Did Abraham Really Live 175 Years?

Examining the long ages of the biblical patriarchs

by Simon Turpin on December 6, 2022

It is probably no secret that most biblical scholars today are influenced in their interpretation of Genesis 1–11 by secular scientific paradigms (evolution and millions of years) as well as ancient Near Eastern literature (ANE). As a logical consequence, scholars who reject Genesis 1–11 as factual history also reinterpret many of the other details in Genesis (12–50).

In recent years, a growing number of evangelical scholars have argued that the long lifespans in Genesis, such as Adam (930 years), Noah (950 years), Abraham (175 years), Jacob (147 years), and even Moses (120 years) in Exodus1 do not refer to actual ages but are intended to be taken symbolically or as honorific numbers. Craig Olson, a professor at Trinity Southwest University, believes the long lifespans of the patriarchs are “schematic numbers intended to memorialize and convey honor to the lives of real ancestors who played significant roles in the founding of the nation Israel.”2 This means that the long lifespans were apparently intended to pay homage to the patriarchs, but they are not actual ages. Therefore, Abraham’s 175-year lifespan (Genesis 25:7–8) is considered symbolic or honorific and has an unknown meaning.

For Olson, the long lifespans of the patriarchs cannot be actual ages because of archaeological evidence.

There is no evidence of anyone at any time in history living these types of lifespans, and a chronology based on a face value reading does not match the archaeological evidence we find in the ancient Near East.3
Although it is true that critical scholars interpret the Bible in light of scientific evidence, the conservative scholars Olson has in mind (i.e., biblical creationists) do not chose Scripture over science but rather Scripture over a certain interpretation (naturalistic) of the scientific evidence.

The problem with this interpretation is that it does not come from the Bible but is based on archaeological evidence (see below) as well as ANE theological and worldview claims. Olson’s hermeneutical methodology removes Scripture as the God-breathed authority in interpreting evidence by subverting it to a man-made scientific discipline (i.e., archaeology) and the ANE worldview. The Apostle Paul accepted the long lifespan of Abraham (Romans 4:19) and believed that what was written in the Old Testament was understandable to God’s people (Romans 15:4).

Olson’s motivation for his honorific interpretation of the long lifespans in Genesis (specifically Abraham’s) is to find a middle ground between critical scholars who choose scientific evidence over Scripture and conservative scholars who choose Scripture over scientific evidence.4 Although it is true that critical scholars interpret the Bible in light of scientific evidence, the conservative scholars Olson has in mind (i.e., biblical creationists) do not chose Scripture over science but rather Scripture over a certain interpretation (naturalistic) of the scientific evidence. Because biblical creationists believe the ultimate Author of Scripture is God (2 Timothy 3:16; cf. Matthew 22:31), it has the ultimate authority when it comes to interpreting any evidence. Christians like Olson, however, seem to think evidence is interpreted in a neutral fashion, but evidence of any kind (archaeological, anthropological, geological, etc.) is never interpreted neutrally (Romans 1:18–25, 8:6–7). Evidence from archaeology and anthropology is generally based upon evolutionary assumptions regarding the history of mankind. This is not neutral evidence.

This article will show why a natural understanding of the long lifespan of Abraham is the only interpretation that is consistent with Scripture.

Abraham’s Life

In our modern world, because we have no experience of someone living hundreds of years, the reaction of many scholars (like Olson) is that the ages in Genesis cannot be actual. But we need to ask the question: What does Genesis tell us about the life of Abraham? Genesis gives us a very detailed account of his life.

In Genesis 11:27, after the tôlĕdōt (“this is the history of . . .”) of Shem (Genesis 11:10–26), a new family history begins with the tôlĕdōt of Terah, which will concentrate on only one of his sons, Abram. God will later change Abram’s name to Abraham (Genesis 17:5).

