Archaeological evidence indicates that the history of human beings on this planet is a fairly short one.
Many people past and present have tried to calculate the age of the Earth by means of the biblical genealogies. In contrast to the millions of years of the Indian philosophers and the 153,075 years of the Egyptian Apollonius (second century B.C.), all calculations based on the Bible have a very short time span for the existence of our planet.
The Jews placed Creation in the year 3761 B.C. Theophilus, a second-century bishop of Antioch (A.D. 169–177), wrote that the years from the creation of the world to the death of Aurelius Verus in A.D. 169 amounted to a total of 5,698 years.1 Many of the church fathers believed that in their days, the Earth was less than 6,000 years old. They linked the six days of creation with 6,000 years of Earth’s history, with the millennium representing the seventh day of rest.
In the 17th century, the Irish Archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656) calculated that the world was created in 4004 B.C.2 He based this calculation on the genealogies of the Bible, and his dates were used in the King James Version until the beginning of the 20th century. Ussher believed that the genealogies were complete and could be used for working out the age of the Earth; unfortunately, this is not the case.
Ussher believed that Jesus was born about 4,000 years after the creation of the world. But he also knew that the monk Dionisius Exiguus, the inventor of the Anno Domini (A.D.) dating in the sixth century, had made a mistake of at least four years as far as Christ’s birth was concerned. Ussher, therefore, added four years to the 4,000 years and came to 4004 B.C. for the creation of the world.
On the basis of the Egyptian and the Assyrian records, we can go back to 931 B.C. as the year in which Solomon died. He ruled for 40 years (1 Kings 11:42). According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus from Egypt took place 480 years before Solomon began building the temple (Ex. 12:40). Counting four years of coregency between David and Solomon (1 Kings 1:32–37) means the temple was built around 970 B.C. This takes us to about 1450 B.C. for the Exodus and to 1880 B.C. for Jacob’s entry into Egypt, and since Jacob was 130 years old when he entered Egypt (Gen. 47:10), he was born in 2010 B.C., Isaac in 2070 B.C. (25:6), and Abraham in 2170 B.C. (21:5). This is as far back as we can go with B.C. dates based on historical and biblical data.
Some commentaries accept the Exodus 12:40 reading of the Septuagint (the third-century B. C. Greek translation of the Old Testament, abbreviated LXX): “And the sojourning of the children of Israel, while they sojourned in the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan, was four hundred and thirty years.”3
This reduces the 430 years in Egypt to 215. The 215 years between the call of Abraham and Jacob’s entry into Canaan are computed by adding 25 years for Abraham (Gen. 12:4; 21:5), 60 years for Isaac (25:26), and 130 years for Jacob (47:9). This harmonizes with Galatians 3:16 and 17, where it is stated that the law was promulgated at Sinai 430 years after the covenant between God and Abram. “If Paul refers to the first promise made to Abram in Haran (Gen. 12:1–3), the 430 years began when Abram was 75 years old (12:4).”4 However, that promise was repeated to Jacob at Beersheba on his way to Egypt (46:1–4). Thus, it is from the last repetition of the promise, not from its first declaration, that the 430 years should be counted. This means the 430 years cover the period from 1880 to 1450. Furthermore, Exodus 12:40 says, “Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.”5 Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not part of the children of Israel; only Jacob’s sons are the children of Israel.
The ages given in Genesis 5 and 11 are anno mundi dates, i.e., counting from the creation of the world. Assuming these genealogies are complete, they amount to 1,656 years from Creation to the Flood in the 600th year of Noah (Gen. 7:6). According to Ussher’s 4004 date, this would place the Flood in the year 2348 B.C., or 178 years before Abraham was born. The Flood lasted one year and 10 days. Thus in 2347, eight people left the ark; about 200 years later, in the time of Abraham, there existed an Egyptian kingdom (12:10), not to mention the Sumerian kingdoms that preceded the Egyptian kingdom. There is simply not enough time for eight people to have enough descendants to create several kingdoms in the Middle East in the time of Abraham. The great civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt extend at least as far back as 3000 B.C.
Genealogies in Scripture
There are two kinds of genealogies in the Bible:6 The genealogies of continuity—the line of faith (Genesis 5, Adam to Noah; and Genesis 11, Noah to Abraham), and the genealogies of origin (Genesis 4, Cain to Lamech; and Genesis 10, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their descendants).
