Saturday, 28 January 2012

Are the Biblical Genealogies Helpful in Establishing the Age of Man?

In 1650, James Ussher, the archbishop of Ireland, produced a detailed Biblical timeline, going all the way back to the creation of man and the Universe. Based largely on the genealogies given in Genesis 5 and 11, this chronology famously placed the creation of Adam and Eve in the year 4,004 B.C. Indeed, such a view is espoused by many Bible-believing Christians, even today. But just how sound is this view? Are Christians really committed to the view that the creation of man happened no more than 6,000 years ago? It is my personal view that using the Biblical records in this manner is ultimately misguided, and misunderstands the nature of ancient genealogies. One crucial assumption, which is employed in Ussher’s calculation, is the notion that the relevant genealogies are complete: That is to say, they contain no gaps or missing names. But are these genealogies actually complete as Ussher supposed? Here, I attempt to show that such an assumption is unfounded.

Much of the misunderstanding surrounding these genealogies results because we are reading them in modern English and in the context of modern western culture. The genealogies were written in ancient Hebrew and represent ancient Jewish culture. For one thing, the Hebrew word for “son” (ben) can mean “son”, “grandson”, “great grandson” or “descendent”. And, likewise, “father” (Hebrew ab) can mean "father", "grandfather", "great-grandfather" or "ancestor". For example, in Genesis 28:13, God says to Jacob, “I am the LORD the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac”. But Abraham wasn’t the father of Jacob. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Abraham was the father of Isaac, thus making Abraham the grandfather of Jacob. That being said, however, the verb used in Genesis 5 and 11 is the Hebrew “yalad” and is translated “became the father of” in the NIV and “begat” in the KJV. So, it does not even use the word “father” (ab), but rather “yalad” (which is similarly flexible in its meaning). This verb can mean giving birth to someone who is ancestral to the next person named (with many generations skipped). One example of this is the genealogy of Moses in Exodus 6. These genealogies report that Amram and his wife Jochebed “begat” (Hebrew yalad) Moses (two times) and refers to him as “son” (Hebrew ben). Thus, on at least two occasions, it uses the very same verb as used in Genesis 5 and 11. But what is important to notice here is that Amram and Jochebed lived at the time when the Jews entered Egypt while Moses was 80 years old during the exodus some 430 years later. This entails that approximately 350 years (and likely a minimum of 6 generations) lies between Amram/Jochebed and Moses. Thus, literally, it should be rendered ‘Jochebed begat a son (unnamed) who was ancestral to Moses’.

For a thorough discussion of this fascinating topic, I refer readers to this excellent paper by Dr. John Millam. The article lists the following examples where one can definitively say that the genealogies have been telescoped in this manner:

  1. "Matthew 1:8 compared to 2 Chronicles 21:4-26:23
    Matthew 1:8 has Jehoram listed as the father of Uzziah but there were several generations between these men. The names Ahaziah (2 Chronicles 22:1), Joash (2 Chronicles 22:11), and Amaziah (2 Chronicles 24:27) come between Jehoram and Uzziah.
  2. Matthew 1:11 compared to 2 Chronicles 36:1-9
    In Matthew 1:11 we read that Josiah is the father of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin). In 2 Chronicles, we see that Josiah is the father of Jehoiakim (2 Chronicles 36:4) and grandfather of Jehoiachin (2 Chronicles 36:8).
  3. Luke 3:35-36 compared to Genesis 10:24, 11:12; 1 Chronicles 1:24
    Luke contains the name Cainan between Shelah and Arphaxad that is missing in Genesis 10:24 and 11:12 and 1 Chronicles 1:24. Since all of the genealogies are true and Luke is the one with more names, then Luke must be more complete and the rest more telescoped.
  4. Ezra 7:1-5 compared to 1 Chronicles 6:3-15
    The genealogy of 1 Chronicles 6:3-15 lists the descendents of Aaron down to Jehozadak (Jozadak). Ezra 7 lists Ezra’s own genealogy going back to Aaron. Where the two genealogies overlap, 1 Chronicles contains 22 names and Ezra contains 16 names, making Ezra’s genealogy no more than 70% complete. Both genealogies span a time period of about 860 years from the exodus to the fall of Jerusalem, which suggests that both genealogies are in fact highly telescoped. A thorough search of the Old Testament reveals that there were many high priests during this time period who are not included in either of these two genealogies, which provides additional evidence that these genealogies are not complete. The following high priests are known from the OT but are not included in these genealogies: Jehoiada (2 Kings 12:2), Uriah (2 Kings 16:10-16), possibly two Azariahs (2 Chronicles 26:17, 20; 31:10-31), Eli (1 Samuel 1:9; 14:3) and Abiathar (2 Samuel 8:17).
  5. 1 Samuel 16:10-13 compared to 1 Chronicles 2:13-15
    In the 1 Samuel passage, the prophet Samuel goes to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as the new king of Israel. Jesse has his seven eldest sons pass before Samuel but each is rejected. Finally, David, the 8th son is brought in and is anointed by Samuel as king. We find in 1 Chronicles, however, that David is listed as the 7th son of Jesse. One of David’s brothers is omitted from the list to allow David to occupy the favored 7th position. This may seem a bit odd to modern readers but this was an accepted genealogical practice."

