September 10, 2008

The Light of the Reformation?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

In the comments on the previous entry, someone pointed me to this quotation from the Reformation Study Bible on Genesis 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. 9-11 would cover less than three centuries, all of Abraham’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).  The latter opens with an essay 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. 

Notice that the RSB approaches this question from the standpoint of “ancient genealogies,” not directly from the standpoint of Scripture itself.  But so what if “ancient genealogies” do contain gaps? How does that make it “apparent” 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 Abraham’s ancestors would have been still living when he was born, and Shem would outlive Abraham by fourteen years.

So? Apparently we’re supposed to take this statement as some sort of reductio ad absurdum: because we think it’s absurd that Abraham’s ancestors would still have been living when he was born, we must conclude that there are gaps in the genealogy.  But why should we think that it is absurd for Abraham’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 “to record the advances of the messianic line,” then the passage cannot also intend to give us an accurate chronology of this period.  But there’s no reason to believe that a passage of Scripture has only one purpose.

Those are all the “arguments” the RSB puts forward for not taking Genesis 11 (or, for that matter, Genesis 5) as an accurate chronology.  Not one of them is compelling.  But we can press further:

4.  The RSB note keeps talking about the “genealogy.”  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 “X begot Y” 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 X’s son or grandson or great-grandson doesn’t matter for the chronology.

Jordan’s charge of gnosticism, it seems to me, still sticks. The gnosticism here comes in this form: “The 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).”  The gnosticism is the belief that we can discount the chronology and still cling to the message of the text, as if the chronology isn’t part of that message.

One more thought: It unfitting that this note was found in the Reformation Study Bible, which purports to be “bringing the light of the Reformation to Scripture” (an unfortunate slogan, that! — as if poor Scripture is dark until the Reformation begins to shine some light on it).

I say it is unfitting because the Reformers themselves wouldn’t have agreed at all with such a statement.  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 years” (Commentary on Genesis, p. 199).

Luther is wrong about the dates, but the quotation shows that he doesn’t believe there are gaps in the chronology.

Calvin writes: “The world … has not yet attained six thousand years” (Institutes I.14.1). Elsewhere he talks of those who mock the Bible’s teaching on predestination, the Trinity, and biblical chronology: “They will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe” (III.21.4). And, in his commentary on Daniel, Calvin recommends Oecolampadius’s work on biblical chronology.

Archbishop Ussher famously developed a chronology of the world, which is sometimes ridiculed, but he wasn’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.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:51 pm | Discuss (16)

16 Responses to “The Light of the Reformation?”

  1. Jake Belder Says:

    Thanks for this insightful post, John. That is very helpful. Maybe I am naïve (although I see I have the Reformers on my side!), but I have little problem with accepting these things at face value.

  2. matthew Says:

    Hi John

    Thanks for this. It was JBJ’s article vs. the Warfield/Green position that convinced me of the chronological accuracy of the Genesis genealogies. From there, it was, for me, only a small step to a traditional 6 day young earth reading of Genesis.


  3. café de soirée Says:

    The Credibility of the Genesis Record…

    This will not be an in-depth look at the scholarship dealing with the reliability of the Genesis record from an historical standpoint, but instead more of a personal response to it. I was prompted to think about this because of a post a few days ago …..

  4. Justin Says:

    I enjoyed your post, and while I respect your views here, it seems like you might be missing the argument on some of these points. Particularily #2. You say,

    “because we think it’s absurd that Abraham’s ancestors would still have been living when he was born, we must conclude that there are gaps in the genealogy. But why should we think that it is absurd for Abraham’s ancestors to have been living when Abraham was born? What is strange about that?”

    What is strange about it, is that Genesis itself places great weight on the fact that Abe and Sarai will conceive a child in their “old age” (hardly old, if Shem is still alive at 300 or so). Abe and Sarai also find the idea laughable (literally, in Sarai’s case). It’s not that modern day readers find it odd, its that the feeling within the text itself is that this is a long time before Abraham’s day (at least in my opinion). What would have been the big deal with Abraham having a child at 100 or so, if this was in the same period as Shem, etc.? I first heard this interpretation via Meredith Kline, and it has stuck with me since. The two just dont go together s being in the same time period.

