How do the “generations of Adam” here (starting at Gen 5:1) differ from those of the Heavens and Earth (starting at 2:4)?

Since the toledoth (again: something like a family history) sections of Gen 2-4 and of 5-6 both begin with Adam, essentially, one might wonder why they are different; if they start with the same person, they should have the same results, should they not? The answer, I propose, is that while the earlier toledoth began with the heavens and the earth, the latter one began with God. In the former toledoth, we have Adam being fashioned out of the dust, and we learn how his earthly sinfulness ultimately led, via Cain, to total extinction in the disaster of the Flood. In the latter toledoth, we have Adam being created in the image of God. Next comes Seth: he was the replacement for the godly Abel and called on the name of the Lord, and he was begotten in the (imperfect, but still somewhat God-like) image of Adam. The line continues on down through the upright Enoch to Noah, for whose sake man was not utterly destroyed. The comparison is drawn especially clearly in the comparison between the cursory glance at Cain’s line in Gen 4 and the lengthier and more respectful recounting of Seth’s line in Gen 5.

Is there not repetition and overlap in Gen 1:1-6?

Yes, on six points: (1) God created man (2) in God’s likeness and (3) male and female. (4) They were blessed and called “Adam” or man. (5) Adam begat Seth, and (6) Seth begat Enos. So, why the repetition? First, note that there is overlap and repetition throughout the Bible; there is overlap between Genesis 1 and 2, and indeed elsewhere in all the other “generations” accounts. Why? The answer is that the Bible was meant to be read aloud, as most people could not read, and the reading of scripture was a key part of worship. As to the overlapping toledoths, it appears to me that each generation narrative constitutes a separate, self-contained account, such as could be read more or less independently, each with its own overriding themes and narratives, its own internal logic. This, it seems to me, is a more cogent explanation of the repetition than the Documentary Hypothesis, perhaps. The Documentary Hypothesis ignores the fact that repetition would be expected in text to be orally performed, and that indeed entire books, let alone the whole Pentateuch, were not meant to be read all in one sitting.

Does the text not imply that Seth was in the image of God, via Adam (Gen 5:3)? But this is true of everyone; so why mention it? Is it important?

It is probably more important than it might appear at first. There are two points to be made here, one positive and one negative. The positive point is that, if Adam was created in the likeness of God, and Seth was begotten in the likeness of Adam, then “the likeness of God” seems to have been passed down along the line of the people who “began to call on the name of the Lord.” (Gen 4:26) This same line, as described in the rest of Gen 5, gave rise to two men who “walked with God”: Enoch and Noah. It was through Noah and his family that mankind was preserved from total destruction. Notice, about none in Cain’s line is it said anywhere that they were begotten in “the likeness of” God. Cain and his family had abandoned God; so he abandoned them. This brings us to the negative point: while “the likeness of God” is something pure and holy, that likeness was to an important extent lost, though not entirely, so that “the likeness of Adam” was something “earthy” and sinful: “as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Rom. 5:12) as Paul puts it. Thus there is a subtle but clear contrast between the line of Cain and that of Seth, reflected later in such Pauline statements as this: “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” (1 Cor. 15:48-49)

Is it not rather ridiculous to suggest that the first men lived between 900 and 1000 years (Gen 5:5)? Is this not obviously inconsistent with known science?

There are several ways to interpret these claims; the question assumes we are to take the claims “literally.” So let us examine this approach. First, I refuse to ignore science insofar as doing so involves ignoring observations and obvious inferences from them. Are there any observations or inferences about organisms that make extreme longevity in early man impossible or unlikely? So it seems; there are no instances of any animals living so long, and while we do not understand the biological cause of aging, we know of no genetic or environmental variations that reliably cause extreme old age. Thus the theory that the Flood changed the environment in some way such as to prevent extreme longevity appears to be ad hoc from a scientific point of view. But, of course, divine intervention allows for anything. So it is entirely possible that early man could live literally 900 years, and God simply changed the rules after the Flood. This is, it seems to me, the best way to support the text rationally. One might instead claim that there is a mythical element in Genesis 1-11, rather than any scientific explanation. This does not prevent much in the way of unreasonable theological commitments, because all the rest of the Bible requires miracles.

The ages of the antediluvian patriarchs reported in Gen 5:5 (and later such details) allow scholars to date the creation of the universe, on one old theory, to 4004 B.C. This is called the “Young Earth” creation theory. Is this required by the text?

This is not a question to answer in a paragraph, but the short answer is “no.” There is nothing in the text that absolutely requires a Young Earth; there are several ways to avoid the conclusion. One is to say that the genealogies of Cain, Seth, and Noah leave many gaps. Another is that various people were lived before Adam and Eve, but they were specially created for life in the Garden, and were to become a special line of righteous people who could walk with God. Another, which does much more violence to a “literal” reading of the text, is the notion that the text must be regarded as repeating old, mythic stories that are true in metaphorical, symbolic, or moralistic senses, but are not strictly required by a respectful, “believing” reading of the text. Frankly, I do not think that any very important theological issues turn on which of these theories is correct. It is certainly true that the Bible-rooted Christian theology requires belief in miracles, prophesies, and divine manifestations; but it is less obviously true, to me, that the same theology requires belief in the precise names, ages, and events precisely as recorded in Gen 1-11.