Although some scholars argue that factual history begins in the Bible with Abraham in Genesis 12, there is no textual basis for this assertion, because Genesis 1–11 is historical narrative and intends to give historical data.

Although some scholars argue that factual history begins in the Bible with Abraham in Genesis 12, there is no textual basis for this assertion, because Genesis 1–11 is historical narrative and intends to give historical data (Genesis 5:1–5; cf. Mark 10:6). In Genesis 11–12, there is no transition from non-historical to historical, and it is not treated as a separate literary category from Genesis 12–50 (tôlĕdōt, Genesis 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, 37:2). Genesis 12 begins with a waw consecutive verb, wayomer (“and he said”), indicating that what follows is a continuation of chapter 11 and not a major break in the narrative.

Abraham was born around 2166 BC5 in the city of Ur, Mesopotamia (Genesis 11:28–32).6 Abraham was 75 years old when he left Haran to go to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:4). When Abraham had lived in Canaan for 10 years, he and his Egyptian servant Hagar conceived Ishmael (Genesis 16:3–4), because his wife Sarah was still barren. So Abraham was 86 years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael (Genesis 16:16). Thirteen years later, when he was 99 years old, God made a covenant of circumcision with Abraham (Genesis 17:1, 17:24). Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5; cf. Romans 4:19). After Sarah’s death, Abraham is described as being “old, well advanced in years” (Genesis 24:1; cf. Joshua 23:2). This was because God had blessed (bārak) him in all things (Genesis 24:1; cf. verses 27, 31, 35, 48, 60); old age was a sign of God’s blessing (cf. Job 42:12). Abraham was 175 years old when he “died in a good old age, an old man and full of years” (Genesis 25:7–8). The description “good old age” (bĕśêbâ ṭôbâ) is used of God’s promise to Abraham of long life (Genesis 15:15). Altogether, Abraham resided in the land of Canaan for a hundred years and lived until his grandchildren’s fifteenth birthday (Genesis 12:4, 21:2–6, 25:20, 25:26).7

The fact that Moses continuously highlights the specific years of Abraham’s life at key events in his life precludes taking them in a symbolic or honorific sense. The long lifespans of the patriarchs are distributed throughout Genesis 12–50 (25:7, 35:28, 47:28, 50:22), not in chronological genealogies (i.e., Genesis 5:1–32, 11:10–26), and show that they should be understood as natural ages that are on the decline (cf. Exodus 6:16, 6:20; Numbers 33:39; Deuteronomy 34:7; Joshua 14:7, 14:10, 24:29; Job 42:16).8

Answering Objections to Abraham’s 175-Year Lifespan

Supposed problems have been raised as to why Abraham’s long lifespan should not be taken plainly (naturally). Olson believes the chronology of Abraham’s life presents a problem for the long lifespans.

If the pre-Abrahamic ages are assumed to be a gapless chronology, then all of Abraham’s post-flood ancestors were his contemporaries and four of them—Shem, Arphaxad, Shelah, and Eber—were still alive when Abraham entered Canaan, with Eber and Shem outliving him (Gen 11:10-32). Yet the text treats these men as respected ancestors, not contemporaries. There is no hint that these men were living at the same time as Abraham, and the narrative would not make sense if they were.9

These objections are not unique to Olson as other evangelical scholars who reject the factual history in Genesis 1–11 have used them.10