    Also, I don’t know if the entry did not mention this, but the geneaologies appear to be stylized. The Messianic line consists of two geneologies (one before the flood, and one after the flood). Each contains 10 names, and each ends with the last name having three sons, one of which carries on the Messianic line. Of course, this is not any sort of proof that the geneaologies are incomplete, but I would think it would at least raise the question that there may be literary technique here. I certainly dont think that impinges on the history of the account.

    In any case, please dont take this as a criticism, it just appears as if the entry you are referencing isn’t giving you a complete case for why so many have and do read these geneologies as being more than just a straightforward all-complete list.

    God bless.

  5. John Barach Says:

    Welcome to my blog, Justin.

    I understand your argument, but I don’t find it persuasive.

    You say that Shem would have been 300 or so. Actually, according to the chronology in Genesis 11, he might have been about 490 years old, depending on exactly how old Terah was when Abraham was born. But I don’t think that strengthens your case.

    Shem was 100 years old when he begot Arphaxad (Gen. 11:10), which was two years after the Flood. For whatever reason, Shem married before the Flood but either didn’t have a child until after the Flood or at least didn’t have a child that survived the Flood.

    But Shem is the only one in the genealogy in Genesis 11 that begets a son at such an advanced age. All the others, with the exception of Terah, begot their significant sons when they were in their late twenties or early thirties. It appears that there is a significant change after the Flood.

    Compared to them, then, and even compared to Terah, Abraham was unusually old to be having his first son when he was 100.

    But really Abraham’s age is beside the point. It’s actually Sarah’s age that matters, since she was the one who was past menopause. And the thing that makes her laugh is precisely that: She knew what that change in her body meant. She knew it meant that she couldn’t have children.

    As for the fact that the genealogies appear to be stylized, I can’t argue with that. In fact, they appear to be contrived. But the question is who contrived them. Was it the author of Genesis? Or was it God? Why not the latter?

    Besides, the number of generations (10 and 10) is really not the point. Even if, to make the number of generations work out to exactly 10 and 10, the author of Genesis did skip a generation, that doesn’t affect the chronology.

    That is, even if “Arphaxad begot Salah” means “Arphaxad became the ancestor of Salah” (skipping all the generations in between), it doesn’t matter for the chronology. Scripture still tells us that when this event took place, when Salah was born, Arphaxad was thirty-five years old and that after this event, Arphaxad lived another four hundred and three years.

    But of course, as soon as we point out that Arphaxad was thirty-five when Salah was born, we can see that there can be no intervening generations. It’s hard to make Arphaxad Salah’s grandfather at thirty-five years of age!

  6. Justin Says:

    Again, I don’t know who you are reading that holds the position that these are incomplete geneologies, but you are either misunderstanding their positon or unintentionally misrepresenting it.

    Shem had a son at 100, but he then went on to have “other sons and daughters” during his next 500 years. The same for Apharxad (403 years after his firstborn), Shelah (403 years), Eber (430 years), & on down the line. I won’t speculate on when they each stopped having children, but to say that they were living 500 years but weren’t having children after 35 years or so seems like an exercise in trying to fit the text into a preconceived notion, at least to me. The text itself certainly doesnt limit their childbearing to any certain age.

    As for Abraham and Sarah, it unequivocally is NOT just about Sarah. In Genesis 17, Abraham says “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

    The point is that the situation with Abram and Sarah is clearly not normative, and is in fact a miracle. It simply would not be a miracle if Shem is still walking around at 600 or so, and Arphaxad is still living out his 400 or so years having other sons and daughters all during the same time period.

    I agree with you that the chronology of the genealogies is, er, chronological. I don’t know anyone who is suggesting otherwise! 🙂 Yet, you keep on painting the picture as if to say that unless these genealogies are complete and include every name, they are “not accurate”. That simply doesn’t seem to be the normal way of reading a Biblical geneaology. Many genealogies in the Bible are schematized, leave out names, etc. Are they “not accurate”? Is Matthew’s genealogy accurate, when it clearly leaves out names and is following a pattern?

