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Apparent Contradiction of Words and Numbers

Four Witnesses to a 430-year Sojourn in Egypt

Abraham’s Witness to a 430-Year Egyptian Sojourn

Jacob’s Life Requires a 430-Year Egyptian Sojourn

Elasticity of Hebrew Genealogical Terms

Abbreviated/Condensed Genealogies

Shem’s List: The Ultimate Example of Condensing

Shem’s Genealogy—Which Bible?

Evidence from the Lifespan of Job for Missing Generations

Evidence from the Message of Job for Missing Generations

Evidence from the Times of Job for Missing Generations

Biblical Earth Movements After the Flood

Peleg, Joktan and the Table of Nations

Historical Errors Obscuring the Condensing of Shem’s Line

Interpretative Errors Supporting Ussher View

The Missing World between the Flood and Peleg

Recent Scholarship Improves Biblical Understanding

Summary of Biblical Findings

Secular Evidence—Those Many Documents Unavailable to Ussher


Apparent Contradiction of Words and Numbers


Chapter One

Apparent Contradiction of Words and Numbers

The words and numbers of certain Hebrew genealogies appear to contradict each other when read literally.  For example, advanced societies thrived across the Near East when the date for Noah’s Flood is determined by adding the numbers in Shem’s genealogy.  There is no error in Scripture so we need to understand the method the Jewish people used in compiling genealogies.  Using their method yields a true literal reading.  With this approach we can harmonize both the Biblical statements and the numbers in Shem’s genealogy.   

Furthermore, if we understand the OT practice of condensing genealogies, we will not unnecessarily give people an excuse to attack the Bible as being unreliable.  Therefore, such insight is extremely important.  In fact, it is so important that we call the Old Testament way of handling genealogies “the hidden beauty of Hebrew genealogies.”  This hidden beauty focuses on identity in the family line, not necessarily the succession from father to son.  It sometimes includes significant gaps.  Such understanding harmonizes those words and numbers often viewed as contradictions and clumsily reinterpreted. 

The Executive Summary (pages 6-7) explains the conclusion of this book—that Shem’s genealogy of Genesis 11 omits 40-50 generations.  This chapter introduces the first evidence for that conclusion--the Levi-Aaron list.  It covers about 500 years which includes the 430-years Israel dwelt in Egypt, yet it contains just four people (Levi-Kohath-Amram-Aaron).  We are given much information about them, even their overlapping life spans which fail to bridge those 500 years.  Hidden Beauty finds that list omits up to a dozen names. 

This conclusion has not been the view of the church historically.  A major reason has to do with the number of years Israel sojourned in Egypt.  Whether it was 215 or 430-years has been a continuing controversy for 2000 years.  The preponderance of Scriptural evidence favors 430 but historical evidence supported 215.  For instance, the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Old Testament) says Israel sojourned in Canaan and Egypt 430-years.  Early authorities like Josephus concurred.  The church fathers added their “Amen.”  Because the Hebrew text of the key passage, Exodus 12:40, had a problem, it could be understood to mean that 430-years was the total time in Canaan and Egypt.  Events in the lives of Abraham and Jacob were then erroneously interpreted to support a 215-year Egyptian sojourn.  As a result, the Levi-Aaron list was viewed as complete.  To this day some still insist that Israel only sojourned 215-years in Egypt. 

While 430-years in Egypt only adds a few years to the antiquity of Noah’s Flood, an incomplete Levi list opens the door to other Old Testament genealogies being incomplete.  An abbreviated Shem list could push the date for the Flood back hundreds or even thousands of years.  To find the approximate time of the Flood, Hidden Beauty must address the many controversies that have clouded this question.  In the process the book has become very long. 

