Biblical Evidences

The Primeval Chronology

Daniel H. King, Sr.


What is the age of the earth? How long has man been here? Archbishop Ussher (1581-1656) fixed the date of creation at 4004 BC, and Dr. John Lightfoot (1602-75) went so far as to name the day and the hour. What is the foundation of a chronology of this sort? It is the assertion that the "chronologies" of Genesis 5 and 11 do not allow more than a few thousand years from Adam to Abraham. This is figured on the following basis:

The approximate dates for the life of Abraham obtained from the biblical data and archaeology are 2000 to 1700 BC. Abraham is the last generation listed in the genealogy of Gen. 11. Since this genealogy gives the age of each father at the birth of his son, we can calculate the time elapsed from the birth of Shem to the birth of Abraham as about 390 years. Similarly, Shem is the last in the genealogy in Gen. 5. Here too we have the age of each father at the birth of his son, and can calculate the time elapsed from the creation of Adam to the birth of Shem at 1,556 years. Adding the figures obtained from both, the time elapsed from Adam to Abraham is 1,946 years. This figure added to the known approximate date for Abraham results in the conclusion that Adam was created about 4000 BC or slightly more recently.

But are these genealogies complete? Do they intend to give a total chronology of the early history of the world, or merely a listing of the most important names from that era? How can we square this date with the fact that a city like Jericho has had a history of continuous occupation since ca. 9250 BC?

To help us answer these questions we recommend the article by William Henry Green, conservative Princeton scholar, titled "Primaeval Chronology", and reprinted in R. C. Newman and H. J. Eckelmann, Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth, pp. 105-123. Professor Green makes the following points:

1. By a comparison of the genealogies which appear in Scripture it is apparent that omission of unimportant names from such lists is the rule rather than the exception. They are frequently abbreviated and condensed.

A. The omissions in the genealogy of Jesus are familiar to all. In Matt. 1:8, for example, three names are dropped between Joram and Ozias (Uzzia), namely, Ahaziah (2 Kgs. 8:25), Joash (2 Kgs. 12:1) and Amaziah (2 Kgs. 14:1); and in vs. 11 Jehoiakim is committed to the list after Josiah (2 Kgs. 23:34; 1 Chron. 3:16). In vs. 1 the entire genealogy is summed up in two steps: "Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."

B. In 1 Chron. 26:24 we read that Shebuel, son of Gershom, son of Moses was ruler of the treasuries; and again in I Chron. 23:15-16 we find that the sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezar. Of the sons of Gershom, Shebuel was chief. It is absurd to suppose that the grandson of Moses could be living in the reign of David, or that the author of Chronicles was so ignorant as to believe it. Obviously this is a generation or so removed!

C. Ezra 8:1, 2. Here if no abridgement of the genealogy is allowed, we have a great-grandson and a grandson of Aaron and a son of David coming up with Ezra from Babylon after the captivity.

D. In the primaeval genealogy we have this particular: The letter of the record of Genesis 5:3 if we were dependent upon it alone, might naturally lead us to infer that Seth was Adam's first child. But we know from chap. 4 that he had already had two sons, Cain and Abel, and from, 4:17 that he must have had a daughter, and from 4:14 that he had probably had several sons and daughters whose families had swollen to a considerable number before Adam's one-hundred thirtieth year in which Seth was born. Yet of all this, taken at face value, the genealogy gives us no inkling. It is clear that the writer has in mind only to record that name which was significant for the genealogical record, the patriarch of the family history.

It is also significant to observe, that no chronological statements are deduced from these genealogies either in Genesis or elsewhere in the Bible. There is no computation of the elapsed time from the creation to the deluge, as there is for example from the descent into Egypt to the Exodus (Ex. 12:40), or from the Exodus to the building of the Temple ( I Kgs. 6:1 ) as 480 years.

