The Words Translated into English "Father" or "Begot"
There are no direct Chronologies in the Bible. This is usually overlooked when people start to use math to compute the year of Adam’s first year.
The Bible does contain genealogies which are decorated with life lengths. These genealogies must be converted into chronologies using a set of intricate grammar rules.
The first rule involves the meaning of the various words that come out as "father" or "begot" in the English used in these passages.
This article shows that these words are better translated "ancestor" (or descendant) when the time aspect of the original word is considered.
By far the biggest single mistake people make when trying to understand the Bible’s original chronology springs from a misunderstanding of the original words that translated into the English words as "begot" or the related words "father" and "son."
In Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek the original word encompasses the meaning of other English words including "Grandfather" to any number of preceding generations.
Translators usually choose to use the word "father" because of the intimacy implied by the word which is not carried in other English word like "ancestor" though this is a much more precise translation. The word translated "son" has a similar problem. Any male descendant to any number of future generations is still just a son.
Discovery of this translation choice can be found by looking up the underlying meaning of the root words, or by reading footnotes in certain translations. In this article we take a different approach and look at how the word is actually used in some ways that define the way the word father (or son) really means ancestor (or descendant).
Perhaps the best place to see the use of the word father is in the Genealogy of Jesus given by Matthew in Chapter 1. The following is the important verses from that larger genealogy that spans Abraham to Joseph.
8Asa bore Jehoshaphat; Jehoshaphat bore Jehoram; Jehoram bore Uzziah;Matthew 1:8
This is in fact not how it happened.
The Old Testament gives a precise account of the Judean Kings. It covers the spiritual highlights of each reign and as an aside gives the details of the family tree. The actual genealogy went like this:
- Jehoshaphat father of JoramSecond Kings 8:16
- Joram father of AhaziahSecond Kings 8:25
- Ahaziah father of JoashSecond Kings 11:2
- Joash father of AmaziahSecond Kings 14:1
- Amaziah father of UzziahSecond Kings 15:1
Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah are three Judean kings missing from Matthew’s account of the same genealogy.
At this point critics of the Bible text often object that the Bible is itself inconsistent. These two lists are not inconsistent. The proper meaning of the word father must be assigned to what Matthew is saying.
The word Matthew is using only means ancestor nothing more. Matthew’s account easily reconciles with Second Kings.
The problem, though, is that we must never assign the meaning of immediate father-son pairs to any use of the modern English word "father" or "begot" unless we have some specific proof that is what actually happened. (This is in fact why the King James Version translators, as well as Lamsa from the Aramaic, deliberately choose not to use father even though that is close to the implied meaning.)
Hebrew Use of Father
A similar problem works the other way. A genealogy in Genesis is repeated again in the New Testament with a name inserted just as the Old Testament inserted several names into Matthew’s genealogy. This unleashes the meaning of "ancestor" on all uses of "father" found in the Old Testament. The following are the relevant texts.
10These are the generations of Shem.Shem was 100 years old and bore Arphaxad 2 years after the flood. 11And after he bore Arphaxad Shem lived 500 years, and bore sons and daughters.
12And Arphaxad lived 35 years, and bore Shelah. 13And after he bore Shelah Arphaxad lived 403 years, and bore sons and daughters. Genesis 11:10-13
Note carefully that Genesis leaves out Cainan between Arphaxad and Shelah. The following is from Luke where he includes Cainan:
35son of Serug, son of Reu, son of Peleg, son of Eber, son of Shelah, 36son of Cainan, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech,Luke 3:35-36
As it is with Aramaic and Greek, the Hebrew word used in Genesis means only ancestor. Only by that definition of the word does the Bible reconcile both genealogies.
I’ve established the underlying word meaning and implied grammar by looking at various genealogies in comparison to each other from the original text.
Grammars for Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek can only be derived from occurrences of text in the Bible, and do not extend to the great age of the Bible’s text itself. The strategy followed here to show the use of genealogies is stronger than use of an original language grammar.
Failure to understand this grammatical clue has lead to grossly incorrect Bible chronologies, including Ussher’s famous and flawed version that placed Adam’s first year in 4004 BC.
There is an historical precedent here. It was over 150 years ago when Biblical apologists first published that Bible Genealogies must work as ancestor only relationships for the text to remain whole, and rational. One example is written up here.
Finding Immediate Father-Son Pairs
Imagine you speak a language where the term father only means father to an indeterminate number of generations. How would you tell someone that you were the immediate father of your son? The problem is so common that there must be a way to say this separately from the abstract father-to-any-level normally implied by the grammar.
The indication that an immediate father/son pair exists, especially in the Genesis account, is to look for references when the father names the son.
Naming children is something that grandfathers, and higher generations, never do, and it is the grammatical clue that generations are directly connected, without unnamed generations in between.
This is the general technique for indicating the ancestor is actually the immediate father of the indicated son. In the Genesis versions of the Genealogies naming occurs in specific generations:
- Adam named Seth.Genesis 5:3
- Seth named Enosh.Genesis 4:26
- Lamech named Noah.Genesis 5:29
These details are not needed if the fathers are always immediate so they add to and support the idea that the tiers in the genealogies are normally separated by unnamed generations.
In these 3 cases, only, are there assurance in the Genesis 5 genealogy that there are no generations skipped.
Note we’re making a leap here, and used the fact that some missing generations show up sometimes, to implying that all tiers in the genealogy have missing generations. It remains to fully confirm this idea using alternate chronologies. That confirmation is supplied in further lectures. In principle, this is the way all of these grand historical genealogies work.
Alternatives for Establishing Immediate Father/Son
There are other techniques for finding the existence of an immediate father/son relationship. Those places are developed in the articles dealing with the overall chronology. In general the other cases are special cases, and based on the situations involved in specific generations.
Source of Common Error
Our purpose here is to point out the meaning of the word "begot" or "father" or "son" when used to establish accurate time-based chronologies usually just means ancestor.
The meaning of this one word is responsible for the significant error found in widely accepted chronologies. Usher’s chronology, the one that suggested 4004 BC as the year of the birth of Adam, is based on the false assumption that all father/son pairs are immediate throughout scripture. They are not.
By comparing various genealogies given in the Bible, this lecture has shown the meaning of the words that construct the genealogy only reliably mean that the there is an ancestor relationship between successive generations in Bible genealogies.
This understanding matters immensely when it comes time to using life lengths on these genealogies to compose a chronology.
Phil Stone, Updated 2016-11-04