Before proceeding, it must be stated that foundational to this book is the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, the biblical truth that God so moved its authors that they wrote His message without error.  It applies to every word of the original writings.  It means that all Scripture was originally in harmony with the original writings of all other Scripture—that no statement contradicted any other statement in its original writing.  It also means that all Scripture is important, that every word is equally true, that no Scripture should be dismissed, overlooked or regarded as insignificant.  The church has restated this doctrine at critical times in history.  Most recently in the Fall of 1978 an international gathering of nearly 300 noted evangelical scholars produced “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” which reaffirmed this truth in clear, precise terms.[1] 

Because Scripture is God’s word, it is the final authority on every issue it addresses.  In this book every effort is made to answer each issue solely on the basis of what the Bible itself says.  After determining what Scripture says, the secular view of where and when advanced societies first developed will be discussed because surprisingly it supports what the Bible has said all along.  Also, by way of introduction, the following purpose and function of Hebrew genealogies must ever be in the minds of those who discuss them.

Overview of Hebrew Genealogies

 Most peoples, and especially the West, have used genealogies to display an unbroken list of immediate relationships such as father-son, rulers, priests, etc.  In contrast, the basic idea of Hebrew genealogies was identity, not succession.  Hebrews identified descendants with their forefathers and forefathers with their descendants.  It could be boiled down to this:  all descendants were in the loins of their forefathers and all forefathers were the father of their descendants.  It was perfectly accurate in Hebrew usage to say B was the son of A or to say G was the son of A when actually generations B-F came between A and G.

For example, Hebrew genealogies could be as specific as Adam knew Eve who conceived Cain (Genesis 4:1) or as broad as “Jesus Christ, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1).  Cain was the immediate result of the union of Adam and Eve.  There were no intermediate generations between the parents and their son. This is the narrow use in Hebrew thinking (A begat B).  On the other hand, one thousand years separated David from his distant son Jesus Christ.  This is the broad use of genealogies in Scripture (A begat G).  The broad use could compact many generations into one, yet be perfectly truthful.  The intentional skipping or omitting of names could be considered condensing or abbreviating.  It was beautifully efficient and simple.   

Matthew made no error when he wrote “Jesus Christ, the son of David.” His purpose was to identify Jesus Christ with David genealogically.  Authors of Scripture determined the degree of completeness of a blood line, often providing only as many names as their purpose required.  Those in the day of any particular author would discern whether his list was complete or not, but as time passed this discernment became more difficult.  In time, even Bible scholars, misunderstanding this broader use of Hebrew genealogies, began to wrest the Scripture with their interpretations.

Condensing a Genealogical List—A Clear OT Example 

A 215-year sojourn by Jacob and his descendants in Egypt is an essential element in the historic view (of the Church) that the Flood occurred about 2348 BC according to Archbishop James Ussher.  His monumental work, Annals of the World, first published in Latin in 1650, used the typical approach of working back to Abraham from later known dates.  This method then added the years when each father in Shem’s genealogy of Genesis 11 begat his heir to reach the Flood date.  

A 430-year Egyptian sojourn adds a mere 215-years to this date.  But recognizing a 430-year Egyptian sojourn introduces a game-changing precedent.  It means that Levi’s genealogy which appears to be complete omits many names.  Since the Shem list has characteristics similar to the Levi-Aaron list, it opens the door to omitted names in that list as well. 

While many have been told that Scripture is confusing about the years Israel spent in Egypt, the next chapter will show that no less than God Himself witnessed to a 430-year sojourn there.  But that is not all.  Moses likewise witnessed to 430-years in Egypt.  Then over a millennium later Stephen affirmed God’s word and Paul affirmed Moses’ word.  On the other hand, nowhere does Scripture state that Israel sojourned in Egypt 215-years.  Nowhere! 

Then where did the idea of 215-years in Egypt come from?  It was primarily based on a deduction made from the following words in Exodus and Numbers which lists Kohath as a son of Levi, Amram as a son of Kohath and Aaron as a son of Amram, four generations:

16These are the names of the sons of Levi [1] according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the years of the life of Levi being 137 years.  18The sons of Kohath [2]: Amram…, the years of the life of Kohath being 133 years.  20Amram [3] took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron [4] and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years.  Exodus 6:16, 18, 20.

