None of us is an island, and the impact of our lives is not limited to people currently living. We operate in a multigenerational space, and our decisions affect “generations gone before” and “generations yet to be.” (See “Turn Your Hearts,” Hymns, 291.) An awareness of that reality can help us feel connected and can inspire us to make wiser decisions.
Family history creates context.
Early in the Old Testament, we trace the ten generations from Adam to Noah (Genesis 5), followed shortly after by the ten generations from Noah to Abraham (Genesis 11:10-26). These passages function as transitional material, like a quick ride on the freeway to our next destination in the story.
Both Matthew and Luke make it a point early in their histories of Jesus to trace the genealogy of Joseph. (See Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38.) Matthew traces it back to Abraham, while Luke goes all the way back to Adam, overlapping with the histories given in Genesis. Their lists of ancestors differ substantially. They both agree on the fourteen generations from Abraham to King David, but Matthew follows the royal line from David to Jehoiachin (Jechonias), whose reign coincided with the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity. After that, the lines are completely different. The two authors even disagree on the name of Joseph’s father.
I’ve been thinking today about the purposes of those two genealogies.
- Matthew is focused on showing that Jesus’ was the fulfillment of prophecy. Isaiah had connected the Messiah with the “throne of David” (Isaiah 9:6-7), so it made sense to show that Jesus had royal ancestors, even through His step-father. The genealogy is immediately followed by the appearance of an angel, who refers to Joseph as “thou son of David” (Matthew 1:20).
- Luke may have had a different purpose. Immediately before giving his genealogy, he tells the story of Jesus’ baptism, in which God the Father says, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). He then traces Jesus’ earthly heritage, even while making it clear that Joseph was not His literal father. (See v. 23.) Working backwards, he arrives at Adam, and then adds one more generation: “…which was the son of God” (Luke 1:38). Luke seems to be saying, “Jesus was the literal Son of God, but like all of us, He can also trace His lineage back to God through His earthly ancestors.”
Matthew’s genealogy contains 40 names, and Luke’s contains 76, but both lists dramatically understate Jesus’ heritage, because they only follow a single line. How many names would be on the list if every father and mother in every generation had been included? A complete list of fourteen generations would include 32,766 names. That’s a lot of people whose influence might have been felt in the family of Mary and Joseph.
There is a similar genealogical passage in the Book of Mormon. Moroni opens the book of Ether by tracing the ancestry of the prophet Ether back to Jared. This genealogy serves as a reverse table of contents, listing the names of generations of kings, each of whom we will learn about later in the book. It also ties Ether’s prophecies back to the spiritual experiences of the first generation of Jaredites, more than 28 generations earlier. (See Ether 1:6-33.)
Today, I will remember the multigenerational context for my life. I will think of countless ancestors who have influenced my life and of future generations who will in turn be influenced by my decisions. I will strive to maintain that long perspective as I pursue goals and address the challenges of the day.
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