Many Bible readers are tempted to just skip over the long lists of names that sometimes seem to interrupt the narrative of Scripture. These genealogies appear often in Genesis, Chronicles, and other places in the Old Testament. Matthew and Luke both have a genealogy of Jesus, tracing His ancestry back to Abraham and Adam. While modern people may tend to be bored by these lists, the people to whom Scripture was originally written would have viewed these genealogies as vital parts of Scripture, grounding the narrative in actual history and people who really lived.
Adam to Noah
The first genealogies we find in Genesis (in chapters 5 and 11) are called ‘chronogenealogies’ because the age of the father at the birth of the son are given. This allows us to know with a very high degree of accuracy (within a year) how much time passed during each generation. It also lets us know there is no gap between the names.
Genesis 5 gives 10 generations from Adam to Noah, ending with Noah’s three sons.
Besides giving their names in order, the passage seems to focus on two key statistics for each descendant—his age when he fathered a son and his total lifespan. Its main point is that many generations and many years passed between Adam and Noah. As for the context, it apparently revolves around two ideas—the negative results of the fall of humankind and its numerical growth. … It also serves as a literary bridge between them, as if to say simply, “Much time passed here.”
But it is not only “much time passed here”. It is specific enough to allow us to build a timeline from creation to the Flood. There are a couple of important theological points that the genealogy makes. First, Adam’s son Seth was “in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3). This means that Adam passed his sin nature on to his descendants. Second, death went along with sin. “And he died” is a constant refrain in the genealogy, which makes the digression of Enoch’s deathless entry all the more startling, hinting that death is not the final end of humanity. Lamech’s declaration that Noah would bring them rest also tells us that God’s promise of a coming Redeemer in Genesis 3:15 had been the hope of godly antediluvians throughout the generations.
1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 take these genealogies to be completely historical. So theistic evolutionists who would relegate these genealogies to mythical status have to reckon not only with the plain teaching of the chronogenealogies, but how the rest of Scripture treats them as well.
The Table of Nations
Genesis 10 is not a strict genealogy as such, but it traces the origin of the nations surrounding Israel at the time of Moses. It does not deal with people groups outside of the area Israel would have been familiar with. We do not see, for instance, the origin of the Chinese, the Irish, or the Australian Aborigines; only the people groups living in the Middle East at the time of Moses. This passage is not interested in the individual children of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, as much as the people groups that came from them. This is indicated in part by an almost complete omission of chronological details, except for the note that the earth was divided in Peleg’s day (but in this part of Genesis, that part of the narrative is still yet to come—the confusion at Babel).
Even though many of these nations will become Israel’s enemies, here the focus is on their common descent from Noah’s sons, and God’s sovereign hand over the formation of the nations after the Flood. So it should not be a surprise to the astute reader of Scripture that some of these nations eventually included individuals who would be saved through promised Savior. And some—Tamar, Ruth, and Rahab—would even be included in the ancestry of this Savior.