Unbelief and Biblical Chronology

Let me begin by saying that I do not claim expertise in this field. And expertise of a high order is required to both construct a complete Scriptural chronology, and to confute the gainsayers. The sheer mass of material to be read and mastered effectively prevents any but the most devoted from conquering this field of knowledge. The source materials are in many different ancient languages. There are difficulties like the distinctions between lunar and solar and regnal years, different ways of expressing intervals, different ways of dealing with partial years. There is the fact that there is no single complete chronological record any place in Scripture. And to make things even more complicated, there are the conflicting opinions, the speculations, and the many mistakes of chronologists ancient and modern that have to be winnowed out.

Let me also say that I do not claim infallibility for any chronology, but regard Martin Anstey’s as the “state of the art” believing chronology of the Bible. It is the choice of a biblically-sound approach and method, that seems to me to be of paramount importance. That, I deem any serious student of God’s word to be capable of judging. Only Anstey derives his chronological system entirely from the pages of Scripture.

My purpose is to show that, while the mainstream churches of Protestantism have been sliding into Modernism, they have also been losing faith in the chronology of the Bible. In fact, the modern defection from the traditional interpretation of Genesis 5 and 11 came from the same cause as the modern re-interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. It is no wonder that Christian scholars who are on the conservative end of the current theological spectrum are now openly rejecting the literalness of the days of creation, for most of them have long since surrendered their faith in the chronological accuracy of Scripture.

Let a warning then be given — once you have begun to adjust your interpretation of Scripture to fit the prevailing opinions of scientific experts, there is no logical place to stop. If you cannot believe that God created the world out of nothing in six calendar days, or that men once lived to be 900 years old, or that the chosen kept accurate chronological records from the beginning, or that the world is not much more than 6000 years old, then what will you do when the experts in another field say that children must not be spanked? Or that homosexuality is not aberrant behavior? Or that it’s harmful to deprive teenagers of the freedom to express themselves sexually?

Why are these experts wrong? How do we know? Because they are in plain conflict with God’s word! How is it then that we cannot see that the same is true in matters of Biblical chronology? Indeed, it would make more sense to defer to social scientists, who at least have access to the data of human behavior; than to defer to paleontologists, archaeologists and secular historians on the origins and early history of man, on which subjects they can only offer guesses — not facts. But to defer to either when God has spoken to the contrary in clear terms is blasphemous!

The Traditional Approach

The Reformers and Puritans would be shocked by the way that many are now handling the chronological material interwoven with the historical persons and events of the Old Testament. Notice that, in the text of Genesis 5, genealogy is mingled with history and chronology:

1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; 2 Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. 3 And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: 4 And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters: 5 And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.

6 And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos: 7 And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters: 8 And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died…

21 And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: 22 And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: 24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him…

28 And Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son: 29 And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD hath cursed. 30 And Lamech lived after he begat Noah five hundred ninety and five years, and begat sons and daughters: 31 And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died. 32 And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

John Calvin (d. 1564) begins his comments on Genesis 5 this way:

In this chapter Moses briefly recites the length of time which had intervened between the creation of the world and the deluge; and also slightly touches on some portion of the history of that period.

Notice that, in Calvin’s view, the chronology of the passage is primary. It is the main thing that God intended to reveal through these words. This is the natural impression given by a reading of the passage, since the numbers of years are given a prominence which underscores their importance. There is a built-in check against copyist’s errors in the way that the years before the birth of each Patriarch’s heir, the years after, and the total years of the Patriarch’s life are given. (Perhaps the more important element is the genealogy, which leads ultimately to the “Seed of the Woman”, Christ, but this is less obvious.) Calvin’s view is representative of the strict literalism that the church has always used in interpreting the chronological material of Scripture until now.

Archbishop James Usher (d. 1656), whose chronology is the best-known, was himself a highly distinguished scholar, widely respected even outside his own Anglican church. His chronology, while defective at some points, because (unlike Anstey’s) it incorporated some bad data from extra-biblical sources, was not rendered useless thereby. For the worst effects were to give false BC dates for any event before the Persian empire — and to obscure the fulfillment of the “seventy weeks” prophecy of Daniel. Anstey’s refinements to Usher’s scheme altered the overall length of the period from Adam to Christ by only 42 years.

John Gill (d.1771), an intellectual giant among the godly scholars of his age, in his Exposition of the Whole Bible, treated the chronological data in the historical portions of Scripture as inspired and infallible, just like the rest of Scripture. In his introduction to Genesis, the only statement regarding chronology is that, “…according to Usher, it contains an history of two thousand, three hundred, and sixty nine years.” (This is the only number one can come up with, if he takes the numbers as they stand.) Commenting on Genesis 5, he never raises a question about the accuracy of the Hebrew text, but rather dismisses without hesitation the contradictory numbers given in the Septuagint.

