to this study of Bible Genealogy

The Bible devotes a great deal of space to lists. There must be a reason.

Most people are turned off by these however and they are not greatly studied. This paper is an attempt firstly to study the genealogical lists and also to try and find some spiritual lessons, or other reasons why these lists have been included as part of the sacred record.

Types of lists

It is hard to categorise some of the lists in the Bible, they are not all genealogies even when sometimes they are a list of names. There are of course the genealogies, which are family lists with at least father and sons (the Bible often ignoring the women). Before the flood these have ages given from which chronology can be deduced. There are some lists which are lists of kings, or heads of families. In some cases the lists of heads of families use the format "Joshua, son of Nun", but this is insufficient information to build a genealogical table. There are also lists which are counts of people. Some-times this is combined with a genealogical table in which all the people are listed with their relationships, but at other times it is just a count of all the people in each tribe for example. There are also lists of blessings such as when Jacob blessed the sons of Jacob and then his twelve sons. In one place during the wilderness wanderings there is a chapter devoted to a list of the offerings each tribe gave to the tabernacle.


I have compiled my data base of Bible families using the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). I have done this because the modern language is clearer without the old fashioned words such as the famous "begat". In my notes I have recorded where the Authorised or King James Version (KJV) uses a different spelling, but I have not tried to show that in this document.

Since the Bible was written over a long period in various languages, and the translation into another language using a different form of writing it is to be expected that there will be spelling variants. Simple ones occur, such as the name of the father of Joshua, who is usually named Nun, but in a reference in 1 Chron. 7:27 he is named Non in the KJV. Another familiar variation is that of the prophet Elijah who is referred to as Elias in the King James New Testament, though the NRSV and the NIV maintain the Old Testament spelling. A similar example to this is in Heb. 4:8 where the KJV uses Jesus in referring to Joshua, though the NRSV and NIV use Joshua.

Meaning of Son

In the Biblical record facts are not always expressed or dealt with in the same way that we are accustomed to. The terminology son, has a wider meaning in the Bible than we give to it today. It can mean grandson, or any descendant. See for example the following text, where children and grandchildren of Leah are listed as children of her grandfather and father. Gen 46:18 (NRSV) (these are the children of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Leah; and these she bore to Jacob--sixteen persons).

Another very striking example of this is found in 1 Chr. 4:1. Here five sons are listed, but if the names are studied it is found that they are from five generations through different lines of descent from Judah. Perez is Judah's son, Hezron is the son of Perez. Carmi is the grandson of the brother of Perez. Hur is Hezron's grandson, and Shobal is Hur's son. .

1 Chr 4:1 (NRSV) The sons of Judah: Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal.

As a result of this use of the term son, there are sometimes gaps in a chain of fathers and sons, where one or more generations are skipped. An example of this is given in the section on the Exodus.

The word son can also be used in a completely different sense from descendant, which we recognise in the Bible without realising it. Jesus talks to his opponents of "your father the devil" in John 8:38-44. He is using the word to refer not to physical ancestry but to refer to them as followers of a person or his actions. So in the days of Samuel there were the schools for the sons of the prophets. These were not for literal children of prophets, but for those who followed in the teachings of the prophets.

One person, two names

Most Bible characters have only one name. If a person needed to be identified more accurately his father's name was added as in "Joshua, son of Nun" or "Simon Barjona" (KJV - the NRSV has Simon son of Jonah).

However, there are many cases of renaming so that a person is known by two names. Examples would be when Moses changed the name of Hoshea the spy to Joshua (see Num 13:16); and Daniel who was renamed Belteshazzar. In cases like this I have listed both names for the person, usually putting the most commonly used name first. I hope to include the second name in the alphabetic index so that they can be accessed either way.

An extreme example is shown in the list of the kings of Judah where Jeconiah was also known as Coniah and Jehoiachin. See the section on the kings where he is listed as the 19th king of the southern kingdom.

One name, two people

The same name is often used for different people. I have found this in the 1800s in a village in England where one in five girls was named Mary and one in five of the boys was named William. However see also the special section on names for more on this subject.

The Bible has a greater variety of names, but names are still re-used. The name Shimei appears in the four tribes of Levi, Judah, Simeon and Reuben.

These are obviously different people. A problem arises though when in different places the following formulae are used about one person; "A had sons, B, C, and D." and "A was the father of B and C, C was the father of D." Are there two people named D, a nephew and his uncle, or is this the same person because the first wording is using the word son to mean descendant? This question sometimes cannot be answered, and the researcher has to decide which of the two answers will be used for that family.

Names Ignored

Since this is a genealogical study, I have ignored names of people whose relatives are unknown. Examples would be some of David's mighty men. However, if a person's father is listed, especially if their tribe is stated or can be deduced then they have been listed with their father.

Purpose of the Bible

I believe that the primary purpose of the Holy Scriptures is to guide us to the way of Salvation, by showing the history of how sin originated, and what God has done in the world. The secondary purpose is probably that of teaching us how to live in this "land of the enemy." The question we need to look at is, "Where do genealogies fit into these purposes, or do they fulfil another purpose?"


The original data was compiled for this study using Personal Ancestral File v3.0 produced by the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have used the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary (Review & Herald, Washington, USA 1960) as a guide where the same name is used for different people. I have found its description of people very helpful in this work. If I manage to add notes on each person, reference will be made this this document.

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