There are a couple of problems with Olson’s reasoning. First, the belief that Abraham’s ancestors (Shem, Eber) outlived him assumes Abraham was born when his father Terah was 70 years old (Genesis 11:26). However, Abraham was most probably born when Terah was 130 years old (not 70). This can be seen from the fact that Abraham was 75 when he left Haran (Genesis 12:4), which took place after Terah had died (Acts 7:4) at the age of 205 (Genesis 11:32). Abraham was not Terah’s firstborn son but is mentioned first in Genesis 11:26 because he is most important in the narrative to follow.11 This is similar to the preceding chapter where Shem, Ham, and Japheth are listed (Genesis 10:1) in an order unrelated to their age (Ham was the youngest son of Noah, Genesis 9:24). Furthermore, why is it considered rather odd that Shem and Abraham would be contemporaries?12 There is no objective reason as to why this could not have been the case (Shem died in 2016 BC, preceding Abraham’s death by 25 years, 1991 BC, Genesis 11:10–11, 25:7). Shem lived to 600 years (Genesis 11:11), and he was 100 years old when he fathered Arpachshad (Genesis 11:10), Abraham was born around 350 years after Arpachshad (making Shem 450 years old), and Abraham died at 175 years. This means that Shem died 25 years before Abraham did.

Second, as well as being unnecessary to the author’s purpose, there is a valid reason why we do not hear of intergenerational contact between the post-flood people (Shem, Eber; Genesis 10:21)13 who overlapped with the patriarchs. Many of the patriarchs lived in different areas of the ancient world (Ur, Haran, Canaan, Paddan-aram, Egypt), therefore making contact difficult, infrequent, and even unnecessary. But even if there had been contact, what would be the reason for Moses to record such an event? There is none. After Genesis 11, Moses does not need to refer to Shem as he is the one who connects the pre-flood history (Genesis 5:32, 11:11) with the patriarchal narrative (Genesis 12–50), which occupies the remainder of Genesis. Shem (šēm), whose name means “Name,” looks forward to the man whom God would promise a “great name” (ăgaddĕlâ šĕmekā)—Abraham. Abraham and his descendants are now the focus of God’s redemptive history in Genesis 12–50.

Olson raises several other objections to taking Abraham’s long lifespan (175 years) as actual. For example, the description of Abraham dying at a “good old age.”

Abraham is the first man in Scripture who is called an old man and is said to have lived a full life. But, how can that be when he lived a much shorter life than his ancestors? . . . Abraham’s paltry lifespan of 175 cannot be described as “a good old age . . . full of years.” It pales in comparison with Shem (600), Eber (464), Methuselah (969), Noah (950) and even the relative youngsters Enoch (365), or Terah (205). If those ages were intended as numerical values, whether there are gaps in the genealogies or not, Abraham did not die an old man, he was a mere youth.14

This objection overlooks the fact that the post-flood lifespans were on the decline. Although the structure of the genealogy in Genesis 11 is like the one in Genesis 5, there is a notable difference. The ages of the post-flood descendants of Noah have started to rapidly decline. Because Noah had children at an older age (500, Genesis 5:32), we can reason that he would have passed on more genetic mutations to Shem.15 There also would have been an exponential decay with the population bottleneck after the global flood (only eight people got on board the ark, 1 Peter 3:20), leading to progressively shorter lifespans.16 If this is the case, then several hundred years after the flood, at his death (175 years), Abraham would have been rightfully considered “an old man and full of years” (Genesis 25:8).

Olson also believes Abraham’s disbelief about conceiving a child undermines the idea of patriarchs living for literally hundreds of years.

Abraham’s disbelieving laughter at the possibility of fathering a child at 100 years old (Gen 17:15-19) clearly indicates that he did not believe his ancestors fathered children at 130 (Adam and Terah), 187 (Methuselah), or 500 years old (Noah). Sarah also laughed at the prospect of bearing a child when she was ninety (Gen 18:9-15).17

Again, there are several problems with Olson’s reasoning. First, Abraham’s laughter does not indicate that he believed it was a problem that his ancestors fathered children after 100 years. Abraham did not live at the same time as Adam, Methuselah, and Noah. It was common before the flood for children to be born to parents over the age of 100 because people typically lived to be around 900 years old. However, as shown above, the long lifespans post-flood were on the decline and so it was uncommon in the time of Abraham for children to be born when the parents were over 100 years old (with a few possible exceptions: Terah and Shem). Abraham was never rebuked for his laughing, but Sarah was for her laughter (Genesis 18:13–15).

