A large debate has raged in Christian circles about the age of the earth as it is presented in the Bible. Young earth creationists and old earth creationists do not typically get along so well….their discussions often have passions raised.
So I took great interest when I read the following passage from Walter Kaiser’s book The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? Now, keep in mind that Walter Kaiser is generally quite careful, generally well-respected in conservative circles. At the very least, the book answers the question with resounding support of the accuracy of the Old Testament. Kaiser writes:
One of the most instructive lessons in this whole area of genealogies and chronologies can be gleaned from following Levi’s descent through the house of Kohath (Moses ancestor) into Egypt (Gen. 46:6-11), 430 years before the exodus (Ex. 12:40). Here is the point: if Moses was eighty years old at the time of the exodus (Ex. 7:7), and no gap is understood (as we believe the biblical evidence now forces us to include), then Moses’ ‘grandfather’ (Ex 6:16-20) had 8,600 male decendants, 2,750 of whom were between the ages of thirty and fifty alone (Num 3:19, 27-28; 4:34-36). If taken as a direct chronology of events, which it is difficult to believe that any writer was naive enough to assume, it would indeed constitute an impossibility. (p.70)
Kaiser goes on to give a few more examples, but his point is this: Genesis 46:11 says Kohath was a son of Levi, and .Exodus 6:16-20 says that Moses and his brother Aaron were grandsons of Kohath. Numbers 4:34 says Moses and Aaron counted the descendants of Kohath, their grandfather, counting 2,750 that were 30 to 50 years old, and a total of 8,600 according to Numbers 3:28. Kohath lived 133 years (Ex 6:18), part of which were before Israel went to Egypt (Genesis 46:8-11), and his son Amram lived 137 yesrs (Ex 6:20). With Moses age at 80 at the time of the exodus (Ex. 7:7), then the numbers just do not add up. Not only is there an impossibility between the men’s ages and the time span of the Egyptian exile, it seems quite difficult to believe that one man sired 8,600 male descendants in but two generations, 2,750 of which were 30 to 50 years old.
Add to this a couple of clues from the New Testament. Luke 1:5 refers to Elizabeth as “one of the daughters of Aaron.” Yet Aaron lived many centuries before Elizabeth. And if we compare the genealogical account of Matthew 1:8 and 1 Chronicles 3:11-12, we find that Matthew says Jorem “begot” Uzziah, but this begetting was four generations down the line, for Matthew does not mention three generations that 1 Chronicles does.
So what is the point of all this? The point is that it seems wise to not be quite as dogmatic about using Biblical geneaologies to date the earth. It seems that ‘begetting’ and ‘son of’ can mean ‘descendant of,’ at least in some cases. What does seem important in the Bible is that Adam was literal and first (see Romans 5). Beyond that, Christians would do well to deal with each other with as much charity as possible, while dividing over the essentials, not the non-essentials. We can hold to a complete and full inerrancy of scripture if we but understand the original terms and contexts, which Kaiser goes on to try to explain.