There are early Mesopotamian texts also reporting kings of very great age. Is it not likely that the Bible got the notion of superannuated patriarchs from that source (Gen 5:5)?

Perhaps, or all such lists have a common source or sources. The famous Sumerian King List, found in multiple copies such as a tablet from Larsa and the Weld-Blundell Prism, name some eight kings (similar to the number of pre-Noachian generations) with ridiculously long reigns such as 28,800 years and 64,800 years. There is even a flood recorded, after which the reign lengths shorten, and then shorten some more (see Gen 11). What seems likely is that, given the number of extant copies of this list, it was even more widespread in the time of Moses, and so the highly literate author of Gen 5 would probably be familiar with such lists. Such lists are doubtless reflected in the genealogy of Cain (Gen 4) and of Table of Nations (Gen 10). If indeed elements of the Gen 1-11 narratives are mythic, they might have the notion of superannuated patriarchs from that source, or from a common source (see general questions about Genesis, above). Of course, it is possible that early man was simply long-lived, and God simply changed the laws of nature (see above), but even this suggestion faces issues in terms of reconciliation with scientific (especially anthropological and archaeological) discoveries.

The text keeps repeating “and he died,” and this formula is not employed in later genealogies. Why? Surely simply saying that Adam lived 930 years (Gen 5:5) sufficed to imply that he died?

First of all, there was one patriarch who is notable in that the text does not say he died: Enoch. Instead, because he walked with God, he was “translated” or removed to Heaven. The others, however, went down to the grave. This is important because, as obvious as this would be without being told, the author is underscoring, with a stark and grim poetic beauty, the truth and faithfulness of God’s promise that the wages of Adam’s sin would indeed be death.

What are we to make of the brief and enigmatic tale of Enoch (Gen 5:21-24)? What do “walked with God,” “was not,” and “God took him” mean?

Let us take these three descriptions of Enoch apart. Enoch was not the only one in the Bible who is said to have “walked with God,” or to have “walked before God,” but it is certainly remarkable that the text says twice that Enoch walked with God (Gen 5:22, 24). The first time, the text says he did so “after he began Methuselah three hundred years,” which seems to imply that Enoch made some manner of improvement after the birth of his son. In any event, throughout the Bible, such metaphors are used to describe, essentially, a God-fearing, faithful, and righteous person. Noah also “walked with God (6:9), and Abram was invited to “walk before me” (17:1). Next, what of the rather enigmatic phrase that Enoch “was not” (אַיִן, ayin)? As Matthew Henry puts it, this probably means Enoch “was not to be found.” I might add: he was not among his fellow men, probably nowhere on earth, and very probably not anywhere in ordinary spacetime. Then we have the very terse explanation: “for God took him.” (5:24) A name is later put on the mystery: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” (Heb. 11:5) This might have happened in the way that happened with Elijah (2 Kings 2:11: “by a whirlwind” and in “a chariot of fire”) or Jesus (e.g., Luke 24:51; he was “carried up into heaven”).

How did Lamech’s prophecy of Noah (Gen 5:29) come true?

With “Noah,” a name that sounds similar to the word נָחַם, nacham, it is not immediately clear what Lamech is suggesting. Words derived from this root are translated, variously, be sorry, console, comfort, change mind, and even repent. Probably the best exegesis is to be found by examining the explanation Lamech gives, a prophesy that has its fulfillment in the next chapter. The explanation is: Noah “shall comfort us [? nacham] concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.” Noah is not being blamed, in the narrative, for the flood; indeed, he, through his faithful and upright walk with the Lord, will play a key role in the preservation of mankind. Yet it is the two curses upon the land, the curses of Adam and Cain, that led to great toil; the curse also is closely associated with “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart [being] only evil continually.” (6:5) Noah’s actions ensure that the curse is not total; it is not enough to wipe out humanity. So Noah will not make us repent, change our minds, or make us sorry, but indeed he might well console or comfort those remaining, and those in Heaven; and he will help God to change his mind about the curse. See what God says after the Flood: “And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” (Gen 8:21) So God will change his mind—he will thus “repent” of the earlier curse—and so perhaps the name of Noah indicates the “repentance” of God in that sense. Moreover, he and his line will comfort the world by remaining, more or less, the righteous “sons of God” (6:2). They will in time issue in the greatest of comfort, namely, in the Seed—he who will “crush” the head of the serpent (3:15), who will be Moses’ “Prophet from the midst of thee” (Deut 18:15), later to be called the Anointed, that is, the Messiah, a title rendered in Greek Christos, and in English Christ.