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Biblical Genealogies and the Age of the Earth-Universe

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By Mr. Ilya Bundin


Claims are made that the Biblical genealogies cannot be used to determine the age of the Earth with any degree of certainty, since those genealogies contain gaps. Such claims are groundless. The Genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 do not and cannot contain any gaps. The information contained in those genealogies allows one to calculate the approximate age of the Earth to be from 6,000 to 7,500 years (depending on the type of the Holy Text used: Masoretic or LXX).

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Wayne Grudem is a contemporary theologian, the ESV Translation Oversight Committee member, and the general editor of the ESV Study Bible. Moreover, he is considered to be an authority among some ministers who I try to emulate.
Therefore I wanted to read his “Systematic Theology” in order to get a clear understanding of his position on the issues related to the Early History of the world. After doing some reading I started feeling grieved by his attitude to the age of the Earth. Here I would like to touch upon his statements about the Biblical genealogies, which genealogies point unmistakably to the age of the Earth being roughly 6,000-7,500 years.

So, let brother Wayne Grudem speak for himself:

“There Are Gaps in the Genealogies of the Bible: When one reads the list of names in Scripture together with their ages, it might seem as though we could add together the ages of all the people in the history of redemption from Adam to Christ and come up with an approximate date for the creation of the earth. Certainly, this would give a very recent date for creation (such as Archbishop Ussher’s date of 4004 B.C.). But closer inspection of the parallel lists of names in Scripture will show that Scripture itself indicates the fact that the genealogies list only those names the biblical writers thought it important to record for their purposes.”[1] [Emphasis added]

Then Grudem lists three examples to prove the existence of gaps in the Biblical genealogies:
1.    He compares Mt 1:8-9 and 1 Chr. 3:10-12.
2.    The angel addresses Joseph calling him “Joseph, son of David.” (Mt 1:20)

3.    Shebuel is said to be “the son of Gershom,” who was born from 360 to 510 years earlier. Thus, at least ten generations were omitted. (1 Chr. 26:24)

Let me briefly comment on the above examples.

In the first example two genealogies are compared: one from the Gospel of Matthew and the other from 1 Chronicles. The comparison shows that the New Testament genealogy omits certain names that are mentioned in the Old Testament list:

“Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah was the father of Jotham, …” (Mt. 1:8-9 NASB)

“… Asa his son, Jehoshaphat his son, Joram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, Amaziah his son, Azariah his son, Jotham his son,” (1Chr. 3:10-12 NASB)

One should not think that the two genealogies are contradictory. They are both correct and do not contradict each other. Simply, the latter provides more details than the former. In other words, the New Testament genealogy is less detailed due to several deliberate omissions.

It is noteworthy that such omissions were possible because those genealogies had names only and no other additional information. Several intermediate names were dropped, but it did not invalidate the genealogy. It only made it less detailed.

So, the first example is obvious. In the both cases a chain of generations connects an ancient ancestor to a much later descendant. In one of the two chains, however, several small links are substituted by a large link, so to speak. Clearly, we are dealing here with an obvious genealogical gap. Grudem has not let us down.

Yet, it is not so simple when it comes to Grudem’s second and third examples. Opposite to Grudem’s contentions, they are not examples of names omitted in genealogies, because there are no genealogies there at all: there are no lists of names, no attempts are made to follow a chain of generations. Instead, men are simply called other men’s sons. Those are no genealogies, are they?!
In Grudem’s second example the angel addressing Joseph calls him “son of David” (Mt 1:20). Clearly, the angel did not apply himself to a task of drawing up Joseph’s family tree! His task was to bring the Lord’s message to Joseph. Therefore, the situation has nothing to do with Joseph’s “genealogy”, far less with “gaps” in it. Instead, by his address “son of David” the angel emphasizes, that the miraculous happening involving Joseph and Mary is a next stage in fulfilling God’s eternal plan to give the Messiah from the Davidic line to all the peoples.

The third example cited by Grudem is an identical case. Shebuel is called “the son” (or descendant) of Gershom, son of Moses. It is emphasized that Shebuel traces his lineage back to Moses. There is no genealogy here either, but only a mentioning of the fact that he is a direct descendant of Moses. It’s actually a typical situation. You will certainly agree, that it would be said repeatedly about any direct descendants of Abraham Lincoln: “Oh, you know, they are the great Abraham Lincoln’s descendants!”

So, what do we have in the final outcome? Of the three Grudem’s examples, two are irrelevant for the subject under discussion. They do not prove the contention they are supposed to uphold.