Second, the difficulty in conceiving a child may have had to do with both Abraham’s and Sarah’s bodies. Abraham may have had some biological problem as he considered his body “as good as dead” (Romans 4:19; cf. Hebrews 11:12).18 After having Isaac, Abraham may have been revived by God’s blessing, as after Sarah’s death, he went on to have six other children with his wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1–2). Sarah was past menopause (Genesis 18:11), possibly something Abraham recognized (Genesis 17:17), was barren in her youth (Genesis 11:30), and therefore would not have been expected to be fertile after her menopause. Abraham’s laughter in no way indicates his lifespan is not actual.

Olson raises another objection to do with Sarah being beautiful in her old age.

Why would Sarah be attractive as a wife to Abimelech at the age of eighty-nine or ninety (Gen 20:1-2)? The reoccurring themes in Genesis 19 and 21 seem to indicate that Sarah was taken into Abimelech’s harem between the destruction of Sodom and the birth of Isaac. So Sarah really was eighty-nine or ninety years old in a face-value reading of the text. Hardly a worthy contestant for the “Miss Abimelech” pageant!19

However, it is not clear in Genesis 20 whether Sarah’s beauty is assumed as the reason for Abimelech’s interest in her as it was for the Pharoah in Egypt (Genesis 12:11, 12:14–15). It could be that Abimelech took Sarah into his harem to forge an economic relationship with Abraham as he was a man of great wealth.20 The reason Olson stumbles over Sarah’s beautiful appearance is because today a person in their 80s or 90s is generally not considered to be physically attractive. Although that may be true today, given the longevity that was characteristic of the patriarchs, Sarah may still have been attractive at 89 years old (she was still able to bear a child at this age, Genesis 21:2).

There is no objective reason to reject the long lifespan of Abraham’s life.

Olson’s reasons for rejecting the long lifespan of Abraham is not a problem with the text but has more to do with how modern scholars have been taught to think about the long lifespans of the patriarchs. There is no objective reason to reject the long lifespan of Abraham’s life. The only reason to do so is if you are trying to adapt the biblical text to fit with secular scientific assumptions. Modern scholars struggle with the lifespans of the patriarchs because of an assumption that people cannot live that long (which is influenced by evolutionary thinking). It is true that people do not live as long today (cf. Psalm 90:10), but this does not mean that it has always been that way, since the witness of Scripture testifies against this. The chronology of Abraham’s life must be decided by the biblical text and not from sources outside the Bible.


