I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

How do we interpret scriptures in the New Testament that seem to condemn genealogy?

George H. Fudge, former managing director of the Genealogical Department, passed away last month while serving a mission in Great Britain. He prepared this response several months before his death. The Apostle Paul referred to “genealogies” in letters to Timothy and Titus. To Timothy he said, “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister [present] questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.” (1 Tim. 1:4.)

To Titus he said, “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.” (Titus 3:9.)

These passages, taken out of context, could cause misunderstanding. Paul was not condemning genealogy work itself. The importance of genealogy had been well established from the time of Adam down to Paul’s day. The respected Bible scholar Dr. Adam Clarke tells us that “the Jews had scrupulously preserved their genealogical tables till the advent of Christ; and the evangelists had recourse to them, and appealed to them in reference to our Lord’s descent from the house of David; Matthew taking this genealogy in the descending, Luke in the ascending, line. And whatever difficulties we may now find in these genealogies, they were certainly clear to the Jews; nor did the most determined enemies of the Gospel attempt to raise one objection to it from the appeal which the evangelists had made to their own public and accredited tables.” 1

Paul himself was aware of the necessity for ordinances for the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:29) and understood the accompanying necessity of genealogical work in this activity. Why, then, would Paul make those remarks about genealogy to Timothy and Titus?

Paul was living in a time of conflict and confusion. False teachers abounded, preaching false doctrines and fables. Two specific problems existed relating to genealogies:

(1) Some apostate teachers recited their genealogies to give credence to their claims as coming with authority. Many Jews had become arrogant because of their illustrious ancestors. Some even flaunted their lineage when opposing the Savior himself: “We be Abraham’s seed” (John 8:33), they said, as if to indicate that they were thereby natural inheritors of the truth.

(2) Some of the apostate Jewish teachers were guilty of manufacturing their own genealogies—creating them in hopes of giving the added weight of authority to their teachings.

Such practices understandably caused a great deal of contention among the Jews, as well as between Jews and Gentiles. No wonder Paul condemned them as “fables and endless genealogies,” “contentions, and strivings about the law,” and “unprofitable and vain.”

Bible commentators agree upon this interpretation. The statement to Timothy, says one authority, “seems to refer to legends and fictitious genealogies of OT [Old Testament] personages.” 2 Adam Clarke wrote that these fables were “idle fancies; things of no moment; doctrines and opinions unauthenticated; silly legends, of which no people ever possessed a greater stock than the Jews.” 3

Regarding “endless genealogies,” the commentator states that Paul meant “those genealogies which were uncertain—that never could be made out, either in the ascending or descending line. … We are told that Herod destroyed the public registers; he, being an Idumean, was jealous of the noble origin of the Jews; and, that none might be able to reproach him with his descent, he ordered the genealogical tables, which were kept among the archives in the temple, to be burnt. … From this time the Jews could refer to their genealogies only from memory, or from those imperfect tables which had been preserved in private hands; and to make out any regular line from these must have been endless and uncertain. It is probably to this that the apostle refers; I mean the endless and useless labour which the attempts to make out these genealogies must produce, the authentic tables being destroyed.” 4

It is clear from these commentaries that the Apostle Paul had no intention of condemning genealogy or the need for maintaining genealogical records. Rather, he was referring to genealogies that caused endless dispute, some of which were fraudulent and not to be accepted.

As an Apostle and student of the scriptures, Paul was undoubtedly aware of the important role legitimate genealogy had played from the beginning:

The Lord commanded Adam to keep a “book of remembrance” and a genealogy, known as “the book of the generations of Adam.” (See Moses 6:5, 8.) Genealogical records were handed down through the fathers from generation to generation to Abraham, who said, “I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time.” (Abr. 1:28.)

Genealogical records were indispensable to the ancient Israelites. “All Israel were reckoned by genealogies; and, behold, they were written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah.” (1 Chr. 9:1.) Local genealogical records were also kept, reckoning people “by their genealogy in their villages.” (1 Chr. 9:22.) Through such records, the Israelites were able to establish lineage, and the Levites were able to prove their right to the priesthood.

Genealogies are listed in several places in both the Old and New Testaments. We are all familiar with the long lists of “begats” that record parentage and lineage. For example, Genesis lists the generations following Adam. Later, in the first chapter of 1 Chronicles, we find the genealogy from Adam to Abraham; then in succeeding chapters, the generations following Abraham are given. The Savior’s own genealogy is recorded twice in the New Testament—once in Matthew 1:1–17 [Matt. 1:1–17] and again in Luke 3:23–38.

The Book of Mormon also shows the diligence of the prophets to keep genealogical records. The Lord commanded Lehi to obtain the brass plates, which contained not only a record of the Jews, but also “a genealogy of his fathers.” When he received the plates, he rejoiced, finding them “of great worth unto us.” (See 1 Ne. 5:14, 21.) Later prophets were commanded to preserve the plates “that our genealogy may be kept.” (Jarom 1:1; see also Omni 1:1.)