    One more thing, and then I’ll shut up. 🙂 your final comment says,

    “That is, even if “Arphaxad begot Salah” means “Arphaxad became the ancestor of Salah” (skipping all the generations in between), it doesn’t matter for the chronology. Scripture still tells us that when this event took place, when Salah was born, Arphaxad was thirty-five years old and that after this event, Arphaxad lived another four hundred and three years.”

    It is statements like these that cause me to wonder if you have really considered the other view. No one who believes that the genealogies are incomplete is asserting anything like this. Do you really believe that Bruce Waltke, Gordon Wenham, Victor Hamilton, BB Warfield, etc just missed this out? If “Arphaxad begot Salah” can be read as “Arphaxad became the ancestor of Salah” (which I’m not sure if you are agreeing is a possible interpretation or not), then we have no idea how old Arphaxad was when Salah was born, or if he was even alive. We are just told that at X years of age, X fathered the line that ended up at X.

    Sorry for the long post. God bless.

  7. John Barach Says:

    Thanks for the interaction, Justin.

    With regard to the age of the various men at the birth of their children, you’re right: All we know is the age they were when they begot the one particular son who is named. They then begot other sons and daughters.

    But for how long? You say that you won’t speculate. That’s fine.

    But there’s no reason to assume that it continued for the rest of their lives. There’s no reason to conclude that for five hundred years after begetting Arphaxad, Shem kept begetting children. It’s not unlikely that he had some children in the twenty or thirty years after begetting Arphaxad.

    There’s no textual reason, in other words, to believe that Shem had children when he was over 200 years old, or that Salah, who was thirty when he begot Eber, kept begetting children until shortly before he died 403 years later. It’s just as possible that he kept begetting children until he was 65 and then stopped because his wife went through menopause.

    As for Abraham and Sarah, Abraham is amazed that a man who is 100 years old will have a child. But is that because men that age can’t father children? Even today, I think, men that age can still father children, provided the woman involved is young enough to do so.

    Besides, Abraham had no problem fathering Ishmael. That didn’t take a miracle. Nor did he have a problem fathering a bunch of kids after Isaac.

    The amazement comes because he has been called “Father” for so many years without a child and now at last, when he’s 100 years old, he’s going to be able to have a son with his wife, who is past menopause.

    And so “by faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11).

    Toward the end, you agree that the chronology is chronological. I’m not sure what you have in mind there. Of course, it’s in chronological order. The question is whether the text gives us a chronology from Noah to Abraham, the exact number of years between the two, or whether there are gaps so that we can never know how many years transpired between them. I assumed that I was affirming the former and you were affirming the latter.

    I am not saying that these genealogies have to include every name in order to be completely accurate. There are genealogies in Scripture that skip generations, although all the examples you can point to (e.g., Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus) are genealogies without chronologies.

    As for “begot” meaning “became the ancestor of,” I was taking the date to refer to the date the child was born. It appears now that you’re taking it to mean something else. Do you think it can possibly mean “Arphaxad lived 35 years and begot [a son who became the ancestor of] Salah”?

    If that’s what you have in mind, can you show me an example from somewhere else in Scripture where we have a chronology like this and where that’s what “X begot Y” means?

    Certainly that’s not what “Seth lived 105 years and begot Enosh” means in Genesis 5:6, since we’re told in Genesis 4 that Enosh was indeed Seth’s son.

    So, too, in the phrase “Terah lived 70 years and begot Abrham, Nahor, and Haran” the word “begot” means “became the father of.”

    Why would we assume that it means something different elsewhere in these passages, especially when everything is tied to the date at which the child was born?

    In the end, it seems most natural to me to take these dates as a genuine chronology, so that we can calculate the number of years from creation to Noah, and from Noah to Abraham.

    On the view that there are gaps in the chronology, what is the point of recording the years that X became the father of the line that led to Y?

  8. Justin Says:

    Thank you for responding.
    You say,

    “But there’s no reason to assume that it continued for the rest of their lives. There’s no reason to conclude that for five hundred years after begetting Arphaxad, Shem kept begetting children.”

