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


Yes it’s true.


What’s true?


So in other words, this is what the biblical author was asserting by the long live span?


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

The Catechism has no problem with it — neither do I.

Literally does not necessarily mean literalistically. The Catholic Church takes the Bible literally IF that means taking into account the biblical author’s assertion, which means understanding genre, writing style, historical background, cultural influences, and so on.

Against this background, one can better appreciate the great principles of interpretation proper to Catholic exegesis set forth by the Second Vatican Council, especially in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “Seeing that, in sacred Scripture, God speaks through human beings in human fashion, it follows that the interpreters of sacred Scripture, if they are to ascertain what God has wished to communicate to us, should carefully search out the meaning which the sacred writers really had in mind, that meaning which God had thought well to manifest through the medium of their words”.[106] On the one hand, the Council emphasizes the study of literary genres and historical context as basic elements for understanding the meaning intended by the sacred author. On the other hand, since Scripture must be interpreted in the same Spirit in which it was written, the Dogmatic Constitution indicates three fundamental criteria for an appreciation of the divine dimension of the Bible: 1) the text must be interpreted with attention to the unity of the whole of Scripture; nowadays this is called canonical exegesis; 2) account is be taken of the living Tradition of the whole Church; and, finally, 3) respect must be shown for the analogy of faith. “Only where both methodological levels, the historical-critical and the theological, are respected, can one speak of a theological exegesis, an exegesis worthy of this book” Verbum Domini 34

I strongly recommend everyone on here to overview these above quotes from the official Apostolic Exhortation led under Pope Benedict XVI, and if they wish to read it in full here


The “literalism” championed by the fundamentalist approach actually represents a betrayal of both the literal and the spiritual sense, and opens the way to various forms of manipulation, as, for example, by disseminating anti-ecclesial interpretations of the Scriptures. “The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation is that, refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human … for this reason, it tends to treat the biblical text as if it had been dictated word for word by the Spirit. It fails to recognize that the word of God has been formulated in language and expression conditioned by various periods”.[146] Christianity, on the other hand, perceives in the words the Word himself, the Logos who displays his mystery through this complexity and the reality of human history.[147] The true response to a fundamentalist approach is “the faith-filled interpretation of sacred Scripture”. This manner of interpretation, “practised from antiquity within the Church’s Tradition, seeks saving truth for the life of the individual Christian and for the Church. It recognizes the historical value of the biblical tradition. Precisely because of the tradition’s value as an historical witness, this reading seeks to discover the living meaning of the sacred Scriptures for the lives of believers today”,[148] while not ignoring the human mediation of the inspired text and its literary genres. Verbum Domini 44


I’ve always viewed these long-lived individuals, particularly in genealogies, as ‘place-markers’ of sorts for an unknown number of missing generations.

If the standard generation (it’s 20 years now, but no idea what it was considered back then) is applied to all the individuals, you wouldn’t end up at the right time-frame for the current generation - one needed to account for these missing generations (resulting in huge time gaps), and one way to do it was to ‘extend’ people’s lifespans.

I do like the idea someone mentioned too about it being related to a person’s “status” as it were. Interesting take.


Yes, I have often been a supporter of this theory that the 900 years was actually lunar months; that it was a mistranslation.

If Adam was actually 930 lunar months old when he died, that would have meant he was around 75 years old when he died.

There are 12.37 full moons per year.
So if we divide 930 full moons by 12.37 full moons per year, we get 75.18 years

Personally, I’m a fan of this theory. But I’m also open the possibility (if science one day proves it) that ancient humans - and possibly other life on earth - had longer life spans during a time when cells were less corrupt.

I know some scientists believe that aging might be able to be “switched off” in our genes:

So if aging is actually due to a mutation in our genes, perhaps it’s possible that humans used to be born without that gene “turned on”?

God Bless


I agree - that;s another theory I’ve been a fan of as well, i.e. lunar months rather than years. Given that “time” in Jewish tradition is lunar rather than solar (i.e. today is Thursday, so Friday would begin at sunset tonight), lends more credence to the idea.