Many, many more examples of the Reformed taking the traditional approach to Bible chronology could have been cited, but this suffices.

Chronology Since Darwin

Bible believers once took the chronology of the Bible seriously. But that was before the rise of uniformitarian geology, which teaches that the earth is many times older than the Bible says it is. The idea that the earth is millions of years old was already well established long before 1859, when Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species appeared. In fact, he was strongly influenced by Charles Lyell, whose book on geology was written to indirectly attack the biblical chronology. Soon after, we find the entire chronology of the Old Testament being abandoned in an attempt to show that the Bible did not conflict with the new science, and the massive elongation of earth history that it required.

Charles Hodge (d. 1878), in his Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p.40, spoke of “the extreme uncertainty attending all attempts to determine the chronology of the Bible”. He claimed that, because there were known gaps in the various genealogies of the Bible, the Bible was not intended to provide a chronology: “The Scriptures were not intended to teach us how long men have existed on the earth. Their tables of genealogy were intended to prove that Christ was the son of David and of the seed of Abraham, and not how many years had elapsed between the creation and the advent.” But why assume that God had only one reason for giving us the records, and that the only reason was genealogy? The obvious question is, if this is so, why does the Bible give us, in addition to the genealogies, a stream of chronological data that runs (with a few apparent breaks) from the beginning to the end of the Old Testament?

Augustus Strong, in his Systematic Theology (1907), presents a synthesis of evolution and Christianity, claiming that the ape became a man when God gave him a soul. Since the scientific consensus of the time required the belief that man had existed for more than ten thousand years, the chronology of the Bible had to be scrapped. Like Hodge before him, Strong claimed without proof that the chronology of Scripture is incomplete, and that it was intended to be so. He suggested that the appearance of completeness in the chronological record may have resulted from alterations in the text through the course of transmission. It is tragic that a man of Strong’s stature and influence among the Baptists of the nineteenth century was so thorough a Modernist.

B. B. Warfield (d. 1921), in his article, “On The Antiquity And Unity Of The Human Race” (Works, vol. IX) sets at nought the consistent literalism of the universal church and all the chronological work done up to his time with the statement that “The Bible does not assign a brief span to human history: this is done only by a particular mode of interpreting the Biblical data, which is found on examination to rest on no solid basis.” (p.236) His way of explaining away the chronological content of Genesis 5 and 11 is sophistical and impious. He asserts that “the genealogies were not constructed with a chronological purpose.”(p.237) He claims that the attached counts of years give the false impression that these genealogies give us complete and useful chronological information. But there is more information included than is strictly needed for the purposes of chronology. Only the age of each patriarch at the birth of the next is needed: there is no need to know the age of the Patriarch at death, or the years between the birth of his heir and his death. Therefore, there must have been another reason for including the information. And that reason is, to impress us with the great vitality of the new race of man — nothing else!

Having thus found a reason which will account for the insertion of all the items of information which are given us, we have no right to assume another reason to account for the insertion of some of them. And that means that we must decline to look upon the first item of information given in each instance as intended to give us chronological information.” (p.241)

Again, he admits that it looks like chronology, but he says that is only due to the arrangement of the data:

It is only when the names, with the accompanying comments, are put together, one after the other, that a chronological inference is suggested. The chronological suggestion is thus purely the effect of the arrangement of the names in immediate sequence; and is not intrinsically resident in the items of information themselves.

By this means the great defender of the faith rationalized away God’s truth to allow for the long ages of human history that science falsely-so-called demanded.

In A Dictionary of the Bible, by John D. Davis, fourth edition (1924), article “Chronology”, three alternative methods of interpreting the chronology of Genesis 5 are given, and it is stated that there is no way to prove which one is right. The three methods given are the traditional literal view, the view that there are gaps, and the view that the names stand for dynasties rather than individuals. Both of these modern “alternatives” were inspired by the need to lengthen the history to accommodate the evolutionary development of man. Neither of them arose as a result of new knowledge about the Hebrew language or ancient history, nor did they result from improvements in the science of exegesis. Just like the attempt to lengthen the creation week to millions of years, they proceeded from a desire to accommodate the claims of the scientific establishment at the expense of reading Scripture in its natural sense.

