The Selective Genealogies Of Genesis 5 And 11

5:3-32 these verses contain 10 paragraphs, each written in the same form, which one paragraph for each generation in Adam’s line through Seth. There are some similarities, as well as significant differences, between this material and the Sumerian king list (written see. 2000 BC), which mentions eight antediluvian (pre-flood) Kings who reigned for exceptionally long periods (up to 72,000 years). Following the Sumerian flood account (cf. chs. 6-9), there is another list of shorter-lived postdiluvians (cf ch. 11).

More significant are the formal similarities and material differences between this set site genealogy and the Cainite genealogy in ch. 4. Both are initially linear, focusing on one individual in each generation, and both conclude by dividing the line along through among three sons (4:20-22; 5:32, the same is true in 11:10-26). But the central themes of these genealogies contrast sharply. Cain’s line dies in the flood; Seth’s lives through it. Whereas the former presents the curse-laden line of Cain that concludes with murderer begetting murderer (4:17-24), the latter links the founder of humanity, Adam, with its re-founder, Noah (4:25, 26 note). The Enoch and Lamech in Seth’s line cannot be confused with the first and last descendants bearing these names in Cain’s line. Enoch, the seventh in the line of Seth, “walked with God” and “God took him” (the. 24); and the Sethite Lamech names his son Noah, hoping the Lord will “comfort us” (cf. v. 29).

Because the Hebrew word translated “begot” often means “became the ancestor of,” and because some of the numbers appear to be symbolic, many scholars argue that there are gaps in these genealogies, and that they therefore cannot be used to compute a precise chronology. The significant seventh generation of each genealogy marks a high point—the height of wickedness in the Cainite Lamech (4:18-24) and the height of godliness in the Sethite Enoch (vv. 18-24; cf. vv. 21-24 note). The figure of 10 generations from Seth to Noah (VV. 3-32) matches the 10 generations from Shannon to Abram in 11:10-26 (this latter genealogy appears to contain gaps, 11:10-26 note; cf. and Matt 1:17 note). Also, the ages of some antediluvian’s may be symbolic, and are perhaps related to astronomical periods known to the agent near Eastern peoples (e.g., The 365 years of Enoch’s life, vv. 21-24 note).

11:10-20 See note on 5:3-32. This genealogy of the elect, like 5:3-32, is first linear and at the end segmented into three sons (8:1 note). It overlaps with 10:21-31 and forms a transition from prime evil history to the account of Abraham…

As is common in ancient genealogies, it is apparent that this genealogy contains gaps. If it were precisely sequential the events of chapters 9-11 would cover less than three centuries, all of Abraham’s ancestors would have been still living when he was born, and Shem would outlive Abraham by 14 years. The purpose of this genealogy is to record the advances of the messianic line…

New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995).


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21 comments

  1. Two points, if I may, on

    A begetting and naming
    B. the New Geneva Study Bible comments above

    A. . Something is sometimes made of the fact that only Adam, Seth and Lamech are recorded as naming their sons (Gen 5.3 and Gen 4.26, Gen 5.29) so only these three can be certainly said to have fathered them as sons, rather than ‘begat an ancestor of’.

    This surely is clutching at straws. Adam’s naming of Seth sets a pattern for Gen 5. We cannot even say that the pattern was broken after that because we know that Seth too named his son (Gen 4.26). We also know that Noah fathered his three sons though Gen 5 does not record his naming them.

    B. You quote the New Geneva Study Bible as follows

    1. ‘Because the Hebrew word translated “begot” OFTEN means “became the ancestor of,”’

    But where – ever – in the OT (nowhere) does the word ‘yalad’ mean ‘became the ancestor of’? (Arguments from Gen 46 have been rebutted)

    2. ‘and because some of the numbers appear to be symbolic, many scholars argue that there are gaps in these genealogies, and that they therefore cannot be used to compute a precise chronology’

    At this point the NGSB chooses not to espouse the ‘gap’ view

    3. ‘Also, the ages of some antediluvian’s may be symbolic, and are perhaps related to astronomical periods known to the agent near Eastern peoples (e.g., The 365 years of Enoch’s life, vv. 21-24 note).

    Their long lives have no direct bearing on the ‘begat’ issue

    4. ‘As is common in ancient genealogies, it is apparent that this genealogy contains gaps.

    At this point NGSB does espouse the ‘gap’ view, without any clear evidence or argumentation other than in what immediately follows

    ‘If it were precisely sequential the events of chapters 9-11 would cover less than three centuries, all of Abraham’s ancestors would have been still living when he was born, and Shem would outlive Abraham by 14 years’.

    We know that not all Abraham’s ancestors were alive when Abraham was born because Noah and his (then) 3 sons were the only men to enter the ark (and indeed my recollection of the calculations was that all the pre-flood ancestors had already died before the flood). If the NGSB meant all Abraham’s post-flood ancestors, so what? (I assume Shem was not circumcised with the rest!)