    Right, but there’s no reason to assume that they did not either. 🙂 I don’t think that it pushes you either way BY ITSELF. Reading it in the light of the Abraham story that comes next, I would say, DOES push you over the edge of saying this could not have been the same time period. It doesn’t prove it, it just pushes the reader that way (in my opinion).

    If you want to hear a good defense of the view that these genealogies are incomplete, I would suggest Meredith Kline’s “Kingdom Prologue” or Bruce Waltke’s Genesis commentary. I won’t pretend to be able to do a better job than they do. 🙂


    “As for “begot” meaning “became the ancestor of,” I was taking the date to refer to the date the child was born. It appears now that you’re taking it to mean something else. Do you think it can possibly mean “Arphaxad lived 35 years and begot [a son who became the ancestor of] Salah”?

    If that’s what you have in mind, can you show me an example from somewhere else in Scripture where we have a chronology like this and where that’s what “X begot Y” means?”

    Well, yes, actually I can.

    Matthew 1:8 tells us that Joram fathered Uzziah. However, in 1st
    Chronicles 3:11-12 we find that Joram fathered Ahaziah, who
    fathered Joash, who fathered Amaziah, who begot Uzziah who was
    also called Azariah. To see that Uzziah was also called Azariah
    compare 2nd Kings 14:21-22 with 2nd Chronicles 26:1-2.

    Matthew knew most of his readers would know Joram was the great,
    great grandfather of Uzziah.

    Matthew 1:11 says that Josiah was Jeconiah’s father. However, 1st
    Chronicles 3:15-16 tells us that Josiah fathered Jehoiakim, who
    begot Jeconiah.

    In Genesis 46:18 we find that Zilpah bore 16 persons to Jacob. How
    many babies did Zilpah herself physically give birth to? Just two,
    Gad and Asher. Genesis 30:9-13. However, Zilpah bore to Jacob:
    sixteen descendants. Genesis 46:16-18.

    Canaan, Noah’s grandson, begot several nations according to Genesis
    10:15-18. Naturally Canaan begot the ancestors from whom these
    nations eventually came.

    (pasted from another source)

    It’s not really up for debate whether or not the “x begot Y” language can mean “descendeant”. Again, many (if not pretty much all) of our best Old Testament scholars would affirm this. Do you tyhink that they are just being dishonest?

    In any case, that will probably be my last post on this. I appreciate you letting me interact with your position. I’m glad we can talk through these things in a respectful manner. I enjoy your blog and hope that you keep it up!

  9. John Barach Says:

    Re. Kids in Old Age

    I had said there was no reason to assume the men of Genesis 5 and 11 kept having kids into their old age. You said there’s no reason to assume they didn’t.

    On the other hand, right now we don’t keep having children into our old age. We have them in a clump, generally between twenty and fifty, even though that’s only half our lives.

    In the time between Noah and Abraham, it appears that men were having kids about the same time we are, though they lived longer.

    But given that lifespans were dropping and people were having children long before Shem did, it doesn’t seem strange to me that Sarah could have gone into menopause some time before she reached 90.

    (At the same time, she was clearly still a beautiful woman, given the interest men took in her. That also indicates that the time of Abraham was not a period where people’s lifespans and bodily deterioriation was the same as it is for us today.)

    Re. “Begot”

    I asked for proof that “begot” could mean “begot the person who became the ancestor of…” Your response, however, missed my point. You listed a number of passages in which we are told that “X begot Y” when X is actually the ancestor of Y.

    I grant you that that’s what “X begot Y” means in those passages. But the question is whether X could be said to have begotten Y at the time when X begot Y’s father or grandfather or great-grandfather.

    Let me try to make the question clearer. I have a six-month old son named Vance, a son I begot. Many years from now, my son may get married and have a son of his own. Let’s call that grandson “Bob” for the sake of the argument.

    Right now, you can say “John begot Vance.” You can also say “John was 38 years old when he begot Vance.” But right now, you can’t say “John begot Bob,” because Bob hasn’t been born yet. I won’t have begotten Bob until Bob is actually born.

    A hundred years from now, you could look back and say (in keeping with the biblical example) “John begot Bob,” because I am Bob’s ancestor. But could you say “John was 38 years old and he begot Bob”?