Obviously, the acts of recording and preserving genealogies are not condemned either by the Lord or by his servants. However, genealogy is not to be used in a self-righteous or self-aggrandizing way. To members of the Church, genealogy should be a means to a very worthy end: By seeking out and preserving our genealogy, we identify our kinsmen, enabling us to perform ordinances of salvation in their behalf.

    Notes

  1.   1.

    Adam Clarke, The New Testament … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 2 vols., New York: Abingdon Press, 1973, 2:583–84.

  2.   2.

    Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds., The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968, p. 353.

  3.   3.

    Clarke, 2:583.

  4.   4.

    Clarke, 2:583–84.

A friend of mine says he has prayed about the Book of Mormon but has not received a testimony of its truthfulness. Shouldn’t Moroni’s promise always work?

Daniel H. Ludlow, director of Church Correlation Review. To understand the promise found in Moroni 10:4, a person should read and ponder the verses immediately before and after. In the first edition of the Book of Mormon (1830), Moroni chapter 10 [Moro. 10] was all written as one paragraph.

Let us examine carefully and individually verses 1–5 [Moro. 10:1–5]:

Verse 1: “Now I, Moroni, write somewhat as seemeth me good; and I write unto my brethren, the Lamanites; and I would that they should know that more than four hundred and twenty years have passed away since the sign was given of the coming of Christ.”

Although Moroni is addressing himself specifically to “the Lamanites,” these words, as well as all of the words in the Book of Mormon, apply also to the Jews and the Gentiles. (See title page.)

Verse 2: “And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you.”

The words these records refer to the records upon which Moroni was then writing (the plates of Mormon), which were later received by Joseph Smith and translated as the Book of Mormon.

Verse 3: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.”

Too frequently this verse is not quoted in connection with verse four and, when quoted, is often misinterpreted. However, it is a key verse to understanding the full promise of Moroni 10:1–5. When analyzed thoroughly, this verse indicates that the honest seeker after truth must do two things:

1. Read the Book of Mormon. The words these things in verse three refer back to the words these records in verse two—the records from which our present Book of Mormon was translated.

2. “Ponder” the dealings of God with men as recorded in the Book of Mormon, and then compare them with the dealings of God with men as recorded in the Bible. Although the word Bible is not found in this verse, Moroni indicates that the person should “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things.” The Bible provides a story of the Creation and the history of events from that time forward. However, the account of the Creation and subsequent happenings are not contained in the Book of Mormon. In fact, Moroni had earlier acknowledged that the Book of Mormon would not include this information. In explaining his abridgement of the Book of Ether, Moroni wrote:

“And now I, Moroni … take mine account from the twenty and four plates which were found by the people of Limhi, which is called the Book of Ether.

“And as I suppose that the first part of this record, which speaks concerning the creation of the world, and also of Adam, and an account from that time even to the great tower, and whatsoever things transpired among the children of men until that time, is had among the Jews—

“Therefore I do not write those things which transpired from the days of Adam until that time.” (Ether 1:1–4; italics added.)

Thus, if a sincere person hasn’t gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon after reading it, he should—as Moroni seems to suggest here—read the Bible as well, pondering in his heart both scriptural accounts of God’s dealings with his children.

Verse 4: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

Note that the word read is not even included in this verse; rather, the verb is receive. In other words, after the person has (1) read the Book of Mormon and (2) pondered the dealings of God with the peoples of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, he must then put himself in a frame of mind where he would be willing to “receive” or “accept” all these things. Then he must ask “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.” Sincere pondering of the scriptures helps put a person in an appropriate frame of mind to ask for—and receive—divine guidance.

The things we should be in a position to receive (accept) may refer not only to the Book of Mormon, but also to everything mentioned in verses two and three. Similarly, the word it near the end of verse four (“he will manifest the truth of it unto you”) may refer to the process of God’s dealing with men, along with referring to the Book of Mormon itself. In either case, if a person receives “the truth of it,” he will believe in (accept) the Book of Mormon.

Verse 5: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

This verse indicates that the principles contained in the formula for learning truth as explained in verses one through four can also be applied to areas other than learning the truth of the Book of Mormon.

As to whether this promise is Moroni’s or the Lord’s, Doctrine and Covenants 68:4 reads [D&C 68:4]:

“And whatsoever they [the Lord’s chosen servants] shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”

When Moroni “speaks” or writes by the power of the Holy Ghost, his writings represent the “will … mind … word … [and] voice of the Lord.” Thus it is appropriate to say this promise comes from the Lord through the writings of Moroni.

When a person follows this divine formula, the results are certain: He will gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. God cannot and does not lie, and his promises made through his prophets are sure. Therefore, any person who claims to have followed the various requirements but says he has not gained a testimony should check to see which step he has not followed faithfully or completely:

1. He should read and ponder the Book of Mormon—all of it.

2. He should remember the methods God has used in working with the peoples of both the Book of Mormon and the Bible—and ponder these things in his heart.

3. He should put himself in a frame of mind where he would be willing to accept (receive) all of “these things”—the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the way God works with men.

4. “With a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ,” he should ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Jesus Christ “if these things are not true.”

5. He should be able to recognize the promptings and feelings which will be evidences to him of the truth of “these things” (including the Book of Mormon) as they are made manifest unto him “by the power of the Holy Ghost.”