58These are the clans of Levi [1]: …of Kohath [2], the clan of the Kohathites; …And Kohath was the father of Amram [3].  59The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt.  And she bore to Amram Aaron [4] and Moses and Miriam their sister.  Numbers 26:58-59.  (Brackets numbering generations added). 

While the two narratives appear to be a full and complete record of descent (Levi-Kohath-Amram-Aaron), the following pages conclusively demonstrate that these genealogical records are abbreviated.  But the historic approach views them as complete which requires rewriting much other Scripture.  In so doing the cardinal rule of interpretation—inerrancy—is violated.  This book will apply the broader concept of the nature and function of Hebrew genealogies to such passages.  With this approach those violations of Scripture will be eliminated. 

The passages above report three generations leading to Aaron—that of Levi, Kohath and Amram.  No one disputes the relationships in these four generations, i.e., that Kohath was a direct descendant of Levi, that Amram was a direct descendant of Kohath and that Aaron was a direct descendant of Amram.  When Jacob moved his people to Egypt, Levi was about 46 years old so his sons may have been teenagers or even in their twenties.  All of Jacob’s male descendants accompanied him to Egypt except Joseph and Joseph’s two sons who were already there.  Genesis 46:8-26 records that list and begins: 

8Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons, Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, 9and the sons of Reuben.…  10The sons of Simeon….  11The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari.  Genesis 46:8-11.

Kohath is among the names in the list above.  He was born in Canaan before the move to Egypt.  The next generation mentioned after Kohath was Amram.  Exodus says Amram was a son of Kohath.  Numbers agrees, saying Kohath was the father of Amram.  Each passage validates the other.  Both Exodus and Numbers report that Amram and his wife had children—Exodus reports the births of Aaron and Moses while Numbers reveals the names of three—Aaron, Moses and Miriam.  The 215-year view teaches these four generations—Levi-Kohath-Amram-Aaron—are consecutive, i.e., immediate father-son relationships and span the 215-years in Egypt. 

How long of a sojourn in Egypt could they possibly span?  Let’s calculate.  Suppose each of these generations dwelling in Egypt fathered his named son in the last year of his life.  This number would be the maximum number of years these four generations could have contributed to the total sojourn in Egypt if the genealogies were consecutive without any gaps or omissions.  Then that number could be viewed in the light of a 215 or 430-year sojourn.

Calculations:  Aaron was 83 at the time of the Exodus, so he accounts for 83 years in Egypt (Exodus 7:7).  Levi’s grandson, Amram lived 137 years (Exodus 6:20), all of them in Egypt.  Add: 137 + 83 = 220 years.  None of Levi’s years in Egypt can count since his son Kohath was already alive when they moved to Egypt.  The only father left to contribute years in Egypt is Kohath.  How many years did he contribute?  Scripture doesn’t tell his age when they arrived, so for contrast both the maximum and minimum years possible will be calculated.

Kohath’s minimum age:  he was alive when they moved down to Egypt and he had a younger brother.  If his younger brother had just been born, Kohath could have been as young as one year old. 

Kohath’s maximum age: eleven sons were born to Jacob within a nine-year time span at uncle Laban’s place.  Levi was #3 and Joseph was #11.    Thus, Levi was born about two years into the nine-year time span while Joseph was born last so he was born about seven years later.  This makes Levi about seven years older than Joseph.  Scripture reveals that Joseph was 39 when his family joined him in Egypt; Levi would have been about 46 (39+7=46).  At this time Jacob’s sons were starting families when they were very young, even younger than 20.  If Levi’s second son, Kohath, was born when his father was just 20, he would have been 26 when they moved to Egypt. 