  1. Primarily because of anthropological reports from burial sites in Egypt, Egyptologist James Hoffmeier does not believe Moses died at 120 years old. See Five Views on the Exodus: Historicity, Chronology, and Theological Implications, Counterpoints: Bible and Theology, ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2021), 54–55.
  2. Craig Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham? Re-examining the Patriarchal Lifespans in Light of Archaeology” (Paper presented to the Southwest Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society March 31–April 1, 2017), 18.
  3. Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham,” 2. Olson rejects the long lifespans of the patriarchs as actual ages because of so-called problems outside the Bible. “These extended lifespans clearly contradict all known evidence. The evidence from skeletons and tooth wear shows that the average lifespan in antiquity was around forty years” (Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham,” 3).
  4. Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham,” 2.
  5. This date considers that the exodus took place in 1446 BC (1 Kings 6:1) after a long Israelite sojourn in Egypt (Exodus 12:40).
  6. There is debate as to where Ur is located: southern Mesopotamia in modern-day Iraq (Sumerian) or a city in Haran, northwest Mesopotamia, in modern-day Turkey (Hurrian). There are good reasons to believe Abraham’s Ur is in northwest Mesopotamia. For example, when Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac, he told him to “go to my country and to my kindred” (Genesis 24:4), and the servant went “to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor” (Genesis 24:10). The city Nahor is located near Haran (cf. Genesis 11:24, 11:31–32). See Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, The New American Commentary, vol. 1A (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing, 1996), 498.
  7. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and Isaac’s wife Rebekah gave birth to the twin boys Jacob and Esau when Isaac was 60 years old. Since Abraham was 175 years old at his death, this means that he was alive for 15 years of his grandchildren’s lives.
  8. Olson rejects the significance of the decay curve because “The numbers in the Sumerian King List fit the same profile and nobody believes they reflect accurate lifespans” (Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham,” 7). However, this is simply not true. In the Sumerian King List (SKL) the antediluvian regnal periods (8 kings) range from 43,200 years to 18,600 years but the postdiluvian regnal years (23 kings) range from 1560 years to 140 years. The last seven reigns of the kings are 1200 years, 140 years, 305 years, 900 years, 1200 years, 900 years, and 625 years. There is no similarity in the decay curve. Furthermore, the SKL gives the years of the king’s reigns, not lifespans, and it does not include the Sumerian first man or the flood hero.
  9. Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham,” 12.
  10. See Steven Collins, “Tall el-Hammam is Still Sodom: Critical Data-Sets Cast Serious Doubt on E. H. Merrill’s Chronological Analysis.” Biblical Research Bulletin 13, no. 1 (2013): 17–18; William Lane Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2021), 130.
  11. Mathews, Genesis 1:1–11:26, 499n34.
  12. The Septuagint (LXX) and the Samaritan Pentateuch add 100 years to the ages of the patriarchs from Arpachshad to Serug at the firstborn’s birth. This may have been done to distance Abraham from Shem.
  13. Shem and Eber may be singled out in Genesis 10:21 because they are the two oldest living ancestors of Abraham, who is known as a Hebrew (עִבְרִי; Genesis 14:13), the gentilic form of Eber (עֵבֶר).
  14. Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham,” 12.
  15. Robert Carter, “Patriarchal Drive in the Early Post-Flood Population,” Journal of Creation 33, no. 1 (2019): 110–118.
  16. Olson rejects the interpretation that genetic degeneration (argued by John Sanford) played a role in the extraordinary decrease of the lifespans in Genesis. “The supposedly tight fit between the biblical numbers and a biological decay curve does not work unless there was a ‘genetic bottleneck’ at the Flood when the world’s population was reduced down to just eight people. So his [Sanford’s] explanation is dependent on a worldwide flood, and on the absence of gaps in the genealogy in Genesis 11. Both of these propositions lack external support, and both rest on assumptions that are not shared even among evangelicals” (Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham,” 6). Olson, who seems to believe in a local flood, shows no interaction or awareness of the evidence for a worldwide (global) flood. It is also irrelevant whether these two assumptions are shared among evangelicals, as they are affirmed by Scripture (Genesis 6:11–17, 7:19–21; Luke 17:26–27; 2 Peter 3:6; Jude 14).
  17. Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham,” 12.
  18. The NET explains the textual variant in Romans 4:19: “Most mss (D F G Ψ 33 1881 M it) read ‘he did not consider’ by including the negative particle (οὐ, ou), but others (א A B C 6 81 365 1506 1739 co) lack οὐ. The reading which includes the negative particle probably represents a scribal attempt to exalt the faith of Abraham by making it appear that his faith was so strong that he did not even consider the physical facts. But ‘here Paul does not wish to imply that faith means closing one’s eyes to reality, but that Abraham was so strong in faith as to be undaunted by every consideration’ (TCGNT 451). Both on external and internal grounds, the reading without the negative particle is preferred.” See note 36 in “Romans 4,” https://netbible.org/bible/Romans+4.
  19. Olson, “How Old was Father Abraham,” 13.
  20. Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, The New American Commentary, vol. 1B (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing, 2005), 251; John Currid, Genesis 1:1–25:18, EP Study Commentary, vol. 1 (Evangelical Press: Darlington, England, 2003), 362.


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