Why Genealogies?

Genealogies and census data are some of the most skipped parts of the Bible. They are still important. Here’s why.

Every year my wife and I read through the Bible. Some sections fly by, such as the stories of Goliath, the fiery furnace, and the raising of Lazarus. Other parts crawl, like the sacrificial system in Leviticus. The slowest portions of all are the genealogies and the census data. “How?” we ask ourselves, “does knowing that Mikloth became the father of Shimeam, and that they lived with relatives in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 9:38) impact my life as a Christian?”  Likewise, we struggle to care that “The priests, the sons of Jedaiah of the house of Jeshua, (numbered) 973 (Nehemiah 7:39)?” Isn’t this a waste of space in a book that calls itself the word of the Almighty God?

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Literary and Historical Criticism

We can learn a lot from literary and historical examinations of the Bible, as long as we remember that we are students of the Word and children of the Living God. 

Classic Biblical criticism, the kind that gave us the JEDP in the Torah, deutero- and even trito-Isaiah, and the “historical Jesus” is criticism focusing on the historicity of Biblical events and teachings. It was influential in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but towards the end of the 20th century theologians had pretty much divided themselves into two groups, the liberals who doubted the historicity of almost everything in the Bible and the conservatives who affirmed in the historicity of almost everything in the Bible. Once specialists in Greek and Hebrew had parsed every word in every manuscript and made their decisions, the field reached an impasse. This seemed especially true in relation to the study of John’s gospel.

As a result, and with the rise of the postmodern disbelief in objective truth, literary criticism, analyzing the book of John (and the entire Bible) as literature became more popular. The literary critic studies, evaluates and interprets literature, often with regard to how the author supports or opposes the critic’s ideology. He searches for the natural structure of and divisions in the work, and may analyze literature by comparing it to various genres, whether novel, poetry or history.

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