Maximum Range for the age of Kohath:  So Kohath could have been as young as one or as old as 26 when the family moved to Egypt.  If he were just one year old, he would contribute the most years to the Egyptian sojourn.  So that number will be found first.  Kohath died at the age of 133 (Exodus 6:18) so he could have contributed as many as 132 years to Israel’s time in Egypt.  Now the numbers are available to determine the absolute maximum number of years in Egypt if this genealogy (Levi-Kohath-Amram-Aaron) is complete.  Aaron provides 83 years.  Amram provides another 137 years and Kohath could have provided up to 132 years.  The total is 352 (83 + 137 + 132 = 352). 

Three hundred fifty-two years is the maximum number of years these three named fathers could contribute towards Israel’s total sojourn in Egypt if this list is complete.  Although, it is most unlikely that a father would have had his named heir in the very year he died at such an advanced age.  For this to happen twice in a row is even more unlikely.  As already noted, Jacob’s sons were starting families as early as the age of 20.  But for now, the maximum possible number of years in Egypt has been found if this genealogy is complete.  That total number of years, 352 years, is more than enough for a 215-year sojourn but it is not enough for a 430-year sojourn. 

Because of this the 215-year people conclude that when Moses said Israel’s sojourn was 430-years (Exodus 12:40), he was referring to the entire time from Abraham’s arrival in Canaan until the Exodus.  Scripture reports that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in Canaan 215-years before the move to Egypt.  The remaining 215-years would be the years that are left for Israel’s sojourn in Egypt.   Thus, they say, Israel sojourned in Egypt 215, not 430-years. 

But that interpretation conflicts with the very words of God, Stephen and Paul as well as those of Moses, all of whom uphold the 430-year number for the years Israel was in Egypt.  In effect this approach jumps from the frying pan—trying to escape the difficulty of Exodus 6 and Numbers 26—into the fire—doing violence to the words of God, Moses, Stephen and Paul.  If the Exodus and Numbers passages will only support a 215-year sojourn while the four witnesses testify to a 430-year sojourn, the Bible apparently is contradicting itself and inerrancy is compromised.  Since inerrancy assures that Scripture does not contradict itself, how is this dilemma resolved?  The answer is found in the hidden beauty of Hebrew genealogies.

The Hidden Beauty of Hebrew Genealogies

Because Biblical Hebrew relational terms were used in both narrow and broad senses, “father” could mean father, grandfather or ancestor.  The same was true of son, beget, and other common kinship terms.  In Hebrew genealogies both the narrow and broad senses of these family relationships were employed.  In the Levi-Aaron genealogy the maximum possible consecutive years of the named four living in Egypt (352) falls short of 430-years in Egypt.  To get 430-years more generations are needed.  Since they are not stated, this genealogy is abbreviated.  Generations are omitted.  The following table shows the impossibility of four generations spanning 430-years on the left and therefore what missing generations might look like on the right. 


What actually happened?   Amram had a son who had a son and somewhere down the line Aaron, Moses and Miriam were born.  To say Aaron was the son of Amram when many generations came in between is no different than Matthew 1:1 saying Jesus Christ was the son of David when many generations came in between.  This was a common and accepted way for ancient Hebrews to state their genealogical relationships. 

Conclusion to the 215/430 Debate

This chapter began by pointing out that a 215-year Egyptian sojourn is not stated in Scripture but is primarily a deduction based on the Levi-Aaron genealogy recorded in Exodus 6 and Numbers 26.  The few generations stated in those two passages do not permit a 430-year sojourn.  While they appear to be reporting that a grandson of Levi married a daughter of Levi and they became the immediate parents of Miriam, Aaron and Moses, that is the overview but there is more to the story.  Rather Amram and Jochebed had these children through intermediate generations.  Omitting generations between Amram and Aaron was not a scribal error; it was the Hebrew way of simplifying genealogies. 

Nature of the Levi-Aaron Abbreviation

The Jewish people all descended from a common ancestor.  The God of creation told that ancestor, Abraham, that He would make of him a great nation.  His grandson, Jacob, had twelve sons.  Each formed a unit of the promised nation called a tribe.  The sons and sometimes further descendants of these tribal fathers formed units within each tribe with various designations.  As populations increased in succeeding generations that division was further broken down into a third level.  It also had various names.  Knowing a person’s identity with these three levels provided a powerful picture of the person.  It showed where he belonged in the nation. 

God said all booty from the battle of Jericho was under a ban.  A soldier violated the ban.  In judgment God caused the Israelites to lose their next battle.  When the leaders cried out to God, He said to find the guilty soldier and execute him.  To find him they were to bring each tribe before the LORD.  Scripture continues: “And the tribe that the LORD takes by lot shall come near by clans.  And the clan that the LORD takes shall come near by households.  And the household that the LORD takes shall come near man by man” Joshua 7:14.  Here is an instance where God Himself spoke of those three levels of organization of the nation—He called them tribe, clan and household (ESV).  While Scripture uses various designations for them in other places, here God used specific designations for them.  This book will follow His example and refer to that first level as tribe, to the second level as clan and to the third level as household.

Without question Levi, the third son of Jacob, formed a tribe.  Numbers 26 speaks of the second census of Israel.  It was conducted just before entering Canaan.  The tribe of Levi was dedicated to the spiritual life of Israel so its population was not counted with the other tribes that became the army of Israel.  In the census each of the twelve ordinary tribes are individually named.  In doing so Scripture speaks of each son as follows: “Reuben, the firstborn of Israel, the sons of Reuben: of anoch, the clan of the HanochitesH      

Hanoch, the clans of the Hanochites….” Numbers 26:5.  The chapter lists each of the twelve tribes with the same sons as found in the list that went to Egypt 470 years earlier.  Then it speaks of the tribe of Levi in the same way: “This was the list of the Levites according to their clans: of Gershon, the clan of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the clan of the Kohathites; of Merari, the clan of the Merarites” (Numbers 26:58).  Next it says that Kohath was the father of Amram.  So, the organization of Israel adds to the view that these names are consecutive: Levi-Kohath-Amram.

When Moses recorded the Levi-Aaron list, he first cited the tribe that Aaron belonged to (Levi), then the clan (Kohath) and finally the household (Amram).  He knew who Aaron’s father, grandfather and great grandfather were.  But they were unknown and unimportant to the nation at large.  To list them would have been tedious, clumsy and unnecessary.  But knowing the three levels of Aaron’s ancestry was very important.  This pedigree showed that both Aaron and his younger brother Moses were part of the very foundation of the nation.  While God called Moses and authenticated him with signs, ancestors that laid the foundation of the Hebrew people added respect and legitimacy to him as God’s chosen leader.  This understanding of purpose explains why Levi’s list is so short.  Moses omitted all the generations between Amram and Aaron.  The existence of one undeniably abbreviated Hebrew genealogy in Scripture sets a precedent.  If one genealogy was abbreviated, others could be as well. 

Implications for Shem’s Genealogy

While the abbreviation of most Hebrew genealogies would have no significant effect on the date of the Flood, an abbreviation in Shem’s genealogy would.  Then, adding those numbers would give an incorrect date.  But Shem’s genealogy contains a feature that makes it different from the Levi-Aaron list.  It not only identifies each father’s son but gives the year when that son was born, saying two years after the Flood a son by the name of Arpachshad was born to Shem (Genesis 11:10).  It continues by saying that when Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he fathered Shelah (Genesis 11:12).  Scripture states the age of each succeeding father when his heir was born. 

This feature appears to assure that Shem’s list is complete—no ifs, ands or buts.  Nevertheless, in view of the fact that most inerrancy scholars are certain the Ussher date is too late, is there anything in Scripture to suggest the years of any of the fathers might be interpreted differently?  Does Scripture anywhere provide information or give an example that would answer this difficulty?  In fact, it does.  The very iron-clad genealogy of Levi provides a completely satisfactory solution to the Shem issue in the following way. 

