Adam to Abraham

More human history happened between Adam and Abraham than any other period. The time implied by this interval is captured in the geneologies of Genesis 5 and 11. The key for finding the right overall time for this interval is hidden away in Luke. That key forces most, but not all, of the life spans in Genesis to be run together end-to-end.

Background

The previous lectures covered foundational issues, counting fatherhood, and how genealogies are decorated with age lengths that are often run together end-to-end. Now it is time to address the trunk time line and at span the time from Adam to Abraham...

SO: "How long was it from Adam to Abraham?"

The raw data we need to answer this question seems rather simple. Genesis chapters 5 and 11 provide genealogies which string together a list of names and life spans. From this we can apparently construct the overarching calendar for this period. The following table contains the data from these chapters in Genesis.

Name Life Span At Fatherhood After Fatherhood
Adam 930 yearsGenesis 5:5 130 yearsGenesis 5:3 800 yearsGenesis 5:4
Seth 912 yearsGenesis 5:8 105 yearsGenesis 5:6 807 yearsGenesis 5:7
Enosh 905 yearsGenesis 5:11 90 yearsGenesis 5:9 815 yearsGenesis 5:10
Kenan 910 yearsGenesis 5:14 70 yearsGenesis 5:12 840 yearsGenesis 5:13
Mahalalel 895 yearsGenesis 5:17 65 yearsGenesis 5:15 830 yearsGenesis 5:16
Jared 962 yearsGenesis 5:20 162 yearsGenesis 5:18 800 yearsGenesis 5:19
Enoch 365 yearsGenesis 5:23 65 yearsGenesis 5:21 300 yearsGenesis 5:22
Methuselah 969 yearsGenesis 5:27 187 yearsGenesis 5:25 782 yearsGenesis 5:26
Lamech 777 yearsGenesis 5:31 182 yearsGenesis 5:29 595 yearsGenesis 5:30

The dates given for Noah are similar to the previous men but the flood interrupts things and takes on the same literary role as fatherhood for the earlier men. The following is what we know about Noah:

Name Life Span At Fatherhood At Flood After Flood
Noah 950 yearsGenesis 9:29 500 yearsGenesis 5:32 600 yearsGenesis 7:6Genesis 7:11 350 yearsGenesis 9:28

Past Noah the structure of Genesis changes. First we're given a specific detail dealing with Shem that will re-sync his life to the flood:

Name At Fatherhood
Shem 2 years after floodGenesis 11:10

From here to Abraham there is only two numbers given for each man. We are not given the total, only the age at fatherhood and the remaining years. The following table summarizes the data provided.

Name At Fatherhood After Fatherhood
Shem 100 yearsGenesis 11:10 500 yearsGenesis 11:11
Arphaxad 35 yearsGenesis 11:12 403 yearsGenesis 11:13
Shelah 30 yearsGenesis 11:14 403 yearsGenesis 11:15
Eber 34 yearsGenesis 11:16 430 yearsGenesis 11:17
Peleg 30 yearsGenesis 11:18 209 yearsGenesis 11:19
Reu 32 yearsGenesis 11:20 207 yearsGenesis 11:21
Serug 30 yearsGenesis 11:22 200 yearsGenesis 11:23
Nahor 29 yearsGenesis 11:24 119 yearsGenesis 11:25

The last fellow before Abraham is Terah and the data given for him is also slightly different. The total life span is given again This is similar to the earlier list and starts to follow a pattern we’ll see again in later generations. The following is what we are given for Terah.

Name Life Span At Fatherhood
Terah 205 yearsGenesis 11:32 70 yearsGenesis 11:26

This data is the raw material given in Genesis that provide the framework for figuring out the amount of time between Adam and Abraham. No where else is there such an exhaustive list, the other lists that do exist only provide names. One of those lists disagrees with the list provided in Genesis. That list is provided in Luke. We turn there now.

Luke’s Objection

Luke chapter 3 echos the chronology of Genesis, but with one important addition. In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, he records Jesus’ genealogy. This genealogy of Jesus starts with Adam, just like Genesis, but there is a difference. Luke’s genealogy does not agree with the genealogy in Genesis. This is a New Testament key to Time in the Bible, a key that removes a veil from proper understanding of the overall chronology of the Bible.

The following table shows the two versions side by side for the family tree through Abraham.

