What Is the Bible’s View?
Did Men Once Live for Hundreds of Years?
TO MANY, the idea that men once lived for several centuries sounds like fiction. They do not take it any more seriously than “The Sumerian King List,” which reads in part: “When kingship was lowered from heaven, kingship was (first) in Eridu. (In) Eridu, A-lulim (became) king and ruled 28,800 years. Alalgar ruled 36,000 years. Two kings (thus) ruled it for 64,800 years.”
While not giving such fantastic figures, the Bible does indicate that there was a time when men lived far longer than today. For example, we read of Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Jared, Methuselah and Noah living to be each more than 900 years old. (Gen. 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 20, 27; 9:29) Was this really the case?
A person might reason, ‘How could men of ancient times have lived for centuries when very few today live to be even as much as a hundred years of age? It is impossible.’ In this connection, it may be noted that no one can say just at which point the human life-span comes to its ultimate limit. The Encyclopædia Britannica (1976 edition, Macropædia, Vol. 10, p. 911) states: “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.”
Accordingly, from a scientific standpoint, no absolute evidence can be presented to prove or to disprove what the Bible says about the long life-span of certain men in ancient times. The Biblical statements, therefore, stand on their own merit. Does the context in which they appear show that they are indeed factual?
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 old. This certainly is unreasonable.
That the years were, not thirty-day months, but probably twelve thirty-day months is evident from what the Bible says about the Flood. The deluge started “in the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month.” (Gen. 7:11) The ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat five months later, “in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month.” (Gen. 8:4) According to Genesis 7:24, this was after “the waters continued overwhelming the earth a hundred and fifty days.” Since five months equaled “a hundred and fifty days,” one month would be thirty days long. Furthermore, the Bible specifically mentions the “tenth month” and thereafter one forty-day time period and two seven-day time periods. (Gen. 8:5, 6, 10, 12) Then, “in the six hundred and first year [of Noah’s life], in the first month, on the first day of the month, it came about that the waters had drained from off the earth. . . . And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried off.” (Gen. 8:13, 14) Obviously there is no basis for claiming that from the 600th year of Noah’s life to his 601st year was only about one month. No, a full lunar year of twelve months and ten days was involved.
That men once lived for hundreds of years is in full harmony with the context of the entire Bible. From the Holy Scriptures we learn that the first man Adam was created perfect. He had set before him the prospect of an endless life-span. The beautiful garden home in which he was placed contained everything needed for human life to be sustained indefinitely. In the first book of the Bible, we read: “Jehovah God made to grow out of the ground every tree desirable to one’s sight and good for food and also the tree of life in the middle of the garden.” (Gen. 2:9) That “tree of life” represented God’s guarantee of continued life to those entitled to partake of it. When the first man Adam disobeyed God’s law, he forfeited his right to eat of this tree and, therefore, was expelled from his delightful paradise home.—Gen. 3:22-24.
At the same time Adam, through his disobedience, ruined his perfection and this shortened his life-span and that of his descendants.—Rom. 5:12.
In the perfect state, Adam’s body had the potential of being sustained forever and that would also have been true of other sinless humans. So, since man was created to enjoy an endless life-span, it logically follows that Adam and his early descendants must have lived far longer than their later descendants who were farther removed from perfection.
This is exactly what the Bible shows to have been the case. After the great flood of Noah’s day that occurred over sixteen centuries from the time of Adam’s creation, human life expectancy dropped sharply. Among those born after the Flood, life expectancy continued to decline more gradually. This can be seen by considering the following chart.a
Some 300 years after Abraham’s death the average human life-span had dropped some more, so that Moses could say: “In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years.” (Ps. 90:10) These words regarding average life-expectancy still apply today.
Hence, according to the Bible, men once did live for centuries. This is of more than passing interest. It testifies to the fact that God’s original purpose for man was that he might enjoy an endless life-span. This purpose will yet be realized when Jehovah God fulfills his word to bring into existence an earth free from sickness, pain and death.—Rev. 21:3, 4.
[Chart on page 28]
Name Age & Death