An exercise in biblical inspiration: Did Adam live 900 years?


According to the Catholic Church, the Bible is inspired by God, whole and entire.

This means the Scriptures are without error — so long as we know what the sacred authors are asserting. “Since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation” (Dei Verbum 11).

[More info: See Jimmy Akin’s article]

So what is the biblical author asserting in Genesis 5:5 –

Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died. -Genesis 5:5


Further background info from Jimmy Akin’s article:

The tricky part is figuring out what is an assertion and what isn’t. Scripture is a complex and rich text that uses many different means of conveying God’s truth. Since some of these involve ancient modes of writing and speech that are not used in 21st century English literature, it isn’t always clear to us what precisely is being asserted. Indeed, Scripture acknowledges that it isn’t always clear, as when St. Peter notes that St. Paul’s writings contain many things that are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16).


Because we do not today have a full understanding of the rules by which the ancients wrote history (and the rules varied from culture to culture and from time to time), it can be difficult figuring out what is being asserted in the proper sense and what is not being so asserted.

When we encounter something that is not being asserted, we cannot charge the sacred author with error because only assertions can be erroneous. If I’m not asserting that something is true then I am not making a claim that can be in error. The most that could be said is that what I said would be erroneous if taken as an assertion of fact.

Thus if I talk about the sun rising in the morning, and someone fails to note that I am using phenomenological language (the language of appearances), he might say that what I said was false, but he would be wrong. I was not asserting that the sun literally rises in relation to a stationary earth. That is not the sense in which I meant my words to be understood, and so that is not what I was asserting. I would be wrong if I had meant that, but I didn’t mean that. Therefore, my assertion was not false.

When we approach Scripture, we must be sensitive to the fact that there are many things in it that may strike us as being assertions that, to the ancient audience, would not have been so understood. If we run across something that seems false or seems to contradict some other passage, we know that what Scripture says is not wrong. We simply have not correctly identified what is being asserted in one or both passages.


I personally do not believe that Adam literally lived over 900 years, and I do not see anything in Catholic teaching would have me believe this be the case.

However, I am struggling to realize what the biblical author is asserting as true here.


It’s not just a scriptural issue. Sumerian king texts… very mundane in some respects… still put these long ages in them. No historian wants to tackle as to why… they shut their ears and go “la la la la la!”, and just try to pay attention to any other information they may contain.


I think it’s indicative each successive generation being cut off more and more removed from God


So when the biblical author says word-for-word that Adam lived more than 900s years, he’s actually asserting something else — that sin diminished the human person? And so on?

Another question:

When we look to what is being asserted, do we mean each individual assertion? (Like each statement — e.g., “Adam lived for 900s years”) Or are we looking at the larger context to know what is being asserted?


I don’t know if all of them have anything to do with “sin”, but it might in one case: Methuselah’s long age. He dies right at the time of the Flood. His name is said to actually mean “When he is dead it shall be sent”. So in this case, I think the writer is trying to make a point. Just not sure on all of the patriarchs.

edit: It should be said that Enoch was his father also… and there are traditions that he was preaching destruction well before Noah was born. Then he was “taken into heaven”, while his son lived out his years… until he died… and the flood came.


Did he? I have no reason to doubt that he did. It was not part of a inspried poem or literary work, so I would think to be true.


Catholic teaching is that Genesis uses figurative language. It’s not the same thing as a historical record in the modern sense.

This question is more about the implications of scriptural inspiration, for I do not believe that Adam literally lived 900 years, and the Catholic Church doesn’t require this belief. So I hope the conversation does get into an intense defense of Adam literally living 900 years…

However, I still am having trouble determining what the biblical author would be asserting*** as true*** here, if we do not take it literally.


Your problem here, I’d say, is lack of sufficient context. Let’s contextualize for you:

This single verse that you pulled out as if it could stand on its own… is actually part of a toledot (or a “genealogy”).

