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Don Stewart :: Are the Genealogies in Genesis 5 Complete?

Don Stewart
The Book of Genesis records a number of genealogies. One of the most important of these is found in chapter five. Genesis 5 records the genealogy of ten men-Adam and nine of his descendants. The list ends with the important figure of Noah.

Uniform Elements

Each genealogy has a number of factors that are uniform. First, we are given the name of the prominent person mentioned in the genealogy. Next, we have the number of years he lived until he fathered the son who will be the next genealogical figure. The son's name is then given. After this, we have the total number of years that the father lived after he fathered this next important man. This is followed by the statement that he fathered many sons and daughters. We are then told how many years this person lived. Finally, we are told that the person died.

Calculating Years

If we calculate the number of years from Adam to Noah we will come up with a total of 1,656. Adding up all the biblical genealogies we arrive at a date of 4004 B.C. for Adam's creation. This date became famous and it is still printed in the margins of many Bible's as the date of creation. Is it possible to do this? Are we to assume that the genealogies in Genesis, especially chapter 5, are complete?

If we assume the genealogies are complete then Adam would have lived all the way until the ninth patriarch listed-Methusaleh. Methusaleh himself would have died the year of the Flood.

We also have the same question in the genealogical list in chapter 11. Ten names are also mentioned in that genealogy and it also ends with the name of an important person-Abraham. How are we supposed to understand these early genealogies?

Different Views

This is an issue where many scholars agree with each other, although they may hold different positions with regard to the time element in Genesis. For example, a person can believe there were some gaps in the genealogy of Genesis 5 and be a believer in solar days in Genesis 1, be a Gap Theorist, believe in Revelatory Days or accept the Age-Day view of creation.

However, with respect to the length of the time between the gaps in Genesis 5, there is a wide difference of opinion. Some argue that the time between the gaps could total 20,000 years or more. Others believe the gaps were much shorter consisting of a few thousand years at the most.

Those who argue that there are gaps in the genealogy in Genesis 5 usually offer the following reasons as to why.

1.Gaps In Other Genealogies

There are gaps in other biblical genealogies (Exodus 6, Ezra 7 and Matthew 1). Since other genealogies contain gaps, it is also likely there are gaps here.


The word translated fathered can demonstrate ancestral links rather than direct father-son relationship. For example, when Matthew (1:9) says Uzziah (Azariah) fathered Jotham he omits three kings who lived between them. Ahaziah reigned one year (2 Kings 8:26); Joash forty years (2 Kings 12:2) and Amaziah twenty-one years (2 Kings 14:2). Therefore Jotham would be a distant relative of Uzziah and not a direct son. Yet he is listed next in the genealogy.

3.Deliberately Arranged

Furthermore, the lists in Genesis 5 and 11 are symmetrical and seem deliberately arranged. This could have been done as an aid to memory. Both lists have ten names and each list ends with a key figure who had three sons. Genesis 5 ends with Noah and Genesis 11 finishes with Terah the father of Abraham.

4.Date Of Flood

The allowance of gaps in the genealogies after the Flood would push the event back hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. This would better harmonize with archaeological data for an earlier Flood date.

Humans Lived Long

If a person holds to gaps in the genealogies, then the object is not to give a complete chronology of ancient humanity. Rather it shows humans lived a long time after the Fall and in some cases, lived a very long time.


Even if the genealogies are filled with gaps there must be a couple of things remembered.

The other gaps in Scripture are not thousands of years long. For example, in Exodus 6:20 the longest possible gap is only 300 years. In 1 Chronicles 26:24 a 400 year period is skipped over.

Matthew 1:1,8,11 has gaps but not of an extensive amount of time. There are forty-two names from Abraham to Christ that are listed in Matthew 1. This covers a period of two thousand years. In Matthew's genealogy only three kings are missing (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah). The total amount of years of their reigns is only seventy. Therefore any gap of time would be relatively small. If we put large gaps here we are not thinking biblically. There is no way we can get the millions of years that modern science requires for the beginning of humankind.


Furthermore, gaps in genealogies are the exceptions rather than the rule. In Matthew, only one out of every three names mentioned has a gap in it. Therefore it is not good to presume hundreds of thousands of years in the gaps in Genesis 5.

Complete Genealogy Without Gaps

Those who argue that Genesis 5 is a complete genealogy without any gaps bring up a number of reasons why they hold this view.

1.Natural Chain

First, the years of the man's life are specified both at the time he fathered the next important man and the exact number of years he lived after that event. So it is difficult to tolerate the insertion of gaps that appear to break the natural chain of thought.

2.Direct Sons

Second, the genealogy begins and ends with direct sons: Adam and Seth (verse 3), Noah and Shem (verse 32). This indicates that the others should be understood in this immediate relationship also. For example, Seth, who was born to Adam and Eve was a direct son. The three sons of Noah all lived in Noah's own day.

Chapter Eleven

The same is true in chapter eleven. That genealogy closes with Terah fathering three sons (verse 26), including Abraham. These are all direct sons. In light of these father-son links, it seems that one is arbitrarily reading into the text to assume a wider meaning of fathered for the other cases in the genealogy.

3.Different Kind Of Genealogy

Third, though it is true that gaps exist in other biblical genealogies, they are in a different class from the Genesis 5 list. Therefore they are not valid analogies for proving a point here. This list in unique in that it states years both at the time of fathering and also afterward.


There is a controversy whether the genealogies in Genesis 5 are complete. Whether the genealogies are compressed or not, we do not know. We do know that they are representative of the promised line that eventually led to the birth of the Messiah.


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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