Did People in Bible Times Really Live So Long?
JEANNE LOUISE CALMENT died on August 4, 1997, in her hometown in southeast France. She was 122 years old!
Advancements in science, health care, and other fields of endeavor are helping people today to live longer. Still, not many individuals reach or surpass the century mark. That may be why the longevity of those who do so sometimes makes the news, as happened in the case of Madame Calment.
The Bible relates that in ancient times people lived much longer, in some cases almost one thousand years. Is that true or believable? Did people in Bible times really live that long? And should it matter to us today?
People Who Lived a Long Time
The Bible book of Genesis speaks of seven men who lived more than 900 years, all of them being born prior to the Flood of Noah’s day. They were Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Jared, Methuselah, and Noah. (Genesis 5:5-27; 9:29) Many of these men may be unfamiliar to most people, but all of them were among the first ten generations in human history. Methuselah is well-known for having lived the longest—a record 969 years!
The Bible mentions at least another 25 individuals who also reached ages beyond what is common today. Some of them lived 300, 400, even 700 or more years. (Genesis 5:28-31; 11:10-25) To many people, though, Bible accounts of individuals who lived such long lives are nothing but myths. Is that really so?
Myth or Reliable Record?
According to a document published by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany, researchers validated the age of Madame Calment, mentioned earlier, through the gathering of some “simple verifiable statements” made by her. These had to do with her or her relatives at the time when certain events took place. What she said was then compared with civic, notarial, and church records, as well as with newspaper articles and population censuses. Interestingly, although it was impossible to confirm each and every detail, the direct and indirect evidence available made it possible to confirm the duration of her life.
What about the accounts in the Bible? Have they proved to be trustworthy? Absolutely! Although not all details have been confirmed by available secular sources, evidence has shown again and again that what is stated in the Bible is reliable from historical, scientific, and chronological standpoints.* That should come as no surprise, for the Bible itself states: “God tells the truth, even if everyone else is a liar.” (Romans 3:4, Contemporary English Version) Yes, being a book “inspired of God,” the Bible allows no room for fiction.—2 Timothy 3:16.
Moses, who was guided by Jehovah God to write the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible, must be ranked as one of the most influential and respected men in human history. Jews consider him the greatest among all their teachers. Muslims regard him as one of their greatest prophets. As for Christians, Moses is a forerunner of Jesus Christ. Would it be reasonable to conclude that the writings of such an important historical figure are not to be trusted?
Was Time Measured Differently?
Some have alleged that time was measured differently in those days and that what was called a year was actually a month. An analysis of the Genesis account, however, leaves no doubt that people back then had the same concept of time as we do today. Consider two examples. In the Flood account, we read that the Deluge began when Noah was 600 years old, “in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month.” Then it goes on to say that the waters overwhelmed the earth for 150 days and that “in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” (Genesis 7:11, 24; 8:4) Thus, a period of five months—from the 17th day of the second month to the 17th day of the seventh month of that year—is said to be 150 days. Clearly, the claim that a year was actually a month is totally baseless.
Now consider a second example. According to Genesis 5:15-18, Mahalalel fathered a son at the age of 65, lived on for 830 years, and died at the age of 895. His grandson Enoch also fathered a son when 65 years old. (Genesis 5:21) If a year were really one month, then those two men would have become parents when they were only five years old! Does that make any sense?
Archaeology also comes into the picture, for it agrees with Bible statements about long-lived individuals. About the patriarch Abraham, the Bible says that he was from the city of Ur, that he later resided in the city of Haran and then in the region of Canaan, and that he fought and defeated Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. (Genesis 11:31; 12:5; 14:13-17) Discoveries have confirmed the existence of these places and people. Archaeology has also shed some light on features of the lands and customs of the peoples mentioned in connection with Abraham. Since these Bible statements about Abraham are accurate, why should there be questions about his age of 175 years?—Genesis 25:7.
There is, therefore, no reason to be skeptical about the Bible’s statements regarding the extraordinarily long lives of some people in ancient times. But you may ask yourself, ‘Why should it matter to me whether those people lived so long or not?’
You Can Live Longer Than You Think!
The outstanding longevity of those men living prior to the Flood proves that the human body has a remarkable potential for life. Modern technology has enabled scientists to take a closer look at the human body and its marvelous design, including its amazing capacity for regenerating and healing itself. Their conclusion? It is capable of living indefinitely. “[Aging],” says Professor of Medicine Tom Kirkwood, “remains one of the great mysteries of medical science.”
To Jehovah God, though, aging is neither a mystery nor a problem without a solution. He created the first man, Adam, perfect and purposed that humans should live forever. Sadly, Adam decided to turn his back on God. As a result, he fell into sin and became imperfect. Herein lies the explanation scientists have been looking for: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) It is because of sin and imperfection that we get sick, grow old, and die.
However, the purpose of our loving Creator has never changed. As a remarkable proof of that, he provided the ransom sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, which opened the door to perfection and everlasting life. The Bible states: “Just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) People before the Flood were closer to perfection than we are, and that is why they lived longer—much longer—than we do at present. But today we are closer to the time when God’s promise will be fulfilled. Soon all traces of sin and imperfection will be gone, and people will not have to degenerate and die.—Isaiah 33:24; Titus 1:2.
How can you receive such blessings? Do not assume that what God has promised is just a dream. Jesus said: “He that hears my word and believes him that sent me has everlasting life.” (John 5:24) So take in Bible knowledge and apply it. If you do, you will be following the example of those whom the apostle Paul spoke of as “safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.” (1 Timothy 6:19) You can be sure that the God who made it possible for individuals mentioned in the Bible to live so long can make you live forever!
For details, see the book The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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