Several parenthetical statements are inserted in Genesis 4. They have to do with the accomplishments of the antediluvians of the line of Cain. They built a city (vs. 17), they lived in tents (vs. 20), they herded animals (vs. 20), they developed music (vs. 21) and metal implements (vs. 21). These are the five parenthetical statements in Genesis 4. They are all materialistic in nature. The line of Cain, the line of the wicked, is noted for its materialistic accomplishments.
There’s only one parenthetical statement in the genealogy of Genesis 5. It says that Enoch “walked with God” (vs. 24). The genealogy of Genesis 5 expresses the line of faith, and the only parenthetical note in it is the expression of faith, Enoch’s faith.
After the Flood, the genealogy in Genesis 11 continues the line of faith. Paired with it is the genealogy of Genesis 10, which is the table of nations. It explains the origin of nations, the origin of Israel’s neighbors. The genealogies in Genesis 4, 5, 10, and 11 are the only genealogies of origins in Scripture.
The next line of faith to show up is in Genesis 25 (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), and Genesis 35 (sons of Jacob). In Exodus 6 is the genealogy of faith during the sojourn. After the Exodus, we have a new genealogy in the first three chapters of the Book of Numbers. The next genealogy is found in Ruth 4:18 to 22. This is the genealogy of David. David’s line is continued in the southern kingdom from David to Zedekiah, scattered throughout the books of 1 and 2 Kings.
The northern kingdom produced a genealogy of discontinuity, which is basically a symptom of its apostasy. There are nine dynasties in the north; if Zimri (1 Kings 16:15) and Tibni (vss. 21–23) are included, there are 11. Thus, there is one dynasty in the south, and about 10 dynasties in the north. The northern kingdom came to an end in 721 B.C. when the Assyrians conquered Israel and took thousands of Israelites into captivity (2 Kings 17:6).
The southern dynasty was unfaithful, too, and ultimately many Judahites were swept off the land and taken to Babylon in three deportations (605, 597, and 586 B.C.). At the end of the Babylonian exile, there is again an outburst of genealogical activity in Ezra 2, 7, and 8, Nehemiah 7, and 1 Chronicles 1 to 9. The intense amount of genealogical activity expresses the continuity and connection with what happened before the exile. In spite of this break during the Babylonian exile, the line of faith continued, as did the line of the priesthood and the line of ownership of the land. It was important for the Jews, when they came back from the exile, to know where they lived and which family plot they still owned. The land was originally given to them by God through Joshua (Joshua 13–21), and they still owned it.
Ezra 2:2 to 60 and Nehemiah 7:7 to 59 outline the list of those who returned with Zerubbabel. Ezra 7:1 to 5 is Ezra’s own genealogy, and chapter 8:1 to 14 is the list of those who returned with Ezra later. First Chronicles 1 to 9 is a compilation of all the genealogies in the Old Testament.
The Purpose of the Genealogies
● They served to identify landowners, because land was given by God and could not be sold in perpetuity in Israel (Lev. 25:23).
● They validated the continuity of the priestly office.
● They validated the continuity of the kingly office.
● They served to express continuity through times of political transition and disruption: (1) Ruth 4:18 to 22 connects the times of the judges and kings; (2) genealogies in Ezra and Nehemiah bridge the gap of the exile.
● They served to express continuity through times of historical obscurity that lacked great religious significance: (1) Genesis 10 and 11 fill the vacuum between the Flood and Abraham; (2) Exodus 6 bridges the gap of the time spent in Egypt; (3) Matthew 1 bridges the intertestamental time period.
It is important to note that when genealogies are used to cover times of obscurity, the emphasis is on the people at the beginning and at the end of these lists. This emphasis lends itself to gaps in the genealogies, as will be seen. It is further important to note that nowhere does the Old Testament add up the numbers mentioned in any genealogy to calculate Creation, the Flood, or any other event.
Genealogies With Gaps
It would be nice if the genealogies were complete and the years could just be added up to know when the world was created or when the Flood took place. Unfortunately, there are great gaps in these genealogies. These gaps are based on the Father-Son Principle. In Hebrew, every ancestor can be called father and every descendant can be called son, e.g., “Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). In this case, the gaps are about 1,000 and 2,000 years respectively. Here are some examples:
1. When Genesis 11 is compared with Luke 3, Cainan (Luke 3:36) is missing in Genesis 11. He is mentioned in Genesis 11 (LXX), and therefore he appears in Luke, who used this translation when writing his Gospel.
Gerhard Hasel believed that the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 do not contain gaps. He called them “chronogenealogies” because they not only indicate how old the father was when the first son was born but also how long the father lived after the first son was born. For example, “Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. After he begot Enosh, Seth lived eight hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died” (Gen. 5:6–8). This is a unique style of a genealogy that is not repeated anywhere else in Scripture. Therefore, Hasel believed that this precludes any gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11.7
As indicated above, the problem is that the Cainan in the genealogy in Luke 3:36 does not appear in the Hebrew text of Genesis 11:12. (There is a Cainan in Genesis 5:12.) Does this indicate a gap in the genealogy in Genesis 11? And if there is one gap, could there be more? Some scholars believe that indeed there are gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. Larry T. Geraty suggests that there “are missing links in the Genesis chain of descent from a chronological point of view.”8
Hasel admitted that “the puzzle of this Cainan remains largely unresolved.”9 Nevertheless, he believed that the “second Cainan is a later scribal addition in the Septuagint.” This is certainly possible, because this Cainan does not appear in 1 Chronicles 1:18 or 24, even in the LXX. Neither does he appear in the Samaritan Pentateuch, in Codex Beza, Philo, Josephus, the early church fathers or in the early translations of the Bible, like the Vulgate and the Syriac versions. Furthermore, the numbers for Cainan and Salah, his son, are exactly the same:
|Birth of the son||Years lived afterwards||Total age|
|Cainan, age 130||330||460|
|Salah, age 130||330||460|
“The probability of these two successive characters having identical statistics is extremely small.”10 Therefore, if the second Cainan did not exist, this leaves the question, Why did the Holy Spirit allow Luke to copy Cainan from the list in the Septuagint? Either the second Cainan did exist and Luke is correct, or we have to put Luke 3:36 in the same category as Matthew 27:9, in which Matthew confused Jeremiah with Zechariah, and Acts 7:16 in which Luke confused Hamor, Shechem’s father, with Ephron the Hittite (Gen. 23:16)―and there are other texts in which minor mistakes particularly in names and numbers crept into the text. In none of these cases did the Holy Spirit intervene and correct the writing of the prophets. Most likely, these texts are evidence of the human element in Scripture.
2. When 1 Chronicles 3:10 to 13 is compared with Matthew 1:7 to 9, the following four kings are missing in Matthew: Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:25), Joash (12:1), and Amaziah (14:1) in verse 8, and Jehoiakim (24:1) in verse 11. This genealogy shows that even the expression “A begot B” does not indicate the immediate father-son relationship. (In Matthew 1:11, Jeconiah was Josiah’s grandson, not his son. Jeconiah’s father was Jehoiakim [1 Chron. 3:16]).
Furthermore, Matthew 1:17 says that there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 generations from David to the Babylonian captivity, and 14 generations from the Babylonian captivity to Christ. The problem with these lists is: (a) the first 14 generations (Abraham to David) cover about 1,000 years; (b) the second 14 generations (Solomon to Jeconiah) cover about 400 years; the third 14 generations (Shealtiel to Jesus) cover about 600 years, but this list has only 13 names.
What happened is that Matthew is giving a schematic view of history, probably for mnemonic reasons. In the third column, there are 22 generations in Luke 3:23 to 27. The reason was the way in which they were using the father-and-son principle.
3. Comparing Ezra 7:1 to 5 with 1 Chronicles 6:3 to 15, Ezra leaves out six names following Maraioth and several names between Seraiah and Ezra:
Such abbreviated genealogical lists were quite common and a “perfectly acceptable practice in antiquity, a fact well established from ethnographic studies of modern Near Eastern societies, as well as from studies of ancient genealogical records.”11
The Giv’at Ha-Mivtar tomb inscription from the first century B.C., discovered in 1971 in northeast Jerusalem, illustrates this fact. Abba was a priest who lived after the exile. The inscription reads: “I, Abba, son of the priest Eleazar, son of Aaron the high priest, I, Abba, the oppressed and the persecuted, who was born in Jerusalem, went into exile in Babylonia and brought back to Jerusalem Mattathiah the son of Judah, and I buried him in the cave, which I acquired by writ.”12
To read this inscription without our understanding of genealogies, it would have to be assumed that the three generations listed there covered about a century, maybe a third of a century for each person. There’s Abba, the son, Eleazar his father, and then Aaron his grandfather. In fact, there is a gap of about 10 centuries in this genealogy. Aaron the high priest and his son Eleazar lived in the time of Moses, around 1400 B.C. So, the author skipped at least 10 centuries, simply to express the idea that he is a descendant of the priests who really were significant, or were important back then. This is an extra-biblical evidence illustrating what Ezra had done.
