“Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died.”[Genesis 5:27]
They say that 60 is the new 40 and 40 is the new 20.
Well I’m turned 40 last year, and I assure you that the youth and vigor I felt in my 20s sadly escapes me.
But what if I told you that before the flood of Noah’s day 700 was the new 20? That’s right. The average pre-flood lifespan we can determine from the Biblical genealogies is around 850 years.
Can this be true? What are we to make of these extremely old ages in Genesis? Are the excessively long life spans recorded in the Bible to be taken literally or perhaps symbolically?
And if some men truly lived to be over 900 years old before the flood [Adam – 930, Noah – 950, Jared – 962, Methuselah – 969], what changed after the flood that greatly diminished the average lifespan on earth?
Today, our average life-span is somewhere between 70-80 years, which creates a drastic discrepancy with the pre-flood numbers. Regardless, I believe the long life spans before the flood are to be taken literally for several reasons.
REAson #1 — Ages Are Presented Literally in the Scriptures
As I have mentioned in other posts, the Biblical genealogies both have historical and theological merit and are quite valuable in determining things like the approximate age of the earth [6,000 years], the table of the original 70 nations, and the lineage of the Messiah.
When specific ages are provided for real people in the Scriptures, there are no grammatical exceptions that imply the numbers are symbolic. When the Bible says that Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born [Genesis 21:5], then we should understand his age literally, not symbolically.
So it is with the pre-flood genealogies. When the Bible says that Jared was 162 when he fathered Enoch or that Seth was 912 years old when he died, there is no reason not to take these ages literally. They may be abnormal and outright hard to believe, but they are not symbolic.
REason #2 — The Original Creation Was PerfecT
Upon finishing His work of creation, God declared the heavens and the earth and everything in them “very good.” Beyond that, Adam and Eve were created to live forever and initially placed in the garden and given access to the tree of life. It was only after man’s sin that death, disease, and decay came into the picture and began to corrupt God’s good creation. The bondage to decay adversely affected every aspect of creation, from the physical laws [i.e. entropy] of the universe to the genetic code of life itself [mutation].
Consider for a moment a few of the possible implications of a perfect environment.
- Perfect harmony between man and nature
- Perfect weather
- Perfect ecosystems and symbiosis in nature
- Human body operating at optimal levels without defect or flaw – no wasted energy
- Increased oxygen levels in the atmosphere and total oxygen saturation at the cellular level
- Pure environment [air, soil, water] free from pollutants and contaminants
- Abundant nutrient saturation in the soil, plants, food, and at the cellular level
- Perfect genetic code and replication process
- Rapid healing capabilities
- No harmful radiation
All of the factors that shorten our lifespans today would be mitigated or at least greatly diminished in a perfect, pre-flood world. No heart disease. No cancer. No viruses. No genetic mutations and birth defects. No environmental contaminants. Perfect hydration and oxygen saturation. Total nutrient absorption and utilization at the cellular level. Optimal cellular performance with Little to no wasted energy.
These factors alone would exponentially increase our life span, so the old ages in the Bible are not a major problem when we consider the perfection of the original creation. Even after the fall of man and the curse upon the earth, the effects of corruption and decay likely would have been slow and gradual.
REason #3 — Canopy Theory
There has been much conjecture among Bible scholars as to what caused the optimal conditions of the pre-flood earth. One possible explanation is called the canopy theory, which refers to a canopy of either water vapor or ice above the earth’s atmosphere before the flood. God separated the “waters above the firmament,” from the waters below in Genesis 1:6-8, which implies some form of water above the earth’s atmosphere.
The canopy theory offers some explanation as to how these waters would have blocked harmful UV rays and increased atmospheric pressure and oxygen saturation levels on the earth, which would have provided an optimal environment for longer life and even explain how giant creatures like the sauropod dinosaurs could grow to such massive size.
Interestingly, Jewish scholars and Rabbinic Targums proposed that God created some form of crystalline barrier of ice or water above the earth prior to the flood.
“After this, on the second day, He placed the heavens over the whole world, and separated it from the other parts; and determined that it should stand by itself. He also placed a crystalline firmament around it, and put together in a manner agreeable to the earth, and fitted it for giving moisture and rain, and for affording the advantage of dews.”Josephus [http://188.8.131.52/%7Ecreatio1/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=74&Itemid=29#_ftn11]
Although some respected creation scientists have abandoned the canopy theory, the jury is still out on if and how it could have worked. Despite the fact that all the science has not been resolved, the canopy theory should at least be taken into consideration.
REason #4 — Genetic Integrity
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”[Romans 8:20-21]
We can make educated guesses about the conditions of the pre-flood world, but because the Bible provides so few details, it is difficult to know for sure what conditions allowed mankind to live so long. To say that the earth was different before the flood is a gross understatement.
We discover that many of the patriarchs lived to be 200-400 years old even after the flood, but lifespans drastically declined and eventually leveled off after the life of Abraham.
Perhaps the best explanation is the genetic integrity that would have been in place before the flood. The aging process and even death itself is primarily a genetic deficiency in the body’s ability to replicate healthy cells over long periods of time. The curse of the creation has subjected these mortal bodies to a form of bondage to corruption that we cannot escape.
But Paul encourages us to not lose heart, as he says, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” [2 Corinthians 4:16]
Thankfully, the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ involves God’s promise to redeem this physical universe once and for all, including our physical bodies, and restore man’s immortality — giving us everlasting life!
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”[Romans 8:22-23]
“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”[1 Corinthians 15:53]