Gaps in the Genesis genealogies?

Date: Wed May 08 2002 - 00:39:46 EDT

  • Next message: Glenn Morton: "RE: GEN 1-11: Beyond the concordist debate"

    Gordon and Terry,

    Gordon asked: Have you read William Henry Green's Primeval Chronology
    Sacra, 47(1890), 285-303)? I think it is the classic treatise on this
    subject. ... He argues quite convincingly that it was normal in Hebrew
    genealogies to skip generations ...

    Terry provided a link to Green's article on line.

    Thank you both for your feedback. As I said earlier, "I have come to the
    conclusion that the chronological information contained in the Bible's
    historical records was preserved there by God for us to use for that very
    purpose. ... I have thoroughly considered and dispensed of all arguments to
    the contrary." This includes all of the arguments made by Green, which I had
    already considered, and others which he did not mention.

    I have no problem with most of what Green argues. For he properly maintains
    that most genealogies found in the Bible were included in the scriptures
    solely for the purpose of establishing lineage. And because they were, they
    often did so in an abbreviated fashion by skipping over several, or even
    many, generations. "Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham," is
    one very good example of such an abbreviated genealogy. (Matt. 1:1)

    Green's reasons for trying to neutralize the apparent value which the
    chronological data contained in Genesis 5 and 11 has for establishing
    historical dates for various events recorded in the scriptures are quite
    obvious. He does so because he recognizes the fact that if we take them at
    face value, and understand that the Bible refers to Adam as "the first man"
    in an absolute chronological sense, then they are irreconcilable with
    science. For taken at face value, the chronological information contained in
    the Genesis genealogies clearly indicates that Adam was created by God only
    about (I say exactly) 4,000 years before the birth of Christ. While, as we
    all know, paleontologists, anthropologists and archaeologists all assure us
    that men just like ourselves have lived on earth far longer than 6,000 years.

    To explain this apparent conflict between well established science and
    scripture Green asserts that there are gaps in the Genesis genealogies and
    that Adam was most likely created by God many thousands of years earlier than
    the chronological information contained in Genesis seems to say. Maybe when
    Green first made this appeal over 100 years ago such an understanding of
    Genesis 5 and 11 solved the scientific conflicts a purely natural reading of
    them then appeared to create. However, such an apologetic method does not do
    so today. Why? Because today the same scientists who tell us modern man has
    been around for at least several tens of thousands of years also tell us that
    the activities Adam and his immediate descendants engaged in, including some
    of the activities Adam's own sons Cain and Abel engaged in (and we know Cain
    and Able were really Adam's sons and not some much later descendants since
    Gen. 4:1, 2 and 25 clearly say so), did not take place anywhere on earth
    prior to 10,000 years ago. These things include raising crops, herding
    animals, forging tools of copper and iron and building cities. (Gen. 4)

    If Green understood what Dick Fischer and I understand, that the Bible does
    not actually present Adam as the first man in an absolute chronological
    sense, he would have had no reason to suspect that there might be "gaps" in
    the Genesis genealogies. For the Genesis genealogies are very different from
    the genealogies which appear elsewhere in the scriptures. As Green himself
    noted, the Genesis genealogies contain what certainly appears to be "a
    peculiarity in the construction," "which forbids our applying to them an
    inference drawn from others not so constructed." Green himself quite astutely
    asked, "Why should the author be so particular to state, in every case, with
    unfailing regularity, the age of each patriarch at the birth of his son,
    unless it was his design thus to construct a chronology of this entire
    period, and to afford his readers the necessary elements for a computation of
    the interval from the creation to the deluge and from the deluge to Abraham?"
    And, as Green also wrote, "If this was his design, he must, of course, have
    aimed to make his list complete. The omission of even a single name would
    create an error."

    I found Green's answers to these questions totally unconvincing. He wrote,
    "[The Genesis genealogies and their chronological content] merely afford us a
    conspectus of individual lives. And for this reason doubtless they are
    recorded. They exhibit in these selected examples the original term of human
    life. They show what it was in the ages before the Flood. They show how it
    was afterwards gradually narrowed down. ... A series of specimen lives, with
    the appropriate numbers attached, this is all that has been furnished us."

    If this was the reason so much chronological information was contained in the
    Genesis genealogies, to inform us of how long these men lived and that they
    sometimes fathered children at great ages, then why were we not always simply
    told, like we were in the case of Noah, that 'after this man was this many
    years old he fathered several sons' ? (Gen. 5:32) Noah's age at the time he
    became the father of Shem is not stated. It has to be deduced from the fact
    that "Noah was 600 years old" at the time of the flood, and from the fact
    that "two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the
    father of Arphaxad." (Gen. 7:6;11:10) If the writer of Genesis had omitted
    this chronological information, if he had described Shem's age when he became
    the father of Arphaxad in the same way he had described Noah's age when Noah
    became Shem's father, then we would not be having this conversation. But the
    fact is he did not.

    Why? There is only one reasonable answer. Genesis 5 and 11 are clearly
    constructed as a chronolog. The only reason anyone would suggest otherwise is
    to try to be able to understand and explain the Bible in a way that does not
    conflict with the findings of modern science. The problem is, however, that
    Green's method of appolgy does not accomplish this feat, as my earlier
    comments on Genesis 4 pointed out. That being the case, there is no reason
    for us to either accept or promote such an understanding. And there are
    several good reasons not to do so.

    Besides, as I have also already pointed out, when we understand that the
    Bible does not actually present Adam as the first man in an absolute
    chronological sense we have absolutely no reason to look for ways to stretch
    the Genesis genealogies any further than a purely natural reading of them
    would give us cause to do.


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