Genesis 4:18:14

The hints of government seem to be patriarchal and possibly city states. With regard to religion, sacrifices (Gen 4:4; 8:20) appear to have been established and Noah was familiar with “clean” animals (7:2; 8:20). Of the lineage of Seth and Enos (4:26) it is said “at that time men began to call upon the name of the Lord.” Perhaps by contrast the descendants of Cain did not call upon God.

Dating this period. The dates of Adam and of the Biblical Flood and Noah are not known. (See FLOOD, GENESIS.) In fact, any dates of patriarchs before Abraham are uncertain. Even the various methods for computing the date for Abraham yield results that differ as much as 300 years (New Analytical Bible and Dictionary). The uncertainty in the date for the Biblical Flood may be thousands of years.

Much information has been learned from archeology and anthropology about ancient peoples and their cultures that likely predate the Flood. Radiocarbon and potassium argon methods of radioactive dating are among the most reliable methods of obtaining absolute dates (in contrast to relative dating). By these a time scale in years is obtained, generally with a precision of about two to five per cent on the measurement and a probable accuracy of about five to ten per cent with respect to the true date. Certainly, this is evidenced repeatedly by numerous comparisons with ancient artifacts of known historic age, and of tree rings where the yearly rings can be counted.

Radiocarbon is reliable in dating organic (once living) materials back to about forty or fifty thousand years. The precision is not as good for a 40,000 year old sample as for those of recent age because the radioactivity is very low. Potassium argon precision is good on samples a million years old or more. For younger samples the analytical precision is poorer because the samples are too young to have accumulated sufficient radiogenic argon for more precise measurement.

Genealogy tables and the period from Adam to Noah. In Genesis 5 is a genealogy list of ten antediluvian patriarchs along with statements on (1) the age of each at the birth of a genealogy son, (2) the number of years remaining until his death, and (3) the sum of the years of these periods combined.

Davis (ISBE I, p. 139ff.) compares the numbers given in this genealogy list from three ancient texts, viz., the Hebrew, Samaritan, and LXX supplemented with several other textual sources. There seems to be in the LXX a systematic excess of 100 years for the age of the patriarch at the birth of the son. Also the longevity of Jared, Methuselah and Lamech is variously divergent in the Samaritan text. Davis presents the opinions and theories from a number of commentaries and favors the conclusions (1) that the divergencies of the texts are due mainly to systematic alteration and not to accidental corruption, (2) that the data differences in the Samaritan text gives evidence of adjustment to a theory, and (3) that Biblical scholars no longer question the general superiority of the Heb. text of the Pentateuch as a whole over the LXX and Samaritan texts. Which source is superior in this passage is still in question. One of the theories, based on the interpretation that the genealogy names denote individuals with no omissions, supposes that the scholars for the LXX noted from their data that Methuselah would have survived the Flood and so accordingly increased his age at the birth of Lamech. Likewise the Samaritan data would indicate that Jared, Methuselah, and Lamech outlived the Flood so scholars reduced the respective ages of these to indicate that they died in the year of the Flood. Other rather involved changes also are speculated to bring the several accounts into agreement. The net result is that we cannot be sure of the original reading of the data on the ages of the patriarchs. Perhaps the fact of the preservation of these variant texts should be taken, within the will of God, as a warning that the ages of the patriarchs cannot be added simply to give a date for the Flood or Adam.

Other Biblical scholars of repute give essentially this same warning. Unger (UBH, pp. 47, 48) says it is highly improbable that the Genesis 5 genealogical framework can be used, or was intended to be used, for calculating the length of time between the creation of man and the Flood. He gives the following reasons: (1) “The Hebrew terms ‘begat,’ ‘son,’ ‘daughter’ are used with great latitude and may involve a distant as well as an immediate descendant. (2) The ten generations from Adam to Noah, and the ten from Noah to Abraham evidently aim at brevity and symmetry, rather than unbroken father-to-son relations. (3) Abbreviations due to symmetry are common features of Scripture genealogies (as in Matt 1). (4) In the recurring formula A lived——years and begat B, and A lived after he begat B——years and begat sons and daughters, B may not be a literal son of A. If so, the age of A is his age when his descendent was born from whom B was descended. An indefinite time interval may therefore be intended between A and B. (5) Man is now scientifically known to have existed long before 4000 b.c., as both paleontology and archaeology show.” Unger also has written (UAOT, p. 18) that God’s revelation, the Bible, may be made “more fully understandable as a result of light shed upon it from external sources—whether it be ancient history, modern archaeology, or any other branch of learning. And anyone who would understand the Bible as fully as possible has no right to neglect light that may be obtained from extra-Biblical sources.”

