Updated: Nov 26, 2020
I was raised believing the Bible showed that Adam and Eve were 6,000, maybe 8,000 years old and I held that belief until about 20 years ago. But, where did Christians get that idea? The following explanation was edited from a paper presented by the Institute for Creation Research.
Once the Bible became available in English, some British church leaders busied themselves with figuring out the precise date when God created Adam (and Eve, presumably). Genesis 5, together with Genesis 11, served as the basis for their calculations. The math seemed relatively simple and straightforward. Add the ages of the fathers to the ages of their sons and work backward from the fairly well-established date for Abraham. Cambridge University’s Vice-Chancellor John Lightfoot and the Anglican Archbishop of Ireland, James Ussher, actually became caught up in a race to see who could publish an accurate date first. By the middle of the seventeenth century, they announced to the world that Adam was created in 4004 B.C.
Unfortunately, the more widely and deeply this date became entrenched in published Bibles and Christian thinking, the wider and deeper became the credibility gap between educated people and biblical faith. For the first time the Bible became an object of ridicule. And this “problem” may be keeping people you know, or are trying to introduce to Jesus, from taking the Bible seriously. So, what’s wrong with Lightfoot and Usher’s calculations? Gaps in Biblical Genealogies Lightfoot and Ussher in their calculations and Western thinking presumed that Genesis 5 and 11 present meticulously complete genealogical records. Most Jewish scholars never published a date for Adam because they knew their cultural heritage. The Old Testament (and New Testament) genealogies are considered adequate lists of descendants, but not complete lists. Hebrew genealogies tend to focus on the heroes or notables (famous as well as infamous) within a family line. Therefore, gaps are expected.
Such an example appears in the genealogy of Joseph (Jesus, human father) in Matthew 1:8: “Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehorma, Jehorma the father of Uzziah.”
However, 1 Chronicles 3:10-12 reads differently: “Asa his son, Jehoshaphat his son, Jehoram his son, Ahasizh his son, Joash his son, Amaziah his son, Azariah [also called Uzziah] his son.”
Matthew leaves out at least three generations: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Why?
Bible scholars cite some reasons for the seeming discrepancy. In many biblical lists of descendants, cadence and pattern hold great importance. In his genealogy Matthew presented three groups of fourteen generations each: fourteen generations from Abraham to David; another fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile; and a third set of fourteen from the Babylonian exile to Jesus, “who is called Christ.” To maintain the pattern of three fourteens, Matthew dropped names from the list of descendants as he deemed appropriate.
Matthew’s subtraction of names does not, however, invalidate Matthew’s genealogy. In biblical Hebrew ‘ab (“father”) can be used to mean grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, and so on, while ben (“son”) can be used for grandson, great-grandson, great-great-grandson, and so on. Thus, the “father” of Uzziah can be understood as Uzziah’s great-great-grandfather. Matthew lists for us, from his perspective, the fourteen most significant names in the list of descendants for each of the three Old Testament eras of Jewish history.
The existence of gaps in the Genesis genealogies should not be construed as flaws. The gaps mean we must treat them as we would abbreviations. The words of scripture translated into English read this way: “When X had lived Y years, he became the father of Z.” Someone reading the same passage in Hebrew would see a second possibility: “When X had lived Y years, he became the father of a family line that included or culminated in Z.”
Exactly how many gaps may exist in the Genesis genealogies has been the subject of much debate among Old Testament scholars. Some argue for a very loose limit on the number of gaps. Most Bible scholars, however, see reasons to put a much tighter limit on the gaps. Aside from their observation that the Bible portrays Adam as an individual strikingly similar to ourselves, they point out that parallel genealogies in Scripture usually overlap significantly, holding a majority of names in common. Scholars in this camp date Adam’s creation somewhere in the tens of thousands of years ago (but less than a hundred thousand years ago).
Critics of the idea that Adam and Eve could have been created tens of thousands of years ago, believe those ideas are contrary to the Bible. I believe that the only thing they are contrary to, is the methods well-meaning Bible scholars have used to guesstimate those dates. The Bible isn’t in error, but it appears that man’s best intentions probably have been.
Next week: I’ll begin a four-week series of blogs to lay out the arguments for old-earth creationism.
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