Monday, September 16, 2013

Did Methuselah Really Live 969 Years?

If you have ever read the Old Testament, you will quickly notice there are some folks the live a really long time. The oldest person in the Bible is Methuselah, who lives to the ripe-old age of 969!

Here is what the Bible says:
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he became the father of Lamech. After he became the father of Lamech, Methuselah lived 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Methuselah lived a total of 969 years, and then he died.
-Genesis 5:21-27
There are other ages (most before the great flood) that seem extravagantly long:

  • Adam - 930 years
  • Seth - 912 years
  • Noah - 950 years
  • etc

What is remarkable is that modern science tells us that prehistoric people lived short lives, based on the data which has been collected from ancient peoples. So, how do we reconcile the Bible, with science in this instance?

Since the Catholic Church has not authoritatively spoken on this issue, there are several possible solutions we can consider:

  1. The early stories, (e.g. creation stories in Genesis, Noah and the flood, etc) are not meant to be taken literally. Rather they are meant to teach us other lessons. Therefore, giving the ancient patriarchs extremely long life spans was a way of understanding the many years that preceded the history of ancient peoples. In other words, little was known about the early history of man and this is one way of conceptualizing it.
  2. You may read the Bible as a word-for-word truth that accurately depicts the ages of those who lived extremely long lives. However, this would mean that the story of Adam takes place less than 2,000 years before Abraham and means the human race is only about 6,000 years old.
  3. Some say the names talk about families, clans, or dynasties rather than individuals. But, this is merely a theory that has no support within the Biblical text.
  4. Still others maintain that the numbers are all symbols. Yet, we do not have any evidence in Scripture or extra-Scriptural history to back up this claim.
  5. The years may actually be months and this mistake was due to an error in translation. The problem with this theory is that we don't know how to discern which ages would be in months and which would be in years. If we use this aging technique, some ancient Biblical figures would be children who are having offspring. This theory also has no support within the text.

With all this data in hand, it seems our first solution is most likely the best. Which means Methuselah wasn't as old as we thought he was, but he certainly made a name off of the story of being 969 years-old.

We can all agree upon this. I don't think living until you are 969 is all it is cracked up to be.


Chris said...

The problem with option 1 is that we have no reliable way to know which Biblical texts should be taken literally. If we disregard every scientifically difficult text as metaphor or hyperbole, we will soon be spiritualizing the virgin birth, the resurrection, and more. Additionally, and more problematic, a religion that can't accurately convey its own history can't be trusted to convey spiritual truth.

Theodore Seeber said...

A surprising result of our current time of plenty has been children reaching puberty and fertility as early as 8 or 9 (as little as 96 months). We should not let modern morality dictate our examination of this topic.