Dating ancient man certainly involves the fossil record. It is widely known that both archeologists and anthropologists place the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Indus Valley, and the Sumerians, in Mesopotamia back to 3000-4000 b.c. or somewhat before. There is no known universal break in faunal species or geologic sedimentation which would date the Biblical Flood, and hence the date for antediluvians. Furthermore, fossil man, usually with associated tools and fauna, dates back in N America, e.g., Folsom man to 15-20K (15,000 to 20,000 years ago) and Sandia man to 25-30K; in Australia the oldest date known to this author is 35-40K; whereas fossil man or man-like creatures in Europe and Africa covers the range from the present back to about 1.5 million years. Fossils classified as Homo sapiens are dated from the present back to about 100K (DGFM, p. 13). Steinheim and Swanscombe (dated about 200-250K and classed as Homo sapiens by Day are classed with Neanderthal by others (DGFM pp. 34, 35, 73). The Pithecanthropines are placed at 250-600K; the Australopithecines at 600-1550K and Habilines at 1000-1500K or 1-1.5 million years. The majority of these ancient man-like creatures older than 50K are dated by associated flora, fauna, and tools. Zinjanthropus, the earliest Australopithecine, was dated by potassium argon radioactive dating and hence in all probability is more accurately dated.

In discussing antediluvian man from Adam to Noah we are left still with the question, when did Adam live? We do not know. Was Adam the first member of Homo sapiens or was he the first member of an earlier genus such as Australopithecus? Some would place Adam as the first of genus Homo, but then, was Adam’s race, the antediluvians, contemporary with Neanderthal man? These are questions which cannot be answered now from Paleontology. Perhaps in the future new data will shed further light.

Concerning the Genesis record, Buswell (BSTCR, p. 325) after affirming defense of the special creation of man and the Bible as the Word of God, fully reliable on matters which it claims to set forth, says that, as far as the antiquity of man on the earth, “the Bible gives us no data on which to base any conclusion or even an estimate.” Warfield, who is called the greatest defender of the inerrancy of the Bible among scholarly theologians, discusses (WST, p 244) “The Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race” and says, “...for aught we know instead of twenty generations and some two thousand years measuring the interval between the creation and the birth of Abraham, two hundred generations and something like two hundred thousand years may have intervened. In a word, the scriptural data leaves us wholly without guidance in estimating time which elapsed between the creation of the world and the deluge, and between the deluge and the call of Abraham. So far as the Scripture assertions are concerned, we may suppose any length of time to have intervened between these events, which may otherwise appear reasonable.”

Furthermore, Buswell points out that Matthew’s genealogy (1:2-17) is divided into three sections each containing fourteen names (see v. 17). On observation there are forty names rather than forty-two, since the last name in the first section is the first name of the second section, etc. He suggests that Matthew did not intend three fourteens which could be added together but rather three fourteens which would be easy to memorize (ibid., p. 330). Davis shows that Genesis is divided into ten sections, each introduced by the same formula (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; etc.). In this pattern the Flood was a point of crisis with ten generations named before the Flood and ten after. Also the time from Noah to Abraham is divided into two equal sections with five generations named from Noah to Peleg (“ his days the earth was divided”) (10:25), and five generations named from Peleg to Abraham (11:10-26). Davis concludes, “There is no basis in the genealogy from Adam to Noah for the calculation of Chronology. The table was constructed for a different purpose and the years are noted for another reason than chronology” (ibid., p. 142).

Buswell writes on “Understanding Ancient Idiom” (op. cit., p. 326) that Moses in Genesis 5, 10 and 11 “had no intention of giving figures which could be added up, but took it for granted that his readers would understand that the biographical information in these chapters was given, not at all for long term chronology, but among other purposes, to show God’s dealings with men and families from the beginning of the human race down to Abraham, regardless of the unmentioned persons and gaps in the record as given, and to show the great antiquity of God’s redemptive program through many ancient families prior to Abraham’s time.”

G. T. Wright (ISBE, 1, p. 143) also cites Green as giving “the most probable interpretation of the genealogical table” in Genesis 5, and agrees that “as in the genealogies of Christ in the Gospels, the object of the tables in Genesis is evidently not to give chronology but the line of descent.” As support he calls attention to the fact “that no use is made afterward of the chronology, whereas the line of descent is repeatedly emphasized.” He also points out that “this method of interpretation allows all the elasticity to prehistoric chronology” that archeology may require.

J. D. Davis (ISBE, 1, p. 142) asks “But after all are we really justified in supposing that the Hebrew author of these genealogies designed to construct a chronology of the period? He never puts them to such a use. He nowhere sums these numbers. No chronological statement is deduced from them. There is no computation anywhere in Scripture of the time that elapsed from the Creation or from the Deluge, as there is from the descent into Egypt to the Exodus (Exod 12:40), or from the Exodus to the building of the temple (1 Kings 6:1).”

The Heb. method of genealogy has a parallel in the Sumer. King Lists. The Weld-Blundell Prism lists eight kings who reigned before the Flood and fourteen dynasties after the Flood. To the eight kings who ruled at five different cities seemingly in succession is ascribed lengths of reign from 18,600 years to 36,000 years for a total of 241,200 years (FLAP; pp. 24-31). A later form of the same list is known from the writings of Berosus, a priest of Marduk’s temple at Babylon about 300 b.c. He gives ten names instead of eight and further exaggerates the lengths of reigns from 10,800 years to 64,800 years for a total of 432,000 years (FLAP; p. 25, ISBE 1, p. 141). Davis points out some remarkable similarities between the Genesis account and the Babylonian account, and well there might be if they each obtained information from the same earlier writings. One recognizes, of course, that Moses wrote Genesis about a thousand years before Berosus’ list. The correspondence begins with the third name in each list. The third patriarch (Genesis) is Enosh, meaning “man,” and the third king (Babylonian list) is Amelu, also meaning “man”; the fourth patriarch is Kenan, derived from a root meaning “to fabricate,” and the fourth king is Ummanu, meaning “artificer”; the seventh patriarch was Enoch who walked with God, and the “seventh king is Enmeduranki, who apparently was reputed to have been summoned by the gods Shamash and Ramman into their fellowship and made acquainted with the secrets of heaven and earth”; the tenth patriarch, Noah, was the hero of the Flood as was the tenth king (ibid., p. 142).

Davis goes on to show apparent differences. The Heb. account “asserts kinship, however remote, between the successive links,” whereas in the Babylonian account the “descent of the government from father to son” is asserted in only two instances, viz., between the first two and between the last two. Also the longevity of the patriarchs contrasts with the longevity and length of reign of the Babylonian kings. There is no apparent systematic ratio between the years indicated for the members of each list, but the symmetry of the numbers in the Babylonian list makes it suspect. For example, there are ten kings and the sum of their combined reigns is one hundred twenty sars which is a multiple of ten and twelve the basal number of their duodecimal number system. (A sar is 3,600 years.) Davis illustrates, “There are ten reigns of ten sars each, and three successive reigns which taken together, 3, 13, 12, make ten and eighteen sars. Taking the reigns in order in which they occur, we have as their duration the series 10, 18-10, 18, 10, 18, 10, 8, and 18.

The weight of evidence according to the foregoing interpretations of available data clearly indicates that the Genesis account of the antediluvians does not give a chronology of a specific number of years from Adam to Noah. It is also clear that we have no date for when Noah or Adam lived.

Antediluvian longevity. The genealogies of Genesis 5 are used also to indicate much greater longevity before the Deluge. Unger (UAOT, p. 19) indicates that some writers interpret the genealogies as giving actual and consecutive years, and then, to explain the long lifetimes, they postulate a more perfect health for early man and a more healthful climate. One should make clear that this is a theory, possible perhaps, but supported by little or no data. There is medical research currently into the “cause of aging.” How is it that some animals, e.g., the turtle, may live considerably longer than man? Simple forms of life like the Protozoa Globigerina do not die: the protoplasm divides and goes on living in the form of two new individuals ad infinitum. Perhaps unwise habits, stresses, and pollution of the environment combine to reduce longevity today. However, it would appear from paleoecology and paleoenvironmental studies that there has been little change in the environment aside from regional variations in temperature and rainfall for many thousands and even millions of years. Yet, if the genealogy years mean longevity of individuals, the longevity of the antediluvians was a factor of ten greater than today. According to anthropologists an examination of 187 human fossils (Upper Palestine, Neo-lithic, Neanderthal) shows a death-age from 20 to 60 years, and only one case beyond 60. (Reported in L’Anthropologie, 48:459 and cited by H. J. T. Johnson, The Bible and Early Man [1948], p. 144, fn. 20 and Ramm, p. 341.)

A more viable interpretation given by Davis (ISBE, vol. 1, p. 142, 143) and Buswell (BSTCR p. 339-343) is that most, if not all, of the names in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are names of families, or dynasties, as well as individuals. It is common to speak of Israel, Jacob or Judah to denote the individuals and also to denote the tribes or nations that derived from them. David denotes both the king by that name and the dynasty that he founded. In Genesis 10 and 25 the genealogies obviously contain the names of tribes (Jebusites, Amorites) and the countries they inhabited—Mizraim, as Egypt was called by the Hebrews, begat the Lydians, and Canaan begat the town of Sidon. “Sometimes the family takes its name from its progenitor or later leading member; sometimes the name of the tribe or of the country it inhabits is given to its chief representative, as today men are constantly addressed by their family name, and nobles are called by the name of their duchy or country,” says Davis. “It is quite in accordance with usage, therefore, that Noah, for example, should denote the hero of the Flood and the family to which he belonged. The longevity is the period during which the family had prominence and leadership; the age at the son’s birth is the date in the family history at which a new family originated that ultimately succeeded to the dominant position.”

Buswell interestingly points out (ibid., p. 340) that in KJV (Gen 46:1-4), the name of Jacob as an individual and as a nation is blended. God promises to Jacob as an individual, “I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will also surely bring thee up again.” Jacob died in Egypt before his people came out so that obviously the personal pronouns “refer both to Jacob as an individual and to his people as a nation.” Buswell also refers to Isaiah who calls the nation “Jacob” without confusion, and Ezekiel (ch. 37) who prophesies the restoration of Judah and Israel and says (v. 24) that “David my servant shall be king over them.” It clearly means the Messiah of the line of David and not David as an individual.

Pfeiffer (PPA p. 20) comments “It has often been suggested that the descriptions of the Biblical patriarchs are actually records of the movements and activities of whole tribes. Terms such as ‘son’ and ‘begat’ may be used metaphorically, and in some instances the Biblical writers use them to show the relationships of ethnic groups.”


W. H. Green, “Primeval Chronology” in Bibliotheca Sacra (Apr. 1890), 285-303; B. B. Warfield, “On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race” (Jan. 1911), 2-11, Princeton Theological Review; Studies in Theology, 244; G. A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible, 7th Ed. Rev. (1937), 317-326; J. D. Davis, “Antediluvian Patriarchs” in ISBE (1939), vol. 1, 139-143; G. F. Wright, “Antediluvians” in ISBE (1939), vol. 1 p. 143; New Analytical Bible and Dictionary (1941); J. Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past (1946), 24-31; J. P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History (1950), 39, 40; M. F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (1954), 18 ff.; B. Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1956), 339; Unger’s Bible Dictionary (1957), 67, 68; C. H. Pfeiffer, The Patriarchal Age (1961), 20; J. O. Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (1962), vol. 1, 325-343; M. H. Day, Guide to Fossil Man (1965), 13, 34ff., 73.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Chronology Uncertain:

According to the ordinary interpretation of the genealogical tables in Ge 5 the lives of the antediluvians were prolonged to an extreme old age, Methuselah attaining that of 969 years. But before accepting these figures as a basis of interpretation it is important to observe that the Hebrew, the Samaritan and the Septuagint texts differ so radically in their sums that probably little confidence can be placed in any of them. The Septuagint adds 100 years to the age of six of the antediluvian patriarchs at the birth of their eldest sons. This, taken with the great uncertainty connected with the transmission of numbers by the Hebrew method of notation, makes it unwise to base important conclusions upon the data accessible. The most probable interpretation of the genealogical table in Ge 5 is that given by the late Professor William Henry Green, who maintains that it is not Intended to give chronology, and does not give it, but only indicates the line of descent, as where (1Ch 26:24) we read that "Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was ruler over the treasures"; whereas, while Gershom was the immediate son of Moses, Shebuel was separated from Gershom by several generations. According to the interpretation of Professor Green all that we can certainly infer from the statement in Hebrew that Adam was 130 years old when he begat Seth, is that at that age the line branched off which culminated in Seth, it being permitted, according to Hebrew usage, to interpolate as many intermediate generations as other evidence may compel.

2. Meaning of Genealogies:

As in the genealogies of Christ in the Gospels, the object of the tables in Genesis is evidently not to give chronology, but the line of descent. This conclusion is supported by the fact that no use is made afterward of the chronology, whereas the line of descent is repeatedly emphasized. This method of interpretation allows all the elasticity to prehistoric chronology that any archaeologist may require. Some will get further relief from the apparent incredibility of the figures by the Interpretation of Professor A. Winchell, and T. P. Crawford (Winchell, Pre-adamites, 449 ff) that the first number gives the age of actual life of the individual while the second gives that of the ascendancy of his family, the name being that of dynasties, like Caesar or Pharaoh.

3. The Nephilim:

4. The Ice Age:

The antediluvians are, with great probability, identified by some geologists (Sir William Dawson, e.g.) with glacial or paleolithic man, whose implements and remains are found buried beneath the deposits of glacial floods in northern France, southern England, southern Russia, and in the valleys of the Delaware, Ohio and Missouri rivers in America. The remains of "paleolithic" men reveal only conditions of extreme degradation and savagery, in which violence reigned. The sparse population which was spread over the northern hemisphere during the closing floods of the Glacial period lived in caves of the earth, and contended with a strange variety of gigantic animals which became extinct at the same time with their human contemporaries. See Deluge of Noah.

LITERATURE. Green, "Primeval Chronology," Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1890; Dawson, Modern Science in Bible Lands; B. B. Warfield, "On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race," Princeton Theol. Review, January, 1911; Winchell, Pre-adamites; Wright, Ice Age in North America, 5th ed.; Man and the Glacial Period, and Scientific Confirmations of nodetitle History.