Why a Commitment to Inerrancy Does Not Demand a Strictly 6,000-Year-Old Earth: One Young Earther's Plea for Realism (Part 2)

From Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (DBSJ) 2013. Used by permission. Read Part 1.

The 6000-year-earth position may be questioned on several grounds, some more substantial than others. I would like to suggest, though, that while all of the arguments developed below are load-bearing, the intertextual-exegetical arguments take pride of place in the ensuing material.

Logical Tensions

The 6000-year-old-earth model rests, at least in part, on a slippery slope argument: “Conceding a few extra centuries today means that the camel’s nose is in the tent, resulting inevitably in the acceptance of billions of years tomorrow.” Before proceeding, I cordially concede that slippery slope arguments are sometimes dismissed too readily for their logical fallacy. While in their most unqualified form slippery slope arguments are fallacious, it does not follow that it is wrong to sound the alarm about slippery slopes—some slopes, after all, are a bit precarious. But apart from demonstration and quantification, slippery slope arguments tend to degenerate quickly into arguments ad hysteria. The hypothesis that modest departure from a 6000-year-old earth position points necessarily to uniformitarianism and theological compromise may be true. But without some sort of evidence (e.g., syllogistic, historical, or statistical demonstration), the hypothesis is nothing more than pure speculation, or worse, slander. In point of fact, there are a great many exceptions to this slippery slope argument.

Hermeneutical Tensions

Proponents of 6000-year-earthism uniformly argue that the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 represent a unique sub-genre of genealogy not observable in the balance of Scripture.1 While all are forced to admit that some of the biblical genealogies feature (1) demonstrable gaps, (2) a flexible use of the term begat, and (3) abridgement for the purpose of symmetry, such features are argued to be absent in the chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. In these two genealogies (and these genealogies only) the fastidious use of numbers leaves no room for gaps; instead, Moses’s attention to these numbers prove that he intended to inform his readers of the exact age of the earth. Note, however, several tensions with this conclusion:

  • The author never tells why he included these numbers, ultimately rendering his reasons a matter of speculation. It is possible that dating the earth was one of his purposes, but he never says so.
  • If the author’s purpose in using these numbers was to establish the age of the earth, then he includes both too much and too little data. On the one hand, the establishment of the age of the earth would require nothing more than the age of each man when he birthed his heir: details about additional children and how long each man lived are completely superfluous to the age of the earth.2 On the other hand, Moses omits the one item that could have unequivocally proven the chronogenealogist theory: a grand total.3
  • As such, the heightened emphasis on numbers in the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies must have had a purpose that is at a minimum broader than and quite possibly other than the establishment of the exact age of the earth. Among possible options, one particularly credible proposal stands out, viz., that the numbers were intended to document the progressive deterioration and mortality of the human race: men were reproducing and dying earlier and earlier, the age of the earth notwithstanding.4
  • Finally, even if one agrees for sake of argument that Genesis 5 and 11 are instances of the special sub-genre of chronogenealogy, the state of the text is such that the age of the earth remains an open question. While the numbers in the Masoretic Text offer a date for creation of approximately 4000 B.C., the Samaritan Pentateuch points to a date some 401 years earlier, and the Septuagint to a date that fully 1366 years earlier.5 Note the following chart:


To summarize, it is not at all certain that the details of the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies argue for a 6000-year-old earth, third-millennium B.C. Flood, or other details about the events that took place in the antediluvian world.

Text-Critical Tensions

The most difficult obstacle to a strict chronogenealogical reading of Genesis 5 and 11 is without doubt Luke’s inclusion of the name Καϊνάµ/Καϊνάν in his genealogy of Christ (Luke 3:36).8 This name occurs in no known Masoretic manuscript of Genesis 11 and proves to be a particularly thorny issue for all sides of the debate. Three possible explanations for this state of affairs can satisfy the inerrantist: (1) Luke was the victim of textual emendation that saw the addition of a name that he never wrote; (2) Moses was the victim of textual abridgement that saw the deletion of a name that he in fact did write; or (3) Moses intentionally penned his genealogy with a gap for his peculiar purposes, and Luke filled that gap for his own purposes. Let’s evaluate these options:

First, the possibility that Καϊνάµ/ν is a late addition to Luke’s text is countered by overwhelming text-critical support for an original Καϊνάµ/ν. Even proponents of the strict chronogenealogy position are forced to admit that they believe “contrary to uncial evidence [that] Luke did not include [Καϊνάµ/ν] in his original text.”9 Among dozens of extant Lucan manuscripts, just two omit Καϊνάµ/ν, and only one of these (p75vid)10 is a credible witness.11 Meanwhile, the parade of textual support offered in for the inclusion of Καϊνάµ/ν in is decisive—the text-critical equivalent of a slam-dunk.12 And while at least one chronogenealogist has offered a respectable theory of how a later scribal addition of Καϊνάµ/ν might have occurred,13 none can offer a credible explanation of how that addition became unanimous. To cite the conclusion to Peter Williams’s impressive assessment of the problem,

These manuscripts [Codex Bezae and p75] provide an inadequate basis to confirm the supposition that a scribal error has been introduced into Luke…. Perhaps future textual discoveries will alter the balance of the situation, but at present the evidence discourages us from too confident a claim that error has occurred in the scribal transmission of Luke’s Gospel.14

It is far more believable that Luke, under the influence of inspiration, used a copy of the LXX when he cited the OT (a fairly common practice for Luke15) and preserved a true statement from that document.

This brings us, then, to our second possibility, viz., that Moses’s original manuscript contained the name ןניק, but that the name was omitted in later copies. The problem with this theory is that not a single known Masoretic manuscript contains the name ןניק in the Genesis 11 genealogy. Despite this formidable fact, however, we cannot argue that the name is without attestation. Chiefly, the name appears in almost all extant copies of the LXX, including the venerable Codex Alexandrinus.16 And while I am convinced that in a majority of text-critical questions the Masoretic Text of the OT proves more reliable than the Septuagint, this surely does not stand as a universal principle.17 So apart from sound reasons to discount the credibility of the LXX reading of Genesis 11, due consideration should be given to this prominent witness.18 Still, the complete absence of the name in any Hebrew text is difficult to overcome.

In view of the text critical impasse, our third possibility gains merit. It is possible to accept the best-attested readings of both Luke and Genesis by suggesting that while Cainan truly did exist, Moses chose not to include his name in Genesis 11. He did so without error or malice, but instead operated under the assumption that gaps are perfectly appropriate to genealogies. Luke, on the other hand, armed with the certain knowledge that Cainan was a historical figure, decided for his own undisclosed purposes and under divine inspiration to include the name.19

Intertextual Tensions

The possibility of gaps in the Genesis genealogies is not, as is supposed by some, a conclusion borne strictly out of extrabiblical compulsion to push the date of the flood back as far as possible. Extrabiblical reasons for a slightly older earth do exist (some more credible than others), but these do not comprise the whole of the argument. Note the following:

The Meaning of Beget

Tο beget (דלי/γεννάω) does not always mean to “father a biological child.” Biological fatherhood is part of the semantic range of these terms, but not the whole. Matthew, for instance, uses the term to denote the relationship of Joram to Uzziah—his great-great-grandson (Matt 1:8). He does not explain why he subsumed three generations in this particular use of γεννάω, but most agree that he made this decision to preserve the symmetry of three groups of fourteen generations. If this is the case for Matthew, perhaps Luke did the same, including Cainan to preserve two symmetrical lists of ten.20 We simply do not know for sure.

The objection, of course, is that the Genesis genealogies have details that ostensibly preclude the possibility of skipped generations: “When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh. After he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Seth lived 912 years, and then he died” (Gen 5:6-8).21 There seems at first blush to be little room for a gap. A closer look, however, yields two very important informing texts to the contrary.

First, the Levitical genealogy of Exodus 6 uses a formula very similar to that of Genesis 5 and 11 in a context that clearly demands a gap of several generations. In detailing the family line of Levi, Moses informs his readers that Levi fathered Kohath and lived a total of 137 years (Exod 6:16), that Kohath fathered Amram and lived a total of 133 years (Exod 6:18), and finally that “Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years” (Exod 6:20). The problem, of course, is that Kohath was one of the original migrants from Canaan (Gen 46:11), precipitating a sojourn in Egypt of some 430 years (Gen 15:13; Exod 12:40-41). In short, there must be generations that were omitted in Exodus 6.22

Second, the genealogical entry for Terah (Gen 11:26) contains anomalies that inform the hermeneutics of Genesis 5 and 11. In this verse we discover that Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran when he was 70 years old. Dismissing the unlikely possibility that Terah and his wife had triplets (a decision that some have questioned23), it would seem that Terah began fathering children at age 70. Abram is the first son listed (probably because of his prominence in the biblical storyline), but he was not the first son born to Terah. Note the following:

  • tells us that Abram was 75 years old when he left his father.
  • tells us that Abram did not leave until his father was dead.
  • tells us that Terah died when he was 205 years old.
  • Consequently, Abram was not born until after his father turned 130, at least 60 years after Terah began fathering children (Gen 11:26).