    No, I don’t think so. “Begot” (YLD) in the Bible is a verb that has to do with birth. When used of women it means “bore”; when used of men we render it as “begot.” But it has to do with the birth of a child.

    If you say, “John was 38 years old and he begot Vance,” that makes sense. That was my age when Vance was born. But if you say, “John was 38 years old and he begot Bob,” that doesn’t make sense because Bob wasn’t born when I was 38.

    So that’s what I need an example of. I don’t need an example of “X begot Y” meaning “X was the ancestor of Y.” I need an example where X’s age at the time he begot Y is actually his age at the time he begot Y’s ancestor. And I don’t think such an example exists.

    The straightforward way of reading the passage is to take it as saying that X was a certain age at the time that he begot Y, that is, at the time that Y was born.

    That is certainly what it means when Scripture tells us that Seth was 105 years old and begot Enosh (Gen. 5:6). It means that Enosh was born when Seth was 105 years old. So what would compel us to read the rest of the chronology differently?

    In the absence of a compelling reason to do, it seems best to me to take these chronologies to mean what they mean in the case of Seth: They are giving the age the father was at the time the son was born.

    And even if there was a gap in the genealogy, such that X was actually Y’s grandfather, the chronology still gives us X’s age at the time he begot Y, which is to say, at the time Y was born.

    One other thought: On your reading, Genesis 5 and 11 are giving us discrete stories about particular men with no chronology linking them.

    So we are told that X was a certain age when he begot Y, but that really means that X was a certain age when he begot someone who eventually (who knows how many years later) fathered Y. And then we are told that X lived a certain number of years after that.

    But there’s no link. We can’t get from X’s years to Y’s years to Z’s years because, on your view, there could have been gaps of hundreds of years between X and Y.

    In that case, what is the point of the chronological information? I suppose you might say that the point is in the ideas conveyed by those numbers (declining age after the flood, for instance, or a possible link with astronomical phenemonen, if you follow Barnouin as Wenham seems to).

    But what you can’t ever get is an accurate chronology from Adam to Abraham because the numbers don’t link up.

    That is certainly not the impression that a reading of the text would give. There is a chronological link between Seth and Enosh. We know exactly how old Seth was when Enosh was born. And the impression given by that first example is that the same thing is going to hold true all the way through the genealogies.

    Given that there’s no Scriptural evidence against such an impression, why not accept that Genesis 5 and 11 really does mean to give us, not only a genealogy but also a chronology from Adam to Abraham?

    Thanks again for the interaction. If you do post again, I’d be glad if you’d introduce yourself. And I’m very glad to hear that you’ve been enjoying the blog.


  10. Jon Says:

    Hi! I’ve read your recent correspondence with Justin (comments above). I’m a young-earth creationist, so they’ve encouraged me. More importantly, I’m a Christian from a Reformed church.

    I have just one or two questions or comments, but I don’t want to take a lot of time with them; then maybe you don’t want to, either.

    First, what do you make of the “nice numbers”? You had agreed that the two chronologies of Genesis 5 and 11 did seem contrived because of the matching number of generations and other similarities. But the numbers that the text explicitly gives are interesting in themselves. Especially in the first geneology, the last digit is usually either 0 or 5. Statistically this phenomenon doesn’t happen; the numbers as recorded would have such a low probability as not to occur–maybe sort of the same as macro-evolution! (No, not that bad!) So would you agree that the historian was rounding some numbers? But then why not all the numbers?

    Second, I had tried doing a little Internet research. I got many Internet skeptics on the question, but I found very little Christian support. The question is this: what do you understand that God did on the second day of creation? What did He actually create?

  11. Jon Says:

    I’m sorry–I’ve found an answer to my second question on your own site (next paragraph). My basic problem is that the numerous mockers on the Internet point out that the more-or-less contemporary Babylonian cosmology of a solid firmament quickly explains away all the problems that we see today. And it does. So many Bible verses (not just in Genesis) which don’t otherwise seem to make sense do make sense in terms of the Babylonian cosmology. Of course, we don’t believe the Babylonian cosmology because men have been on the moon, etc.

