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See also: Genesis Interpretation


Gen 5:1-32; 11:10-32

The following is the result if the numbers given in the above genealogies
are taken literally and assuming Abraham to be born 2165 bc
(Abraham's birth accurate to + or - 200 years)
Meaning Born
Gen Life Died
Adam Man 4111 130 930 3181
Seth Appointed 3981 105 912 3069
Enosh Mortal 3876 90 905 2971
Cainan Sorrow 3786 70 910 2876
Mahalaleel The Blessed God 3716 65 895 2821
Jared Shall come down 3651 162 962 2689
Enoch Teaching 3489 65 365 3124 Translated
Methuselah His death shall bring 3424 187 969 2455
Lamech The despairing  3237 182 777 2460
Noah rest, or comfort 3055 500 950 2105 God spoke to Noah 2575bc
Shem 2555 100 600 1955 Flood 2455 bc
Arphaxad 2455 35 438 2017
Selah 2420 30 433 1987
Eber 2390 34 464 1926 Tower of Babel
Peleg 2356 30 239 2117 (about 2361 bc) 
Reu 2326 32 239 2117
Serug 2294 30 230 2094
Nahor 2264 29 148 2116
Terah 2235 70 205 2035
Abraham 2165 100 175 1990
Isaac 2065 60 180 1885
Jacob 2005

Theories, Problems and Implications

Some object to this usage of the genealogies saying that "begat" doesn't necessarily refer to one's son, but could also refer to a grandson or descendant. However even if that were the case it would have no effect on the calculations. For example if we interpret Genesis 5:25-27 as "When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he became the father (or grandfather, or great grandfather) of Lamech. And after he became the father (or grandfather, or great grandfather) of Lamech, Methuselah lived 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Methuselah lived 969 years, and then he died." Still there would be 187 years between Methuselah being born and Lamech being born, regardless of their actual relationship!

Furthermore there are those who theorize that the years given in the genealogies are not literal years but rather the numbers have some spiritual significance of which we are ignorant. But the fact is that the years are treated as real years. Notice for example Methuselah lived 187 years before begatting Lamech and afterwards he lived 782 years. Now if we add up those numbers we come up with 969 years, which in fact is the number of years that the Bible says Methuselah lived. So the numbers are not treated as if having some mystical value, but rather they are treated as actual numbers of years. Yes in some cases there may be some rounding off involved, but given large numbers that is not outside our normal usage of numbers.

This poses a problem to some Christians who see a contradiction between Adam's recent creation at about 4100 bc and what is known of ancient history. The problem is further exacerbated for those who hold a global flood interpretation considering that the flood would have occurred about 2400 or 2500 bc. But we have a continuous record of Egyptian history, for example, throughout that time period. And it's further exacerbated by the interpretation that the nations and the diversity of languages were not formed until after the tower of Babel incident which occurred about 2300 or 2400 bc. But many are convinced that there is sufficient evidence to say that nations and the diversity of languages existed before that time. And then of course there's the population problem. Thus even among young earth creationists, those more informed of the ancient history of that time period attempt to arbitrarily disregard the genealogies in an attempt to turn back the clock on the date for the creation of Adam much further than the Bible would indicate in hopes that by putting it far back enough in time that they could say that scientists and historians don't know enough of that time period to say confidently what really happened and thereby allow a door for the theories of young earth creationism. But if "literalness" is going to be the hermeneutical flag of such Christians, then there is little basis or consistency for them interpreting the genealogies in a non-literal manner.

As for myself, I interpret the whole thing "literally" - all of Genesis. Days mean days and years mean years. And yet I'm not a young earth creationist! For there is more than one way to interpret such things "literally". For more discussion see Genesis Interpretation.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources