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Most of us love to read portions of Scripture that give accounts of victories, miracles, and such. What we enjoy far less are the Scriptures that outline where a certain person begat a son or daughter, who in turn begat a son, thus beginning a long list of begats. Most people feel the genealogies contain only dull details, but those of us who keep in mind that “every word is given by inspiration of God” see that even these so-called dull passages contain vital truth that can be trusted.
Genesis 5 and 11 contain two such genealogies, which some people think can be read to help them get to sleep. It may be hard to believe, but Genesis 5 and 11 are actually two of the more controversial chapters in the Bible, even in Christian circles.
Because so many Christians and Christian leaders have accepted the secular dates for the origin of man and the universe, they must work out ways that such dates can somehow be incorporated into the Bible’s historical account. In other words, they must convince people that the Bible’s genealogical records do not present an unbroken line of chronology. If such an unbroken line exists, then we should be able to calculate dates concerning the creation of man and the universe.
If this argument were true, the date for creation using the biblical timeline of history cannot be worked out.To fit the idea of billions of years into Scripture, many Christian leaders, since the early nineteenth century, have re-interpreted the days of creation to mean long ages. Biblical creationist literature has meticulously addressed this topic many times, showing clearly that the word day, as used in Genesis 1 for each of the six days of creation, means an ordinary, approximately 24-hour day.1
Many Christian leaders also claim there are gaps in the Genesis genealogies. One of their arguments is that the word begat, as used in the timeline from the first man Adam to Abraham in Genesis 5 and 11, can skip generations. If this argument were true, the date for creation using the biblical timeline of history cannot be worked out.
In a recent debate,2 a well-known progressive creationist3 stated that he believed a person could date Adam back 100,000 years from the present. Since most modern scholars place the date of Abraham around 2000 BC (Ussher’s date for Abraham’s birth is 1996 BC), the remaining 96,000 years must fit into the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies, between Adam and Abraham.
Now, if we estimate that 40 years equals one generation, which is fairly generous,4 this means that 2,500 generations are missing from these genealogies. But this makes the genealogies ridiculously meaningless.
Those who claim that there are gaps in these genealogies need to demonstrate this from the biblical text and not simply say that gaps exist. However, consider the following:
1. Although in the Hebrew way of thinking, the construction “X is the son of Y” does not always mean a literal father/son relationship,5 additional biographical information in Genesis 5 and 11 strongly supports the view that there are no gaps in these chapters. So, we know for certain that the following are literal father/son relationships: Adam/Seth, Seth/Enosh, Lamech/Noah, Noah/Shem, Eber/Peleg, and Terah/Abram. Nothing in these chapters indicates that the “X begat Y” means something other than a literal father/son relationship.
2. Nowhere in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word for begat (yalad) used in any other way than to mean a single-generation (e.g., father/son or mother/daughter) relationship. The Hebrew word ben can mean son or grandson, but the word yalad never skips generations.
In the recent debate (mentioned previously), various biblical references were given as proofs that the Hebrew word yalad does not always point to the very next generation. However, when analyzed carefully, these arguments actually confirm what we are asserting concerning the word begat.
Genesis 46:15 says, “These be the sons of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob in Padanaram, with his daughter Dinah: all the souls of his sons and his daughters were thirty and three” (KJV). The word bare here is the Hebrew word yalad, which is also translated begat. It is claimed by some that because there are sons of various wives, grandsons, daughters, etc., in this list of “thirty and three,” the word begat is referring to all these and can’t be interpreted as we assert.
A person needs to read the quoted verse carefully to correctly understand its meaning. The begat (bare) refers to the sons born in Padanaram. Genesis 35:23 lists the six sons born in Padanaram (those whom Leah begat), who are listed as part of the total group of 33 children in Genesis 46:15. Thus this passage confirms that begat points to the generation immediately following—a literal parent/child relationship.
Matthew 1:8 omits Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, going directly from Joram to Uzziah. Matthew 1:11 skips Jehoiakim between Josiah and Jeconiah. These passages prove that the word begat skips generations.
Here, the Greek word for begat is gennao, which shows flexibility not found in the Hebrew word and does allow for the possibility that a generation or more may be skipped. The only way we would know that a generation has been skipped is by checking the Hebrew passages. However, it is linguistically deceptive to use the Greek word for begat to define the Hebrew word for begat.
Genesis 46:18, 22, and 25 say, “These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter, and these she bare unto Jacob, even sixteen souls. These are the sons of Rachel, which were born to Jacob: all the souls were fourteen. These are the sons of Bilhah, which Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and she bare these unto Jacob: all the souls were seven” (KJV). In verse 18, the Hebrew word yalad (begat or bore) implies a grandson, as well as a son; so the word begat cannot be used to show a direct relationship.
