A response to AiG’s article “Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies?”
There is a huge cultural chasm between our culture and the cultures of the Old Testament and that chasm is often presents obstacles as we seek to understand the text of Scripture. Translators of the OT face these obstacles in most passages of the OT as they try to communicate its words into English. To overcome these obstacle, translators look at ancient translations of the text, read ancient commentaries about the text, look at archeological evidence, look at variant texts, etc… to better understand the text they are trying to translate. And sometimes they are still left choosing between several possible alternatives. And even when meaning of a text is easily understood, it is still never as precise as our English translations of the text would make it appear. Biblical Hebrew uses a much smaller vocabulary (about 8000[i] words) than does English (about 1,000,000[ii] words). Furthermore, Old Testament Hebrew is a language that is rich with synonyms which further reduces its effective word count. To compensate for the much smaller vocabulary, most words in Biblical Hebrew have much broader ranges of meaning than do their English equivalents. For example, the same word in Hebrew can be translated “to carry, to lift, to support, to forgive, to marry, etc…” Additionally, there are far fewer verb tenses in Biblical Hebrew and they are much more fluid than they are in English. One of the challenges of Biblical Hebrew is trying to understand which verb tense was intended in a given text. For example, most translations of Hosea 1:10b read “And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”.” Most people would be surprised to learn that the conjugated Hebrew verb for “it was said” and for “it shall be said” are identical in the Hebrew text. The change of tense was a choice made by the translator, and there is some debate about what tense was intended.[iii] The broad range of meaning of Hebrew words, and the fluid use of verb tenses are just a few of the challenges faced by biblical Hebrew scholars.
While Hebrew scholars often hold strong opinions about the intended meaning of the passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures, they also tend to approach scholarly debate with a lot of grace when challenging those who hold differing opinions because they also recognize how many questions are still unanswered. Understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of your own position is critical to honest debate. When looking at the Genesis account, these scholars recognize that many of the questions we have about how and when creation took place are simply not answered as neatly as we might desire and, while they often have strong opinions about how these passages should be understood, they recognize that there is room for an abundance of grace for those who have come to different conclusions. When Hebrew scholars, who have spent a lifetime studying the language of the OT, are unwilling to make the kind of dogmatic assertions that are being made by people who have not studied the language, it should be a red flag that something is wrong.
There are a many good questions that should be asked as we approach the biblical account of creation, and good arguments can be made for a number of answers to these questions. Unfortunately the goal of some “creation ministries” has not been to prove that their answers to these questions are the best answers, but rather to prove that they are the only answers. In pursuing this goal, these ministries have often presented extremely flawed arguments in an attempt to force the text of Scripture into their mold. The problem is not that their suggested interpretation of the biblical text is unreasonable; the problem is that far too much energy is being spent trying to prove that all other interpretations are unreasonable instead of honestly looking at the text itself and recognizing where there is room for honest disagreement. Sometimes these ministries have acted like an overzealous cop who so strongly believes his suspect is guilty that he is willing to cross ethical lines and manufacture evidence in order to gain a conviction of a man who may be innocent. When proving that all other explanations of the creation account are invalid becomes the goal, it can lead to an overzealous desire to convict those who interpret these passages differently of mishandling Scripture. Intentionally or not, their over zealousness has far too often been the catalyst for false accusations that have been leveled against brothers and sisters in Christ.
I would like to examine an article written by Answers in Genesis that demonstrates how easily ethical lines can be crossed when the goal becomes “proving” all other explanations are wrong. The primary question being raised in this article is “Are there gaps in the Genesis genealogies?” This is a good question and there are good biblical scholars who validly disagree on the answer to this question. Answers in Genesis takes the position that there are no gaps in the early genealogies of Genesis, and while their answer is an entirely reasonable explanation of the biblical text, it is not the only valid explanation of the text. Problems arise in their argument, not because of how they understand the text, but because they have over zealously tried to “prove” that all other explanations are invalid. The focus of AiG’s argument is based on how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (to begat) should be understood. Some Hebrew scholars do support AiG’s understanding of these early genealogies in Genesis, but none will support AiG’s suggestion about how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ must be understood. While AiG’s proposal, if true, would preclude any other understanding of these genealogies, it is not a proposal supported by Hebrew scholarship and it marks the point where AiG has begun to cross an ethical line. In order to defend their position, AiG must move farther still beyond a line that they should have never crossed. Let’s take a look at AiG’s six arguments.
Arguments 1 and 3
The genealogical information given in Genesis 46 presents a serious problem for those who suggest that the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can refer only to a direct descendant. In trying to defend this position, AiG tells us that “A person needs to read the quoted verse (Ge. 46:15) carefully to correctly understand its meaning. The begat (bare) refers to the sons born in Padanaram. Genesis 35:23 lists the six sons born in Padanaram (those whom Leah begat), who are listed as part of the total group of 33 children in Genesis 46:15. Thus, this passage confirms that begat points to the generation immediately following—a literal parent/child relationship.” There are several serious problems with this explanation.
First, no distinction is made between the six children that were direct descendants and the remaining twenty-seven given in the list. While the qualification “in Paddam-Aram” may indicate that, through the birth of these six children, ultimately Leah bore thirty three children, it is an inescapable conclusion that this usage of YaLaD (begat) refers to multiple generations. It is this kind of usage that many scholars believe may be intended in other early genealogies given in Genesis.
Second, this same pattern is repeated for Zipah (vs. 18), Rachel (vs. 22), and Bilah (vs. 25). In each of these for examples, a list of children and grandchildren is also provided, and then the total number is said to have been born to the woman whose name follows the list. However, in none of the remaining three examples is any qualifying location provided, further demonstrating the impossibility of the very imaginative interpretation suggested by AiG. AiG tells us that “nowhere is it stated that these four wives physically bore the total number of sons listed for each” but the whole point is that scholars see these as examples where the text is speaking of generational gaps, where the text speaks of both children and grandchildren that are born to these women, and the text is very clear on that point. Genesis 46:18 states that “she [Zilpah] bore to Jacob these sixteen persons (NASB)[iv]” but only two were her biological children, the rest were grandchildren or great grandchildren.
Third, this is not the only passage that uses the root YaLad (begat) in a way that indicates multiple generations. Duet. 4:25 tells us that “you will beget sons and sons of sons,” and in Ruth 4:17 were are told that “A son has been born to Naomi.” This son, we know from the narrative, was the direct descendant of Ruth and Boaz. Not only is there a generational gap, there wasn’t even a direct biological relationship between Naomi and Ruth and only a distant relationship between Naomi and Boaz.
AiG’s recognizes that there are skipped generations found in Mt. 1:8 and Mt. 1:11, but AiG tells us that “Here, the Greek word for begat is gennao, which shows flexibility not found in the Hebrew word and does allow for the possibility that a generation or more may be skipped.” Where did the idea that the Hebrew word ‘YaLaD’ is less flexible than the Greek word ‘gennao’ originate? It appears that this idea came solely from AiG. This implied limit to the semantic range of meaning for ‘YaLaD’ is not supported by any Hebrew reference lexicon, and AiG has not referenced the work of any Hebrew scholar that would support such a conclusion.
The Greek NT has been translated into a number of Semitic languages, like Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic. These languages share many common roots, and one frequently shared root is ‘YaLaD’ (to beget). When we examine translations of Mt. 1 in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation, we find that ‘YaLaD’ is consistently used to translate the verses with their known genealogical gaps. Some examples are Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut’s 14th century Hebrew translation[v], the Peshitta (an Aramaic 5th century translation)[vi], and the Van Dyke[vii]. If, as AiG contends, the root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can never be used to refer to anyone other than a direct biological descendant, then we would expect that the translators of these Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translations of this biblical text would have recognized the problem and chosen other words to express the non-direct relationships found in this genealogy; they did not. The universal usage of this root in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation alone demonstrates the fallacy of this argument.
AiG tells us that “The Hebrew word yalad for begat is not used in the 1 Chronicles passage (1 Chronicles 7:23–27);” however, it is present[viii] in the very first verse of this passage.
In Luke 3:36, and in most copies of the LXX (ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew text) we have an additional generation that is not present in the Hebrew genealogies found in Ge. 11:12 or 1 Chr. 1:24. AiG contends that this was an error introduced into both the LXX and the text of Luke 3:36. They point to an early manuscript (P75) of Luke which does not contain the additional generation, and suggest that this was the original text and that all other copies reflect a corrupted text. While this, unlike the other arguments, is a possible explanation, it is far from certain.
