SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
The Age of the Earth
Part 11: Biblical Genealogies
By Steve Webb
David to Jesus Generations - Comparison of Luke with Matthew
This is the 11th in a series of blog articles dealing with the Age of the Earth. These blogs build upon each other to a fair degree so I encourage you to read my former blogs so that you will understand my perspective, but in short I believe the Bible to be the inerrant inspired word of God. At the same time I believe that Creation occurred significantly earlier than 6000 years in the past.
From a biblical perspective it would be remiss not to discuss the biblical genealogies (mainly Genesis 5 and 11, Exodus 6, Matthew 1 and Luke 3) with respect to how they might help us understand the age of the Earth. I had an interest in this subject dating back to my early years in college when I was beginning to come to terms with my geology interests compared to my understanding of Scripture. I was surprised and chagrined to find that when I compared the various genealogy lists side by side (tediously handwritten at that point), that there were some differences between them, particularly between Matthew and Luke. This no longer bothers me from the standpoint of Scripture integrity. The genealogies were written for the purpose of establishing bloodlines and flow of history. They were not written to satisfy our age-dating curiosity, nor were they written to achieve the genealogical accuracy sought in our modern family trees. Very important, the Hebrew word for son (ben) can equally mean grandson, great grandson, great-great grandson etc. And the word for father (abba) can mean grandfather, great grandfather, great-great grandfather. etc. I personally do not believe we can use these genealogies for precise age-dating nor were they intended to be used for that, but they are still worthy of discussion.
Anyone who has compared the generations of Matthew 1 with Luke 3 has noticed their differences because they are large (see chart below). This has been rationalized by some Bible commentators as Matthew emphasizing the lineage through Joseph's side of the family, and Luke the lineage through Mary's side. I generally like that explanation although I wish Scripture had been more explicit in stating that to be the case. More problematic, Matt. 1:17 summarizes its list of generations by saying, "Therefore all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the time of Christ fourteen generations." In other words it is stating there to be 28 generations since the deportation to Babylon to Jesus. The trouble is that Luke lists 43 generations from David to Jesus, a substantial difference from Matthew's 28. One would expect the number of generations between Joseph's side of the family to be pretty comparable to Mary's side. A further problem is that Matthew's number of generations from Adam to Abraham (14) disagrees with the number of generations listed in Genesis 3 and 5 (20). These pre-Abrahamic generations will be discussed further below.
Turning now to the pre-Abrahamic generations, prior age-dating of these generations was begun by Archbishop Ussher of Ireland back in the early 1600's when he calculated the date of Creation, based on his arithmetic, as 4004 BC. It is this date that is continued to be used by most young-earth Christians that yield the approximate 6000 year age of the Earth.
Interestingly, a Christian named Phil Stone, who is gaining acclaim for his work on biblical genealogies, says that Ussher made serious mistakes in his analysis (link to Stone's work provided below). Stone takes a meticulous highly analytical approach to age-dating the pre-Abraham generations, and concludes that the time span from Adam to Abraham was 8958 years, much longer than that calculated by Ussher (table provided below). Stone's analysis would make our current year of 2014 close to 13,000 years since Adam.
Stone's analysis is based on several assumptions / observations as follows: 1) one must take into account when total lifespans are meant to be used end-to-end rather than the age of a father when he sired a son, 2) Luke's account is an important key to interpreting Genesis, 3) the account of Noah's flood helps fix some of the age-dating uncertainty, and 4) whenever a direct father-son relationship is meant, it can be recognized by means of the father specifically "having named his son."
I have great admiration for Stone's careful analysis (table below). He deserves a lot of credit, and he may be correct, but I do not share the same level of confidence in his approach. Even if we were to accept his analysis of the pre-Abrahamic years it would still not resolve the difference in those years with Matthew's genealogy. If the Scriptures were intending for us to know the precise age dates of Creation we should not need to make calculations that unavoidably involve some level of uncertainty. In fact, the lack of precision, to me, is telling us that we should not be using the Scriptures for such purpose, and are missing the whole point when we do so.
If the Bible has contradictions and disagreements, in it we should meet them head-on instead of pretending that they don't exist. However, I am not claiming that these genealogical listings have such contradictions. These genealogies are sacred history. They are telling us that God's hand was guiding history towards Jesus and ultimately to a final ending of this world. They are not concerned with telling us scientific age-dates and obscure ancestral names that are unimportant in the overall scheme of things.
Blessings and keep the faith!
Age of the Earth: The SeriesPart 1: Introduction
Part 2: Radiometric Age-Dating
Part 3: Dinosaurs
Part 4: Tree Rings
Part 5: The Meaning of Yom
Part 6: Other Scriptural Difficulties
Part 7: Noah's Flood
Part 8: Hebrew-Judaeo Worldview
Part 9: Who were the Cavemen?
Part 10: The Garden of Eden
Part 11: Bible Genealogies
Image credit: Bible Time
Tags: Controversial-Issues | Current-Issues | Science-Creation
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