What is overlooked is that the Levi-Aaron list also gives factual details about the parents before the omission.  While some of that information could be true of Aaron’s immediate father, other factual details make it impossible for Amram to be the immediate father of Aaron.  If so, to whom does all of the factual information apply?  It must be true of the unnamed immediate son of Amram and only in a broad sense is it true of any further omitted generations and of Aaron.  The following paragraphs identify an amazing list of factual details about the generation in question. 

The father at issue is the third name in the Levi-Kohath-Amram-Aaron genealogy, Amram.  The following facts are stated in Scripture about him:  first, Amram is the first of four named sons born to Kohath (Exodus 6:18).  Remember, Kohath was alive when Jacob joined Joseph to begin the sojourn in Egypt.  Second, Amram took a wife (Exodus 6:20).  Third, her name was Jochebed (Exodus 6:20, Numbers 26:59).  Fourth, she was the daughter of Levi (Numbers 26:59); fifth, she was the sister of Amram’s father (Exodus 6:20) and, sixth, she was born in Egypt (Numbers 26:59).  In other words this daughter of Levi was not born in Canaan like Levi’s  three sons—Gershon, Kohath and Merari (Genesis 46:11).  Rather, she was born after the move, making her younger than her three brothers. 

Seventh, since Amram was not listed among those sons of Jacob that moved to Egypt (Genesis 46:11), he, too, was born after the move, that is, he too was born in Egypt.  If Scripture hadn’t included the information about Jochebed being born in Egypt, it might have left the impression that Amram married someone old enough to be his mother.  Eighth, in addition to Aaron, Moses was also born to Amram (Exodus 6:20).  Ninth, in addition to Aaron and Moses, Miriam was also born to Amram and Jochebed (Numbers 26:59).  Indeed, depending on what is counted, up to nine specific facts are revealed in Scripture about the third generation male in the Levi-Aaron list of Exodus 6:18-22 and Numbers 26:58-59. 

Because Hebrews commonly named descendants after famous ancestors, some of these facts could apply to the parents of Aaron.  But the fact that both Amram and Jochebed were born at the beginning of the 430-year sojourn in Egypt while Aaron was born near the end of that 430-year period separates the birth of the third and fourth names in the Levi list by over 300 years.  Three hundred years makes it impossible for Aaron to be the son of Amram.  Therefore, those nine entirely true factual details about Amram apply to his immediate unnamed son and only by the Hebrew custom of viewing all descendants as the son of the father do they apply to Aaron. 

Some might suggest that numbers are more factual than other information, that in the statement “When Eber had lived 34 years, he fathered Peleg” (Genesis 11:16), the number “34” is an absolute fact and cannot be viewed in any other way.  We agree.  The number “34” is an absolute fact.  It cannot be viewed in any other way.  It is just like the absolute fact of Jochebed being born in Egypt.  Thus, the entire list of nine facts about Amram cannot be viewed in any other way.  The insight lacking through all church history was that Scripture used Hebrew family relational terms in both a narrow sense and a broad sense.  The question here is whether Eber fathering Peleg is used in a narrow sense or broad sense.  If the writer used it in the broad sense, generations are omitted between Eber and Peleg.  

The Levi-Aaron list becomes the biblical pattern for understanding details of a father before a suspected omission.  The details apply to the first unnamed son while the name that appears is used in the broad sense of a son further down the line.  For beyond doubt, names are missing between Amram and Aaron because Aaron came 300 years after Amram.  To remove that impossible timespan previous generations argued fiercely for a 215-year sojourn in Egypt.  Since some creationists still hold that view, the entire next chapter explains the impossibility of that position.   