2. Even the use of the terms "father," "son" and "begot" may be shown from scriptural usage to be far broader than we might at first expect. They are often used for persons related at a distance of several generations, and sometimes even of persons not physically related at all. When it is said, for example, that "Enoch lived 90 years and begat Kenan", the well-attested use of the word 'begat' makes this statement equally true and equally accordant with analogy, whether Kenan was himself born when Enoch was 50 or one was born from whom Kenan spring.

3. It is not unprecedented for Scripture to pass over very long periods of time with little or no remark. As an example, the abode of the children of Israel in Egypt for 430 years is passed over with almost no comment. These genealogies may give us a minimum period of time that they cover, but they make no account of the duration.

4. The records of Egyptian civilization seem to preclude a date for the flood in line with the genealogical calculations made above (about 2300 BC). Manetho, an Egyptian who wrote a continuous history of Egypt in Greek at the beginning of the third century BC, lists, between Menes, the first recorded Pharaoh, and Alexander the Great, thirty dynasties with around three hundred and thirty monarchs. The first and second dynasties of Egypt span the period from 3100-2700 BC, and in their successive record from that age and afterward there is no reference to the Flood. The Deluge must have occurred before the Egyptians began recording their dynastic histories. This is a very powerful argument against dating Noah's Flood through the genealogies of Genesis, as though they were complete chronologies.

5. The genealogies of Gen. 5 and 11 have a symmetry which suggests intentional arrangement. Each genealogy includes ten names, Noah being the tenth from Adam, and Terah the tenth from Noah. Compare Matt. 1:17, where there is a 3 x 14 arrangement. Each ends with a father having three sons, as in the case of the Cainite genealogy (4:17-22). Compare also Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-cain (cf. 5:32 and 11:26). The Sethite genealogy (chap. 5) culminates in its seventh member, Enoch "who walked with God, and was not, for God took him." The Cainite genealogy also culminates in its seventh member, Lamech, with his polygamy, bloody revenge, and boastful arrogance. The genealogy descending from Shem divides evenly at its fifth member, Peleg (name means "division"): and it also happens that in his days the earth divided. In Matthew 1 the genealogy is broken up into three periods of 14 generations, each brought about by dropping the requisite number of names from the Old Testament lists. So, it seems that these primitive genealogies are also artfully constructed for purposes of memory rather than proffering precise chronology. The genealogy in chapter 11 is certainly incomplete. The impression we are given in the narrative of Abraham is that the Flood was long since past; yet if the genealogy is taken for a complete chronology, then for 58 years Noah was the contemporary of Abraham, Shem outlived Abraham by 35 years, and Shem, Arphaxad, Selah and Eber not only outlived Peleg, but all of them lived through the generation of Terah! "This conclusion is well-nigh incredible. The calculation which leads to such a result, must proceed upon a wrong assumption" (Green).

His paper closes with the following statement: "On these various grounds we conclude that the Scriptures furnish no data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either of the Flood or of the Creation of the world."

Noted proponents of a recent creation, such as John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, have felt the strength of Green's arguments and the evidence from archaeology, revising the date of creation back to around 10,000 BC or so. This writer is also convinced of the rectitude of Dr. Green's careful research. It is not without good reason that his work is considered by conservative Biblical scholars as the "final word" on the matter.

However, it is a "giant leap" indeed to move from accepting the fact that the genealogies of Genesis and of the Old Testament in general represent only major names in a much longer line of familial succession to believing that millions or even billions of years are explained away by these gaps. In the first place, the gaps in the genealogical records are representative only of the period of human history which such genealogical reckonings address. What took place before the occupation of the planet by human beings (as per the theory which states that long ages passed before the appearance of man) must be explained on some other basis. The fact that gaps frequently occur in human genealogies, which were never intended as absolute chronologies in the first place, does not prove that gaps occurred in the creation week. One must look for proof of such long periods of time in the text of Genesis 1 and 2, not in the gaps in the genealogies, or in the spaces between the verses!


e-mail this author at danielhking@email.msn.com

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