Most scholars believe the genealogies that include Cainan reflect the original text of Luke and that the basis for Luke’s genealogy is found in the LXX. P75 was found in 1952, and many new English translations of Scripture have been published since its discovery i.e. the NIV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NLT, HCSB, etc…; to date, no translation committee has felt there was sufficient evidence to warrant changing our English translations and every new English translation still includes the name Cainan. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, scholars often presumed that differences between the LXX and the Hebrew text reflected either corruption or mistranslation of an original Hebrew text; however, the DSS have demonstrated that many of these differences were actually a reflection of previously unknown Hebrew variants[ix]. For this reason, scholars today have much more respect for the translation quality of the LXX than did scholars of a generation past. Because this additional generation is found in so many ancient manuscripts[x], many scholars believe that copies of Luke that include Cainan are more likely to represent the original text.
Additionally, witnesses to this genealogy also exist in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, and these witnesses add details that may provide grounds for understanding why Cainan was omitted from the Hebrew text. In the book of Jubilees[xi] we are told that Cainan the son of Arphaxad (and father of Shelah) found a cave with writings about astrology written by the “watchers who lived before the flood.” He copied the writing and then hid this from Noah because he was afraid of Noah’s response. This led to sin that apparently resulted Cainan being sent away. His involvement in astrology and subsequent expulsion may explain why his name was blotted out of the OT record. Additionally, mathematical analysis[xii] of both the Hebrew and Greek genealogies of the OT demonstrate that it is extremely unlikely that this additional generation was due to a simple transcription error because the numbers have been adjusted to provide the same numerical sums in the genealogies that contain this name as are provided in the genealogies that omit it. Whether the name Cainan was part of the original text of Luke is a much more difficult question to answer than AiG has suggested. Regardless of what one concludes regarding Luke’s genealogy, that decision should be made based solely on evaluating the evidences related to this passage. Attempting to use this passage to prove that the meaning of a Hebrew word should be limited is circular reasoning, and something to be avoided.
There is no reason to defend Harold Camping’s argument, so I will ignore it and focus on the errors in AiG’s response. AiG tells us that “These verbs use the hiphil form of the verb” and that the “Hiphil usually expresses the causative action of qal.” While both statements are true, AiG then leaps to the unwarranted conclusion that “God chose this form to make it absolutely clear that we understand that there are no missing generations in chapters 5 and 11 of Genesis. Any other Hebrew verb form would not have been nearly as emphatic as the hiphil form.” This is stated without providing references to any Hebrew scholarship that would support this conclusion, and there is no Hebrew reference lexicon that would suggest the hiphil form would limit the semantic range of meaning for this root in this way. While it is true that the hiphil form USUALLY expresses causative action, they have failed to recognize that the meaning of a verb is not always derived from its form; common usage must always take precedence in determining meaning. For example, if I say “I speak Hebrew[xiii]”, the piel (intensive) form of the verb is used; however, the meaning of this verb is just simple active even though the piel construction is used. There are many Hebrew verbs that “break the rules” when one considers the meaning that “should” be derived from its form. When we look at the interchangeability of the qal (light, active) and hiphil (causative, active) for the root ‘YaLaD’ (to begat) as it is used in the biblical text, we should recognize that caution must be exercised before deriving the meaning for this verb based on its form.
More importantly, AiG’s understanding of causative action is itself flawed. In biblical Hebrew, the causative form is frequently used to indicate the person who was the cause of an action even when that person was not the agent who did the action. When Scripture speaks of David bringing (hiphil) the shields of gold to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 18:7), it does not intend to convey the idea that David personally carried them to Jerusalem, but rather that he had his men bring them to Jerusalem. When it speaks of Solomon bringing (hiphil) the dedicated items into the Temple (2 Chr. 5:1), again the intent is not to convey the idea that Solomon literally carried these items himself, but rather that they were brought to the temple by others following his order. Similarly, when Scripture tells us that God brought disaster on Israel, most of the time that action was carried out by the men of other nations i.e. God was the cause of the action, but not the agent of that action. Additionally, it is clear that this verb can be used in the Hiphil form to indicate genealogical gaps. One of the best examples can be found in Duet. 4:25 which uses this exact form to say “for you will beget sons and sons of sons;” a statement that couldn’t more strongly indicate multiple generations.