Assuming this pattern, the gist of the genealogies may read something like this: “When Terah had lived 70 years, he began having children. The son critical to the biblical storyline was Abram. After he began having children, Terah lived 135 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Terah lived 205 years, and then he died.” If this reading can be sustained and a pattern established (i.e., the child of the biblical storyline born on average approximately halfway between the birth of the firstborn son and the death of the father), then we may reasonably calculate that the period between the Flood and the birth of Abram is about 1,668 years, and not the 292 years demanded by the chronogenealogist.24 This number cannot, of course, be confirmed, but it does represent a reasonable extrapolation from known biblical data.

We conclude, based on patterns ostensibly established by these two key texts, that there are at least two places for gaps in the so-called “chronogenealogies” of Genesis 5 and 11: (1) a gap of generations, including one that is explicitly revealed (Cainan) but which may not have been the only one; and (2) a gap between the birth of the progenitor’s firstborn and the birth of the child of the biblical storyline.

(Part 3 follows next week.)


1 Rosvear and Kulling see two such genealogy sub-genres (“The Genealogies of Genesis” and “Are the Genealogies Complete,” respectively). Jordan sees a much more expansive number (“Biblical Chronology Question”).

2 Richard Niessen, having raising the possibility that the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies exist simply to show the inevitability of death or to trace the Messianic line, exclaims “How shallow!” then ridicules these theories for arbitrarily imposing on readers the “tedium of…dozens of unnecessary numbers.” “What are numbers for,” he asks, “except to show dates?” (“Biblical Approach to Dating the Earth,” 65; cf. also Freeman, “Do the Genealogies Contain Gaps?” 304). In fact, Niessen’s argument seems to come back against his own conclusion, as some of the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 clearly cannot have the function he assumes that they have.

3 Compare, e.g., the tally in Exod 12:40 and, in principle, the tallies in Num 1:46; 26:51 (Whitcomb and Morris, Genesis Flood, 474–75).

4 So Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1–17, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 256. Whitcomb and Morris suggest at least five other “pedagogical purposes,” that the author may have been pursuing when he included these numbers (Genesis Flood, 477).

5 For a modern example of a chronogenealogist who argues for dates roughly approximating the LXX scheme see Benjamin Shaw, “The Genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 and Their Significance for Chronology” (Ph.D. dissertation, Bob Jones University, 2004). See below for further consideration of the textual problem.

6 From the birth of Arphaxad to the birth of Abram.

7 I am making this calculation based on a birth year for Abram of 2166 B.C. This date is not accepted by all, but I am using it for the sake of argument to establish a benchmark for comparison. The argument still stands even if one chooses a different date. It is hoped that this will not be a distraction.

8 The spelling of the name is disputed, with about equal support for Καϊνάµ as for Καϊνάν. The question is not significant to the argument of this paper.

9 Freeman, “Do the Genealogies Contain Gaps?” 309.

10 adds the abbreviation vid (“apparently”) because just nine letters of verse 36 survive intact in this badly damaged papyrus. Despite this meager evidence, however, it is reasonably certain that there is insufficient room in the reconstructed document for the name Καϊνάµ/ν. I do not question the decision of the editors of to include this papyrus as support for an omitted Καϊνάµ/ν.

11 Codex Bezae (D) also omits the name Καϊνάµ/ν, but the widely acknowledged unreliable character of this manuscript offers the chronogenealogist model little by way of support. As D. C. Parker opines, “The longer I have studied [Codex Bezae], the more I have become convinced that its many unique readings only very rarely deserve serious consideration if one is trying to establish the best available text” (Codex Bezae: An Early Christian Manuscript and Its Text [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992], 1). Parker’s widely held opinion of Codex Bezae corrects the curious claim by chronogenealogist Richard Niessen that Bezae is “one of the 5 or 6 most important N.T. Manuscripts” for the discipline of textual criticism (“Biblical Approach to Dating the Earth,” 64).

