Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies?

by Tim Chaffey

      A common argument against YEC (Young Earth Creationism) is that gaps exist in the genealogies listed in the fifth and tenth chapters of Genesis.  The old earth proponent assumes that if gaps exist then one cannot claim to know an approximate age of the earth based on biblical data.  As a result, they say we must rely on extra-biblical sources to discover the age of the earth.  Is this claim accurate?  Do the genealogies actually contain gaps (open view)?  Does it even matter one way or the other?

     Those in favor of an old earth usually raise two pieces of evidence.  First, several biblical genealogies do contain gaps.  Matthew’s record of Christ’s genealogy is probably the most obvious.  Matthew 1: 8 states that Joram was the father of Uzziah yet 1 Chronicles 3: 11 – 14 reveals that Joram was actually the great-grandfather of Uzziah (aka – Azariah).  Few, if any, would dispute this point.  Matthew obviously sought to organize this genealogy into groups of fourteen: from Abraham to David, David to Babylonian captivity, and from Babylonian captivity to Christ (Matthew 1: 17).  This is allowable for the Jew because it is was a perfectly acceptable practice to call one’s grandfather, “father” or grandson, “son.”  However, just because some gaps exist in some genealogies does not mean that they must occur in the Genesis genealogies.  If this was their only bit of evidence one could accuse them of using a non sequitir (conclusion does not follow from premises) argument.

     The second bit of evidence is much stronger.  Genesis 11: 12 states that Arphaxad begot Salah.  Yet Luke 3: 36 states that Arphaxad was Salah’s grandfather.  He was the father of Cainan, who was the father of Salah (Shelah).  This seems like a watertight argument against those who believe there are no gaps (closed view).  Dr. Norman Geisler certainly thinks so.  He stated:

Bishop James Ussher (1581–1656), whose chronology was used in the old Scofield Bible, argued that Adam was created 4004 b.c. However, his calculations are based on the assumption that there are no gaps in the genealogical tables of Genesis 5 and 11. But we know this is false.[1] (italics added)

Geisler’s information concerning Ussher is exactly correct.  In fact, many scholars have “added up” the genealogies and reached a figure of about 4,000 years before Christ.  When I did this last year the date I reached was 4,174 (this was based on a date of 1445 BC for the Exodus).  I do not believe a person should be dogmatic on a date since the Bible only records the age of each person in years.  It does not include months and days so most figures are probably a few decades low. 

     Geisler makes a bold claim concerning the “no gaps” (closed) view when he stated, “we know this is false.”  His primary evidence is the mention of Cainan in Luke 3: 36.  He goes on to make an even bolder claim concerning the open and closed views.  “If they are closed, then the creation of mankind is placed somewhere around 4000 B.C., which flies in the face of all the historical and scientific evidence for a minimum date for humanity.”[2] (bold added for emphasis).  He proceeds to argue for the open view.  Dr. Geisler’s statement reveals his bias.  It is simply not true that “all the historical and scientific evidence” argue for a date beyond 4000 B.C.  For him, the genealogies must be open because of extra-biblical information (i.e. man’s fallible interpretation of the past). 

     It may seem as though the open view is much stronger; however, this is simply not the case.  Dr. Jonathan Sarfati has ably refuted the claims of the open view proponents by mentioning the following facts concerning Cainan in Luke 3: 36:[3]

1)     The extra Cainan is Genesis 11 is found only in manuscripts of the LXX[4] that were written long after Luke’s gospel.  The oldest LXX manuscripts do not have this extra Cainan.

2)     The earliest known extant copy of Luke omits the extra Cainan.  This is the 102 page (originally 144) papyrus codex of the Bodmer Collection labeled P75 (dated between A.D. 175 and 225).

3)     Josephus used the LXX as his source, but did not mention the second Cainan.

4)     Julius Africanus (c. A.D. 180 – c. 250) was “the first Christian historian known to have produced a universal chronology.”  In his chronology, written in C. A.D. 220, he also followed the LXX ages but once again omitted this mysterious Cainan.

     So if Cainan was not in the original text in Luke 3: 36, how did the name find its way there?  The answer is quite simple.  It is likely due to a copyist error as Sarfati points out.[5]  Since the phrase “the son of Cainan” (referring to the son of Enosh) appears in Luke 3: 37, it is very easy to believe that a scribe accidentally copied the name twice.  This is known as dittography and is a common error made by scribes.[6]

     For the sake of argument, let’s assume the open view is correct about the extra Cainan – highly unlikely considering the above information.  What would this accomplish for them?  According to Genesis 11: 12, Arphaxad was 35 years old when he begat Salah.  If we must insert Cainan into the equation, one can only add another 30 – 40 years to the age of the earth.  This does not get them much closer to the tens of thousands of years required to match the alleged “facts” of history and science. 

     In addition, the open view proponent has failed to provide any evidence to demonstrate gaps in the Genesis 5 genealogy where the ages are much greater.  This would certainly help their case but the Bible rules out this possibility.  Here is a list of the names in Genesis 5 and their respective ages at the birth of their son.

Adam                    130

Seth                       105

Enosh                      90

Cainan                     70

Mahalaleel                65

Jared                     162

Enoch                     65

Methuselah            187

Lamech                 182

Noah                     500

In all there are ten generations totaling 1,556 years at Noah’s 500th year.  If the open view proponent could demonstrate a gap in these genealogies it would greatly improve his argument but he cannot.  Jude 14 tells us that Enoch was the seventh from Adam.  Jude also reveals that Enoch was a prophet.  This prophet gave his son (Methuselah) a name which means “when he dies it shall be sent.”[7]  When one runs the numbers he discovers that Methuselah died the same year the flood started.  This biblical evidence excludes any possibility of inserting gaps into the Genesis 5 genealogies.

     It seems the open view has serious problems.  The first major argument is a non sequitir and the second is not supported by historical details.  It would be best to view the genealogies as closed.  Adam was created by God on day six approximately 4000 years before Christ.  There are no gaps in the Genesis genealogies.  Even if one could be verified it does not advance the old earth argument since it would only give him a few decades not a few millennia.

[1] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999) p. 272.

[2] Ibid., p. 267.

[3] Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Compromise (Green Forest, AR: Master Books 2004) p. 296.

[4] LXX is the abbreviation given to the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was commonly used in New Testament times.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody Press 1994) p. 60.

[7] Sarfati, p. 294.

(return to Q & A)