Reading the Bible and the age of the Forefathers


Anonymous asked

Hello Father. I hope that I do not sound like a complete idiot in asking this question, but I have just started trying to read the Bible daily. I am still in Genesis and I have a question that I hope will not sound too trivial. When the Bible speaks about people having lived until they were 200 or 300 years old, were they measuring years as we measure years? If they were, was it simply that God allowed these people to live so much longer than what we do now? Thank you in advance for your help in answering this question.




Greetings. I hope this daily biblical nourishment will make you more sensitive for the presence of God in your life. It is like learning a new language. You learn how God acted in man’s history so that you become skilled at interpreting what He is telling you through the occurrences of every day’s life. He is there and he is talking to you.

If you learn a new language wouldn’t you go first to the best specialist so you learn it right from the beginning? I suggest that you read first the Gospels. Saint Marc would be a good start. All Scripture points towards Jesus. So get Him and His Word to know first and then you will better understand the "pointers". If you want to take note of a very ancient proposal heed Saint Athanasius in his Festal Letter 36. He suggests as convenient reading of the catechumen: Wisdom of Salomon, Sirach, Esther Judith, and Tobias. He too suggests as very useful the Didache and the Shepherd Hermas.

If you are a Catholic I suggest that you could follow the Sunday cycle in your readings because every Gospel is accompanied by the OT reading. Very instructive!

Now regarding your question about the ages of the patriarchs. There is no sure interpretation. Some say that the numbers are real. Others affirm that they are symbolic because the genealogies want to establish the linear generations until the diluvium.

To complicate your life a little I offer you a tidbit of the investigation regarding chronology.

The chronology differs in the Hebrew Text, the Samaritan, the LXX., and Josephus. (We have here different versions). The LXX. adds 100 years to each of the patriarchs Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, and Enoch, before the birth of their sons; while they take 20 from the age of Methuselah, and add 6 to that of Lamech. Thus the space from the creation to the deluge is made 2,242 years, according to the Vatican copy, but 2,262 by the Alexandrine; and the sum total by Josephus is 2,265, by the Samaritan 1,307, and the Hebrew Text, 1,656. You see that the experts have some bones to fight over.

The intentions of Genesis 5 seem to be the doctrine that man continues cooperating with God in transmitting the image of God and the explanation that death had come through the sin of Adam and all had to die even after many years. Every generation finishes: "and he died". The general decrease in ages probably indicates the further estrangement from God, since long life is attributed to "fear of the Lord" (cf. Prv 10:27).

There are some theological and some poetic explanations too:

One theological reason you can find in the fact that all the patriarchs, except Noah –God talked directly to him -, were born before Adam died; so that from him they might receive a full and satisfactory account of the creation, paradise, the fall, the promise, and those divine precepts which concerned religious worship and a religious life: and, if any mistake arose, they might have recourse to him while he lived, as to an oracle, for the rectifying of it, and after his death to Methuselah, and others, that had conversed with him: so great was the care of Almighty God to preserve the knowledge of his will and the purity of his worship. (And old commentary of Henry’s)

The poetic explanation is that the patriarchs had to learn how to die. It was very hard for them, but time passing it became easier (Psalm 90: 4).