    6. ‘The purpose of this genealogy is to record the advances of the messianic line… ‘

    Yes, but perhaps not its only purpose

    Richard

    Ps – I don’t have the NGSB (and thus the 11:10-26 note and Matt 1:17 note) so I do not understand the point being made that would justify ‘appears’ in

    ‘The figure of 10 generations from Seth to Noah (VV. 3-32) matches the 10 generations from Shannon to Abram in 11:10-26 (this latter genealogy appears to contain gaps, 11:10-26 note; cf. and Matt 1:17 note).

    Pps – I was sorry you chose to name this blog ‘Selective Genealogies’ so definitively. Am I wasting my time by offering comments here?

  2. Given that Bruce Waltke is the OT scholar they used for Genesis, the notes are not the least surprising

    (and I generally like the NGSB or Reformation Study Bible that it’s become)

    • And it means exactly what that Dr. Waltke was used? Is this guilt by association? Or what, precisely? I’m confused.

    • And it means exactly what that Dr. Waltke was used? Is this guilt by association?

  3. the central themes of these genealogies contrast sharply. Cain’s line dies in the flood; Seth’s lives through it.

    Per Kline, this is just the beginning of the larger pattern among the 10 genealogies (toledoths) that frame all of Genesis (after the creation prologue); it’s always firstborn seed of serpent followed by second-born seed of woman (cf also first/second Adam, first/second Israel, etc.):

    Cain; Seth; Noah
    Ham; Shem; Abram;
    Ishmael; Isaac
    Esau; Jacob

    Kline also links this persistent jumping back in the timeline to non-chronological features of the creation account.

    • I expect Kline is in a “suspect” category as well among the YEC crowd. As is B.B. Warfield.

    • I’d say Kline is probably in the “damned heretic” catetory for the YEC crowd, but a favorable perspective for most of the Heidelblog audience.

  4. It’s interesting but, I disagree about the symbolic numbers of ages. I see no purpose on what the symbols would fill just, like James Jordan’s interpretative maximalism. What’s the point?

    • Trent,

      This is not anything to do with James Jordan and his weird hermeneutic. The idea that the thousand years revelation 20 are symbolic is as old as the Christian church. A number of leading figures in the second century interpreted Revelation 20 that way see the work of C E Hill on early Christian eschatology.

      The numbers in Revelation 20 are just as symbolic as the 144,000 and the many many other symbolic representations throughout the book of Revelation. Personally it is hard for me to see how anyone could take the 1000 years of Revelation 20 as anything other than symbolic.

      Read the excellent work of Kim Riddlebarger on amillennialism. Then get back to me. Have you listened to the office hours episode that I linked?

    • I was referring to the ages of the pre-flood patriarchs. Revelation, as we know, is a completely different genre which warrants symbolism. So no argument there.

  5. Hi Trent,

    Sorry. I misunderstood. Well, in the ANE numbers were used symbolically. I don’t know what the right answer is because it’s not my field of expertise but I can’t rule out a priori that the original intent of both the divine and human authors might have been to use those numbers symbolically. More to the point, such approaches are widely used among bible-believing OT scholars as they seek to read the text in its original context.

    This point, reading the text it its original context, is a bit thing with me—I suppose because that’s my job. I work hard to read post-canonical texts in their original contexts but I expect OT scholars (and scholars of the ANE generally) to to the same. Since I don’t read Akkadian etc and because I’m not a scholar of the ANE I’m not qualified to sit in judgment over the work. I’m just reporting here that there is disagreement between reasonable people, over reasonable interpretations of God’s Word.

  6. Thank you for this, Dr. Clark. As a ruling elder in a Reformed denomination, I’m really dismayed that adherence to YEC is made an article of Reformed faith–an example of QIRC. I was made to take an exception to the Westminster Standards because I’m not convinced of 6-24hr Creation–and it still grates against me.

    • Richard

      I can understand your sadness over 6-24, but where do you stand on selective or not selective Gen 5,11 genealogies – if I may ask?

  7. Richard,
    I don’t know have that I have a “stand,” to tell the truth. There are Reformed scholars such as Dr. Kline, whom I respect, who view them as selective. I’m content to view this as a disagreement within Reformed ranks, and to accept it as that, and not to make it a matter of Reformed orthodoxy.

    • I think that is very reasonable and is pretty well where I ‘stand’ !

      But, to be devil’s advocate, if we extend Adam’s existence/creation back beyond 4000 BC, do we really have any grounds to do so from a plain reading of scripture? Are we not doing so from a scientific warrant? And if we start there, then when do we end? Eg not much evidence for an actual Israelite exodus from Egypt etc.