At the same time we must necessarily accept the fact that some Biblical genealogies do feature some gaps, as readily illustrated by Grudem’s first example. Does it follow, however, that there are gaps in all Biblical genealogies? No, it does not. As I will attempt to demonstrate below, those genealogies which give us an approximate age of the Earth contain no gaps. In fact, they cannot possibly contain them.
Later on in his work, from the statement concerning genealogical gaps Grudem derives the following conclusion:

“It seems only fair to conclude that the genealogies of Scripture have some gaps in them, ... How many gaps there are and how many generations are missing from the Genesis narratives, we do not know. … In view of the exceptionally long life span reported for people prior to the flood, it would not seem unreasonable to think that a few thousand years have been passed over in the narrative.”[2]

Since some genealogies have gaps, thinks Grudem, then the genealogies of Genesis also should most probably have them. This thinking of his is erroneous. And he is in error because he fails to take into account the difference between the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 and those listed as his three examples.

The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are constructed in a very special way: in addition to the names they provide other important details. And those additional details rule out any possibility of them having gaps. On the other hand, those additional details allow us to calculate how many years elapsed from the creation of the world to the birth of Abraham. And this is precisely what interests us the most.

Let us have a look at the genealogies of 5 and 11 which are foreign to so many people. (Had they read them for themselves more often, they would have realized that there are no gaps in them. Yet, that being the case, they are overwhelmed by Grudem’s authority: since Grudem says there are some gaps, it means the gaps are there.)

“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. Then the days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died. Seth lived one hundred and five years, and became the father of Enosh. Then Seth lived eight hundred and seven years after he became the father of Enosh, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died. … Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” (Ge.5:3-32, NASB)

Note, if you would, that for each person the following details are given besides the names: a) the age at which he became the father of this specific son; b) how many years he lived after the birth of this specific son; and c) how old he was at death. (The only two exceptions to this pattern would be Enoch and Noah with his sons. In the former case, the age at which Enoch was taken is given. In the latter, the text tells us the year at which Noah was born, and that he already had Shem, Ham and Japheth at the age of 500.)

The “a)”s, “b)”s, and “c)”s is the aforementioned additional information with eliminates any chance of gaps existing in this genealogy.

For example, we do know that Seth was not simply a “descendant”, but precisely a “son” of Adam. This is stated twice. Firstly, when we are told Seth was born unto Adam when Adam was at a certain age. Secondly, when we are told how many years Adam lived to his death after the birth of Seth.

The genealogy is built after the same pattern from Adam to Lamech. Therefore, we also know that Enosh was not some vague “descendant”, but exactly a “son” of Seth. Kenan was specifically “son”, not only generally a “descendant” of Enosh. And so forth through to Noah and his three sons.

This genealogy demonstrates an unbroken succession of generations, relations of the type “father-son”, not simply “ancestor-descendant”.

The genealogy is continued in Genesis 11, starting from Shem and ending with Abraham. In Genesis 11 it is built after basically the same pattern, with only the age of death omitted. (The age of death can be easily calculated by adding the years passed after a son was born to the age at which the son was born.):

“These are the records of the generations of Shem. Shem was one hundred years old, and became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; and Shem lived five hundred years after he became the father of Arpachshad, and he had other sons and daughters. Arpachshad lived thirty-five years, and became the father of Shelah; and Arpachshad lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Shelah, and he had other sons and daughters. … Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah; and Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years after he became the father of Terah, and he had other sons and daughters. Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.” (Ge.11:1-26)

Here we also see an unbroken chain of links of type “father-son”, not simply “ancestor-descendant”. It follows, that the genealogy of Abraham is documented with no omissions, no gaps of any sort, starting from the very forefather Adam.

In case somebody shows me how any omissions (that is people whose names are not mentioned) can be crammed into the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 1 without upsetting their obvious pattern, I will be vastly amazed. In my opinion, the genealogies are purposefully constructed in such a way that any gaps or omissions in them are inconceivable.

From the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 it follows that from the creation of Adam to the birth of Abraham about 2000 years passed. (It should be noted, that according to the chronology of the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, Abraham was born in the year 3394 after the creation of the world[3] .) According to Grudem, “The life of Abraham may be placed at approximately 2000 B.C. …”[4] From Christ to us about 2000 years passed. Thus, we have a good estimate for the age of the Earth: about 6000-7500 years.

Another interesting observation. Let me quote the words of Grudem already once quoted above:

“In view of the exceptionally long life span reported for people prior to the flood, it would not seem unreasonable to think that a few thousand years have been passed over in the narrative.”

Let us assume for a moment, that Grudem is right (which is not the case, in my strong opinion). What if we add “a few thousand years” to 6000-7500 years? We would get, say, 10000-15000 years, and no more.

Will it change anything in our dialogue with those who adhere to the old-Earth paradigm? Ten, fifteen, or even twenty thousand years would be an infinitely short period of time to satisfy them. They need an age of the Earth some two hundred and thirty thousand times greater! Then, why compromise? Should we exert ourselves so laboriously to find some imaginary gaps in the Genesis genealogies?

[1] Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, by Wayne A. Grudem, Zondervan, 2009.
[2] Ibid.
[3] S. Vorobyov, Bibleyskaya istoriya Vetkhogo Zaveta, Moscow: Svyato-Troitskaya Sergieva Lavra, 2009, p. 39.
[4] Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, by Wayne A. Grudem, Zondervan, 2009.

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