Genesis Genealogy Luke’s Genealogy
Adam Adam
Seth Seth
Enosh Enosh
Kenan Kenan
Mahalalel Mahalalel
Jared Jared
Enoch Enoch
Methuselah Methuselah
Lamech Lamech
Noah Noah
Shem Shem
Arphaxad Arphaxad
* No name given * Cainan
Shelah Shelah
Eber Eber
Peleg Peleg
Reu Reu
Serug Serug
Nahor Nahor
Terah Terah
Abram Abram

Reconciling Genesis and Luke

There is a simple reconciliation between Luke and Genesis, one that has dramatic impact on the chronology implied by the dates given in Genesis alone.

The Hebrew word for father is best translated into English as ancestor. Most modern translations footnote this in the Genesis genealogies. If we take this meaning from the Hebrew genealogy of Genesis, the two lists are in agreement. Arphaxad is the ancestor of Shelah, through, Luke adds, Cainan.

If we accept that these two books of the Bible are in agreement, and they should be, they were both "God Breathed" and are both authoritative, we must decide what God meant by the life lengths provided only in Genesis.

How can the numbers provided in Genesis mean anything useful if Cainan actually lived between Arphaxad and Shelah?

The answer is rather simple. Genesis tells us that Arphaxad became the ancestor of Shelah when he was 35 years old. Genesis 11:12 The man actually born at this point must have been Cainan, or some other unnamed relative, who then became the ancestor of Shelah.

This reconning works with the Hebrew and Greek, and reconciles the genealogy, but when was Shelah born? What number are we to use to determine his first year of life?

The answer is simple. The last year of Arphaxad’s life, the only other number given, must be telling us the start of Shelah’s life.

End to end? Yes.

This is in a pattern used directly in Exodus Chapter 6. Here, in a similar genealogy, only the overall life length is given and we are expected to run them together end-to-end, just like here in Genesis.

So Genesis really says that here are a bunch of men. Each became the ancestor of the next at a certain age. The life span of the next man in the list begins when the previous one ends. This is consistent with the Hebrew, with the New Testament, and with Exodus. It also makes the total amount of time covered by this list much longer than if these generations overlap.

Not all of the generations overlap this way. In an interesting twist in the Hebrew, some of the generations are what we in modern English would call "true father/son" relationships. We turn to those now.

True Sons

Though most of the life lengths given in Genesis are to be run together end-to-end, not all of the life spans work this way. Genesis uses an important literary device to show when there is a true father/son pair as we think of it today.

In Hebrew, a language where the normal word for father also includes the meaning for grand-father and great-grand-father and great-great-grand-father back to any number of generations, a different word must be used to indicate immediate father/son pairs.

These tight pairs happen when the father is said to have named the son. This is something that only immediate fathers do. Adam names SethGenesis 4:25-27, Seth names EnoshGenesis 4:26 and Lamech names Noah Genesis 5:29 so each of these are immediate father son pairs.

There is a forth case. Noah really is the father of Shem. We know this because the family of 8 all ride in the ark together. No other generation went along for that ride.

The fact that these four are specifically identified as having named their sons, and that the author of Genesis deliberately excepts the standard meaning "ancestor" for the Hebrew word for "father" is itself a confirmation that both forms of meaning are used in the Genesis account.

Fathers Name Sons in What Year?

To complicate matters we need to pay attention to the way Genesis tells us about the fathers naming their sons.

Children were not named until they were at least 8 days old. This means that the child was in their first year of life when they were named. This first year of life is the same year as the father whose age is being given at the naming.

This has an important ramification to how the genealogies overlap. Adam named Seth when Adam was in his 130th year. Seth, when he was named, was in his first year. The arithmetic difference between these two ages is 129 years, not 130 as we would quickly leap to if we are not very careful.

Noah’s Sons

Noah presents a further puzzle. At first glance all seems well. The following is the starting point for this.

32And Noah was 500 years old, and Noah bore Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Genesis 5:32

The key word in this verse is after. Compare the text of Genesis 5,3 where the word after does not occur. In Adam/Seth’s time Adam is 130, and Seth is 1, and these are in the same year. Here with Noah’s sons the year before the year of interest is being named. Is it the year 501 when Shem is born? How do we know?

Further details are seen in in other verses. The age relationship between Shem, the son through whom the time sequence is given, is found later. Here is the verse in question.

10These are the generations of Shem. Shem was 100 years old and bore Arphaxad 2 years after the flood. Genesis 11:10

This links the age relationship between Noah and Shem. How? Because in two placesGenesis 7:6 Genesis 7:11 we are told that the flood happened on the earth when Noah was 600 years old. The year after the flood would be Noah’s 601st year. Two years after the flood would be the year that Noah was 602 years old. In this year, then, Shem is 100 years old and the new son is born and is 1 year old.

