By Mark Mayberry
Could the Jews tell time? The same Moses who wrote the first 11 chapters of Genesis also wrote binding regulations regarding days, months, seasons and years. How can we say that all the time references in Genesis 1-11 are somehow different than those found in the rest of the Pentateuch?
Those who would attempt to harmonize the Bible and the theory of modern evolution must fit 15 billion years into the book of Genesis. They also must stretch the Genesis genealogies to accommodate an old earth demanded by evolutionists. Proponents of this viewpoint would argue that the mid-eastern concept of time is vastly different from our western mindset. Yet, it is false to say the Jews had no rational concept of time. People in Biblical times were at least as intelligent as modern man, and therefore, had the ability to comprehend time in a meaningful way. From the beginning, man has been governed by time. God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Gen. 1:14). Therefore, as we reflect upon the issue of the age of the earth, let us examine various Scriptures that clearly indicate that the Jews could tell time.
What About All Those Special Days, Weeks, Months & Years? Could the Jews tell time? The Mosaic law contains numerous and specific time references. The Israelites were commanded to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” They observed monthly and yearly feasts at specific times. The day of Atonement was celebrated on the 10th day of the seventh month. The Passover was celebrated on the 14th day of the first month. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the 15th day of the same month. The Feast of Purim was celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of Adar. The Feast of Tabernacles was observed on the 15th day of the seventh month. The Feast of Weeks was celebrated early in the third month on the 50th day after the offering of the barley sheaf at the Feast of Un- leavened Bread. They celebrated the new moon. They also observed the Sabbatical year. They celebrated the Jubilee every 50th year after seven cycles of seven years, when specific instructions about property and slavery took effect. In view of these many examples, it is absurd to allege that the Jews had no logical, rational, or sensible understanding of time!
When Is A Day Not A Day?
Could the Jews tell time? The same Moses who wrote the first 11 chapters of Genesis also wrote binding regulations regarding days, months, seasons and years. How can we say that all the time references in Genesis 1-11 are somehow different than those found in the rest of the Pentateuch? Those who argue for an old earth must contend that the seven days of creation are something other than seven literal, successive twenty-four hour days. But if their position is true, at what point did Moses switch gears from a symbolic to a literal usage of the term?
It is manifestly evident that Moses understood that God created the world in six literal, successive twenty-four hour days (Exod. 20:8-11; 31:14-17). This position is bolstered by Moses’ use of the phrase “the evening and the morning were the first . . . second . . . third . . . fourth . . . fifth . . . and sixth day” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).
What About the Chronologies of the Hebrew Kings?
Could the Jews tell time? Some might try to defend a loose under- standing of time by saying, “What about the chronologies of the Hebrew kings?” Admittedly, the Jews had a somewhat different way of reckoning chronologies than we do. However, there was method to their madness. Furthermore, the oriental and occidental approaches toward time are not so alien to one another that cross-cultural understanding is impossible.
While they appear confusing at first, it is possible, with careful study, for us to harmonize the books of Kings and Chronicles. One key to arranging a consistent chronology of the Hebrew kings is to realize that a part of a year was often counted as a whole year. We also must factor in the practice of co-regencies. A king would often begin his reign while his predecessor was still alive, governing with him for several years before he died. For more information on this subject, see E.R. Thieles A Chronology of the Hebrew Kings (1977) and The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (1983). In summary, please consider the statement found in Nelsons Illustrated Bible Dictionary: “But even after recognizing all these dating problems, the Bible student can rest assured that the ancient Near Eastern scribes worked with great care and precision in passing on the Old Testament. They furnish the patient modern interpreter with information needed to gain a reliable picture of Old Testament history.”1
What About “The Sign of Jonah”?
Could the Jews tell time? Some might argue, “The sign of Jonah proves that the Jews had a different way of looking at time than do we.” Well, “Yes” and “No.” Jesus said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights i n t h e h e a r t o f t h e earth” (Matt. 12:40). How long was Jesus in the tomb? Was it 72 hours or some lesser period of time?
Our Lord hung on the cross from the sixth hour to the ninth hour, i.e., from 12 to 3 p.m. (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44; John 19:14-18). Shortly thereafter, Jesus breathed his last, and yielded up his spirit. Then his lifeless body was removed from the cross and hastily buried, because the beginning of the Sabbath drew near (Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:31).
