Do the genealogies of the Bible tell us how old the earth is?

A cursory reading of the genealogies of the Old Testament could lead to the view taken by Archbishop Ussher that the world was created in 4004 BC.

But the genealogies of Genesis are not intended to determine the amount of time that has elapsed between the creation of man and the coming of Christ. For instance, the Genesis genealogies would allow for only 300 years between Noah and Abraham, yet at the time of Abraham there were already great civilizations in such widespread places as Egypt, China, India, Mesopotamia, and Greece. In addition, detailed archaeological evidence demonstrates that in some of these places dynasties had already come and gone, and civilization was already ancient.

The solution to the apparent conflict between archaeological evidence and the biblical record lies in the fact that the genealogies don’t include unimportant individuals. The Hebrew word for son, ben, didn’t only mean son, but was also used to refer to grandsons and descendants. Similarly, the Hebrew word yalad (bear) also can have the meaning of “become the ancestor of.” Isaiah 29:23 is an example of yalad being used in this way.

There are a number of good examples of how genealogies tend to omit all but the most important individuals in a line. For instance, Matthew 1:1 names only Abraham, David, and Christ. Even though there are only four generations listed between Levi and Moses,[1] Numbers 3:39 states that Levi’s descendants already were numbered at 22,000 males. (The genealogy shown for Ephraim seems to show 18 generations between Ephraim and Joshua. This genealogy is found in 1 Chronicles 7:20–27.) The list of kings in Matthew 1:2–17 omits a number of names that are listed in the list of kings in the Old Testament.

These and other examples demonstrate that the genealogies of the Old Testament patriarchs are given in order to demonstrate the common descent of the entire human race from Adam and Eve, not to provide a complete chronology of the time that has elapsed from Adam to Christ.

[1] Exodus 6:16-20

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