Answer by Peter Geyer and Randall Hardy
We all seem to grow up with the notion that human history is very, very long and our earliest ancestors are so remote there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of generations between us and them. This is the impression given by the teaching of evolution, but we should remember that Darwin’s mentor Charles Lyell designed his long geological time-scales specifically to undermine the record in the Bible. Rejecting Lyell’s approach gives a surprising result to this question. Finding the answer takes us back across the Biblical account of earth history somewhere between six and seven thousand years ago to the creation of the first man Adam.
For ease we will consider the generations between Adam and ourselves in three sections; from Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Jesus Christ, and from Christ to the present. The number of generations in the first two sections are easy to work out because the Bible details the lineage of Christ all the way back to Adam. The main purpose of these records is to demonstrate that Christ was indeed a Son of Adam, who could therefore legally settle the debt first incurred by Adam. We should remember that this is the primary purpose of these genealogical records, and the fact that they enable us to make a rough calculation of the date of creation is a secondary benefit.
Adam to Abraham
Abraham was born approximately 2000 years after Adam’s creation, a period covered in just 20 generations, including both Adam and Abraham. Two reasons: prior to the Flood and for some time after, human life-spans were longer than we consider ‘normal’ today; secondly, this longevity enabled people to have children when much older than us. In this period the youngest father listed is Nahor, Abraham’s grandfather, at 29. The oldest is Noah at 502. The average age for the father when the listed son was born is just over 100 – unthinkable today, but that is a measure of how much we have been affected by the consequences of sin. The data for these generations is in Genesis 5 & 11, or in 1 Chronicles 1-3 where it is given as a single list without ages, but with brothers and cousins interspersed.
Abraham to Christ
The next 2000 years features many more generations, but they are documented carefully because of the need to trace Christ’s ancestry. Genesis finishes its records with Jacob (Israel) then 1 Chronicles provides Christ’s lineage through to the Babylonian exile. It is in these three books and in Ruth 4, that the Old Testament traces Messianic descent through to King David, who was born about 1000 years before Christ. Chronicles traces some of David’s descendants through Solomon through to Hodaviah, one of the seven sons of Elioenai. These two men are not listed in either of the New Testament ancestries of Jesus, but their ancestor Zerubbabel appears in both Matthew’s and Luke’s records. The two lists in these gospels are very different and it is generally accepted that this is because Matthew traces Christ’s lineage through Joseph His ‘adoptive’ father, whilst Luke looks at His blood line through Mary, even though Luke does not mention her by name. (See Footnote)
Allowing for some necessary adjustments, Luke lists 74 generations through Mary after Adam whilst Matthew has 63 through Joseph (adding his record from Abraham to the 20 previous generations). This difference is not a problem if we consider the realities of births within a family line. There can be no exact figure for a generation, as it is the time between each parent’s own birth and them having a child. Most modern Western families have a small number of children over a brief period of time. However, even in our societies it is not completely unknown for someone to have an aunt or uncle who is younger than they. In such cases two lines in the same family can easily get out of sync with each other and have differing numbers of generations back to a common ancestor. Our youngest child is just 5 years older than our oldest grandchild – it is easy to see that a future uncle and nephew could both have children at about the same time, resulting in one branch of the family therefore having one less generation than another. Over 50 generations this number can really diverge. There is therefore no contradiction in a Biblical record which shows that from Adam to Christ through Mary required 75 generations including both men whilst Matthew’s list has just 64 names, through Joseph.
Christ to Today
Since there are no public records easily available for the final 2000 years to the present, we need to estimate the number of generations in some way. Taking Luke’s record for the period from David’s son Solomon to Christ we have an average “generation length” of 23.5 years. Over the same period, Matthew returns approximately 31 years. These allow a minimum of additional generations of 65 and a maximum of 86 in the last 2000 years.
We could of course suggest an average generation length slightly different from these two limits, but on what criteria might we base this? Remember we are working with the average age for child birth. Social, political and environmental conditions have varied so much in the last two millennia, and all these affect lifespan and birth rates, so the above figures seem as reasonable as any for our purpose. These make for a total number of generations from Adam to us as minimum 129, maximum 161, but as we are estimating we can allow further tolerance by rounding down and up to 120 and 170 respectively.
We do however have access to one family record to shed further light on this question. Some years ago one of our supporters, Joel Black, emailed Creation Research to say, “I have Jewish ancestry, and if the record they have compiled of the family is correct, there are precisely 139 generations from Adam to me.” This falls right in the middle of our estimated range. When asking, “How many greats would you need to put before grandfather to get back to Adam?” you need to subtract three from the total – one for yourself, one for your father and one for your grandfather. Joel therefore would have 136 greats in front of the word “Grandfather Adam”. The rest of us are on average about 145 generations from Adam, so make that 142 greats and as you do so, don’t lose sight of an even more important point.
Our Inheritance from Adam
What each one of us inherits without trying from our first and greatest-great-grandfather Adam are sin and death. We all have sinned because we are his natural descendants. Paul explained further in Rom. 7 that we still struggle with sin, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the bad I will not to do, that I practice.” Frustrated, he cries out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Earlier in this same letter Paul had explained the seriousness of this problem. Looking back to Adam he said “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”.
Thankfully Paul knew the solution to this inherited problem; “For if by the one man’s offence many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” And “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:6-21)
Since Jesus Christ has no physical descendants, we cannot therefore inherit His righteousness through human descent – yet He spoke of His disciples “inheriting eternal life”. Throughout the New Testament there are many references to Christians having an inheritance and in Titus 3:7 they are described as “heirs according to the hope of eternal life”. Again in Romans Paul explained at length that it was Abraham’s faith which was accounted to him as righteousness by God. In fact Paul built much of his argument in this letter on the promises first given through the prophet Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith.” To put faith in someone in authority, means we trust them enough to do what they ask of us. Jesus showed His faith in His Father by doing His will in all things. We can become Christ’s heirs through faith if we are prepared to trust and obey Him.
When we are adopted as our Creator’s heirs, the good news is that He has no grandchildren nor great-grandchildren. There is no longer any need to count back how many generations lie between us and our Creator Father; in Christ we are all His Father’s first generation sons! Unlike our inheritance in Adam which is impossible to avoid, righteousness in Christ is provided in response to our request. Such an appeal requires faith that Jesus’ death was sufficient payment for our sin and only He can provide us with salvation from this sin and make us His heirs with a guarantee of eternal life. Ask Him today.
Footnote: There are differences between some of the Biblical lists which we do not have the space to discuss here, but it is right to acknowledge that Luke’s lists seem to include two copyist errors, Cainan before the Flood and Arni between Abraham and David, because these men are not listed elsewhere. Matthew also omits three kings who may have been excluded from the official records because of the evils of their father, with Exodus 20:4-5 being the passage usually quoted in this regard.
Were you helped by this answer? If so, consider making a donation so we can keep adding more answers. Donate here.