12 א, A, B, K, L, N, Γ, Δ, θ, Ψ, 0102, f1, f13, 33, (565), 700, 892, 1241, 1424, 2542, l2211, Maj, syp,h, samss, bopt.

13 Jonathan Sarfati argues for addition by dittography, theorizing that a later scribe accidentally reduplicated a second Καϊναµ/ν that appears in the following verse (“What About Cainan?” TJ 18 [2004]: 41). See also Darrell L. Bock, , BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 359. While dated, the most comprehensive defense of the omission of Cainan in remains C. Robert Fetter, “A Critical Investigation of the ‘Second Cainan’ in ” (B.D. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1956).

14 “Cainan: In or Out?” Creation ex Nihilo Technical Journal 14 (2000): 55. For an irenic, thorough, and eminently erudite treatment of the problem see also his “Some Remarks Preliminary to a Biblical Chronology,” Creation ex Nihilo Technical Journal 12 (1998): 98–106.

15 For more on Luke’s dependence on the LXX, see Helmer Ringgren, “Luke’s Use of the Old Testament,” Harvard Theological Review 79 (1986): 227–35.

16 It is unfortunate that we can make no appeal in our quest to the Dead Sea Scrolls, to which appeals for arbitration between MT and LXX readings may often be made. There is but one word from the Genesis 5 & 11 genealogies that has been preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls. That word, amazingly, is ןניק (Kainan). However, it is probable that the ןניק found in the DSS reflects an earlier usage of the name that appears universally in the various renditions of (see Eugene Ulrich, ed., The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Transcriptions and Textual Variants, vol. 1, Genesis–Kings [Leiden: Brill, 2013], 8).

17 Note, for instance, the much publicized problem of 1 Samuel 13:1.

18 I specify sound reasons deliberately. Sadly, some have turned to inane speculations in their attempt to discredit the LXX of Genesis 11. For instance, Richard Niessen hazarded in 1982 that the LXX translators, under pressure from the Egyptians to expand the Hebrew chronology to accommodate the Egyptian Pharaoh lists, selected the name Καϊναµ/ν as a secret coded message to the readers that the name was worthless (like Adam’s son Κάϊν), new and contrived (fr. the Greek καίνος), or empty (fr. the Greek κένος) (Niessen, “Biblical Approach to Dating the Earth,” 64). Such speculation really has no place in this debate, and I am pleased that this hypothesis, while perpetuated by a more than one chronogenealogist, is not widespread.

19 For a possible reason why Luke might have included Cainan and Moses might have omitted the name, see the next section of this paper.

20 Whitcomb and Morris use this argument as possible evidence that Cainan was original in Genesis 5 and 11. Note the following from Genesis Flood, 476:

1. Adam 1. Shem
2. Seth 2. Arpachsad
3. Enosh 3. Cainan
4. Kenan 4. Shelah
5. Mahalalel 5. Eber
6. Jared 6. Peleg
7. Enoch 7. Reu
8. Methusaleh 8. Serug
9. Lamech

9. Nahor

10. Noah
(Shem, Ham, Japheth)
10. Terah
(Abram, Nahor, Haran)

21 All scriptural quotations are from the New International Version, 2011.

22 So Whitcomb, “Genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11,” 2; see also Peter Enns, Exodus, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 177; The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 106n. Incidentally, lest one opt for understanding the 400 years of as 4 generations, we observe in that Moses and Aaron were numbered among 8600 descendants of Kohath, a man who must either have been incredibly prolific or, more likely, had the much-needed help of additional generations.

23 Pete Williams offers an alternative understanding that allows for triplets and no gap at all (“Remarks Preliminary to Biblical Chronology,” 104). I did not find his arguments compelling, but would invite further interaction with it.

24 So Whitcomb, “Genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11,” 3.

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Robert Byers's picture

I don't believe anyone in the history of the world has ever looked at the genealogical records of Genesis and said, "You know, I think these numbers were given to us to tell us that the earth is way older than the numbers say."  I do believe many people have looked at the genealogical records of Genesis and said, "You know since I think the earth is older than the Bible numbers say, I'll come up with a way to add in some (or a bunch of) extra years."  

There is no reading of the Bible without assumption.  Some people assume that the Bible is true and if what science says doesn't line up, science is wrong.  Some people assume that science is true, and if what the Bible says doesn't line up, the Bible is wrong.  I leave it to the reader to determine which of these approaches reflects a higher view of inerrant and inspired Scripture.

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