When the biblical pattern is applied to Shem’s list, if there are one or more omissions, the age of the father when his heir was born refers specifically to the first unnamed generation.  But a high degree of certainty is needed to suspect names are omitted from a list.  Shem’s list provides two.  First is the impossibly late Flood date it produces in the face of all secular evidence.  But far more important is the biblical reason.  While longevity decreased between two and eight years per generation after the Flood, the decrease between Eber and Peleg was 225 years or 57% of the entire decrease from the Flood until human longevity stabilized at 70 years for a full lifetime (chapter seven).  The Eber-Peleg record is another Amram-Aaron case.

Viewing Shem’s List as a Chrono-Genealogy

Those holding that Shem’s list is complete add the ages of the fathers when their sons were fathered and declare that those years make it possible to determine the date of the Flood.  They call that type of genealogy a chrono-genealogy.   They then reason that even if there are omitted names between Eber and Peleg the number 34 ties Peleg to a chronology and therefore the total time between Eber and Peleg cannot exceed 34 years.  This argument is also called the “bookends” argument.

Yet, how is a number different from any other category of words that express an absolutely true detail, such as the details that Jochebed was the sister of Amram’s father and she was born in Egypt at the beginning of the 430-year sojourn?  Clearly there is no difference.  Numbers are no different from other precise words expressing a fact.  Words that express true facts are true whether they are numbers or not.  The bookend argument makes a superficial distinction between numbers and other words and interjects a false element into the time of the Flood debate. 

While that argument is clever, it is incorrect and must be recognized as an invention of man to support a particular interpretation of how to treat those numbers.  It is not stated by Scripture and violates how Scripture itself treats such details in Levi’s genealogy.  Further it is not verified by Moses in as much as he did not add up those numbers in Shem’s list.  Most important of all this argument could not be why God included those numbers because they give the wrong answer for the time of the Flood.

Those who hold this view reason: “Why else would Eber’s age be given when he fathered Peleg other than to tell when the Flood happened?”  In response Andrew E. Steinmann answered this question (applying it to Genesis 5 as well as Genesis 11 since the two instances of this format actually provide a stronger case against viewing them as having a chronological purpose):

This [chrono-genealogical argument] assumes that the information was included for chronological purposes and then argues that the genealogies must therefore be useful for chronological calculations.  In fact, the author does not state the reason for including this information….  This information could well have illustrated several points without being intended to be used in chronological calculations relating to the events of the narrative.  For instance, the information may simply have been intended to demonstrate:

1.     The different environmental and societal conditions that prevailed in that era.  People not only lived longer in Genesis 5, they matured more slowly and/or married at a later age.

2.     That conditions had changed in Genesis 11 and people came to marry and have children at a younger age, and they lived shorter lives.

3.     That the persons in genealogies were actual historical persons, not fictions or fictionalized historical persons.

These points could be illustrated with selective genealogies that do not include every generation.  The information would not be superfluous, but it also would not be useful for the purpose of chronological calculations.[2]

In fact, the merits of the chrono-genealogical argument are not strong in the eyes of most Bible scholars.  Moses wrote around 1400 BC when the lifespan of man was 70.  Saying that people once lived to the age of 900 would be met with skepticism.  Moses knew about the well-known fictitious stories of exceptionally long lifespans in the past. The Sumerian King List included one king who was said to have reigned 43,200 years.  Moses’ numbers had to be separated from such exaggerations.  By giving the years before the birth of the heir, the years after and the total years of each father in Genesis 5, God through Moses did all He could to assure His readers those people actually lived that long.  Furthermore, those numbers provide the very patterns that have aided us in building our explanations concerning man’s decreasing longevity after the Flood which is the key argument for the missing 40-50 generations between Eber and Peleg. 

In the Abstract of Steinmann’s 2017 article, he noted a recent spate of articles arguing that the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 were complete, skipping no generations.  In checking his observation this author found that three of the articles in a single issue of a popular age-of-the-earth magazine mentioned the too-recent year number.  Steinmann summarized his article as follows: “The major arguments they use are defective and falsifiable.”[3]   His version is 18 pages.  But he only scratches the surface.  Somewhere a book must spell it all out in detail.  Hopefully by showing the nature and function of ancient Hebrew genealogies Hidden Beauty will open people’s eyes to the frequent abbreviating of biblical genealogies. 

