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Difficulties in the Bible: 5. The Antiquity of Man According to the Bible and According to Science

By Reuben Archer Torrey

      One of the questions that is greatly puzzling many Bible scholars today is how to reconcile the chronology of the Bible with discoveries that are being made as to the antiquity of man. It is said that the Bible chronology allows only about four thousand years from Adam to Christ, but the Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations were highly developed before four thousand years before Christ. If there were but four thousand years from Adam to Christ there would be only 5,907 years for the whole age of the entire human race; Historians and scientists are thought to have traced the history of the race back ten thousand or more years. How are we to reconcile these apparent discrepancies?

      In the first place, let it be said that the dates commonly accepted by many historians are not at all certain.

      For example, in figuring out the dates of Egyptian dynasties the data upon which conclusions are built can hardly be considered decisive. True, discoveries have been made of ancient records which assert that the dynasties which preceded them covered certain vast periods of time which are named, but anyone who is at all familiar with the ancient and Oriental habit of exaggeration should receive these assertions as to the length of these dynasties with a great deal of caution. While these views of the vast antiquity of the ancient Egyptian civilization and ancient civilizations of Nineveh and Babylon as well are widely accepted, they are not by any means proved. We can afford to wait for more light.

      On the other hand, it is not at all certain that there were only about four thousand years from Adam to Christ.

      Bishop Ussher's chronology, which is found in the margin of most reference Bibles, is not a part of the Bible itself, and its accuracy is altogether doubtful. It is founded upon the supposition that the genealogies of Scripture are intended to be complete, but a careful study of these genealogies clearly shows they are not intended to be complete, that they oftentimes contain only some outstanding names. For example, the genealogy in Exodus 6:16-24, if it were taken as a complete genealogy containing all the names, would make Moses the great-grandson of Levi, though 430 years intervened. Again there is reason to question whether the lists of names in Genesis 5 and 11 are complete. The total length of time from Adam to the flood and from the flood to Abraham is never mentioned in Scripture although the period from Joseph to Moses (Exodus 12:40) and that from the Exodus to the building of the temple (I Kings 6:1) are mentioned. The fact that there are just ten names in each list also suggests that a similar arrangement may have been made in the first chapter of Matthew. The regular formula is: A lived--years and begat B. And A lived after he begat B years and begat sons and daughters. B lived years and begat C, etc. The word translated "begat" is sometimes used not of an immediate descendent but of succeeding generations. For example, Zilpah is said to have borne her great-grandchildren (Genesis 46:18). The Hebrew word translated "bare" in this passage is the same word translated "begat" in the other passages. Bilhah is said to have borne her grandchildren (Genesis 46:25). Canaan is said to have begotten whole nations (Genesis 10:15-18). So we see that in the formula quoted above the meaning is not necessarily that B is the literal son of A. B may be his literal son or a distant descendant. Thus many centuries may have intervened between A and B. Of course, no chronology is intended by these figures. Their purpose is not at all to show the age of the world. We see, therefore, there is no real and necessary conflict between real Bible chronology and any modern historical discoveries as to the antiquity of man.

      It may be that these ancient civilizations which are being discovered in the vicinity of Nineveh and elsewhere may be the remains of the pre-Adamic race already mentioned.

      There are passages in the Bible which seem to hint that there were some existing even in Bible times who may have belonged to these pre-Adamic races. Such may have been the Rephaim, the Zamzummim and the Emim (see Genesis 14:5, RV; Deuteronomy 2:20-21; 3:11, AV and RV). The hints given in those passages are somewhat obscure, but seem to suggest the remains of a race other than the Adamic race. If such was the case, these earlier civilizations which are now being uncovered may have been theirs. No one need have the least fear of any discoveries that the archaeologists may make, for if it should be found that there were early civilizations thousands of years before Christ it would not come into any conflict whatever with what the Bible really teaches about the antiquity of man, the Adamic race.

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See Also:
   Difficulties in the Bible Introduction
   Difficulties in the Bible: 1. A General Statement of the Case
   Difficulties in the Bible: 2. Classes of Difficulties
   Difficulties in the Bible: 3. How Shall We Deal with the Difficulties of the Bible?
   Difficulties in the Bible: 4. Genesis One-Historical and Scientific?
   Difficulties in the Bible: 5. The Antiquity of Man According to the Bible and According to Science
   Difficulties in the Bible: 6. Where Did Cain Get His Wife?
   Difficulties in the Bible: 7. Jehovah's Command to Abraham to Offer Up Isaac as a Burnt Offering
   Difficulties in the Bible: 8. God Hardening Pharaoh's Heart
   Difficulties in the Bible: 9. The Slaughter of the Canaanites by God's Command
   Difficulties in the Bible: 10. Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still
   Difficulties in the Bible: 11. Deborah's Praise of Jael, the "Murderess"
   Difficulties in the Bible: 12. The Sacrifice of Jephtha's Daughter
   Difficulties in the Bible: 13. "Impure" Bible Stories
   Difficulties in the Bible: 14. David's Sin
   Difficulties in the Bible: 15. The Imprecatory Psalms
   Difficulties in the Bible: 16. Does the God of Truth and Love Send Lying Spirits and Evil Spirits to Men?
   Difficulties in the Bible: 17. Jonah and the Whale
   Difficulties in the Bible: 18. Some Important "Contradictions" in the Bible
   Difficulties in the Bible: 19. "Mistakes" in the Bible
   Difficulties in the Bible: 20. The Two Genealogies of Jesus, the Christ
   Difficulties in the Bible: 21. Was Jesus Really Three Days and Three Nights in the Heart of the Earth?
   Difficulties in the Bible: 22. How Could Jesus Commend the Action of the Unrighteous Steward?
   Difficulties in the Bible: 23. Were Jesus and Paul Mistaken as to the Time of Our Lord's Return?
   Difficulties in the Bible: 24. Did Jesus Go into the Abode of the Dead and Preach to the Spirits in Prison? Is There Another Probation After Death?


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