      (Please note this is an entirely separate issue from the 6-24 framework position suggested by Kline)

      We all know that the bible is not a science textbook, but it does seem to claim to be a history, in which case dates/ages (except in the case of obviously symbolic Revelation) should be reliable.

      ‘Selective genealogies’ would however have us read Gen 5.18 as ‘Jared lived 162 years and then begat someone who at an unrecorded time thereafter begat Enoch’. That seems, frankly, a bonkers reading of Gen 5.18 !!

      Incidentally, where would you say YECs are ‘most’ wrong – in their geology, cosmology, biology, radiometry, or elsewhere?

  8. I’m not convinced a plain reading of Scripture argues exclusively for creation at 4000 BC; this is where I am at–if I thought otherwise, I wouldn’t be agnostic on this issue. I can’t say where YECers are “most wrong,” sorry, I’m just an attorney. I know there are geologists who are Christians who object to YEC on their science–MR several months ago printed a critique from geologists in my denomination. Vern Poythress has an excellent book, “Redeeming Science” a portion of which discusses these issues.
    Again, I view this as an issue over which Reformed Christians can disagree with charity. Unfortunately, some on the YEC side make this a matter of Reformed orthodoxy as if “Answers in Genesis” is the standard against which we should measure whether we are really Reformed.

    • Fine – let’s leave it at that

      I’m simply not interested in dating Creation (ie Gen 1), only Adam (Gen 5,11) My question about YEC error was, as I say, simply incidental

  9. Richard UK,
    But, to be devil’s advocate, if we extend Adam’s existence/creation back beyond 4000 BC, do we really have any grounds to do so from a plain reading of scripture? Are we not doing so from a scientific warrant? And if we start there, then when do we end? Eg not much evidence for an actual Israelite exodus from Egypt etc.

    As for as “where do we end,” the distinction between what is (merely) consistent with a text and what is implied by a text may help. Scripture clearly *implies* an Israelite exodus from Egypt, whereas (perhaps) Scripture is *consistent with* an “older” Adam. It does no disservice to Scripture to form beliefs based on extra-biblical information, instead of Scripture, when Scripture is consistent with those beliefs.

    We all know that the bible is not a science textbook, but it does seem to claim to be a history, in which case dates/ages (except in the case of obviously symbolic Revelation) should be reliable.

    I’m sympathetic to the claim that the selective reading of genealogies where the ages of begetting are included seems bonkers. (My hope is that, were I more conversant with Hebrew, or other ANE writings, it would seem less bonkers.) It seems that your point here about genre precludes our taking the ages (whether of living or begetting) to be symbolic, but does not preclude taking the genealogies to be selective. In order to rule that out, there would have to be something about identifying the genre as history that militated against the ‘became the ancestor of’ reading of ‘beget’. I don’t know what that would be. Perhaps you just find that reading of the word, when ages of begetting are given, absurd – independent of the genre issue.

    • The formatting of my post wasn’t what I expected and I don’t see an edit or delete option. The first and third paragraphs are quotes of Richard UK

    • Thanks, Dan

      I certainly do not want to be eisegeting a genre onto a text. I am therefore happy, presumably with others, to read Gen 5,11 as probable history (but whether Gen 1 is history, science or metaphor is beyond me; if it were clearly metaphor, I would be spared much embarrassment with my atheistic friends – I think we agree on that! – but I don’t think either of us want to duck out of difficult positions)

      Thanks for the suggestion but I don’t think we can hide behind any meaningful distinction between ‘implies’ and ‘is consistent with’. I think scripture ‘implies’ both a young Adam around 4000 BC and an Exodus around 1350 BC (dated incidentally from preceding dates, as confimred by Paul). In fact, the absence of a name for Pharaoh and the fact that Moses means little more than ‘son’ or ‘vehicle/boat’ would, controversially, suggest that the Exodus is less obviously an event with real people than the genealogy of Adam’s descendants!!

      If we find that science ‘implies’ something different in these, or in other cases, we can either go liberal and adopt the predominance of the scientific view, or stay historico-grammatical and face a lot of embarrassment and jibes of being fundamentalist.

      What surprises me is that a lot of Christians hotly reject the idea that they are liberal but nevertheless, on at least one issue, find a way that I cannot quite understand to adopt a scientific viewpoint which insists the text must be other than its plain sense (whether to us or to the original reader).

      I was recently referred to a sermon which avoided any consideration of the historicity of Gen 1, but said its importance was to stand against the Marduk creation story. I am sure, subject to correction, that the Babylonians believed Marduk to be a historical figure (albeit in the distant fog of time as were Romulus and Remus for the Romans), and I don’t know that the Israelites’ own creation story would have cut much mustard if it was only ever perceived by the Israelites and therefore by the Babylonians as a metaphor. (Similarly the import of Dagon falling down before the Ark means little if Dagon did not fall down but ought to have fallen down, or would have fallen down if the event was real!)