4. David’s genealogy in Ruth 4:18 to 22 also has large gaps. Two names are listed entering Egypt in 1880 B.C.; one name is given during the 430 years in Egypt, and three names are recorded at the time of the Exodus in 1450 B.C. Finally, three names are registered during the period of the judges, as well as David:
The names in this genealogy are the significant generations that really mattered to identify the various historical periods.
Ellen G. White and Six Thousand Years
According to the Ellen G. White laser-disc concordance, there are 42 6,000-year and 41 4,000-year statements in her writings,13 the former referring to the time since Creation, the latter to the time from Creation to the birth of Christ. It is from these statements that Spirit of Prophecy support has been garnered among Seventh-day Adventists for the commonly held belief that the Earth is only about six thousand years old.
However, most of her references to these time periods are not for the sake of establishing the age of the Earth; they are incidental to some other thought she wanted to present. For example, “The continual transgression of man for six thousand years has brought sickness, pain, and death as its fruits.”14 The point she was making was that since the Fall, humanity’s transgressions have had terrible consequences; the “six thousand years” can easily be replaced with “since the fall” without any loss of meaning to her statement. The same applies to her “four-thousand-year” statements.
The phrases “six thousand years” and “four thousand years” are variations of “since the beginning,” “since the fall,” or “during Old Testament time.” Since she was not making a precise statement of time, she used various phrases like “for six thousand years,”15 “nearly six thousand years,”16 “about six thousand years,”17 and even “over six thousand years,”18 and “more than six thousand years,”19 to summarize the time period since the six-day creation in Genesis 1.
Only once did she actually refer directly to the age of the earth. This was in connection with her statements concerning infidel geologists, when she said, “the world is now only about six thousand years old.”20 Why “six thousand years”? There is no indication that she was ever told in vision that the Earth is only six thousand years old. Why then six thousand, rather than eight thousand or ten thousand years?
The explanation is most likely in the fact that whenever she opened her King James Bible, she saw on every page in the margins Ussher’s dates. On the first page of the Bible next to the Creation account, she, like every Bible-believing Christian at that time, read the date 4004 B.C. Short of a revelation from heaven, why should she have used any other date?
If, for the sake of argument, it may be assumed that the history of humankind upon the Earth was actually ten thousand years, could we really expect God to have revealed this fact to Ellen White and had her incorporate this figure into her writings? How would this have been accepted in the 19th century by Bible-believing Christians who, with their backs to the wall, fought off the attack of “infidel geologists” and the rising tide of liberal theologians? When such influential scientists as Georges Cuvier and others were giving support to these Christians, could we expect Ellen G. White to come out with something different and demolish what was for them an important pillar in their defense of the Bible? Must we demand that the Holy Spirit through Ellen White give us the exact time of Creation when the Bible does not?
Furthermore, we know from her son, W. C. White, that she did not consider herself to be an authority on the details of history and chronology. In his 1912 letter to W. W. Eastman, head of the publishing department of the Southwestern Union Conference, W. C. White explained: “Regarding Mother’s writings and their use as authority on points of history and chronology, Mother has never wished our brethren to treat them as authority regarding the details of history or historical dates.”21 While in the context of the letter, his words referred primarily to the historical dates in The Great Controversy, the general principle in the background of this saying applies equally to the chronologies in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, this does not mean that tens of thousands or millions of years can be inserted into her chronology. When she disclaimed being an authority, she was referring to details of history and chronology.
Because biblical genealogies are not complete, they cannot be used to calculate any dates prior to the time of Abraham around 2000 B.C. Hence, we cannot calculate the date of the Flood or the age of the Earth. The gaps in the genealogies cannot be used to insert thousands or millions of years. Where we can prove that a gap exists, the evidence indicates that in each case the time involved concerns hundreds, not many thousands or millions of years. The archaeological evidence indicates that the history of human beings on this planet is a fairly short history, not more than ten thousand years at the most. All known historical facts can be accommodated within that time span. A period of six thousand years, however, is definitely too short. Ellen G. White’s statements of six thousand and four thousand years must be understood against the 19th-century background in which Christians saw the date 4004 B.C. every time they opened their Bibles to Genesis 1:1.
Gerhard Pfandl, PhD, is a former Associate Director of the Biblical Research Institute, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.