It has not been uncommon for Christians throughout history to look at the genealogies in the Bible and use them to try and arrive at a date for the age of the earth. Even Saint Augustine worked with the genealogies in his commentaries on Genesis and in “City of God.” The question I want to ask today is: Is this a valid practice?
What needs to be pointed out is that when various genealogies are examined side by side, it can be seen that some of the biblical authors left out certain names and generations. Here is an example:
1 Chronicles 3.10-12 Matthew 1.8-9
Ahaziah (Uzziah) Uzziah
We see here that Matthew left out a full three generations when moving from Uzziah to Jotham. “Therefore, when Matthew says that Uzziah was ‘the father of Jotham,’ it can mean that he was the father of someone who led to Jotham” .
There are examples of generations being skipped in places other than genealogies as well. If you look at 1 Chronicles 26.24 it says: “and Shebuel the son of Gershom, son of Moses, was chief officer in charge of the treasuries.” What is given here is a list of officers that were appointed by King David near the end of his life. But when looking at Exodus 2.22, we see that Shebuel’s father, Gershom, was birthed to Moses while he was in Midian, long before he led the Israelites out of Egypt. This is a time period of as much as 500 years (depending on one’s interpretation of the date of the Exodus)!
What can be concluded from this is that the Biblical authors only included individuals they thought were important to the narrative, therefore certain individuals are emphasized over others. It was not a pressing concern to the writers of Scripture to have a complete list, which may be at odds with the mindset of scientific and mathematical completeness which we operate with today.
So what can be applied to those who try to give a date of the earth using the genealogies? I would have to say that, at most, the only conclusion that follows is that humanity has a relatively young age. It does not follow that the earth is also young. That would depend on how one interprets the days of creation (which will be dealt with in future posts). It is also important to remember that if some biblical genealogies leave out names, it is also possible that the early genealogies in Genesis 1-11 left names out. We have already seen that the biblical authors considered it an acceptable practice to have the language of fathering a child mean that they actually fathered a line that eventually led to that child. Given this truth, I think it is illegitimate to claim that a precise date of the creation of Adam can be learned from the genealogies, and that it would be safer to assume the actual date is much farther back than is taught by many young earth proponents.
On the other hand, I also think it is a betrayal of the narrative to try and force millions of years into the genealogies using this technique. This admittedly leaves us with some uncertainty as to timeline, but as I said in my first post in this series, the creation account just wasn’t that important to Moses when he wrote the opening chapters of Genesis.
The last thing I want to mention with this post is that I am not trying make any final conclusions. I merely meant to give information that I never learned while growing up, and add more information to the discussion. This topic is surprisingly deep and complex. As short as this post was I was surprised that it took me at least two weeks to get it together, and I still feel like I just barely scratched the surface.
 Grudem, Wayne. “Systematic Theology.” p. 290.
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