Do the Genealogies Allow Us to Date the Events of Genesis 1-11?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

A few Christians have mistakenly supposed that they can use the genealogies in Genesis 5-11 to add up the number of years between Adam and Abraham.  By doing this math, they surmise that the world was created somewhere around 4000 BC.

Hebrew scholars, however, have pointed out that the genealogies are not meant to give exact lineages, such as one might find on ancestor.com.  They often would skip many generations, as they were focused on particular ancestors for particular reasons.

We know that the biblical authors did this.  For example, Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus consists in three sets of 14 generations.  The number 14 was important because 7 was thought to symbolize completion or perfection.  But we know that when Matthew says that “Joram fathered Uzziah,” he omits three generations (see 2 Ch 21:4-26:33) so as to accomplish the desired pattern of 14.  In Hebrew, to say someone “fathered” someone else can also mean that they are an ancestor or forefather of that person.  It does not always mean that they are the parent of the person.

The bottom line is that one has to be very careful with interpreting genealogies in the Bible.  They cannot be used to precisely date any event without other corroborating data.

  • ellie

    It is irrelevant whether a generation or two is skipped. If 130 year passed between the birth of one person to the birth of the next person, then 130 years passed. Whether it is the son or grandson or the great grandson does not matter.

  • SBG

    Exactly right, ellie. The genealogies in Gen 5 and 11 tell us how old each father was when he had his descendant. Adam was 130 when he had Seth. Seth was 105 when he had Enosh. Enosh was 90 when he had Kenan (whether Kenan was Enosh’s son or great-great-grandson). Gen 5 and 11 may have genealogical gaps, but the chronology between Adam and Abraham is intact. The argument for chronological gaps presented in the post above is based on William Henry Green’s 1890 paper in Bibliotheca. But Green failed to demonstrate his assumption that genealogical gaps entail chronological gaps.