Yes, There are Gaps in Biblical Genealogies

by Max Andrews

There’s that one question that has plagued Christians on anthropological origins.  Many young earth creationists claim there cannot be any gaps in the genealogy, which is what leads us to dating the time frame of the earth being young.  Old earth creationists, like myself, believe that there are gaps in the genealogy. The question is whether it explains anything at all and how much does it explain?

The genealogies are adequate but not complete.  No matter how you read the genealogies, you must concede that there are gaps.  For example Mt. 1.8:

Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah.

However, 1 Chron. 3.10-12 reads it differently:

Asa his son, Jehoshaphat his son, Jehoram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, Amaziah his son, Azariah [also called Uzziah] his son.

Why did Matthew leave out three generations:  Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah? Scholars cite some reasons for the seeming discrepancy.  In many biblical lists of descendants, cadence and pattern hold great importance.  Matthew presented three groups of fourteen generations each:  fourteen from Abraham to David; another fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile; and a third set of fourteen from the Babylonian exile to Jesus.  To maintain the pattern of three fourteens, Matthew dropped names from the list of descendants as he deemed appropriate.[1]  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that ‘ab (father) and ben (son) are used as father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great grandfather; son, grand son, great-grandson, great-great grandson, etc.[2]  In this case the “father” of Uzziah can be understood to be the great-great grandfather.  Luke also adds Cainan between Arphaxad and Shelah (cf. Lk. 3 and Gen. 11).

The existence of gaps in the Genesis genealogies should not be construed as flaws.  The gaps mean we must treat them as we would abbreviations.  The words translated into English say this:  “When X had lived Y years, he became the father of Z.”  Someone reading the same passage in Hebrew would see a second possibility:  “When X had lived Y years, he became the father of a family line that included or culminated in Z.”[3]  I think this interpretation is grammatically consistent and is adequate in light of the gaps presented.  I spoke with Dr. Wilson over the phone a while back and this was one of the points that he mentioned.  I concede that anthropology is a weak area for me for I haven’t studied it as much as I have, say, cosmology.  As far as the precise dates for the origin of humanity we know fairly well the dates of Moses and Abraham and the rest of the extrapolation is primarily scientific interpretations because the gaps in the genealogies don’t give precise dates (you can only do this if you trust the record of nature as being factual and being constant, otherwise, there’s no purpose to science).  In 1995 a Y-chromosome research project—one which examined a hundred times more nucleotide base pairs than any previous study—fixed the date for the most recent common ancestor of all human males at somewhere between 35,000 and 47,000 BC.[4]  The grammatical structure isn’t lenient enough to get the 250,000 years or so that evolutionists would want to claim (I believe Dawkins has mentioned the 250,000 years but I cannot provide an exact citation for that at this time).

[1] Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 2001), 108-109.

[2] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Chicago, IL:  Moody, 1980), 5-6, 113-114.

[3] Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 109.

[4] Simon I. Whitfield, John E. Sulston, and Peter N. Goodfellow, “Sequence Variation of the Human Y Chromosome,” Nature 378 (1995), 379-380.

7 Responses to “Yes, There are Gaps in Biblical Genealogies”

  1. Thank you for the article, Max. Is it your point that the gaps in the Biblical genealogies are sufficient to provide for an additional 31,000 to 43,000 years (to bring the 4,000 BC figure up to 35,000 to 47,000 BC), but there is not sufficient room to bring the total to 250,000 years? Do you have any ideas about where the additional 500+ generations would fit (assuming a generation is 70 years over an average of 37,000 years)?

    • Hi Bob. Thanks for commenting. I don’t have a number to have the generations accommodate; I’m just keeping the interpretation open because it allows for it. I don’t know if I mentioned it in this post or another one but I’m agnostic on early anthropology. I don’t know how long we’ve been around (exactly) or whether there is common descent. It’s not a big deal either way (in my opinion).

  2. Max, I think it’s quite reasonable to acknowledge that there are gaps in the genealogies, but I’m wondering on what basis you believe they can accommodate 30,000 – 40,000 years, but not 250,000 years. When you say that “the grammatical structure isn’t lenient enough to get the 250,000 years or so that evolutionists would want to claim,” you are indicating that there is an upper boundary, albeit a roughly estimated one.

    My question, then, is how do you know just how much stretching can be done? If the genealogies could accommodate, say, only 15,000 additional years, that would indeed be a big deal.

    • Oh, I see what you’re saying. I don’t have a definitive way of making that line of demarcation. I would lean towards the lower range because I lean away from common descent. I think the earliest sign of homo sapien sapiens (what we know as humans) are within 60-50K years ago and not transitionals from early dates. I guess it’s mostly scientific as in attempting to measure the gaps but I think there’s room for debate on it. The text isn’t specific about it. This is one of the reasons why I’m agnostic on this issue. My science knowledge is mostly physics and cosmology. I know only a little bit of biology and anthropology.

  3. The existence of genealogical gaps does not entail the existence of chronological gaps. The text says that when Enosh was 90 he begat (YLD) Kenan. Even if Kenan was Enosh’s great grandson, the text still tells us the year in which he was born. Same with all the other relationships. The same formula recurs throughout Gen 5 and 11: “When A had lived X years, he begat [YLD] B.” The verb YLD always indicates the birth of its direct object, even when the direct object is a remote descendant. For example, Deut 4:25 says, “When you beget [YLD] sons and grandsons and grow old in the land….” Moses is talking about when they have children and (when they are older) grandchildren, that is, when the children and grandchildren are born. Another example is 2 Kgs 20:18. Isaiah tells Hezekiah that he “will beget” sons who will (over 100 years later) go into exile. Hezekiah begat these sons (Zedekiah and Jehoiachin — see 2 Kgs 24-25) long after he was dead. The Genesis genealogies tell us how old each patriarch was when his son/descendant was born. There is no lexical way around it. William Henry Green gave no lexical support for his theory in 1890 that the formula can mean “When A had lived X years, he begat [a son from whom sprang] B. If there are genealogical gaps (which we can’t prove), the grammar stays the same. Can’t get away from the fact that B was born when A was X, genealogical gaps or not.

  4. The Westminster Theological Journal recently published an article I wrote which demonstrates that the chronology in Genesis 5 and 11 is intact and computable. William Henry Green only showed that Genesis 5 and 11 may have *genealogical* gaps, not *chronological* gaps. He assumed that the possibility of genealogical gaps entails the possibility of chronological gaps, but this is a non sequitur. In fact, chronological gaps are a semantic impossibility, as I show with lexical evidence and arguments. The text provides the age of each patriarch at the birth of the named descendant, so the chronology remains unbroken whether the named descendants are immediate sons or not. Evangelical scholars accepted Green’s hypothesis too uncritically, no doubt because it provided a way of reconciling the Bible with modern claims about the antiquity of mankind. You can read my article here (click on the title to open it):

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