The word bare in verse 18 refers to Zilpah’s actual sons, referenced in verses 16 (Gad) and 17 (Asher). Note the pattern in this chapter. In verse 15 we are given the total number of Leah’s offspring (thirty-three), in verse 18 the total of Zilpah’s offspring (sixteen), in verse 22 the total of Rachel’s offspring (fourteen), and in verse 25 the total of Bilhah’s offspring (seven). This makes a total of seventy. But nowhere is it stated that these four wives physically bore the total number of sons listed for each. What this passage shows, as stated earlier, is that the Hebrew word for son (ben) may include grandsons. In the case of Zilpah, her two sons are clearly listed, as well as the children of Gad and Asher. To insist that in this case only (and not the cases of Leah, Rachel, and Bilhah) the summary total given at the end of verse 18 implies that all these were begotten of Zilpah is not justified by the context, and therefore, is not sound hermeneutics. The context makes it very clear that Zilpah had only two sons, and this passage does not show that the Hebrew word yalad (begat or bore) implies a grandson, as well as a son.
An example of where the word begat omits generations is 1 Chronicles 7:23–27. It is clear from this passage that there are ten generations from Ephraim to Joshua, whereas Genesis 15:16 says there were only four generations from the time the children of Israel entered Egypt to the time they left. Therefore, the Hebrew word begat does not always mean the next generation.
This argument seems logically air-tight except for two minor points. The Hebrew word yalad for begat is not used in the 1 Chronicles passage, and Genesis 15:16 is misquoted. Genesis states that “in the fourth generation” the children of Israel would leave Egypt—not that there would be a maximum of four generations. For this prophecy in Genesis to be fulfilled, some of the fourth generation would be in the exodus from Egypt—and they were. Exodus 6 lists the generations from Levi to Moses, showing that Moses and Aaron were in the fourth generation. Therefore the passage in 1 Chronicles cannot be used to prove that the Hebrew word for begat can skip a generation.
It is quite helpful, however, to explain how the Israelites became so numerous during their stay in Egypt. The ancestors of Joshua appear to have had a new generation about every twenty years whereas the ancestors of Moses and Aaron had a new generation about every fifty years.
In Luke 3:36 the name Cainan is listed, which is not listed in the Old Testament chronologies. The present copies of the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) incorrectly have the name Cainan inserted in the Old Testament genealogies. The great Baptist Hebrew scholar John Gill (c. AD 1760), in his exposition on this verse, wrote: “This Cainan is not mentioned by Moses in Genesis 11:12 nor has he ever appeared in any Hebrew copy of the Old Testament, nor in the Samaritan version, nor in the Targum; nor is he mentioned by Josephus, nor in 1 Chronicles 1:24 where the genealogy is repeated; nor is it in Beza’s most ancient Greek copy of Luke: it indeed stands in the present copies of the Septuagint, but was not originally there; and therefore could not be taken by Luke from there, but seems to be owing to some early negligent transcriber of Luke’s Gospel, and since put into the Septuagint to give it authority: I say early, because it is in many Greek copies, and in the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions, even in the Syriac, the oldest of them; but ought not to stand neither in the text, nor in any version: for certain it is, there never was such a Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, for Salah was his son; and with him the next words should be connected.”6
Since Gill’s commentary was written, the oldest manuscript we have of Luke, the P75, was found. It dates to the late second century AD and does not include Cainan in the genealogy. This verse in Luke should not be used to prove that the genealogies in Genesis have gaps, because it has poor textual authority. (A fuller treatment of this verse is found on our website at www.answersingenesis.org/Cainan).
The Scriptures themselves attest to the fact that the secular dates given for the age of the universe, man’s existence on the earth, and so on, are not correct because they are based on the fallible assumptions of fallible humans.
Nothing in observational science contradicts the timeline of history as recorded in the Bible.
But there are two more reasons that these genealogies are vital. First, they are given in Scripture to show clearly that the Bible is real history and that we are all descendants of a real man, Adam; thus all human beings are related.
Second, the Son of God stepped into this history to fulfill the promise of Genesis 3:15, the promise of a Savior. This Savior would die and rise again to provide a free gift of salvation to the descendants of Adam—all of whom are sinners and are separated from their Creator.
Without the genealogies, how can it be proven that Jesus is the One who would fulfill this promise? Indeed, perhaps the primary purpose of the genealogies is to show that Jesus fulfilled the promise of God the Father.
We can trust these genealogies because they are a part of the infallible, inerrant Word of God.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.