The Theology of Generations

One of the most important structures of the OT is the lists of generations. In Hebrew they are called the toledoth and carefully recording the lineage of God’s people, showing how the blessing God gave to Abraham was passed on to each generation. Without those genealogical lists, the structure of the OT and of God’s covenant with man would not hold. They are essential to the whole plan of salvation. God chose Abraham and gave him the divine blessing and promise which is passed on through each successive generation. Scripture makes it clear that the divine covenant is passed on through the child of Abraham’s own body (Isaac) (Gen 15:4). The People of God, the people who are involved with the covenant and its salvation, are only those who are part of Abraham’s family and no one else. This is known as the scandal of particularity.

These genealogical lists continue all the way up to the threshold of the New Testament. In fact, the New Testament begins with a genealogical list: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). But there it ends. After Christ’s genealogy there are no further records of the generations. Why? Simply, because the purpose of the genealogies has now been fulfilled. They were to show that Jesus was, in fact, the direct descendant of Abraham to whom the divine promise and blessing was given. Jesus is the last in that line and in Him the blessing of salvation will be finally achieved in all its fullness. The Abrahamic covenant is finally realized when the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to mankind. This follows the death and resurrection of Jesus which allow for this divine gift. As St. Paul writes: “in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14 NASB).

In Christ the very specific and biological family of Abraham becomes universalized. Whereas before genealogies were needed to show who was part of the family of God that is not longer required. The physical family of Abraham is now pneumatized (that is, filled with the Holy Spirit / pneuma hagios) and becomes the family of the Christ. Membership is no longer based on descent but on baptism into Christ Jesus. Now, to become part of the people of God, one still needs to be related to Abraham (“the father of us all” Rom 4:13) but now it is through our relationship with the final seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ (Gal 3:16). We are baptized into Christ thereby becoming part of His Body. This is the Church which is the family of Abraham now achieving its final form, the Body of Christ. Genealogies are replaced with baptism.

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