One question which often comes up is the literary construct of the genealogical reports. For example, according to Genesis 5:9-11, “When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. And after he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enosh lived 905 years, and then he died.” Some have suggested that the understanding, proposed above, of Biblical genealogies faces difficulty in accounting for the fact that the text would still read: “When Enosh had lived 90 years, be became the ancestor of Kenan…Enosh lived 815 years and had other descendants.” The dates, it is argued, would remain unchanged, even when considering this interpretation - whether Enosh became the father or ancestor of Kenan at age 90, it is argued, is irrelevant to the calculation. In light of what I have tried to show above, however, it is my view that the correct rendering of the text runs along the lines of: “At age 90, Enosh gave birth to a son whose descendants would include Kenan.” Thus, the 90 years refers to when Enosh became a father, not when Kenan was born. While this may seem very peculiar (or even wrong) in English, one must always keep in mind that we are dealing with an ancient Hebrew genealogy.

In conclusion, to try to place dates on Biblical events, squarely on the basis of the genealogies alone, faces significant obstacles, and springs from a misapprehension of the nature of ancient Hebrew genealogies. It is also important to bear in mind that this argument does not concern or address the age of the earth (nor, for that matter, the proper interpretation of Genesis 1). Rather, all it shows is that the Christian need not feel committed, as many contend that we are, to placing the creation of Adam roughly 6,000 years ago. Moreover, such a conclusion may be accepted by young-earth and old-earth advocate alike (I personally fall into the latter of those camps). On the flip side of the coin, the non-believer need not be turned off Christianity by the apparently extremely recent origin of modern humans. There is simply no compelling Biblical mandate for supposing that this is the case.


  1. What about the verse in Jude that states that Enoch was the seventh generation from Adam? Doesn't that verse prove there are no gaps in Genesis 5, at least for the first 7 individuals listed in the genealogy??

    1. cortezhistory -- I think I would understand Jude to be referring to Enoch as being the seventh *listed* from Adam.

  2. The fallacy of affirming the consequent is being committed in this line of argumentation. Just because there are some gaps in some genealogies does not mean that there are gaps in all the genealogies, especially concerning the genealogy lists in Genesis 5.

    Furthermore, although 'yalad' may be "flexible is its meaning," i.e, that it can mean more than a direct parent-child relationship, there are no absolute examples of it being so used when in the "X yalad Y" syntax. In all such cases, it indicates a direct parent-child relationship and is supported by the surrounding context. The NT does contain gaps, but written in Greek, it is a different language and a completely different word. The Greek 'gennao' cannot be used to define the usage of 'yalad.'

  3. Mclatchie attempts to argue that such a usage can be found in Exodus 6 regarding Amram and Jochebed in relation to Moses and Aaron. "Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father's sister, and she bore (yalad) him Aaron and Moses" (v. 20a, see also Num. 26:59). Mclatchie then argues for a 350 year est. gap between Amram and Moses. I assume he is basing the argument on the idea that the Israelites spent the entire 430 years in Egyptian slavery (cf. Gen. 15:13; Ex. 12:40-41; Acts 7:6; Gal. 3:16-17). However, the Apostle Paul tells us that the Law was given 430 years after God's promises to Abraham (Gal. 3:16-17). The Law was clearly given in Exodus immediately after the Israelites departed from Egypt. Therefore, the total 430 years must include the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Caanan! Israel's time in Egyptian slavery is quite reduced by this information, giving ample support to Amram being the direct father of Moses and illustrating the proper understanding of the "X yalad Y" syntax.

  4. Dr. Millam's paper gives the ages of the Genesis 5 names at 'Fatherhood' as derived from the Hebrew, Septuagint, and Samaritan Pentateuch texts. There are ten generations listed in the Genesis 5 text, and the total ages per each of Millam's examples are 1,556 years, 2,262 years, and 1,207 years respectively at Noah's 500th year (Millam says 600th year, but this is obviously an error).

    There is an interesting correlation with Jude 14 as cortezhistory points out. Jude 14 tells us that Enoch was the seventh from Adam. Mclatchie's assessment that this is referring to Enoch as being the seventh "listed" from Adam is highly debatable, especially in light of the "X yalad Y" syntax of Genesis 5. Enoch, a prophet (Jude 14), named is son Methuselah which has been shown to mean "his death shall bring it, "when he dies, it shall be sent," or "when he dies, judgment" depending on various sources. Methuselah dies at the age of 969 years. Why is this interesting? When adding up the intermediate years of his life, we find that Methuselah died the same year the Deluge began. This excludes any possibility of a gap.

