Genesis 5: Genealogies

By James M. Rochford

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

What is the significance of this genealogy? For one, it shows that Moses intends to ground his material in history, demonstrating that these men actually lived. Second, Moses shows the passage of time from Adam to Noah. By ending with Noah, he shows the next step in God’s plan with humanity, revealing just how bad the human race had become. Third, while the earlier genealogy followed the line of Cain (Gen. 4:17-26), this genealogy follows the godly line of Seth—the godly line. Finally, Moses shows “the reign of death”[1] with the repeated refrain, “And he died… And he died… And he died…” The disease of death has infected the human race, and now, mortality haunts them.

Are there generational gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11?

Yes, generational gaps exist. If these genealogies are strict chronologies, then a span of only 1,656 years lasted from Adam to the Flood.[2] Then, from Noah to Abraham, there was only an additional 365 years (Gen. 11). That would leave only 2,021 years from Adam to Abraham,[3] effectively dating Adam to roughly 6,000 years ago. We reject this YEC perspective (see “Young Earth Creationism: A Biblical Evaluation”). Indeed, several problems confront this flawed reading of the text.

To begin, at most, this approach would give us the age of humanity, not the age of the Earth or the age universe. Even if the days of Genesis are consecutive 24-hour days, we must note that these days do not begin until Genesis 1:3. The text does not tell us how much time transpired between the creation of the universe (Gen. 1:1) and the creation week.

The Bible nowhere adds the years of the genealogies together. This is an inference of the interpreter—not a teaching of the text itself. This is quite interesting because the Bible elsewhere adds up cumulative spans of time. For instance, it states that the Hebrews lived in Egypt for 430 years (Ex. 12:40), and Solomon built the Temple 480 years after the Exodus (1 Kin. 6:1). But Genesis never adds the genealogies together.

Does the Hebrew language preclude generational gaps?

The words used in the genealogies have a broad semantic range. Specifically, the verb “beget” (yālad) and the noun “father” (ʾāb) do not require strict successive ancestry.

  • “Became the father of…” (yālad) means to “bear, beget, bring forth.”[4] However, the word “does not necessarily point to the generation immediately following. In Hebrew thought, an individual by the act of giving birth to a child becomes a parent or ancestor of all who will be descended from this child.” In fact, the term “may show the beginning of an individual’s relationship to any descendant.”[5]
  • “Father” (ʾāb) can be translated as “father” or as “forefather.” The term “designates primarily ‘begetter,’ though by extension, ancestor, and metaphorically, an originator, chief, or associate in some degree.”[6] The term can be translated as “grandfather” (Gen. 28:13; 32:9) or even as a “remote ancestor” (Gen. 10:21; 1 Kin. 15:11).

The semantic range of these terms can be observed in the genealogies themselves. Indeed, several biblical genealogies skip entire generations. This is frankly beyond dispute. Some gaps only skip single generations, while others skip centuries.

Generational gaps in biblical genealogies

Moses’ genealogy contains generational gaps. The genealogy of Moses contains three generations: Kohath to Amram to Moses (Ex. 6:12-20; Num. 3:14-39; 1 Chron. 6:1-3). However, Kohath lived during the time of Jacob (Gen. 46:11), which is roughly 350 years before Moses was born. Furthermore, Moses was just one of Kohath’s 8,600 male descendants! (Num. 3:27-28) Another genealogy states that (at least) ten generations existed from Jacob to Moses (1 Chron. 7:23-27).

Levi’s genealogy contains generational gaps. Moses writes, “Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi” (Num. 16:1). Levi was one of the twelve patriarchs who entered Egypt. Therefore, these three generations extend “over four hundred years,” which obviously implies that “numerous intervening generations are demanded.”[7]

David’s genealogy contains generational gaps. In Ruth 4, there are 9 generations from Perez to David, and this would span roughly 838 years (1877-1039 BC). This would mean that these men were (on average) 93 years old when they had sons. However, this is quite unlikely. If the average age was 25 years old, this would mean that 33 generations existed—not 9 generations.

Shebuel’s genealogy contains generational gaps. Chronicles states, “Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was officer over the treasures” (1 Chron. 26:24). Yet, Shebuel lived around 1,000 BC (during the reign of David), and Moses lived four hundred years earlier (1440 BC). Thus, a 400-year gap exists.

