Defining 'Fathers'

In order to construct a Bible timeline we need a Bible chronology. No chronologies exist the Bible, only genealogies. Converting genealogies to chronologies is complex, and fraught with error related to the original language terms for father. This article uses examples to show how Bible genealogies usually skip generations.


The Bible contains several major genealogies which are decorated with life lengths. This is especially so in Genesis 5 and 11. 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.

These words are better translated "ancestor" (or descendant) when the time aspect of the original word is considered. We can show this, though, without resort to an original language lexicon, we can simply study the English.


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 root 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).

Matthew’s Genealogy

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 the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, (Matthew 1:8 NIV)

This is in fact not how it happened.

The Old Testament gives a precise account of the Judean Kings. It covers the highlights of each reign and as an aside it gives the details of the family tree. The actual genealogy went like this:

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:

10This is the account of Shem. Genesis 11:10Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arphaxad. 11And after he became the father of Arphaxad, Shem lived 500 years and had other sons and daughters. Genesis 11:10-1112When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah. 13And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters. Genesis 11:12-13 (Genesis 11:10-13 NIV)

Note carefully that Genesis leaves out Cainan between Arphaxad and Shelah. The following is from Luke where he includes Cainan:

35the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, (Luke 3:35-36 NIV)

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.

Critical Issues

I have 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 a 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.

Another Example

For another example, consider a dispute Jesus had with the Scribes as recorded in John 8:33-41. Here the scribes argue they are the seed, or descendants of Abraham. Jesus, of course, disputes this.

But pay attention to the use of language in this passage. All parties are using the father/son terms in the grammar as though this is normal, even though Abraham lived 1000s of years earlier, and they indisputably are NOT immediately sons of Abraham.

Finding Immediate Father-Son Pairs

Imagine you speak a language where the term father and related terms like son 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 a few specific generations:

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 assurances 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 articles. 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 article 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.