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Allow me to explain (8 of 439)

December 30, 2010

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8. How old was Abraham when Ishmael was born? Gen 16:16 vs Acts 7:2-4, Gen 11:26, Gen 11:32

It’s amazing how someone did so much research … without really doing any research.

Genesis 16:16//
Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.

Acts 7:4//
Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.

Genesis 11:26//
Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.

Genesis 11:32//
So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran.

Again, I need to first explain the supposed contradiction.

Genesis 16 pretty clearly says that Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born.

On the other hand, Genesis 11 seems to put Abram at 135 years old when his father, Terah, died. (205 years from verse 32 – 70 years from verse 26 = 135 years) Acts 7 (and the next verse in Genesis – 12:1) tell us that Abram didn’t leave Haran until Terah was dead. Which would mean he was over 135 by Genesis 16 when he inherited Canaan and had Ishamel.

If we read Genesis – because it seems that a lot of these “contradictions” are turning out to be misunderstandings resulting from a lack of context – we find a clue in chapter 12, verse four:

“So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”

Abram’s being 75 when he left Haran coincides with his being 86 when Ishmael was born, so it seems the real contention is with Genesis 11:26. Terah couldn’t have been 70 when Abram was born.

But then again, Genesis 11 doesn’t really say that Terah was 70 when Abraham was born.

It says that Terah lived 70 years, and then he became a father.

The same verse gives us the names of three sons. It’s possible that Terah had multiple wives and concubines, but we don’t really know. He might have had all three sons in the same year, but he also might have had three sons over the course of sixty years. Scripture doesn’t say.

The modern reader also easily assumes that the sons are listed in the order of their birth, but several commentators agree this is probably not the case. Clark’s Commentary and Gill’s Exposition, for example, agree that the sons are listed from youngest to eldest, in order not of birth but of dignity.

Clark writes:

When any case of dignity or pre-eminence is to be marked, then even the youngest son is set before all the rest, though contrary to the usage of the Scriptures in other cases. Hence we find Shem, the youngest son of Noah, always mentioned first; Moses is mentioned before his elder brother Aaron; and Abram before his two elder brethren Haran and Nahor.

And honest reader might see the  names of three sons listed, and perhaps assume – or at least wonder – that they were not all born in Terah’s 70th year. A few verses later, that same reader would clearly see that Abram was 75 when he left Haran, subtract Abram’s 75 years from Terah’s 205, and deduce that Terah – while he may have had one son at age 70 – clearly had Abram at age 130.

A writer poised to deceive the masses for thousands of years would be pretty short-sighted to make such an obvious mistake – to record Terah as 205 at his death and Abram as 75 at Terah’s death – within five verses of each other.

Short answer: 86

Side note: We need to remember, as we read the Old Testament, that it’s a pretty abridged history of 2000 years. If a few events, of minimal significance to the greater story being told, are recorded in quick succession it doesn’t necessarily mean that they happened as quickly. It’s a story, not a timeline.

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