A frequent challenge from atheists concerns the lifespan of early Bible characters. Genesis 5 contains the “generations of Adam” up to the time of Noah. It lists Methuselah as having lived 969 years. This chapter raises many questions, and atheists have ridiculed the idea that people ever lived that long. Anthropologists have methods for determining how old a person was when they died, and no data shows people ever living hundreds of years as we measure years today. Then what was the age of Methuselah?
It is essential to understand that this is not just a biblical peculiarity. Other ancient cultures have records of people living a very long time. The ancient Sumerian King List said that King Alulim ruled for 28,800 years, and others longer than that! However, the all-time longevity champ is a spiritual teacher in Jainism named Shreyansanatha, who was recorded to have lived 8,400,000 years. The message should be clear to us that none of these are our familiar calendar years as established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.
There have been studies to determine how ancient people expressed time. The Hebrews used lunar cycles for reckoning time, but they have modified that because certain numbers had special significance. For example, seven indicated completeness, and six was just short of completeness. The Book of Revelation contains symbolic numbers that people have often erroneously misinterpreted.
A careful study of this subject will show that the intent of Genesis 5 is not to establish time or the chronological ages. Applying modern calendar concepts to Genesis would mean that Methuselah was killed by the flood of Noah. The message of the passage is not the age of Methuselah, but that he was a descendent of Enoch and an ancestor of Noah.
When you read any book of any culture, you have to look at who wrote it and to whom and why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. That is especially true when considering the ages of ancient personalities.
— John N. Clayton © 2022