Ezra’s genealogy contains generational gaps. Ezra contains six missing generations in his genealogy from Meraioth to Ezra (Ezra 7:1-5).[8] We discover this when we compare Ezra’s genealogy with 1 Chronicles 6:3-15.

Jesus’ genealogy contains generational gaps. Matthew records that Jesus is the son of David (1,000 B.C.), and also the son of Abraham (2,000 B.C.). Clearly, Matthew didn’t intend for us to think that Jesus was the literal son of David. Instead, he meant that David (and Abraham) “fathered” him by being his distant ancestor.

Furthermore, Matthew skips three generations in his genealogy (e.g. Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah), stating that Joram was the “father” of Uzziah—not Ahaziah (Mt. 1:8), rather than his great-great grandfather: “Joram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, 12 Amaziah his son, Azariah [Uzziah] his son” (1 Chron. 3:11-12).

The Genesis genealogy contains gaps. Moses records, “Arpachshad lived thirty-five years, and became the father of Shelah” (Gen. 11:12). Luke, however, records that “Cainan” lived between these two people, adding another generation (Lk. 3:36).

Further evidence for gaps in the genealogies

A strict chronological reading leads to absurd conclusions. For instance, Noah lived 350 years after the Flood (Gen. 9:28). If we add up the dates between Shem (Noah’s son) and Abraham, only 292 years transpired (Gen. 11:10-26).[9] This would mean that Noah lived during the days of Abraham.

If the genealogies contain no gaps, then this would create major problems for secular history. If the Flood dates to ~2,500 BC, this would destroy the Egyptian civilization in the middle of the Sixth Dynasty, and it would also destroy the Sumerian civilization. But then, we would need to see a “simultaneous rebirth”[10] of both civilizations in the blink of an eye!

The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 contain careful structure and symmetry that might imply generational gaps. There are ten names from Adam to Noah, and the final man (Noah) has three sons (Gen. 5). There are also ten names from Noah to Terah, and the final man (Terah) has three sons (Gen. 11). Mathews writes that ten-generation lists were common in the Old Babylonian period. Thus, he concludes, “The figures cannot be added to arrive at the age of mankind. Instead, what we have here are symmetrical genealogies: ten generations before the Flood (Gen. 5) and ten generations after the Flood (Gen. 11). So when Gen. 5 says that ‘X fathered Y’ it may mean that ‘X fathered the line culminating in Y.’”[11]

In a similar way, Jesus’ genealogy contains similar structure and symmetry: fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Exile, and fourteen generations from the Exile to Jesus (Mt. 1:17).

Other cultures used similar literary styles in producing their genealogies. For instance, K.A. Kitchen[12] has noted that the Tirhakah (680 BC) referred to Sesostris III as “his father,” even though 1,200 years separated the two Egyptian rulers. Likewise, in Sumer, the king list (2,000 BC) introduces each dynasty with the name of the first king and then the other rulers in that dynasty.[13] Perhaps this is what we’re seeing in Genesis: Moses is introducing the leader of the clan—not showing clear succession from father to son.[14]

In conclusion, the purpose of biblical genealogies was to show ancestral descent—not dating. The purpose of biblical genealogy was not to show strict chronology.

Objections Considered and Evaluated

OBJECTION #1. The word “beget” with the Hiphil stem requires a father-son reading. Some argue that the use of the word “beget” (yālad) in the Hiphil stem always refers to a literal father and son relationship. For instance, two YEC write, “Nowhere in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word for begat (yalad) used in any other way than to mean a single-generation (e.g., father/son or mother/daughter) relationship.”[15]

This claim is demonstrably false. Moses referred to those who would “become the father of children and children’s children” (Deut. 4:25). At the very least, this refers to a man begetting grandchildren, and the word has the Hiphil stem. Likewise, Isaiah told Hezekiah, “Some of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will be taken away, and they will become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isa. 39:7). This prophecy occurred in 701 BC, but Nebuchadnezzar didn’t fulfill this for over a century (605-586 BC). Indeed, it was fulfilled in Jehoiakim—the great, great grandson of Hezekiah (Dan. 1:1-4). When the Genesis genealogies state that someone “begot” (yālad) a son at a certain age, all this means is that “he had a son who established a line that led to [the son] some generations later.”[16]

OBJECTION #2. There is no reason for Genesis 5 and 11 to include the ages of these people unless chronology was implied. Not true. Several reasons could be given for why Moses chose to include their ages.[17] For one, the text never states that these ages are meant to record chronology. This is an inference of the interpreter. If the interpreter assumes chronology, then this is a classic case of circular reasoning.

