Review by Greg Neyman
© Old Earth Ministries
First Published 12 March 2006
One of the frequent claims by young earth creationists is that the genealogies of Genesis do not allow for vast ages of time. This claim is once again being proclaimed in an article in Technical Journal, by the young earth author (chemist) Jonathan Sarfati.1 This article was again featured on the Creation Ministries International website on 12 April 2006. Since I am not a Hebrew expert, I'll only make a few comments. For the old earth perspective on this issue, I encourage everyone to check out the old earth link at the end of this review.
In setting up his argument, he says that we should be looking at three different manuscripts. The first he lists is the Masoretic Text, which is used by modern Hebrew Bibles and is the basis of most modern English Old Testaments. The second is the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The third is the Samaritan Pentateuch, a Hebrew version dating to the 1st century BC. Sarfati claims that they all agree within less than 1400 years for the time from Adam to Abraham (they differ by no more than 1,400 years).
Date of Creation
Sarfati equates the times for events starting with the creation of the world at year 1, and finally Abraham’s birth in the year 2008. Using information from a Dr. Hasel, he says the creation was in 4178 BC.
Do the Genealogies Have Gaps?
This depends on which Hebrew expert you talk to. To answer this question, Sarfati starts by quoting a theologian who supports his position, which is not surprising. The so-called expert says that to his knowledge, “there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university” who believes there are gaps. This statement needs a little qualification. What is his definition of a world-class university? The person making the quote is at Oxford. Universities thought to be in the same league as Oxford can be numbered on two hands. There are hundreds of others, however, and some of these do differ in opinion with this Oxford professor. For instance, Walter Kaiser of Gordon-Conwell is one that comes to mind.
Next, Sarfati quotes a long age believer, Davis Young, who says the church fathers thought the world was less than six thousand years old at the time of Christ, based on the genealogies. This is misleading, as Davis Young is not stating this as his position, but he is reporting on other people’s beliefs. Sarfati moves quickly on to Josephus, who does not appear to accept any gaps.
As we move into grammar, Sarfati quotes Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, who supports gaps in the genealogies. Ross gives the possibility that a name in the genealogies could be the grandfather of the next name, or even great-grandfather, or even many generations later. In his rebuttal, Sarfati claims that “none of his examples of gaps in genealogies mention the age of the father at the birth of the next name in the line, so they are irrelevant to the issue of the Genesis genealogies, which do.” Here you see a common trick of young earth creationists…creating rules of Hebrew interpretation that support their cause. The same thing can be seen in the requirement for an ordinal with the word “yom”, which indicates a 24-hour day.
Concerning the Matthew genealogies, Sarfati says that the author clearly intended it to be incomplete, so that there would be three matching sets of 14 names. He says there was no such intention in Genesis. How does Sarfati know the intention of the author of Genesis? This is merely guesswork on his part. Sarfati then goes back to his Oxford expert, saying that in one place (Genesis 5) there is a line of ten patriarchs, and in Genesis 11 there is nine. The theologian concludes that there is no basis for an intentional symmetrical arrangement. That’s nice, but it doesn’t provide any proof against gaps in the genealogies. If anything, it shows that there is no standard way to report genealogies. If there is no standard, then gaps present no problems either.
From this point Sarfati discusses the Hebrew grammar, and the apparent use of an accusative particle (‘et) prior to the descendant’s name, which according to Sarfati, means that the descendant was the offspring of the father at the time of the father’s age that is listed in the verse. I had no problem finding this argument duplicated on other creation web sites, but did not turn up any other references to the genealogies of Genesis. This indicates that it is another "young earth" invented rule of Hebrew, applied by young earth Hebrew scholars.
Where Can the Gaps be Inserted?
Sarfati attempts to show that there are no points in the genealogy that could plainly accept a gap of time. Interestingly, although he is happy to point out the places where gaps could not have occurred, he does not show the possible locations of the gaps. Since Sarfati did not argue against every possible insertion point, I will let this lie.
The Number of Missing Generations
I agree with Sarfati that the number of missing generations would have to be large. There is no debate on this issue, nor does many generations cause any problems from an old earth perspective.
Is Cainan a Gap?
Hugh Ross mentions that Luke 3:36 "Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech," contains an extra name, Cainan, that is not mentioned in Genesis 11:12. "When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah." Sarfati attributes this to a copyist error. An early transcriber glanced at line one when he should have glanced at line three, and inserted an extra Cainan. This is mere speculation in order to keep Ross from using this argument, and is no way authoritative from a biblical perspective.
Are there gaps in the genealogies? If you are a young earth creationist theologian, you will naturally interpret the genealogies based on your young earth bias, and assume there are no gaps. If you are an old earth creationist theologian, the opposite is true.
For an excellent article on this issue from the old earth perspective, see The Genesis Genealogies. It is interesting that the young earth author, Sarfati, and the old earth author of this article, John Millam, are both chemists. We have chemists dueling over ancient Hebrew!
1 Sarfati, Jonathan, Biblical Chronogenealogies, TJ 17(3): December 2003. Available online at www.creationontheweb.com/content/view/1606/
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