One of the issues related to the age of the earth debate is how long mankind has been here.  Darwinian models aside, there is still controversy on whether the Bible itself can be used to support long periods of time for mankind to be here.  Today, we’ll examine that claim.

There are many genealogy lists in the Bible.  Several of them overlap.  Usually, when we start reading a section that has genealogies, we skip it.  “So and so begat so and so” isn’t easy reading or that interesting to most people.

There are disagreements whether there are gaps in the genealogies as well.  Some are easily proven, like comparing Luke’s genealogy of Christ to that of Genesis 11.  “Luke contains the name Cainan between Shelah and Arphaxad that is missing in Genesis 10:24 and 11:12 and 1 Chronicles 1:24.” (1)

Some have argued that such gaps prove the Bible has errors.  I think this is a misguided attack.  The original audience understood genealogies to show lineage.  Lineage can skip generations or include legal but not biological fathers.  When compared side to side, it becomes obvious that some records are more complete than others.  An actual error would be a contradiction or incorrect person in place of another, not simply an omission.

Others have argued that because there are gaps, we can’t add the genealogies together to see how long mankind has been here.  James Ussher attempted to do this many years ago, and came to a date of 4004 BC.  Personally, I don’t like being that specific since there are many assumptions being made (for example, the Hebrews were known to round up to complete a partial number, so the number is going to be inflated).

The gap argument is often used to explain that the genealogies are meant to show tribal, genealogical groupings, legal standing, or general lineage.  This allows for adding tens of thousands of years to human history.

I don’t think this is justified.  While I agree that some passages omit a few generations for the author’s purposes (Matthew 1, for example, is three grouping of 14 generations, which skips some generations; which we know about from comparing this text to others), this needs to be taken on a case by case basis.  In most cases, after comparing passages, I think we have at least a nearly complete record.

As for the history of mankind issue, I think we can break it down into three parts: before the flood, immediately after the flood, and post-Abraham.
Genesis 5 lists names from Adam to Noah, indicating the age of a person when the son was born.
Genesis 11 uses a similar “formula” to indicate the age of the father when the son was born.
Abraham is mentioned in Genesis 11.  We know he lived sometime between 2100 and 1800 BC. 

Though critics are correct that Genesis 11 is missing Cainan, that omission does not negate that Arpachshad was 35 when his grandson Shelah was born to Cainan. So the genealogies can still be added up.  It was completely normal to the Hebrews to refer to a descendent as a son or an ascendant as a father.  The Jews in Jesus’s day even called Abraham their father.  Clearly this is a way to note family line, not direct descendent in every case.

A point of interest is in Genesis 5, it is Seth’s lineage that is being followed.  Verse 3 states: “When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.” We know that Cain and Abel were born before Seth, so as you look over the genealogies, note that the age in which a father has a child is not indicating it is his first child.  It’s just the child that this lineage is following.

When we’re looking at the kingdom era, it’s hard to say whether there are gaps.  Reasons To Believe has a long article on this topic, and many of their examples seems to be valid. However, given the formula in Genesis 5 and 11, I think they are too quick to dismiss the importance of giving the age of the father when the “son” was born.  It seems Scripture is very deliberate to include that.

While I did recommend the RTB article above, I need to make three clarifications:

  1.  Much of what I’ve written here goes against some of their key points
  2.  I think there is room for disagreement on the slavery in Egypt period being 430 years (I’m working on a paper on this topic, so I have good reasons, I’m just not going to develop it now)
  3.  They state, “If the author of Genesis 5 and 11 was attempting to give a precise genealogical framework as Morris argues, there should have been a summation of the years following the genealogy, but this doesn't occur.  (Contrast this to the numbering of the Israelites in Numbers 1, where the individual numbers are summed in verse 46.)”  Nowhere in Genesis 5, 11, or anywhere else in the entire Bible are these numbers even suggested to be for the purpose of establishing the time frame between Adam and Abraham.  However, their point amounts to an argument from silence (making their case because their expectations of what could be there isn't).

Also, if we look at Jude 1:14, it states: “It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam”.  We can look at Genesis 5 and see it correlate:

• 3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (1st generation)
• 6 Seth lived one hundred and five years, and became the father of Enosh.  (2nd)
• 9 Enosh lived ninety years, and became the father of Kenan. (3rd)
• 12 Kenan lived seventy years, and became the father of Mahalalel. (4th)
• 15 Mahalalel lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Jared. (5th)
• 18 Jared ... became the father of Enoch. (6th)
• 21 Enoch … became the father of Methuselah. (7th generation)

So given this added clarification of no gaps for at least these 7 generations, I believe it’s reasonable to say that there are no significant gaps in Genesis 5 or 11.
In conclusion, I think that while some genealogies in the Bible may skip some names, the numbers given in the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 can be used to make a strong case for mankind being recent.


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