As we read through the first few chapters of the Bible, we are presented with a world that is very unlike ours. One of the characteristics of the world described in Genesis is the incredibly long lives lived by the men listed in Genesis 5.
For example, Adam is said to have lived 930 years (Genesis 5:5), and his son Seth is said to have lived 912 years (Genesis 5:8). These alone make Enoch’s life of 365 years seem short (Genesis 5:23). Of course everyone knows the oldest of them all, Methuselah, lived to be a ripe old age of 969 years old (Genesis 5:27). The average age of these guys was pushing a millennium!
Seeing the long lives of these men, we have to ask two questions: 1) did these men really live to be that old and if so, 2)how?
To start off, here are two things we have to consider. First, the Bible isn’t the only piece of ancient literature that includes millennial lifespans. The ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Indians, and Chinese describe their original ancestors as living just as long and some longer. Probably the most famous of these is a list of Sumerian kings which mentions rulers who reigned (not lived) for periods of 28,800, 36,000, and even 43,200 years!
(By the way, in the Summerian account as well as others people stop living so long after a great flood. Hmm, interesting, no? But, we’ll come back to that.)
The second initial consideration is that a lifespan of almost 1,000 years is not that long when you consider the fact that God originally intended for humans to live forever.
So, back to our questions.
Much longer and more complete answers than this amatuer can give have been given. However, all signs point to one central answer. At the time of the men mentioned in Genesis 5, one major (and I mean major) event had not happened. You guessed it — the Flood.
“The fossil record reveals that prior to the Flood, most of the earth appears to have had a tropical type of environment. Following the Flood, there was clearly an environmental change resulting in an ice age that covered nearly 30 percent of the earth with ice (primarily in the northern latitudes). This, together with other changes following the Flood, could have adversely affected life spans.”
By Genesis 6:3, God limits the average lifetime to 120, not as extraordinary by our standard. Then Psalm 90:10 tells us not to expect much more than 70 years, about average these days. The story in other ancient sources including a flood have similar reductions in lifespans.
In conclusion, there are two things to remember:
- God created for people to live forever; it was the sin that entered the world in Genesis 3 that brought death. (Romans 5:12)
- God has provided a solution for our greatest difficulty in His Son Jesus Christ, “who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:” (2 Timothy 1:10)