Second, the purpose of listing the ages could be to show that people lived longer lives in Genesis 5 than in Genesis 11. The judgment of a shortened lifespan was going into effect (Gen. 6:3). This fits the focus of this ancient narrative far more than the modern obsession with dating the age of the Earth.

Third, the purpose could be to show that men were having children for longer spans of time in Genesis 5. The average age of begetting in Genesis 5 is 155 years old, but it drops to 43 years old in Genesis 11. This drop could demonstrate that the population explosion dropped after the Flood.

Fourth, it was common to include the ages of someone in a genealogy—even if a chronological reconstruction was impossible (e.g. Ex. 6:18-20).

Finally, the purpose could also be to show that these people were historical. By including their lifespan, this showed that they really lived in space and time.

OBJECTION #3. The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 contain direct father-son relationships. This is quite true. For example, several of the relationships in Genesis 5 and 11 record direct father-son relationships (e.g. Adam-Seth, Seth-Enosh, Lamech-Noah, Noah-Shem, Eber-Peleg, Terah-Abram).

But what does this prove? Nothing. After all, the same is true in the genealogy of Ruth 4 (e.g. Perez-Hezon, Hezron-Ram, Boaz-Obed, Obed-Jesse, Jesse-David). Yet, we have already seen that this doesn’t apply to the genealogy as a whole. Consequently, “the presence of some father-to-son links in a genealogy does not preclude the possibility that other links may skip generations.”[18]

(5:1-2) This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.

“This is the book” (sēper) specifies that Moses “used a written source,”[19] or at the very least it “suggests that a written source is being quoted here.”[20] It isn’t unusual to see the biblical authors citing extrabiblical sources such as “the Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Num. 21:14) or the “Book of Jashar” (Josh. 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18).

The literary connection of being made in the “likeness of God” and being “male and female” harkens back to the original creation of humans (Gen. 1:26-27). Consequently, those described in Genesis 1:26-27 are Adam’s descendants—not his ancestors. Adam’s “descendants” follow after him in a straightforward genealogy.

(5:3) When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

This shows that the image of God is still being passed down through Adam to his descendants (cf. Gen. 9:6). As one theologian explains, the image of God was defaced by the Fall, but not erased.

(5:4) Then the days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had other sons and daughters.

These “other sons and daughters” are not mentioned elsewhere (cf. Gen. 5:19, 22). Many of these men listed in this genealogy had “other sons and daughters” as well (Gen. 5:7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 26, 30). This warns us against reading the text too rigidly. Entire stories of these unnamed descendants are merely alluded to, but nothing else is said about them. This could explain why Cain was worried about other people coming to kill him (Gen. 4:14). After all, these other children of Adam would have known that Cain killed their brother.

(Gen. 5:5) Did these people really live this long? The Israelites measured years according to the revolutions of the sun (Gen. 1:14), just as we do today. Therefore, these ages appear to be actual records of time. Other cultures claimed that ancient humans lived for extraordinary lengths of time. For instance, the Sumerians recorded that kings lived for thirty to forty thousand years. Then, after a great Flood swept over the land, the Sumerians claimed that these lifespans became drastically shorter.[21] The Egyptians also have similar records, claiming that ancient kings lived for thousands of years.[22] By comparison, the Hebrews state that these lifespans were quite short.

(5:21-22) Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. 22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters.

This breaks the pattern. In this chapter, the pattern is that a person “lived” for x amount of years before having a son, and then they “lived” another x amount of years before dying. Enoch is different. It says that he “lived” for sixty-five years, and he “walked with God” for 300 years. Some people merely lived, but Enoch walked with God.

(5:23) So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years.