    You said, “The firmament is between the waters above and the waters below. The firmament includes everything we call ‘outer space,’ since the sun, moon, and stars will be placed in the firmament on Day 4. The waters above the firmament reappear later in Scripture as the sea below God’s throne (e.g., Rev. 4:6).”

  12. John Barach Says:

    Hello, Jon, and welcome to the site.

    I’ll take your questions in reverse order. On the second day, God created the “firmament,” which He then named “heavens” after the original heavens He created in Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning God created the heavens [first] and [then] the earth.”

    We don’t need to buy into Babylonian cosmology here at all. I suspect that the Babylonian cosmology is a corruption of the truth. I don’t think that Genesis 1 was written against the backdrop of Babylonian (or indeed, any other) cosmology. I don’t believe it is polemical, aimed at rejecting some form of paganism. On the contrary, I believe it is original, and probably revealed to Adam shortly after he was created.

    What the firmament is, however, isn’t easy to say. It may have started out very thin, just a small separation in the midst of the waters on earth, with waters above it and waters below it. But certainly by Day 4 it has expanded so that it includes everything we call “outer space.” And now the “waters above” the firmament are the throne waters at the edge of the Day 1 heaven.

    The Day 2 heaven, the firmament, is named after the Day 1 heaven because it reflects and represents the Day 1 heaven to us. We learn something about Heaven from looking up at the heavens.

    (Similarly, the first thing called “day” in the Bible is not the 24-hour period but is, rather, the period of light. But the whole 24-period, including the time of darkness, is then called “day,” which means that it’s named after the light-time. As well, the dry land is named earth, which means that it is named after the entire planet — indeed, the entire universe, including the waters and the firmament, all of which is called “earth” in Genesis 1:1. There is theological significance in these renamings.)

    Now to your first question….

    I think the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 are “contrived” only in the sense that they have been designed by God Himself. I don’t believe that they are rounded off. For one thing, the numbers work out perfectly so that Methuselah dies in the year of the Flood and not after (as in some of the ancient versions, which modified these numbers).

    I can’t go into great detail here. If you want more, check out James Jordan‘s “A Chronological and Calendrical Commentary on the Pentateuch,” which goes into a lot more detail. But here’s the gist.

    The numbers are written in a distinctive way, different from the way such ages are written in most other passages in the Bible. The effect is to separate the hundreds from the rest of the number.

    When we look at those remainders, we find that virtually every number ends in 0, 2, 5, 7, or 9. In fact, every number is composed of 10s, 5s, and 7s. 5 + 7 = 12, which is certainly a significant number in the Bible. Interestingly, counting from both Adam and from Noah, the 5th, 7th, 10th, and 12th person in the genealogy is significant in some way. And if you add up the total years of all the patriarchs, including Noah’s 950, you get 8575 years (5 x 5 x 7 x 7 x 7). Something seems to be going on here.

    I haven’t read the work of M. Barnouin, but you can find a summary of it in Jordan and also in Gordon Wenham’s commentary. Barnouin thinks that there is some astronomical significance to these years.

    The most obvious one is Enoch, who lived 365 years, and 365 days is a solar year. But Jared lived 962 years, which corresponds to the sum of the synodic period of Venus (584 days) and Saturn (378 days). And so on.

    Jordan discusses the possible significance of this in terms of biblical symbolism, given what Scripture says about the symbolic correspondence between stars/planets and rulers, God’s people being “seated in the heavenlies,” Abraham’s descendants being “like the stars,” Joseph’s dream of his brothers as stars, and so forth.

    Again, I don’t know if all of this is behind these numbers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s something to this stuff.

    At any rate, the short answer is that the numbers do work out nicely, I don’t think they’re rounded off by the author, but I do think they were contrived by THE Author, even if we don’t yet fully know why.

    Hope this helps!

  13. Jon Says:

    Going by my immediate reactions, I would say that your two answers had opposite effects on me.