According to Jewish reckoning, the old day ended and a new day began at sunset, or 6 p.m. At the most, Jesus was in the tomb only 2-3 hours on Friday. His body lay entombed a full 24 hours on Saturday, and no more than 11-12 hours on Sunday. There- fore, he could have been in the grave a maximum of 39 total hours. Yet, this is consistent with the Lord’s statement regarding the sign of Jonah. Part of a day was reckoned as a whole day by the Hebrews. Jesus was in the tomb on part of Friday, all of Saturday and part of Sunday. Therefore, according to Jewish reckoning, he was in the tomb “three days and three nights.”
While Jesus was not in the tomb for 72 hours, he was in the tomb for approximately three days. There is some looseness in the phrase “three days and three nights,” but not unlimited elasticity. We are not at liberty to say he was in the tomb for three weeks, three months, three years, or three millennia! While I don’t believe that it is truly significant, a rhetorical point could be made that the phrase “three days and three nights” refers to a shorter time-frame than what is actually specified! Thus the sign of Jonah gives no comfort to those who would lengthen the days of Genesis Chapter One into geologic ages!
What About Those Biblical Genealogies?
Could the Jews tell time? In dis- cussing the genealogical family lines of Genesis 4-5, 10, etc. we must acknowledge that the word “beget” does not necessarily refer to a direct father/son relationship. It can and perhaps often does mean “descendant of.” I agree there could be some generational gaps in the lineage. Yet, how many could there be? There must be some outer limit on the number of generations that were skipped, lest the entire genealogical concept become meaningless!
In tracing the genealogy of Christ through Joseph, Matthew lists 40 individuals from Abraham to Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17). In tracing the genealogy of Christ through Mary, Luke lists 75 individuals from Adam to Jesus. According to Luke, Abraham is 55 generations removed from Jesus, and Adam is another 20 generations re- moved from our Savior. In tracing the genealogy of Adam, Moses lists nine generations from Adam to Noah (Gen. 5:1-32). Jude acknowledges this chronology by speaking of Enoch as “the seventh from Adam” (Jude 1:14).
Was Enoch seven generations re- moved from Adam? Was he seventy generations removed? Was he seven hundred generations removed? Was he seven thousand generations removed? The answer we give to such a question is significant!
Bishop Usher added up the genealogical lists in the Bible and concluded that Adam and Eve lived approximately 4,000 years before Christ. He made no allowance for any generational gaps in the lineages. My question is this: how many gaps could we allow before the whole concept of genealogy is lost?
If we allow an average of 100 years per generation, it would take 40 generations to go from Adam to Jesus. In fact, an average of 100 years per generation is too high, because we know that Luke includes 75 generations from Adam to Jesus. If we divide Usher’s 4,000 years by Luke’s 75 generations, we get an average of 53 years per generation. Nevertheless, for our purposes let’s stick with an average of 100 years per generation because (1) it is generous and (2) it is easy to compute.
Current evolutionary thought allows a million or so years for human evolution. If you are trying to make room for 1,000,000 years since the evolutionist say man first appeared, you are now discussing 10,000 generations. If you say man has been around for 500,000 years, you are dis- cussing 5,000 generations. If you say man has been around for 250,000 years, it would have taken 2,500 generations from Adam to Jesus. If you say man has been around for a mere 100,000 years, you are still assuming approximately 1,000 generations from Adam to Jesus.
For the sake of argument, let’s be conservative and say that man has been on the earth for 100,000 years. Luke says there were 75 generations from Jesus to Adam. Where are you going to stick the extra 925 generations and have the Biblical genealogy make any sense at all? A line with that many gaps is no line at all!
Using this approach to genealogy, all of us could claim to be the direct descendants of George Washington (even though he had no children)! That which proves too much proves too little. If you tried to gain admission to the Daughters of the American Revolution based on such sketchy data, they would laugh you out of the room!
