By Rodney N. Kirby, #10 “Genesis and Ancient History, Part 2”
Text — Genesis 5, 11
Last month, we began showing the necessity for Christian history teachers to reconstruct their subject matter on the foundation of Scripture. We saw how Genesis 4 teaches many things about ancient history which go contrary to the generally accepted (evolutionary) view of history.
This month, we turn to Genesis 5 and 11 to see another aspect of ancient history. Having dismissed evolution as being unbiblical, the Christian teacher will also dismiss the dating scheme of the evolutionists. There will simply be no need for the billions of years required by evolution. So that brings up the question, “How old is the world?”
The Institute for Creation Research and other creationist organizations have done much helpful work in this area. They have shown how the dating methods used by evolutionists are based on faulty assumptions. They have also shown that other dating methods point to a young earth. The Christian teacher, particularly teachers of history, geology, and archaeology, must not ignore the work of these scholars.
While this work is invaluable, it must nevertheless be kept in its place. Creationist scientific findings are based on untested, non-scientific assumptions the same as are evolutionary dating methods. In a sense, the evidence for a young earth is no more “scientific” than that for an old earth. The validity of evidence is dependent upon one’s religious presuppositions. Neither position is neutral. As Christians, our presupposition is the truthfulness of God’s Word. We do not use science to show the truth of Scripture; rather, we use Scripture to show the truth of any particular scientific finding. Thus, to know which of the many dating methods are most accurate, we must know what Scripture teaches about the ages of the earth.
Genesis 5 and 11 would seem to furnish us with the data needed to calculate the age of the earth. We are given the number of years from one generation to the next, from Adam to Abraham. Other Biblical data help us to locate Abraham chronologically, and so it is a simple matter of counting backwards from Abraham to find the age of the earth. For further reference, see Martin Anstey, Chronology of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1973).
However, many Christians object to such a procedure. They say that it is illegitimate to use Genesis 5 and 11 to construct a chronology, for that is not the purpose of these chapters. The purpose is, rather, to show God’s faithfulness in guarding the Messianic line; to show the fulfilment of Gen. 2:17 by repeating “and he died;” and to show by the shorter lifespans after the flood “the tightening grip of the Edenic curse upon the human body” (John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1961; p. 477). Whitcomb and Morris devote an appendix in this book to this very question, and list eight objections to the position we are presenting. We will deal with a few of these.
First, the idea that chronology is not “the purpose” of these chapters has no weight. Whitcomb and Morris give five purposes; this does not, however, eliminate the possibility of a sixth—the construction of a chronology. In one sense, Scripture does have only one purpose—to make the man of God “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II rim. 3:17). However, the preceding verse lists four “sub-purposes” of Scripture—doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Scripture is like a many-faceted jewel—we may look at it in many different lights to gain different insights, to equip us for every good work. Thus, although the overall purpose of Moses in including chapters 1 and 11 in Genesis may not have been to present a chronology, we are not hindered thereby from making such an application. The presence of “irrelevant information” (Whitcomb and Morris, p. 476f.), the fact that chapters 5 and 11 are symmetrical (p. 475f.), and the fact that the number of years are not totalled by Moses (p. 474f.) are thus irrelevant objections.
The objection that “the postdiluvian patriarchs could not have been contemporaries of Abram” (p. 477f.) is merely an unfounded assumption, as is the notion that there must have been many centuries between the tower of Babel and Abram (p. 478f.). It is also mentioned that the term “begat” sometimes refers to ancestral relationships (p. 481-483). Whitcomb does give examples of such usage elsewhere; we do not question this. But this does not mean we are warranted in reading Gen. 5 and 11 this way, without other evidence (Biblical evidence, that is).
Besides, even if the relationship between say, Seth and Enosh (Gen. 5:6) spans a missing generation or two, it still is the case that Seth was 105 years old at the birth of Enosh, whether he was his son, grandson, or great-grandson. If not, the Biblical record is false here. Also, the parallel with other Biblical genealogies breaks down. Other genealogies do not have the age at the birth of the next generation given, as we have here (X lived Y years, and begat). Contrast chapters 5 and 11 with, say, Gen. 10. The fact that the ages are given makes this record distinct from the others, and we must take care when we draw parallels with other accounts.
The only truly substantive objection comes by way of Luke 3:36, where “Cainan” appears after Arphaxad and before Salah (cf. Gen. 11:12). This could indicate a missing generation, thus implying other missing generations elsewhere. Also, there is hardly time to insert Cainan into Gen. 11:12 without stretching the time, for Arphaxad would then be 35 at the birth of his grandson Salah—a fact which, while conceivable, is not likely.
There are two possible ways to look at this. First, perhaps there should be an additional generation inserted here, based on Luke 3:36. This, however, does not necessitate discarding the whole chronological scheme of Gen. 5 and 11. We are only warranted in inserting a “missing link” where we have other Biblical evidence. This is what is done with regard to the other genealogies; we do not go around finding gaps everywhere we would like one, but note gaps only on the basis of other Biblical evidence. This is the only place in Gen. 5 and 11 where such a “missing link” might be indicated. This would add only about 30-35 years to the total (based on the average age of childbearing in the context).
Second, Luke, writing in a Greek context, would most likely have used the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, as his source. The Septuagint does have the name of Cainan in Gen. 11:12. Thus, Luke was merely reflecting the Septuagint of his day, not the Hebrew text (no reliable Hebrew texts include Cainan).
Whatever the answer to this question may be, as said above; it does not allow the addition of a significant amount of time to the chronology. It is possible for the Christian teacher to contract an ancient chronology with a high degree of accuracy, whether he places the Creation at 4004 B.C. (with Ussher), or, as others have calculated it, at 4042 B.C. or 3960 B.C., or somewhere in that vicinity. This places a backward time limit on all other historical investigation. This also will locate the Flood (with its resultant geological activity) in time. The teacher must thus reconstruct ancient history within these parameters (following the example of Donovan Courville’s The Exodus Problem, mentioned last month).