      I’m not quite sure I understand your final para. I am very happy to say that dates and ages fulfil a ‘symbolic’ pattern, but I am less happy if describing them as ‘symbolic’ means that they cannot really have been so. Most of the ages, like 153 fish, seem to have no discernible symbolism, but if Enoch’s lifespan of 365 matches the days of the year, I do not think we have to presume that his lifespan was not 365! Presumably God caused him to live till 365, both in reality and as a symbol of something.

      If ‘begat’ can anywhere else be shown to involve gaps, then obviously this would be significant, but I have yet to be pointed to any such example, so I therefore read ‘begat’ in the light of the ‘begeting’ by Adam, Seth, Lamech and Noah where it is pretty clear that the begotten one was their own direct offspring.

  10. Hi Richard UK,
    You wrote: “Thanks for the suggestion but I don’t think we can hide behind any meaningful distinction between ‘implies’ and ‘is consistent with’. I think scripture ‘implies’ both a young Adam around 4000 BC and an Exodus around 1350 BC…”

    Perhaps I misunderstood your earlier claim: “…[I]f we extend Adam’s existence/creation back beyond 4000 BC, do we really have any grounds to do so from a plain reading of scripture? Are we not doing so from a scientific warrant? And if we start there, then when do we end?”

    I thought you were expressing a concern merely with going *beyond* the text, based on extra-biblical information, but based on your most recent comment, it seems you think “extending” Adam’s existence back would be going *against* the text, based on extra-biblical information. So the problem is not with the “implies” / “is consistent with” distinction as such, but with its application here: you don’t think the relevant parts of Genesis are consistent with a “selective” reading of the genealogies.

    As for the historicity of the exodus, I don’t think the significance of Moses’ name is very significant, since names in Scripture are often significant in ways that intersect with their bearers’ biographies. As for Pharaoh, it seems that kings of Egypt (“Pharaohs”) are hardly ever named in Scripture, even in parts where other kings are named (note Abram’s encounter with an unnamed Pharaoh followed by encounters with other named kings in rescuing Lot). Perhaps ‘Pharaoh’ is both a title (like ‘king’) and a name for its bearer (unlike ‘king’), and the latter may explain why another name is hardly every given.

    You wrote: “I am sure, subject to correction, that the Babylonians believed Marduk to be a historical figure…, and I don’t know that the Israelites’ own creation story would have cut much mustard if it was only ever perceived by the Israelites and therefore by the Babylonians as a metaphor. (Similarly the import of Dagon falling down before the Ark means little if Dagon did not fall down but ought to have fallen down, or would have fallen down if the event was real!)”

    In the case of Dagon, the idea is presumably that the “point” of the text is inseparable from the historicity of the relevant event (Dagon’s falling) – or alternatively, inseparable from the reader/hearer’s believing in the historicity of the event. I agree. And there is a sense in which I agree that Genesis 1 is parallel: the “point” depends, for example, on God’s really creating the heavens and earth (and, perhaps, in certain ways that saliently contrast with how Marduk was thought to have done it). But it’s not clear that the point depends on the historicity of all the details in the account (for example, that there was an evening and then a morning between the creation of X and of Y).

    You wrote: “I’m not quite sure I understand your final para.”

    There is the question of the historicity of the ages of begetting, of the historicity of the age of death (or lifespan), and of whether begetting or fathering is “direct” begetting/fathering. It seems to me that identifying the genre as history is relevant for the first two, but not the third. The third issue is the one bearing on whether the genealogies are “selective,” and this seems like a lexical matter (‘beget’), not a genre matter. More precisely, even if we decide that the genre is history, the selective reading may still be open on lexical grounds (i.e., grounds pertaining to the meaning of the verb). Conversely, if we want to rule out the selective reading, it isn’t sufficient to make a point about the genre.

    You wrote: “If ‘begat’ can anywhere else be shown to involve gaps, then obviously this would be significant, but I have yet to be pointed to any such example…”

    I think it has been shown. I haven’t studied this enough to vouch for this example myself, but consider the following quote by K. A. Kitchen:

    “In the early Roman period the Jewish-Greek Gospel of Matthew used both of the conventions observed so far: (i) a limited, representative number of generations (for him, 14 + 14 + 14), and (ii) telescoped sonship to cover son, grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson (Matt. 1:1-17). His “Jehoram fathered Uzziah” (1:8) is shorthand for Jehoram fathered (Ahaziah [2 Kings 8:25], who fathered Joash [11:2], who fathered Amaziah [14:1], who fathered [14:21]) Uzziah.”

    He also points out that in Genesis 46 Jacob’s wives are described as “bearing” “sons” where it is clear that what is really going is that they bore sons who themselves begat sons.

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