University Libraries Exhibits The King James Bible Virtual Exhibit The Genealogy of Christ, 1611 King James Bible

The Genealogy of Christ, 1611 King James Bible

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The 1611 printing of the “Authorized Version” of the Bible included more than just the Old Testament, New Testament, and Apocryphal books. It also included over sixty preliminary pages containing substantial prefatory texts addressed to King James and the Bible’s projected readers, as well as a full calendar outlining the saints’ days, Psalm recitations, and scriptural readings for each day of the year; an almanac to be used to compute the date for Easter; a fold-out map of Canaan; and a table charting the biblical lessons appropriate for the different seasonal and festival celebrations throughout the year. The most graphically arresting portion of these preliminary pages, however, is the complex genealogy of Christ that stretches across thirty full pages.

The lineage of Christ has been a popular topic for biblical historians and commentators since the earliest days of Christianity. The two oldest accounts of Christ’s ancestry appear in the Gospels of Matthew (Ch. 1:1-7) and Luke (3:23-38), but while similar in many regards, each differs from the other in substantial ways. For instance, Matthew traces Christ’s lineage back to Abraham, while Luke’s version goes back still further to the beginning of human history with Adam and Eve. Both also explore different branches of Jesus’ family tree that the other does not. In spite of their variations, however, Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts both trace Christ’s lineage not through Mary, but through her husband, Joseph.

Although tracing Jesus’ ancestry through Joseph conformed to traditional Jewish genealogical practices of recording lineage through a family’s male line, this approach posed a significant problem: according to Scripture, the Holy Spirit—not Joseph—was Jesus’ father. How, then, could Jesus be proven to be of the royal blood of David? How could he be descended from the Patriarch, Abraham? In an attempt to solve this problem and harmonize the variant accounts of Matthew and Luke, the genealogical tables in the King James version of the Bible adopt an alternative reading of Luke’s Gospel that had been popular since at least the eighth century, namely that Luke’s narrative actually outlines Mary’s ancestry, not Joseph’s. This reading provided biblical scholars and readers with a simple, yet elegant, solution to this problem. Christ’s ancestry could now be traced not just through his “legal” father’s family line, but through his mother’s line as well.

Displayed here is the entire thirty-page genealogical cycle tracing Christ’s ancestry all the way back to Adam and Eve and the dawn of creation. All told, these tables record more than 1,750 individual names, including such well known biblical figures as Jonah, Job, Lot, Abraham, Sarah, David, Solomon, Delilah, Goliath, Moses, and many more. We invite you to “turn the pages” of this genealogy and see for yourselves how this monument in print traces the divine symmetry of the ancestral path from God the Father to Christ the Son.