Enoch’s earthly life was short compared to others, but he was taken directly into God’s presence. Waltke writes, “The blessed Enoch’s relatively short life span, especially compared to his son Methuselah, shows that being in God’s presence is an even greater privilege.”[23]

(5:24) Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

“Enoch walked with God.” Waltke writes, “Enoch’s life affirms that those who ‘walk with God’ (5:22, 24) in this fallen world will experience life, not death, as the last word (see Deut. 30:15-16; 2 Kings 2:1, 5, 9-10; Ps. 49:15; 73:24; Heb. 11:5).”[24]

“God took him.” This interrupts the constant refrain of death, death, and more death. It describes “a sudden and mysterious disappearance.” It doesn’t mean “to take the life of someone” in a negative sense, but it refers to a “rapture” of the person in a positive sense.[25] Indeed, the term “took” (lāqa) occurs twice to refer to how God “took” Elijah directly into heaven (2 Kin. 2:3, 10-11; cf. Ps. 73:24). God took him “so that he would not see death” (Heb. 11:5). God moved in the life of Enoch to show that he can interrupt the despair of death.

Enoch must’ve been a man of faith. The author of Hebrews states that “he was pleasing to God,” and “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:5-6).

Later pseudepigraphical authors wrote a lot about Enoch because of his mysterious fate (e.g. the book of Enoch).

(5:25-27) Methuselah lived one hundred and eighty-seven years, and became the father of Lamech. 26 Then Methuselah lived seven hundred and eighty-two years after he became the father of Lamech, and he had other sons and daughters. 27 So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.

Methuselah lived for nearly a millennium. He lived longer than any person on Earth. But he still died.

(5:28-29) Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son. 29 Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed.”

Perhaps Lamech hoped that Noah was going to be the promised “seed” who would reverse the curse (Gen. 3:15). However, Noah ended up being an agent of God’s judgment on the Earth.

“From the ground” refers to the source of the pain, not the source of the “rest.”

[1] Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 85.

[2] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 72.

[3] This is excluding one year for the duration of the Flood.

[4] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 378.

[5] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 379.

[6] J. Barton Payne, “4 אבה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 5.

[7] Ronald Allen, Numbers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), p.834.

[8] Mervin Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, electronic ed., vol. 10, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 126.

[9] Genesis 11:10-26 records that Shem became the father of Arpachshad two years after the Flood (Gen. 11:10). Arpachshad became the father of Shelah at age 35. Shelah became the father of Eber at age 30. Eber became the father of Peleg at age 34. Peleg became the father of Reu at age 30. Reu became the father of Serug at age 32. Serug became the father of Nahor at age 30. Nahor became the father of Terah at age 29. Terah became the father of Abram (Abraham) at age 70. If you add up these ages, we reach 292 years.

[10] Andrew E. Steinmann, “Gaps in the Genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11?” Bibliotheca Sacra 174 (April-June 2017): 154.

[11] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 254.

[12] K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago: IVP, 1966), 39.

[13] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 302-303.

[14] R. F. Youngblood, The Book of Genesis: An Introductory Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 75.

[15] Larry Pierce and Ken Ham, “Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies?” in The New Answers Book 2: Over 30 Questions on Creation/Evolution and the Bible, ed. Ken Ham (Green Forest: Master Books, 2008), 173-182, republished as “Chapter 5: Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies?”

[16] Andrew E. Steinmann, “Gaps in the Genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11?” Bibliotheca Sacra 174 (April-June 2017): 147-148.

[17] I am indebted to Steinmann for these observations below. Andrew E. Steinmann, “Gaps in the Genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11?” Bibliotheca Sacra 174 (April-June 2017): 148.

[18] Andrew E. Steinmann, “Gaps in the Genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11?” Bibliotheca Sacra 174 (April-June 2017): 152.

[19] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 306.

[20] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1987), 126.

[21] Hoffmeier writes, “After recording eight kings and the lengths of their reigns, the List reads: ‘The Flood then swept over [the land]. After the Flood has swept over [the land] and kingship had descended heaven, Kish became [the seat] of kingship.’ Now the duration of the reigns drops radically… Nearly fifty years ago, a text of King Enmebarggesi was discovered, demonstrating that despite the 900-year reign attributed to him, he was a historical figure.” James Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Oxford: Lion, 2008), 38-39.

[22] Hoffmeier writes, “Egypt has a similar tradition preserved in the Turin Canon of the kings of Egypt, a papyrus in Turin Museum… Two of these divine kings are assigned reigns of 7,726 and 7,718 years. So the pattern is similar to what we witnessed in Sumer and in the Bible.” James Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Oxford: Lion, 2008), 39.

[23] Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 115.

[24] Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 115.

[25] Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 115.