1 based math usually counts the first year in question. In this case 1 based math works. The flood took two years. Noah’s 600 and 601st years. It was on the 27th day of the 2nd month in Noah’s 601st year when they came out of the ark.Genesis 8:13 This is year 1 in 1 based math. Year 2 is Noah’s 602nd year. The same conclusion as just drawn.

Shem must have had his very first year 99 years earlier. To get Shem’s first year we take Noah’s 602nd year and subtract 99. ( 602 - 99 = 503 ) So Shem is born and has his first year in Noah’s 503rd year.

This is indeed after Noah’s 500th year, but not exactly, and not deducible in any other way. It explains why Shem’s age is given relative to the flood dates.

Abraham’s Birth

Abraham’s original name was Abram. It was changed after the covenant was more firmly established between him and God. Abram’s father was Terah. Terah’s account begins here...

26And Terah lived 70 years, and bore Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Genesis 11:26

Unlike other generations, there is no reason at this generation to think that the birth order is different than that listed, so the assumption is that this is the birth order, Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

Also, this account uses the keyword "after" to indicate that it is not year 70 that is in focus here, but the year 71. The first of Terah’s sons, Abram, must have been born in Terah’s 71st year.

Summary

The details that drive the chronology have all been covered. The following table summarizes the results of the math implied by each of the choices covered in this section.

Not mentioned in this table, but important anyway, is Noah;s flood. This flood happened in 6020 from Adam, and lasted into early 6021.

Though not mentioned, the choice of placing year 1 in Adam’s first year is an epoch selection. This is the starting epoch for all measurements of time relative to Adam.

Name Life Span At Fatherhood After Fatherhood Birth Year Last Year
Adam 930Genesis 5:5 130Genesis 5:3 800Genesis 5:4 1 930
Seth 912Genesis 5:8 105Genesis 5:6 807Genesis 5:7 130 1041
Enosh 905Genesis 5:11 90Genesis 5:9 815Genesis 5:10 234 1138
Kenan 910Genesis 5:14 70Genesis 5:12 840Genesis 5:13 1139 2048
Mahalalel 895Genesis 5:17 65Genesis 5:15 830Genesis 5:16 2049 2943
Jared 962Genesis 5:20 162Genesis 5:18 800Genesis 5:19 2944 3905
Enoch 365Genesis 5:23 65Genesis 5:21 300Genesis 5:22 3906 4270
Methuselah 969Genesis 5:27 187Genesis 5:25 782Genesis 5:26 4271 5239
Lamech 777Genesis 5:31 182Genesis 5:29 595Genesis 5:30 5240 6016
Noah 950Genesis 9:29 500Genesis 5:32 450 5421 6370
Shem 600 100Genesis 11:10 500Genesis 11:11 5923 6522
Arphaxad 438 35Genesis 11:12 403Genesis 11:13 6523 6960
Shelah 433 30Genesis 11:14 403Genesis 11:15 6961 7393
Eber 464 34Genesis 11:16 430Genesis 11:17 7394 7857
Peleg 239 30Genesis 11:18 209Genesis 11:19 7858 8096
Reu 239 32Genesis 11:20 207Genesis 11:21 8097 8335
Serug 230 30Genesis 11:22 200Genesis 11:23 8336 8565
Nahor 148 29Genesis 11:24 119Genesis 11:25 8566 8713
Terah 205Genesis 11:32 70Genesis 11:26 135 8714 8918
Abraham 175Genesis 25:7 100Genesis 17:17 Genesis 21:5 Romans 4:19 75 8784 8958

Notes

This page gets more comments than any other on this website...

If this chronology seems odd, you've probably arrived here directly and not read through the articles ahead.

Please use the menu at the top of this page and back up to the "Theory" section before sending me a question. Those articles explain why most of the Genesis genealogy must be run together end-to-end.

Further Reading

"The Most Important Biblical Discovery of Our Time": William Henry Green and the Demise of Ussher’s Chronology. by Ronald L. Numbers is an article that I did not write that explains the history of the problems with the famous, but flawed, 4004 BC dating of creation. Important foundational document if you are serious about understanding Bible Chronology. I deal with Ussher's mistakes in the immediately previous article here.

A printed copy of this article was dropped on my desk by a student in Bible College who thought I might be interested. I was, you may be also. Ussher has been known wrong for over 150 years.

Once you’ve read that article, and if you still have questions, please use the email address in the About Page to contact me.

I’ll try and answer any specific questions you may have.

Phil Stone, Updated 2016-11-04