Introduction to William Henry Green's "Primeval Chronology"

Kenneth J. Morgan

Were Moses' parents Amram and Jochebed? Exodus 6:20 seems to say so, but how were the Hebrew words in this verse actually used and understood at the time Exodus was written?

The Bible contains many genealogies. A few examples would include Genesis 5, Genesis 10, 1 Chronicles 1-8, and the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Another important area of biblical study is chronology. For example, considerable work has been done on the dates for the kings of Israel and Judah. By far, the best work in this area of study is The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings by Edwin R. Thiele, originally published in 1951.

However, the study of chronology and genealogy come together in a most important way when it comes to the antiquity of man. Can we use the genealogies in Genesis and 1 Chronicles to determine when Adam was created? According to commonly accepted scientific theories, man has been on the earth for millions of years. Do the biblical genealogies support this conclusion or contradict it? Or are they neutral?

The antiquity of man is a very large, technical, and multi-faceted subject. It is not the purpose of the paper presented here to answer all the questions raised in such a study. It addresses only one small but important facet of the discussion: what is the correct interpretation of the early biblical genealogies, and can they be used to determine the age of man? If we misinterpret these genealogies when interacting with current scientific views, we can bring disrepute on the Bible.

The paper we reproduce here, "Primeval Chronology," was written by William Henry Green and was originally published in the journal, Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1890, pp. 285-303. Based strictly on biblical evidence, he argues that the early genealogies are incomplete and therefore cannot be used to compute the age of man. The most important biblical evidence for this conclusion revolves around the parents of Moses.

We have taken this paper from a collection of essays compiled by Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., one of my former professors at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972). Indeed, the essays in this book are classics, milestones of interpretation. They deal with important topics in all the major sections of the Old Testament: the Pentateuch, the historical books, the poetical books, and the prophetical books. The book also includes essays on the ethics and theology of the Old Testament. This paper, "Primeval Chronology," is the first essay presented in this excellent collection.

Perhaps you have heard of the date 4004 B.C. for the creation of man. Dr. Kaiser introduced Dr. Green's paper with the following light-hearted observation:

Was Adam born in 4004 B.C. as Bishops Usher and Lightfoot contended? (Bishop Lightfoot actually refined the date and found that Adam was created on October 23, at nine A.M. forty-fifth meridian time! This led Brewster to quip, "Closer than this, as a cautious scholar, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University did not venture to commit himself.") Lightfoot, Usher and many moderns sorely need the type of evidence William Henry Green first published in 1890.

Chronology and genealogies are often considered dull and uninteresting by many readers of the Bible. However, these subjects represent fascinating topics, and we hope you enjoy this excellent paper.

Click here for "Primeval Chronology"

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