their family history. Not only were they ensuring that they followed the instructions contained in it, but they were using it to educate future descendants and, so, preserve the bonds that promote unity within a family and within a society.
I’d love to hear from you! Please share your or your family’s use of the Bible or Bible records in passing on family history in the comments section or @facebook.com/genealogygriot.