The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas, 1962, begins its article “Chronology of the Old Testament”, by K. A. Kitchen and T.C. Mitchell, by devoting one paragraph to dismissing the “Older method” before plunging into a lengthy and detailed description of “Present methods”. The paragraph reads:

Until about a century ago Old Testament dates were calculated almost entirely from the biblical statements (so Usher). Two difficulties beset this approach. Firstly, the Old Testament does not provide all the details necessary for this task, and some sequences of events may be concurrent rather than consecutive. Secondly, the ancient versions, e.g. the LXX (Septuagint), sometimes offer variant figures. Hence, schemes of this kind are subject to much uncertainty.

The first premise is simply false, as Anstey demonstrates. The second is irrelevant for those who believe that Scripture in the original language texts is God’s infallible word. The Hebrew text is all that matters, and it has been marvelously preserved! The alleged “uncertainty” is a wished-for conclusion without factual foundation. The bottom line is — you can’t have millions of years of evolution if the Bible chronology is true.

Not surprisingly, the chronological chart that goes with the article begins with Abraham — not Adam. (As we have seen, among respectable scholars since at least the time of Hodge, the chronology of Genesis 5 has been discarded by consensus.) The entire chart is fabricated from pagan sources, and anchored in dates that unbelieving scholars will accept. This makes it impossible to correctly date the biblical events, and so makes a laughing-stock of the Bible!

It used to be that the fundamentalists held fast (at least in theory) to a literal interpretation of Scripture, but now it appears that even they, in their passionate desire to be regarded as intellectually equal to establishment Liberal theologians, are abandoning the chronology of Scripture as well. In Nelson’s The King James Study Bible, (copyright, Liberty University, 1988) with contributors such as Jerry Falwell, Ed Hindson, and other fundamentalist dispensationalists, there are numerous study helps, footnotes, charts and illustrations, but no chronological table is given! In a footnote to Genesis 5:3-20, it is baldly asserted that “no strict chronology can be determined from any of the lists [of Scripture]”.

Where We Are Today

Modernists would have us believe that they know too much to believe in Scripture without reserve. They tell us that we shouldn’t try to hold on to our “illusions” of inerrancy or infallibility, because objective scientific inquiry has been proving us wrong for a hundred years. And they really believe what they say. They look on us with the sincere and kindly condescension of psychiatrists treating the insane. But if the Bible is really God’s word, we should not be intimidated by their learning – God knows a lot more than they do! We can be absolutely sure that any unresolved questions we have about Scripture are the result of our limited knowledge – not a defect in the Bible.

It appears to me that what’s going on is a repetition of the process of apostasy described in Romans 1:

When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools… And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind… (vss. 21-22,28)

Each year brings the professing church of God farther from the faith of our Protestant forefathers. Each seminary graduating class is more indifferent to our heritage of Reformed theology and experimental Calvinism. Why? I think, because our scholars have not been thorough enough in rooting out the subtle elements of Modernism bequeathed to us by Hodge, Warfield and others in areas such as apologetics, hermeneutics, chronology and textual criticism.

While these men made great contributions, they employed a faulty, rationalistic apologetic, which led them to make unwarranted concessions to the Modernists. They thought that if they could only show that there is no conflict between the Bible and science, they would win the day. They ought to have held to Scripture, and waited for the scientists to come around. It’s a tragedy that they did not. But somehow they thought that no harm could be done by accommodating the scientific consensus, even if it meant abandoning the traditional understanding of some texts. They were taken in by false claims of “the assured results of unbiased scientific research”.

But science is not infallible — only God’s word is. And a correct apologetic takes its stand on God’s word — regardless of what any merely human authority may say. If God’s word teaches something, then it is ultimate truth. This does not mean that it is all the truth that may be known about that fact — that nothing new can ever be discovered; but it does mean that we will not discover anything contrary to it. The fact is, archaeologists do not augment the Bible when they teach that man has been on the earth for hundreds of thousands of years — they contradict it. There is no way that the iron measuring-chain of Biblical chronology, given in literal calendar years, (and sometimes literal months and days), connected link by interlocking link, can be stretched to accommodate even ten thousand years of human history, much less hundreds of thousands!

If the church of God can neglect, ignore, and finally set aside something as definite, as clearly revealed, as integral to Scripture as its chronology, there will be no longer any effectual restraint on those who wish to twist the Scriptures to their own — and others’ — destruction. It will be a complete waste of time to try to defend the literalness of the six days of creation in such a milieu. I fail to see how the Hugh Rosses of the world can be answered, the doctrine of creation sustained, or the historical reliability of any part of Scripture maintained if we fail in the defense of the chronology of the Bible.

One comment on “Unbelief and Biblical Chronology

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