So… in this genealogy, what do you think God is asserting? :wink:


Which Catholic teaching? There isn’t a definitive statement in Catholicism on every subject. You’ll find multiple teachers on this. And you certainly won’t find any patristic writers talking like the people who write commentaries for the Church in the 2000s.


Even the part about Joseph in Egypt?

Could you please point me to the source where the Church says that Genesis is not literal? I’ve never seen it before.

Why do think it is not true?


I totally believe he lived 900 years. I think sin corrupted the DNA and the effects of original sin shortened human’s lifespans over the successive generations. If there were no sin, I don’t think cancer could change the way cells replicate, all cells would work and reproduce perfectly. Somehow sin messed up that whole system.

I also think it’s also possible that before the flood there was a greenhouse-like canopy in place, like a tropical Jurassic park style paradise. Then the flood came and it rained for the first time, messing up all the weather. Then human’s bodies had to deal with temperature extremes which could have shortened the lifespans also, compared to what they were beforewhen they had perfect weather all the time.


Likely, Adam was a vegetarian, took runs through the garden and had a low cholesterol diet high in fruits, forbidden fruits, and healthy amino acids.


Maybe (10 char)


Taking one of Jeff Cavin’s classes taught me one interpretation that the amount of years meant the importance of one’s life and how well they lived it… thus the longer one was attributed to living meant he was more important to the world and scripture and that he lived his life according to God’s will more fully. Just one interpretation…


Saying that the Book of Genesis should not be taken literally leads to multiple problems in scripture.

  1. The Gospel of Matthew describes Jesus’ ancestry dating all thr way back to Adam. If Adam was not real then Adams son would not be real and if he was not real then his son would not be real. This leads to a problem with the genealogies the Bible. You cannot just pick and choose the people in the genealogy who existed and who didn’t.
  2. Genesis gives a basis for original sin. Original Sin is a large part of Catholic teaching. If the story of the Garden of Eden was not real than where does original sin come from? As other books of the Bible such as the Epistles reference these stories constantly as being true.

Although I think Genesis should be taken as a historical account I do think that the author made use of rhetorical devices such as symbolism, metaphor, and other devices. (I that describing creation in days in Genesis is one such example of a rhetorical device.)

If Genesis should be taken literally, than was Adam really 900 years old?
Here are some possibilities.

  1. Adam really lived to be 900 years old- As God’s first creation his DNA was created to be perfect and had not contain the mutations that eventually led to decreased lifespans.
  2. Time was counted differently- Perhaps the author was using a calendar where years were shorter and therefore Adam could have lived 900 years according to their calendar. (Although I think I once read an article that disproved this)
  3. It is figurative- Saying that Adam is 900 years old in a historical record as a symbol would be a weird but perhaps the author was looking to say something a lot deeper than what was on the surface. As a previous comment said what was the author really trying to say through the genealogies. Names and numbers throughout the Bible have been used symbolically. The number 9 can symbolize finality, divine completeness, or sin.


Question, what was the definition of a “year”. This was well before Copernicus and the Gregorian calendar.
Could a year have been from full moon to full moon?
Another thought, Jesus was asked, “how many times must I forgive my brother, Seven times?” Christ’s reply, “No, I say seventy times seven.” Was Jesus saying literally, 490 times/" And the 491st, you could knock him silly? No. That has always been interpreted, at least from what I’ve been taught, as a metaphorical way of saying, endless. Forgive at all times.
Numbers meant different things 2000 years ago.


I’m not sure. I looked for a pattern, but I’m sure I see it.


Could you please point me to the source where the Church says that Genesis is not literal? I’ve never seen it before.

Here are some select Catechism quotes:

“The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event…” CCC390

“Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine “work”, concluded by the “rest” of the seventh day…” CCC337

"The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. the biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” CCC262

It is generally well-known that the Catholic Church does not approach scripture in a literalistic way, as if we have to read something word-for-word in every case as literally true. We have to take genre into account.

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