If it was lunar months or some other mechanism whereby you shorten the lifespan, then it still doesn’t explain why the scriptures outright acknowledge that these were extremely long ages and God finally limits age to 120 years (which is the known record to this day).

“My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for he also is flesh; yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” - Gen 6:3


Break out a piece of paper (or your spreadsheet program) and create a graph. Ask yourself, “what’s the trendline here, in terms of longevity?” :wink:


I want to say it seems like the trend is going down in years, but there are multiple exceptions within such a short list.

So I like the theory that the writer is suggesting the effects of sin, but it doesn’t seem very clear. It seems it would be more obvious if each person lived shorter.


I guess I’m having difficulty sorting out my question.

I think it’s more of an issue with how we understand the bible to be inerrant. I want to be sympathetic and charitable to those on here who take Genesis literally that Adam lived 900 years. That’s fine. And I do respect you!

However, a defense of a literalstic interpretation of those words will not help me in my question regarding inspiration and inerrancy of scripture. I don’t want to sound stubborn or arrogant, but I simply do not believe that Adam and his offspring mentioned literally lived for 1,000 years. The Church doesn’t even require this view.

That could genuinely be what happened. I don’t want to claim I know better. BUT I can say that such a view harms my intellectual understanding of the faith, because I do not think faith and scientific data can very well be reconciled if we take Genesis overly literally.


If it makes you feel better, they’d never quite live a thousand years… because at least that alone is in itself a symbolic number. A thousand is often used throughout scripture as indicating an enormous amount of time. So when Genesis prevents ever going that far, it’s more than likely doing it for a reason.


That’s all we’re talking about, here: the trend. Not each data point, but which direction lifespan is trending.

Keep reading in Genesis and plotting lifespans. It’ll become a whole lot more clear:wink:


I’m not sure if you are Catholic or take the Catholic approach to inspiration/inerrancy, but just to be clear, Catholic doctrine tends to talk about the truth of Scripture being related to what is “asserted,” meaning that the Bible is 100% without error, even in history, once we know what the author is asserting to be true (and not just assuming, or conveying through writing style, etc.)

I say this so you can help me with your view a bit more: Are you saying that the writer of Genesis’ assertion has to be interpreted only with regard to the larger context? In other words, is it wrong to see “Adam lived 900 years” as a blunt assertion in itself? Put another way, is the writer of Genesis asserting something that can only be determined with a larger context in view?


Keep reading in Genesis and plotting lifespans. It’ll become a whole lot more clear… :wink:

So in this view, do you think the writer of Genesis is asserting something that can only be determined in the broader context? In other words, the author isn’t asserting a literal age, but a bigger truth through the means of these genealogies?


That’s precisely what I’d assert. In fact, if this is what’s being communicated, then the abnormally long lifespans begin to make perfect sense: if you saw that Adam lived to 58, but Enosh 56, you’d likely say “statistically insignificant; doesn’t tell me a thing.” But, to see that Enosh lived 25 years less than Adam, and was part of a general trend of decrease, it might lead you to ask, “hmm… what’s going on here?”


If you haven’t seen me comment on that other recent Genesis thread (I think the title asked something about why the Incarnation took so long from the day of Creation), you’ll see that my approach is in always looking at the whole known corpus of Mesopotamian literature. Look at Genesis in terms of what it is borrowing from or an inversion of.

In this case of hundreds of years, it’s actually pretty moderate! The Sumerian king lists have ages in the 10-20 THOUSAND length! Compared to them, the Bible writer is biting his tongue… and never (and I say intentionally) even reaches 1000 years for any patriarch. That could almost be said to be a divine number, in a way.

Other than that, I can’t tell you about what lesson it’s trying to teach in the ages. And I find it potentially unhelpful in dwelling on it anyways. Not to mention boring. Literal or not. What am I going to get out of this? How does it make my walk with Christ better?


Thank you @Gorgias and @straykat! :grinning:

I’d like to underline all of this with some of the paragraphs from Akin’s article. I think they help:

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.


plus, the residual effects of eating from the tree of life a possibility for long lives according to St Thomas

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