Strong vigorous debate is an invaluable tool for learning only when we come to that debate willing to acknowledge the weakness of our own position and willing to hear the positions of those with whom we disagree. Some of the most valuable debates I have engaged in personally are the ones I have lost; they were valuable because loosing meant that I learned something that I had not known before. When we enter into a debate with the idea that winning is more important that learning, too often the result is that integrity is compromised in order to achieve that goal, and no one profits from that debate. It is time we stop coming to debates over Creation with the goal of winning, and start engaging in debates with the goal of truly learning from one another.
[i] Strong’s identifies 8674 Hebrew words, other sources vary slightly.
[ii] The number of words in the English language is: 1,025,109.8. This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014. The English Language passed the Million Word threshold on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m. (GMT). The Millionth Word was the controversial ‘Web 2.0′. Currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day. Though GLM’s analysis was the subject of much controversy at the time, the recent Google/Harvard Study of the Current Number of Words in the English Language is 1,022,000. The number of words in the English language according to GLM now stands at: 1,025,109.8. The difference between the two analyses is .0121%, which is widely considered statistically insignificant. Google’s number, which is based on the counting of the words in the 15,000,000 English language books it has scanned into the ‘Google Corpus,’ mirrors GLM’s Analysis. GLM’s number is based upon its algorithmic methodologies, explication of which is available from its site.
[iii] Among Hebrew scholars there is a debate about whether the first instance should be translated as “it was said” or whether “it should be said” better communicates the intent of Hosea. The use of the perfect is primarily based on the translation of this text found in the LXX.
[iv] וַתֵּ֤לֶד אֶת־אֵ֙לֶּה֙ לְיַעֲקֹ֔ב שֵׁ֥שׁ עֶשְׂרֵ֖ה נָֽפֶשׁ (Gen. 46:18)
[v] Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut (14th Century)
אסא הוליד את יהושפט יהושפט הוליד את יורם יורם הוליד את עוזיה (Matt. 1:8)
יאשיה הוליד את יכניה ואחיו בגלות בבל (Matt. 1:11)
[vi] Peshitta (5th Century)
אסא אולד ליהושׁפט יהושׁפט אולד ליורם יורם אולד לעוזיא (Matt. 1:8)
יושׁיא אולד ליוכניא ולאחוהי בגלותא דבבל (Matt. 1:11)
[vii] Van Dyke
وَآسَا وَلَدَ يَهُوشَافَاطَ. وَيَهُوشَافَاطُ وَلَدَ يُورَامَ. وَيُورَامُ وَلَدَ عُزِّيَّا. (Matt. 1:8)
وَيُوشِيَّا وَلَدَ يَكُنْيَا وَإِخْوَتَهُ عِنْدَ سَبْيِ بَابِلَ (Matt. 1:11)
[viii] In 1 Chr. 7:23 (the very first verse from this passage) we read ‘וַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן’ (and she conceived and begat a son). In Hebrew, letters like ה,ו,י,נ are weak letters, and it frequently dropped when verbs containing them are conjugated. In the text from 1 Chr. 7:23 that I provided, both verbs contain weak letters and both verbs have dropped a letter in their conjugated form in this text. The root for ‘to conceive’ is הרה and the final ה is dropped when conjugated as ותהר, the root for ‘to begat’ is ילד and the י is dropped when the verb is conjugated as ותלד. The prefixed ת simply indicates that this is the 3rd person feminine singular imperfect.
[ix] Because the DSS are very fragmentary, every passage found in the LXX cannot be compared to an original text from the DSS collection; this is one example where we our comparison is still limited only to Hebrew manuscripts that centuries newer than the Greek texts of the LXX to which they are being compared.
[x] The NET bible notes that “the witnesses with this reading (or a variation of it( are substantial: א B L ¦1 33 )Καϊνάμ(, A Θ Ψ 0102 ¦13 Û (Καϊνάν, Kainan)”
[xi] Jubilees. 8:1-5
[xii] Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2009 18: 207, The Curse of Cainan (Jub. 8.1-5): Genealogies in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11, and a Mathematical Pattern., Helen R. Jacobus
[xiii] “אני מדבר עברית”