Did some people in the Bible really live for hundreds of years?

Lengthy life is certainly within God’s power

The Rev. Rick Burwick, pastor, Clinton Parkway Assembly of God, 3200 Clinton Parkway:

Much speculation has been generated as to the cause of the longevity, particularly of the 10 generations from Adam through the life of Noah, who lived for hundreds of years and have children from 65 to 500 years old. Some have even rejected the historical accuracy of the account, saying that the “years” are merely representative periods of time, perhaps shorter than modern years. However, the original language of the Bible allows no such interpretation.

In support of the historic credibility of the account, others have explained the unusual longevity on a variety of bases, including the effect of the fruit of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden; the original immortality of man feeling only the slightest consequences of sin at this early stage of man’s development; or the superiority of the food, atmosphere and other living conditions during this period.

One can only speculate, but acknowledging a creative being powerful enough to bring the universe into existence certainly allows the option for such a creator to permit unusually lengthy lives for whatever purpose might suit his comprehensive plan for mankind.

Possible purposes could have been the need to quickly populate the Earth and the need to promulgate basic moral principles through the beginnings of mankind.

For example, by living 930 years, Adam is still alive during the days of Lamech, father of Noah toward the end of the first millennium from creation. Imagine seeing Adam gathering the early patriarchs together and telling them repeatedly how God created the world, how he directed mankind to live, and how God showed both punishment and mercy when Adam and Eve and even Cain had been disobedient, and offering redemption through repentance and sacrifice. This is foreshadowing his plan for all mankind.

– Send e-mail to Rick Burwick at pastorrick@cpaog.com.

Perhaps ‘life’ is more than just a number of days

Sergey Dolgopolski, assistant professor of religious studies, Kansas University:

My reply represents no position of faith. Rather, I’m writing as an academic intellectual – more specifically, as a talmudist, a sophist, a rhetorician and a philosopher interested in the issue raised.

According to Genesis 5:3, Adam lived 30 years and one 100 before his son Seth was born, “in his likeness and in his image.” The next verse tells us that Adam lived on for another 800 years. Verse 5 speaks of the total number of “days” that Adam lived as 930 years; it also tells us that he died.

Classical Talmudic rationality, which holds that the Bible contains no superfluous words, suggests asking: Why did it not just say Adam lived for 930 years? Further details sound redundant, until we take a much closer look.

The text clearly says his first 30 years and a following 100 years were “life.” The remaining 800 years were just “days,” in which he surely did not die. But did he really have “life” all those days? We are not told. Yet the verses taken together surely suggest that “life” is more than just an aggregate number of days.

Not unlike classical philosophic, Talmudic, and theological traditions, and, as far as I can judge, not unlike modern science, the verse does not clearly tell us what “life” is – as opposed to the mere passage of time.

The question is: “Did Adam really live for hundreds of years, as this religious text claims?”

The answer doesn’t really depend on whether or not the first humans knew the secret of extraordinary longevity, something like what modern technologies of life preservation seek to attain.

The question really has more to do with one of the enduring debates in philosophical and ethical thought, including the contemporary humanities: What is a human being, and what does it mean to have life?

– Send e-mail to Sergey Dolgopolski at sbd@ku.edu.