    The first encouraged me greatly. A former pastor had taught me in a sermon that the creation accounts are original, having obviously in some way come from God Himself (as Adam was not there to witness it). Somehow I had forgotten this key point that you have now made. That Babylonian cosmology is a corruption makes perfect sense. Re-reading Genesis 1 with your interpretation restores all the grandness that C.S. Lewis was able to summon in his creation of Narnia. Of course, it’s so much more grand because it’s true and it comes from God Himself.

    Sure, the earth is only a speck in the universe, but it’s God’s centre of the universe, and why should it not have been the original centre too?

    Your second answer, while it interested me greatly, discouraged me. If God did indeed give and take human lives to create the mathematically pleasing chronology so generative of additional meaning (in the Arabic decimal number system which He has been pleased to continue to the present day), then of course He was wise and excellent to do so. But while I confess that God does not act in a capricious or silly way, I have always thought that the modern Bible-code-finding prophets are silly. God tells us with words what He means; we don’t have to analyze for a hidden meaning behind the text. So the creation accounts are simply given in language that children can understand. I also know that there are obviously symbolic numbers in the Bible, but I still am not willing to accept an entire actual chronology with such beautiful numbers as being part of the intended symbolism. (The numbers in the book of Revelation are merely symbolic, right?) Or maybe I just need to think about the matter more and let it sink in… I certainly don’t think that we should give serious treatment to such observations as “Jared lived 962 years, which corresponds to the sum of the synodic period of Venus (584 days) and Saturn (378 days).” Unless such scientific knowledge was common at the time, what spiritual enlightenment could this observation bring to anyone then? (Or to us today?) God doesn’t try to hide His meaning from us–except in the parables of Jesus, everyday stories which obviously have a spiritual meaning.

    Thanks so much for your help.

  14. John Says:

    I’m sorry to have discouraged you by my second answer, Jon.

    Let me divide that answer into two parts, the first of which may re-encourage you and the second of which may mitigate your discouragement, I hope.

    First, you asked if I thought the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 might have been rounded off. The short answer is, “No.”

    There is no reason to assume that any of them have been rounded off — though we also shouldn’t assume that when it says Noah was “a son of 500 years” and had Shem, Ham, and Japheth that it means that they were triplets, all born in the same year. For that matter, the order of their names given at the end of Genesis 5 isn’t their birth order either.

    Second, the decimal system is not strictly Arabic. It’s human. We have ten fingers for counting. But it’s also the system that is used in Genesis, which dates back long before there were Arabs.

    As for symbolic numbers, we do find them in Scripture. In fact, we find lots and lots of them, and Scripture rubs our faces in them from time to time.

    We would all agree, I think, that 12 is a significant and symbolic number, usually associated with Israel. When Jesus picks twelve apostles, he’s indicating that He is forming a new Israel around them.

    40 is a significant number. Think of the 40 days and 40 nights, the 40 years in the wilderness, Moses’ 40 days on the mountain, Elijah’s 40 days, Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.

    7 is clearly a significant number, and its significance, having to do with fullness and rest, comes, of course, from the seven days of creation.

    We could continue. Time would fail me to tell of 3 (ever notice how many 3s there are in the Samson account?) or 4 (four rivers in the Garden, four corners of the earth) or 6 (or 666) or 8 (Noah’s eight souls, circumcision on the eighth day, eighth day washings, resurrection on the eighth day) or 70 (70 nations of the world in Genesis 10).

    When we talk about the perspicuity of the Bible, we do not mean that a child can easily understand everything in them, nor do we mean that an adult can either. We don’t mean that they’re easy to understand at all.

    As one of my friends has said, you can’t read very far in the Bible before you run into the “deep weird.” And that’s what Scripture teaches us to expect: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search out a matter.” And the Bible gives us things that are tough to figure out so that we’ll wrestle with them and grow up to kingship.

    Symbolic numbers are one of those things. We can read the accounts in Genesis 5 and 11 and say, “Well, that’s straightforward.” And it is. Enoch really did live 365 years.

    But we are also allowed to ask, “Why exactly are the numbers like this?” We may not be able to give definite answers.

    Barnouin’s suggestion regarding the synodic years of various planets may not be correct. They are suggestions.

    I suspect he may have noticed, as many, many, many commentators point out, that Enoch’s life is exactly the number of days it takes the earth to circle the sun. That is something that anyone living in Enoch’s time could have figured out, too. Is it significant? Maybe.

