I recently finished reading Ehud’s excellent article on Kinism as the antidote to fashionable atheistic materialism and neo-gnosticism, which denies the goodness or importance of physical reality. In my Bible reading not long ago, I read through the book of Hebrews with my family. I was particularly impressed with a passage that has tremendous implications for the importance of our physical descent. The book of Hebrews was written to Israelite converts to the Christian faith who were struggling under persecution and considering returning to Judaism. The author wrote to these Christians to convince them of the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant, and of Christ’s priesthood, derived from the order of Melchizedek, over the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood. The passage that is particularly relevant is Hebrews 7:1-10.
¹ For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
5 And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
8 And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.
10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.
This passage alludes to an episode recorded in Genesis 14 in which Abraham has returned from battle in order to rescue his nephew Lot. After battle Abraham is met by Melchizedek the King of Salem, who is also described as a priest. Abraham pays this royal priest homage and gives him a tithe of all his spoils. The author of Hebrews infers from this account the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek over the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants on account of the fact that Aaron’s ancestor paid homage to Melchizedek. The priesthood of Melchizedek is not tied to ancestry or descent, which is why the author of Hebrews notes that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother,” and “without descent.” Melchizedek did not derive his priesthood either from the lineage of his father or mother, and his priesthood was not intrinsically passed on to his descendants. This contrasts with the priesthood of Aaron, whose priesthood was passed on to certain of his male descendants.
This demonstrates the profound ways in which physical ancestry and descent are pertinent to salvation history. Aaron is said to have sprung from the loins of Abraham even though Abraham was not Aaron’s father or grandfather, and their lives did not overlap at all. There were at least six generations from Abraham to Aaron if we assume no gaps in Aaron’s genealogy. The genealogy from Abraham to Aaron runs through Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kohath, and Amram before we get to Aaron (1 Chr. 6:2-3).
There is good reason to believe that there is a gap between Amram and the father of Miriam, Aaron, and Moses. First, there are eleven generations recorded between Jacob and Joshua, who was Moses’s successor as the leader of the people of Israel (1 Chr. 7:23-27). While there can be some difference in how many generations pass over a given period of time, it seems inconceivable that there were only four generations from Jacob to Moses while there were eleven generations between Jacob and Joshua. Another proof of a gap is that Levi’s son Kohath is said to have been born prior to the descent into Egypt (Gen. 46:11). Moses was eighty years old and Aaron was eighty-three at the time of the Exodus (Ex. 7:7), and the Israelites were in Egypt for four hundred and thirty years (Ex. 12:40-41). This means that if there were no gaps between Kohath and Aaron, then there were approximately three hundred and fifty years between grandfather and grandson!
Finally, the number of Kohath’s male descendants during Moses and Aaron’s lifetime was said to number 8,600 (Num. 3:19-28) with 2,750 being between the ages of thirty and fifty (Num. 4:36). All of this indicates that Aaron and Moses were not the children of Amram and Jochebed, but their remote descendants. It’s likely that Kohath and his descendants constituted a clan within the tribe of Levi and Amram, and his descendants constituted something analogous to a sept, or subsidiary extended family within a clan. Moses is simply identifying the place of his family, which included his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam within the larger Israelite nation.1
What this means is that Aaron was a distant descendant of his ancestor Abraham, and yet the author of Hebrews speaks as though Aaron was Abraham’s immediate son. Moreover, the author of Hebrews draws important theological conclusions from Aaron’s descent from Abraham. Aaron’s priesthood was subordinate to Melchizedek because Aaron’s ancestor Abraham paid Melchizedek homage in the form of a tithe. As far as the author of Hebrews is concerned, it is as though this was done by Aaron himself. This serves as one concrete example among many of the paramount importance of physical ancestry and descent.2 As Ehud mentions in his article, Jesus’s identity as the Messiah is in many ways derived from his physical ancestry.3 Jesus is identified as the son of David and the son of Abraham, because he is the unique inheritor and fulfillment of the covenant promises made to these men.
The Bible confirms that our relationships to our proximate and distant ancestors are indeed of utmost importance, as God judges the generations of those who hate him but shows mercy to those who love him and keep his commandments (Ex. 20:5-6; cf. Deut. 5:9-10). Even the apostate Israelites of St. Paul’s day are said to be “beloved for the fathers’ sakes” (Rom. 11:28). We are commanded to honor the ancient boundaries set by our fathers (Prov. 22:28), which implies that this is referring to our distant ancestors. Perhaps one of the most prominent examples of the importance of distant ancestry is the unity that all mankind shares in our common descent from Adam and Eve.
Alienists often insist that mankind’s common descent from Adam is the only distant genealogical relationship of theological consequence, citing the transmission of original sin and the image of God from our first parents. While it is true that our common descent from Adam is significant for these reasons, this significance is confirmed precisely because ancestors impact many generations of their descendants. Why would my relationship to Adam be important when my relationship to my intervening ancestors is considered a mere historical triviality? If our relationships to our ancestors who lived four or five hundred years ago are meaningless, then how can anyone maintain that our descent from Adam is significant if the generational distance is exponentially larger? Ironically, in their quest to undermine the importance of physical ancestry and descent, alienists undermine the basis for the physical unity of mankind in our common descent from Adam and Eve.
The importance of physical descent is not simply a question of what is beneficial to society for advancing civilization. Christians have traditionally understood that physical descendants inherited the covenant promises given to their parents and ancestors. The Kingdom is advanced through the expansion of covenant families who faithfully carry on the faith of their Christian ancestors. These covenant children are considered to be holy in a way that distinguishes them from the children of unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:14). The significance of ancestry is also essential to the saving ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus’s descent from Adam ties him to all mankind, and his descent from the patriarchs and King David makes him the true heir of the covenant promises that God made to the Israelites. To deny the importance of the physical in regards to generational ancestry and descent is in a way, as Ehud pointed out, to deny Christ. Kinism thus emerges as the only viewpoint which can consistently explain the Bible’s emphasis on physical relationships.
- These observations are from “Primeval Chronology” by William Henry Green. ↩
- Gic presents compelling reasons for the belief that the soul is inherited from parents in his article on traducianism. ↩
- As the author of Hebrews makes clear, Christ’s priestly ministry of the order of Melchizedek is not one of them. ↩