The Abbreviation of Shem’s Genealogy in Retrospect

Human longevity declined gradually from the first fathers born after the Flood until the days of Moses, from average full lifespans of 450 years to average full lifespans of 70 years.  This is an average full lifespan decline of 380 years.  Scripture gives abundant details to track this decline.  Shelah who represents the second generation born after the Flood (433-year lifespan), lived five fewer years than his father (438-year lifespan) who was born two years after the Flood.  Over the next two millennia the rate of decline was sometimes faster and sometimes slower but longevity stopped declining in Moses’ day when he wrote that a full lifetime was 70 years.  To this day 70 years generally stands as a full lifespan. 

But there was one exception during the gradual decline of those born after the Flood, a sudden one-time drop of 225 years.  This one instance is between Eber and Peleg.  Eber lived 464 years while Peleg, the next named person, lived 239 years, a decline of 225 years or 57% (225 / 394 = 57.1%) of the total decline of human longevity (464 – 70 = 394 years) after the Flood.  This eye-popping decline was either produced by another catastrophe as great as the Flood itself or it is another Amram-Aaron case.  There is no evidence for such a catastrophe 100 years after the Flood.  Thus, it must be another Amram-Aaron case.

The Amram-Aaron sequence leaves out an estimated 8-12 generations.  The Eber-Peleg sequence leaves out as many as 50 generations.  With new generations starting each 30-34 years when people lived 200-450 years, this represents up to 1600 more years of human history after the Flood than previously thought (and pushes the first man back accordingly).  Since God is not more specific, we dare not violate this ambiguity.  These few additional years make no difference at all in the creation-evolution controversy, but they make a world of difference in honoring Scripture because they treat both the words and numbers of Scripture as inerrant. 

Once we understand what the Bible literally says, we are free to examine the findings of secular disciplines; for, sooner or later when the secular world has all the facts, it will confirm God’s record.  So, have such findings caught up with the revelation of Scripture?  The Flood changed the face of the earth up to ten miles down so it obliterated the physical evidence of human existence that would speak to the condensing of the Genesis 5 list.  However, the Genesis 11 list involves the history of man after the Flood.  To some extent evidence for that history still exists and is constantly being discovered through such disciplines as studies of Hebrew and related languages, textual studies, archaeology and ancient Near East history. 

Adding the time represented in the missing generations between Eber and Peleg to the additional 215-years in Egypt provides enough time to encompass all well-established human history as found in written records since the Flood.  Thus, getting the genealogies of Scripture right provides harmony between the words and numbers of Scripture and removes a huge stumbling block between biblical creationists and other Evangelical scholars.  (See chapter seven for a full development of the abbreviation of Shem’s genealogy.)

The next chapter examines the words of four witnesses to a 430-year sojourn in Egypt.  In Archbishop Ussher’s day the text of Exodus 12:40 was deficient; so, for centuries believers held the 215-year view believing they were standing on Scripture.  Over the next two centuries the text was clarified.  Now eminent Hebrew scholars are unanimous—Moses clearly said the Egyptian sojourn lasted 430-years.  But all along the words of God Himself to Abraham in Genesis 15:13 pointed to a 430-year sojourn in Egypt and excluded a 215-year sojourn.


[2] Andrew E. Steinmann, “Gaps in the Genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11?”  Bibliotheca Sacra 174 (April-June 2017): 148-149 (141-158).  Andrew E. Steinmann is Distinguished Professor of Theology and Hebrew, Concordia University, Chicago, Illinois.  Bibliotheca Sacra, published by Dallas Theological Seminary, alma mater of Hidden Beauty’s author, is America’s oldest continuously published theological journal.

[3] Ibid., 141.

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