In the comments on the previous entry, someone pointed me toÂ this quotation from the Reformation Study Bible on GenesisÂ 11:10-26:
As is common in ancient genealogies, it is apparent that this genealogy contains gaps. It if were precisely sequential, the events of chs.Â 9-11 would cover less than three centuries, all of Abrahamâ€™s ancestors would have been still living when he was born, and Shem would outlive Abraham by fourteen years. The purpose of this genealogy is to record the advances of the messianic line.
Given that I wrote a fairly lengthy couple of responses, I thought it might be helpful to move that material up here as a main entry.
In my response, I’m drawing (heavily, I might add) on James Jordan’s The Theology of Biblical Chronology and From Creation to Solomon (Studies in Biblical Chronology 1 and 2).Â The latter opens with an essayÂ an essay interacting with the arguments of Francis Schaeffer, B. B. Warfield, and William Green on the subject of the chronologies in Genesis 5 and 11, on which, I suspect, the author of that note in the Reformation Study Bible is drawing.
1. As is common in ancient genealogies, it is apparent that this genealogy contains gaps.Â
Notice that the RSB approaches this question from the standpoint of â€œancient genealogies,â€ not directly from the standpoint of Scripture itself.Â But so what if â€œancient genealogiesâ€ do contain gaps? How does that make it â€œapparentâ€ that this genealogy contains gaps? So far, the quotation provides no proof of gaps.
2. It if were precisely sequential, the events of chs. 9-11 would cover less than three centuries, all of Abrahamâ€™s ancestors would have been still living when he was born, and Shem would outlive Abraham by fourteen years.
So? Apparently weâ€™re supposed to take this statement as some sort of reductio ad absurdum: because we think itâ€™s absurd that Abrahamâ€™s ancestors would still have been living when he was born, we must conclude that there are gaps in the genealogy.Â But why should we think that it is absurd for Abrahamâ€™s ancestors to have been living when Abraham was born? What is strange about that?
3. The purpose of this genealogy is to record the advances of the messianic line.
It sounds as if (following Warfield and Green?) the RSB is suggesting that this passage can have only one purpose and, if that purpose is â€œto record the advances of the messianic line,â€ then the passageÂ cannot also intend to give us an accurate chronology of this period.Â But thereâ€™s no reason to believe that a passage of Scripture has only one purpose.
Those are all the “arguments” theÂ RSB puts forwardÂ for not taking Genesis 11 (or, for that matter, Genesis 5) as an accurate chronology.Â Not oneÂ of them is compelling.Â But we can press further:
4.Â The RSB note keeps talking about the â€œgenealogy.â€Â But a genealogy and a chronology are two different things. They happen to go together here, but they are distinct.
Even if there are gaps in the genealogy here, even if â€œX begot Yâ€ can be applied broadly enough so that X could really be the grandfather or great-grandfather of Y, so what? Genesis 5 and 11 still tell us how old X was when Y was born and how many years X lived after Y was born. Whether Y was Xâ€™s son or grandson or great-grandson doesnâ€™t matter for the chronology.
Jordanâ€™s charge of gnosticism, it seems to me, still sticks. The gnosticism here comes in this form: â€œThe purpose of these passages is not to give us accurate dates, a reliable chronology. It is only to give us something else (e.g., a history of the advances of the messianic line).â€Â The gnosticism is the belief that we can discount the chronology and still cling to the message of the text, as if the chronology isnâ€™t part of that message.
One more thought:Â It unfitting that this note was found in the Reformation Study Bible, which purports to be â€œbringing the light of the Reformation to Scriptureâ€ (an unfortunate slogan, that! â€”Â as if poor ScriptureÂ is dark untilÂ theÂ Reformation begins to shine some light on it).
I say it is unfitting because the Reformers themselves wouldnâ€™t have agreed at all with such a statement.Â Martin Luther wrote:
But Noah saw his descendants up to the tenth generation. He died when Abraham hwas about fifty-eight years old. Shem lived about thirty-five years after Abraham. Shem therefore lived with Isaac about 110 years and with Esau and Jacob about fifty years. It must have been a very blessed Church that was directed for so long a time by so many patriarchs who lived together for so many yearsâ€ (Commentary on Genesis, p. 199).
Luther is wrong about the dates, but the quotation shows that he doesnâ€™t believe there are gaps in the chronology.
Calvin writes: â€œThe world â€¦ has not yet attained six thousand yearsâ€ (Institutes I.14.1). Elsewhere he talks of those who mock the Bibleâ€™s teaching on predestination, the Trinity, and biblical chronology: â€œThey will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universeâ€ (III.21.4). And, in his commentary on Daniel, Calvin recommends Oecolampadiusâ€™s work on biblical chronology.
Archbishop Ussher famously developed a chronology of the world, which is sometimes ridiculed, but he wasnâ€™t alone in holding to the accuracy of the biblical chronologies. Similar views were held by John Owen, Matthew Henry, and, more recently, C. F. Keil and Geerhardus Vos.
That is “the light of the Reformation,” and it isn’t shining here in the Reformation Study Bible‘s comment at all.