Joined: 3 Jun 2007
Note: below as may be common with some of my answers depending on the particular
question, I first set forth a faith-based or "believer's answer" and then a non-believer's
answer. The first relies upon faith that the Bible is in fact inspired by God and the
latter does not. I leave it to you to decide which seems best.
Q: Why are the people at the start of the Bible so old? u_u
What you are referring to is the ages (or life-spans) of "the patriarchs" given in the
Hebrew Aramaic scriptures commonly referred to as the "Old Testament".
In accord with their custom, only the male ancestors' ages are recorded in the scriptures
but we can assume that women lived as long if not longer then their male counterparts as
they do today.
Ages of the Patriarchs:
Adam 930 yrs
Some persons have concluded that the years listed in the Bible for these men must have
been shorter, perhaps only a month in length. But this does not agree with the context in
which the Bible mentions the age at which men such as Kenan and Mahalalel died. We read:
“Kenan lived on for seventy years. Then he became father to Mahalalel. And after his
fathering Mahalalel Kenan continued to live eight hundred and forty years. Meanwhile he
became father to sons and daughters. So all the days of Kenan amounted to nine hundred and
ten years and he died. And Mahalalel lived on for sixty-five years. Then he became father
to Jared.” (Gen. 5:12-15) If we were to replace the word “years” with “months,”
this would mean that both Kenan and Mahalalel became fathers before they were six years
So just by that example above, as well as others that could be given, we can conclude that
the bible writers meant actual years the length of days more or less the same as we keep
now as a year.
As can be seen from above, with the exception of a few "natural anomalies," the life-spans
seem to run-down from close to 1000 years all the way down so that eventually by early
Israelite/Jewish history of the twelve tribes the recorded life-spans of people settle
down to about what we still have today. (Note: there is a significant drop post-Flood
The Bible says that when God created Adam and Eve, he made them to be "perfect." He told
them to live and do their thing, including to fill the Earth with their children and this
is what many believe to have been God's purpose for humans. The Genesis account records
that God did not say they would die, indeed it is pretty clear that the intention was for
Adam and Eve to live in perfection forever. The only mention of death at all was in the
context of their disobedience to God and defiance of Him. God told Adam that if they were
to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad that they would die.
It is therefore believed that ONLY AFTER they did in fact disobey God and eat of the
forbidden fruit that God changed them in some way, as well as putting them out of the
"garden." Some of these changes seem made apparent by God himself when he told them that
he would make Eve's birthpains even greater than what she would have had and that Adam
would now have to toil for his food.(Gen. 3:16,17)
When we think about the human body it is truly a remarkable machine. Even today, we do not
know why our machinery eventualy breaks down and wears out. Why we age instead of staying
youthful and why we succumbe to disease and eventually death. We understand some of the
processes like the buildup of plaque in our arteries or the break-down of myolin layers in
Alzheimer's patients, etc. but we still don't know why this stuff happens in the first
place. In theory and in a very real scientific sense, there is no reason why a human being
couldn't live many multiples than our current life-spans if not, in fact, forever, if our
machinery didn't undergo these aging processes.
It might surprise you to read what the Encyclopedia Britannica says:
"The exact duration of human life is unknown, although there is presumably a maximum
life-span for the human race established in the genetic material. At first thought, this
statement seems irrational. Surely no human being can live 1,000 years. Even though all
may agree that the likelihood of an individual living 1,000 years is infinitesimal, there
is no scientific proof that this statement is or is not true.”
The faith-based explanation is that when God "punished" Adam and Eve he changed them in
such a way. Whether that was removing them from his complete grace or making some unknown
change to their genetic make-up we don't know. But whatever he did, the change fullfilled
what he had warned them about, that is that they would now die instead of living forever.
That change was passed on to Adam and Eve's children and the generations of mankind
afterwards. As an illustration, picture a fan that gets unplugged from its power source.
The fan gradually winds down. That is the curve that is replicated by a graph of the ages
of the patriarchs. Or in other words we see a more or less gradual steady decline the
further generations get away from when they were perfect eventually settling down to what
appears to be human's "natural life-span." (It doesn't go to zero of course because
although we are born with imperfection we are also born with a pretty good-working
This idea harmonizes with the rest of the Bible's viewpoint on sin and death which in
summary indicates that the reason we as humans die is due to our imperfection or the sin
that we have inherited as Adam and Eve's children.
An alternative viewpoint, recognizes that all of this "history" of the jewish nation is
the product of a synthesis of various ancient source materials. Under the Documentary
Hypothesis of the Bible (if you dont know what this is, I will elaborate in another post
some time), the editor/redactor of the Pentateuch (first five books of the bible) and
early portions of the Hebrew Aramaic scriptures, recorded more or less faithfully the
life-spans of the patriarchs as they were related in whatever written source materials
available or in the oral history. Because the editor/redactor was dealing with "ancient
history" he had no way really to verify the truth of these reported life-spans.
These inflated life-spans possibly arose within the ancient source materials because the
people had an idea about the age of the founding of the world that is a time period when
they believed the "first man" had been created. But in order to fit their history of
their patriarchs back these 25 generations or so to include when they believed the "first
man" (Adam) to have been created by God, they basically had to "stretch" their history to
match what was "known" with what was "believed." In the process the life-spans of each
patriarch had the tendency to take on a legendary length that got fixed within the overall
story, whether or not it was accurate.
(Remember too, that the "believing explanation" or the "traditional view" is that MOSES is
the author of these early books. Thus prior to the time of Moses which is about the 25th
generation in this line of patriarchs, all of the history was either ORAL or contained in
other written works. Note: there are a number of source texts mentioned in the bible that
are lost. These are "lost books" that even Moses is said to have relied upon in part in
So in conclusion, the truth of these ancient materials when it came to the ages of the
Patriarchs couldnt be easily verified by the editor/redactor of the Bible but probaby were
merely legendary lengths of time that had been long assigned to the patriarchs as their
stories were told over the generations. The lengths were stretched to extraordinary
proportions in order to overlay the overall history with when it was believed significant
events had occurred including The Flood and the creation of the first man Adam.
It was only as the history got more contemporary and his sources more readily at hand and
verifiable that the ages "settle down" to normal looking lengths.
*the significant drop after the Flood is something that cuts-both ways. Believers could
say that there being no one on Earth other than Noah and his family (wife, three sons and
their wives), that less of the "ancient good genes" were available so that greatly reduced
the strength of humankind and thus the average life-spans dropped accordingly and
significantly with successive generations.
Non-believers (under the Documentary Hypothesis) might understand that the pre-Flood
patriarch's ages could be inflated even more than post-Flood ages because of the lack of
verifiable source materials the source-creators would naturally claim was lost due to the