    I imagine that from there, he began to think of other planets that are visible from earth with the naked eye: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. You can trace the progress of these planets against the background of the “fixed stars” and you can see how long they take until they return to their starting point. Barnouin is not relying on modern science but on the kind of thing that a person in Noah’s day, looking up at the heavens, could have figured out.

    Is he right? Again, I say, I don’t know. But he might be. That’s worth thinking about.

    I can’t go into all the details here, but the planets are in the firmament, the firmament has to do with mediation between heaven and earth, and the mediatorial line is the line of Seth. If a Cainite wanted to draw near to God, he would have had to come to the ones who were building altars and calling on God (Gen. 4).

    If their ages correspond to the movements of the planets, that would be another link between them and the firmament. And, since the planets (“stars”) were put in the firmament on Day 4 to rule and since stars elsewhere in Scripture symbolize rulers, this link between the godly men of old and the planets might imply that they were rulers. From a fleshly perspective, you’d say that Lamech and his ilk were really ruling while the godly were being persecuted. But biblically, the righteous rule, as they worship God, call out to Him for help and for judgment, announce His judgments, and humbly serve.

    That seems possible to me. Not definite. Not proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. But possible.

    But this is also the farthest thing from the “Bible code” sort of people who play games with the words and letters in Scripture to try to discover new meanings (“Let’s see: take every seventh letter in this passage and we have BRK. Aha! The next president is Barack Obama!”). It’s also the farthest thing from trying to use these numbers to predict the course of history, as some Bible code types try to do.

    Instead, it’s an attempt to deal with the fact that Scripture chose to include these numbers; that the numbers do seem to involve a lot of 10s, 5s, and 7s; and that there are often symbolic correspondences between things in Scripture such as stars and rulers and so forth.

    Hope this helps!

  15. Jon Says:

    Thanks for your quick and lengthy response. I’ll have to think about it, and maybe read it again later.

    Off-topic, but I just thought of something–it’s interesting, also perverted, that the stars, which have the God-given purpose of keeping time, are now used by evolutionists in an attempt to extrapolate backwards and calculate an infinite age for the universe. Of course, the evolutionists work from different assumptions, which make all the difference.

  16. John Says:

    Let me add a couple comments, Jon.

    First, I’m not yet persuaded of Barnouin’s thesis. For one thing, while it may be the case that some of the men in Genesis 5 and 11 lived lives which correspond in length to the sums of the synodic periods of some planets, I haven’t yet seen an argument that all of those men did. In other words, you can point to Jared as an example of what Barnouin is claiming, but what about the other guys?

    So before buying Barnouin’s thesis, I’d want to see more argument, more evidence. Plus, I’m always cautious about any claim that suggests that to really understand this bit of Scripture I need that piece of evidence from outside Scripture.

    If Barnouin is correct, then I can see how the things he points to fit with other things that Scripture teaches (e.g., the star symbolism).

    If Barnouin is not correct, then I’m sure that God has some other purpose for recording the number of years these men lived, and recording them in the somewhat unusual way He did, and we can keep talking about what those reasons might be.

    About your other comment: You’re right.

    The evolutionists, of course, think the stars came first and the earth came along later and there’s no intentional connection between the stars and the earth.

    The Bible teaches that the earth was first, that light came before the stars, and that the sun, moon, and stars were created for the sake of earth.

    Interestingly, it might appear from that description that the Bible is more focused on man and on earth, and in a proper sense that’s true. The evolutionist approach reduces earth to a speck in the universe and man to a fluke.

    But I think Gary North is also correct (in “From Cosmic Purposelessness to Humanistic Sovereignty”) when he points out the switch the evolutionists make: They start out speaking about the cosmic insignificance of earth and about man as a fluke, as I said above, but then since nothing has God-imposed meaning and significance the only significance there really is and the only purpose there is in the universe is man’s. Man has come on the scene as the first purposeful being (that we know about) and so man now can begin to steer evolution and rule. Eliminating God and His purpose is ultimately in order to exalt man and his purposes.

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