How does the Doctrine of Progressive Creation among non-institutional brethren, handle biblical genealogies? Here is an example: In a handout entitled Genealogy and Chronology, written by Hill Roberts and revised in 1994, he affirms that there is no question as to the date when Abraham lived: “By starting from events in the Bible which can be correlated to events which are well dated in secular history, historians are able to date the life of Abraham to within about a hundred years either side of 1900 BC.”2
Nevertheless, brother Roberts goes on to say that we cannot accurately date such events as the construction of the tower of Babel, the flood, Cain and Abel, the fall of man, or the creation.3
How much time elapsed from Adam to Abraham? Bishop Usher, making no allowance for any generational gaps in the lineages, calculated that 2,000 years elapsed between Adam and Abraham. According to the Bible, twenty generations are under dispute. In the aforementioned handout, brother Roberts correctly points out that sometimes several generations are skipped in Biblical genealogical listings. In at least one instance, brother Roberts argues that a father/son generation is actually separated by 400 years.4
Okay, how much time can one reasonable insert into these 20 generations? For the sake of argumentation, let’s say that each of the 20 generations from Adam to Abraham is separated by 400 years. According to this timetable, 8,000 years would have elapsed from Adam to Abraham (20 x 400 = 8,000). Brother Roberts does not dispute the biblical dating from Abraham forward. He accepts that Abraham lived approximately 2,000 years before Christ, and that we live 2,000 years after Christ. Therefore, according to this method of calculation, Adam was created about 12,000 years ago (8,000 + 2,000 + 2000 = 12,000). Therefore, even if we grant that the first 20 generations of Bible history each cover over 400 years, this still does not help brother Roberts. Having bought into the standard evolutionary timetable, brother Roberts needs to make that 2,000 years become 100,000 to 250,000 years. Obviously, he has a problem. And we are not even touching the extra 4.5 billion years he has to get into the six days of creation.
What About “One Day Equals A Thousand Years”?
Could the Jews tell time? When we attended a Lord I Believe Seminar several years ago, one of the most disturbing things we encountered was the instruction that our 4th grade son received. Our son’s teacher said we cannot know how long the days of creation actually were because Peter said, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). This is an egregious misapplication of Scripture. These words have nothing to do with the chronological measurement of time; rather they describe the nature of God. Peter is not saying that there is some special time zone called “God Standard Time” where one God-day equals 1,000 human years. Rather, the inspired apostle is saying God is not limited by time and space. In contrast, man is a creature governed by time (Gen. 1:14). Therefore, the time references in Scripture are significant to man.
If the Jews were culturally and ethnically incapable of a precise understanding of time, the man who picked up sticks on the Sabbath should have been declared innocent by reason of incompetency. Yet, he was held accountable for trespassing a clear and understandable law relating to one’s conduct on the seventh day (Num. 15:32-36). Time mattered!
If the Jews were not interested in time in any traditional sense, why were they in such a hurry to remove Jesus and the two thieves from the hill of Calvary (John 19:31)? If they truly held such a loose view of time, “Why didn’t they say, “What’s the rush? Who cares if the bodies remain on the cross after sundown?” No, as much as the Lord’s enemies had enjoyed seeing him hang on the cross, they decided to “call it a day” because the Sabbath drew near. Obviously they were not watching the second hand tick away on their wristwatches, but they were watching the sun set in the west. Time mattered!
There is absolutely no basis in saying that the Jews could not tell time. They had a very clear understanding of times and seasons, days and years. The only reason one would argue otherwise is to accommodate the proclamations of science regarding the alleged old age of the earth. Yet, as one considers the Sacred Text, it is apparent that the most straightforward understanding of the Genesis record indicates that God created the heaven and earth in six literal, successive twenty-four hour days. Furthermore, the Scriptures point to a recent creation, not one that occurred billions and billions of years ago. Therefore, on this issue and all others, I am content to speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent.
1 Nelsons Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Herbert Lockyer, Sr. (Seattle, WA: BibleSoft & Nashville: TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), s.v. “Chronology, Old Testament.”
2 Hill Roberts, Genealogy and Chronology, Handout written by Hill Roberts, revised 1994, Paragraph 1, First Sentence.
3 Hill Roberts, Genealogy and Chronology, Handout written by Hill Roberts, revised 1994, Paragraph 2, First Sentence.
4 Hill Roberts, Genealogy and Chronology, Handout written by Hill Roberts, revised 1994, Sub-point: The Nature of Hebrew Genealogies, Paragraph 4, Last Sentence.