  5. Is any of this relevant? Surely, for Christ himself affirmed that mankind was created at the beginning of creation (Mark 10:6; Matt. 19:4). As Christians, we should take seriously what our Lord has spoken. Since man was created on the sixth day of creation, this is quite clearly at the beginning. But if we assume man appeared on the scene of creation millions of years afterward, how can the words of Christ be taken with any true sincerity? Some have tried to alter the meaning of the word "creation" in the text to mean "institution" so that Jesus is to be understood as referring to the institution of marriage, rather than the beginning of creation. But to be understood this way, we have to add a word that just isn't found in the Greek text.

    Lastly, even if we could prove gaps existed in the Genesis genealogies, this would only extend the date a few centuries at most. This is not the millions of years to which Old Earth Creationists adhere. The Bible does not support millions of years, and the genealogies are indeed helpful in dating the age of man.

  6. I do agree with Friseal. There is no way to stretch it to Millions.

  7. Interesting article but really a veiled attempt to try and insert longer ages into the biblical account than can be asserted. Why? To try and find some way to promote long ages for earth's history. Are there gaps in the genealogies? Maybe. Are there enough gaps to make a case for long ages? Absolutely not and it is quite silly to try and play games with the Hebrew language or to spend ones time trying to find such gaps rather than spending time affirming the truth of Scripture. Seventh from Adam is the seventh listed from Adam? Really? Even if that were true, where are the thousands of gaps necessary to prove an old earth? Strangely absent.

  8. The problem with the "skipping generations" arguments is that those who support love to find the very specific examples where it may have been true such as the ones listed above. But they are amazingly silent on the many, MANY more examples of direct father/son lineage. Another important factor to consider, when generations are skipped between names, time lines are NEVER mentioned. In not one example of "skipped generations" given are the ages of those involved given. When you do have the ages of the those involved given it is only in the context of direct father/son lineage.

    What is more, Ussher assumed direct father/son lineage in his calculations. That gives us about a 4000 year time from between creation and Christ. Most Progressive Creationists hold Adam to Eve to have lived around 30-50K years ago. TE's much more. Assuming 30K years ago for Adam and Eve, we are talking 6 1/2 TIMES as many generations being skipped as there are listed. (I have to include the given ones so 4K can multiply out to 30K.) That is in OEC's closest estimation to Ussher's account, there is more than 6x as many skipped generations as there are given generations. For 50K for Adam and Eve it jumps to about 12x as many skipped generations as there are given generations. There is no genealogical record anywhere in the world that justifies this line of reasoning. Was Ussher correct in exactly 4004 BC? I don't know. But he was pretty well in the ballpark and no OEC model actually does land in the ballpark based on what is given.

  9. John Millam has errors in his genealogy from Noah to Abraham, whatever his sources were. He confuses Noah's age at the birth of son (500) with Shem's age at death. Shem's age should be 600 at death and not 500. Going right down the list, Millam fails to add the numbers together correctly by failing to add the age of the son to the total years.

    Actually there are different number systems going on in Genesis numberology, and unless you acknowledge 354, 365, 360, and 370 as calendar units the numbers won't make much sense.

    The 1056 years from the Creation of man (Adam) to Noah should actually be 1057 years. 1057 / 7 = 151.

    The age of Noah at the flood is given as 600 yrs, but is actually a lesser number because two systems are being used to derive the 600 number. When you translate it into one number in 365 figuring, the age is lower.

    I have put all my findings in a work titled "One Hell of a Flood!: The Numberology of Genesis, and made it available on Ebay for $10 US.

    All the numbers based on 3D (or 4D) calendar systems are proven by being divisible by the number 7. I haven't added any further theology to explain the numbers. I just do the math for you.

  10. Genealogy from Noah to Abraham (Genesis 11:10-32)

    Ussher’s Chronology1
    Name Age at Fatherhood2 Age at Death Yr of Birth Yr of Death
    Shem 100 500 1,556 2,056
    Arphaxad[47] 35 403 1,656 2,059
    Shelah 30 403 1,691 2,094
    Eber 34 430 1,721 2,151
    Peleg 30 209 1,755 1,964
    Reu 32 207 1,785 1,992
    Serug 30 200 1,817 2,017
    Nahor 29 119 1,847 1,966
    Terah 70 205 1,876 2,081
    (Abraham) 100[48] 175[49] 1,946 2,121

    Shem 100 600 1,556 2,156
    Arphaxad[47] 35 438 1,656 2,094
    Shelah 30 433 1,691 2,124
    Eber 34 464 1,721 2,185
    Peleg 30 239 1,755 1,994
    Reu 32 239 1,785 2,024
    Serug 30 230 1,817 2,047
    Nahor 29 148 1,847 1,995
    Terah 70 205 1,876 2,081
    Abram 100 175 1,946 2,121

    Usser does get Terah and Abram correct, but some argue that Abram was born when Terah was 130 rather than 70. So how accurate those numbers are is also debateable.

  11. Once you affirm that you are dealing with 3 dimensional numbers, the simple one dimensional numbers vanish!

  12. As was stated, yet some till confuse the issue, there is no relation between the dating of Adam and the dating of the age of Earth on which the Bible is silent. [For those who want to use the "Christ said..." then their literal interpretation makes the age of earth the same as the age of Adam, thus, in this scenario, Christ was wrong by six days.]


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