Genealogies upon genealogies. Studying Genesis 5

In Genesis 5, we see a genealogy leading from Adam to Noah. 

This genealogy had been touched on in Genesis 4 in the aftermath of Adam’s son Cain murdering his brother Abel. In the shadow of that sin, we’re introduced to another son of Adam named Seth. He will continue the family line. 

There are a number of genealogies in the Bible. We often skim through them without always knowing the names. But they’re important for several reasons. 

Why genealogies are important in the Bible

  1. Genealogies provide a link to Jesus. 

In the aftermath of the fall, God promised Adam and Eve a future offspring who would one day crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Throughout Genesis and numerous other books of the Old Testament, we see the continuation of the line which would ultimately lead to Christ. 

Fittingly, the New Testament begins with a genealogy

  1. Genealogies would matter for certain Israelite ministries 

During the period of the 12 tribes of Israel, genealogy mattered for the priesthood. Not anyone could be a priest. Someone had to be from the tribe of Levi. And to be the high priest, someone had to be from the line of Aaron in the line of Levi. 

  1. Genealogies are a reminder of God’s faithfulness to his promises. 
  2. Genealogies are a reminder of God’s providence and sovereignty. For many generations, we see God at work in achieving his purposes 
  3. Genealogies point to the Bible being a historical book. People might like to treat Biblical stories like fairy tales but that’s not how the Bible itself presents them. 
  4. Genealogies are a reminder that individuals matter to God and that they matter in God’s story. 

Creation revisited 

Genesis 5:1-2 says: 

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

Genesis 5 begins by pointing back to creation. 

When the text says this is the book of the generations, that is a literary device in Genesis used to begin new sections of the story. 

Even though there is now sin in the world, it still remains true that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. 

Genesis next points to the continuation of Adam’s line. Instead of continuing the line through the infamous Cain, the line continues through Adam and Eve’s son Seth

Genesis 5:3-5: 

3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. 4 The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. 5 Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died. 

Genesis 5 traces ten generations from Adam to Noah. 

All of the generations include very long lifespans. Genesis 5 says that Adam lived 930 years, Jared lived 962 years (v. 20), Methuselah lived 969 years (v. 27). 

How long is a year? 

Many have been puzzled by the long lifespans in Genesis which are incredibly long compared to normal lifespans today. 

Some have questioned if the lifespans could actually be dynastic spans rather than an individual lifespan. For instance, the argument goes that Jared didn’t personally live 962 years but that Jared and the next several generations of his children totaled 962 years. 

It is true that ancient genealogies are not always exhaustive. 

But a problem with this view is that there are Biblical figures who live long lives (Abraham, Moses, etc) and where numerous events from their lives are recorded along with their ages in those years. Are the lifespans of Abraham and Moses literal while other ages given for other Old Testament figures are dynastic? That seems like a difficult argument to support from the text. 

Some have tried to make arguments that a year isn’t a year. Maybe a year in one of these lifespans is actually a month. But the problem with this is that some of the father’s  have kids in their 70s, which would mean they were 6-7 years old! 

Some have argued that the year figures are symbolic. This again becomes challenging because there is no apparent symbolism of oddly specific numbers and overlooks the simpler conclusion that the years are presented as literal. 

It’s certainly a stretch for modern readers, but the most faithful reading of the Biblical text is that the given lifespans are meant to be taken at face value. 

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