One of the things that stands out in the Bible’s early chapters is the age at which some people lived. I mean, Adam was 130 years old when he started a family! Even the thought of that is exhausting.

And that’s not the least of it. Lamech lived to the ripe old age of 777. Adam was 930 when he died. Methuselah was 969, the oldest person of all time. Noah became a dad for the first time at 500.

Ancient texts from many cultures have listed life spans most modern people find unbelievable. For example, the 4,000-year-old Sumerian King List details the reigns of kings in Sumer (ancient southern Iraq) as exceeding 30,000 years in some cases. It also mentions eight kings who reigned for 241,200 years. No one would take that literally.


As with almost everything in the Christian world, there are various opinions and positions on the ages in Genesis. Some will take these ages literally, as that’s how they regard Genesis. God created the world in six 24-hour days, made a woman from a man’s side, and people lived for hundreds of years.

First-century Roman-Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “let no one, upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives, and with the few years which we now live, think that what we have said of them is false; or make the shortness of our lives at present an argument, that neither did they attain to so long a duration of life, for those ancients were beloved of God, and made by God himself; and because their food was then fitter for the prolongation of life, might well live so great a number of years: and besides, God afforded them a longer time of life on account of their virtue, and the good use they made of it.”


While some people consider these ages literal, others believe they’re metaphorical. Most Jewish theologians think Genesis chapters 1 to 11 to be symbolic. Many Christians agree. I’ve written about this elsewhere. You can also listen to my teaching on this on the Digging Deeper podcast.

The stories up to Abraham are to be understood metaphorically rather than literally. Long lives and old ages are a way of saying the person lived for an extensive time or has seen a lot of events. We still use Methuselah as an example of longevity today with the Idiom, “He’s as old as Methuselah.” When we say this, we don’t mean it literally. No one is suggesting the person is 969 years old. It’s used to communicate that someone is very advanced in years. Other similar idioms include “She’s as old as the hills.” (or “over the hill”) or “They have one Foot in the Grave.” None of these sayings is considered factual, but they all communicate the truth.

Other Considerations 

Some interpret the ages as an ancient form of bragging. Another consideration is how time was measured and viewed in the ancient world. For example, Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40). But that is not literally true. Jesus was crucified on Passover (or the day before Passover according to John’s gospel) on a Friday. He died about 3 p.m. He rose again early on Sunday morning, meaning he was in the grave for about 40 hours, not 72 hours. Jesus’ statement is not literally true.

An understanding of the Hebrew mindset is helpful here. Ancient Hebrews considered time as a “part for a whole.” In other words, a portion of a day was still considered as an entire day, a concept known as Synecdoche. We use expressions like this too. For example, cattle are counted by “head.” But the “head of cattle” doesn’t discount the rest of their body. Someone may comment on your car by saying, “nice wheels.” Of course, they’re referring to the entire vehicle. And so, Jesus’ statement about three days and three nights takes in Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, even though Friday and Sunday were only part days.

Was time measured and viewed in the ancient world as it is today? Probably not. A metaphorical understanding of the Bible’s old ages sits well with me. But you decide what is comfortable for you. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Is it a truth that affects the way we live today? Not at all.


If you hold a literal view of this subject and feel strongly that you must defend it, it would be helpful to ask yourself why. Why is that important to you? Does it affect your life or that of others? Do you have a “House of cards” view of Scripture? – If this is wrong, nothing in the Bible is correct. The Bible doesn’t behave that way; sometimes, it doesn’t behave at all. We mustn’t make the Scriptures into something that they were never intended to be. The Bible is alive, active, inspired, and ancient and contains truth that powerfully impacts us today even though it comes to us from times past.


Someone recently told me that they felt confused about why God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. It seemed unfair to them, and I agreed.

We find the story in Genesis 4, and it moves very fast. Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. Two decades in two verses!

Over time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but he did not look with favour on Cain and his offering. So, Cain was outraged, and his face was downcast. God and Cain had a chat about his attitude, during which God told him, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” That’s a crucial part of this story that I’ll come back to shortly.

So, why did God reject Cain’s offering? Was it because God prefers meat to veggies? Cain was a farmer who tended the ground and grew crops. Abel was a shepherd who kept flocks. It made sense that farmer Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. It equally made sense that shepherd Abel brought an offering from some of the firstborn of his flock. Both men gave an offering of what they had.

Campfire Stories

There is no mention of teaching on offerings in this story or before. Although God had killed an animal to make clothes for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness, there is no inference in this story, or before it, that God expected or required an animal offering.

Cain’s gift is the first recorded offering mentioned in the Bible. Should that not tell us something? Remember, this is a campfire story. It’s a metaphor, a parable, as is the case with the first eleven chapters of Genesis. What question around the campfire was asked to prompt this story?

It could have been a child asking a parent why do people kill each other or why is there evil in the world? It’s an ancient dilemma that people still grapple with today: If there’s a loving God, why is there suffering and evil in the world? The ancients would create stories to explore possibilities. The story of Cain and Abel could explore some of the reasons for pain and suffering.

A Question Book

The Bible is a book of questions, not just a book of answers. My Rabbi friend says, “If you read a story that doesn’t raise more questions, you’re not reading the Bible properly.” He says, “The sacred texts are verbs, not endpoints.” Some of the questions we could ask about this story include: How do the principal actors react in the story? What is Cain’s reaction to Abel’s offering being taken above his?

Cain was furious, and his face fell—what an evocative, profound description. You’d have witnessed the fallen face if you’ve ever had to correct a child!

The apparent rejection shatters Cain. God says to Cain (paraphrasing): “how you’re feeling is normal, but if you nurture this resentment and envy, it will be like a tiger crouching at the entrance to your cave.”

God hadn’t turned his back on Cain. God was allowing Cain to learn from disappointment and rejection, something he would repeatedly experience, as we all do.

But instead of learning from the moment, Cain’s ego was bruised. God didn’t invalidate Cain’s feelings. But Cain doesn’t heed God’s advice and has a confrontation with Abel instead. The crouching tiger had not been tamed.

Another Conversation

God: “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain: “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Hebrew here suggests a question like, “Do I stay awake all night keeping an eye on him?”

Cain asks, am I responsible for him? And, if so, where does that responsibility begin and end? It’s an excellent question. Everyone is responsible for others to a point unless it becomes detrimental to you.

God: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

Remember, this is an allegorical story. Blood doesn’t speak, but that doesn’t detract from the truth here. The New Testament picks up the same metaphor: “Jesus the mediator of a new covenant [whose shed blood on the cross] speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:24).

Abel’s blood spoke of retribution, anger, unrighteousness, and death, whereas Jesus’ blood communicates forgiveness, justice, and life.

The story ends with Cain being disciplined by God and then settling in the land of Nod, [wandering] east of Eden. He gets married and starts a family.

Central Truth

For me, one of the key takeaways from this story is this:

If we lose perspective, something that is temporary can become permanent.

We all have had, or will have, defining moments in our lives.

Cain’s defining moment transpired when God did not look with favour on his offering. Cain became downcast, envious, and angry and then acted out on his emotions.

What if Cain had permitted himself to reflect on his feelings for a few hours? Something unjust had happened to him. He needed to acknowledge his emotions and feelings. We have all been on the receiving end of injustice and experienced emotions that made us feel like lashing out. So, we wait. Meltdowns are inevitable, so be good at them!

An Example

Imagine you didn’t get a promotion at work. You process this:

I deserved that promotion.

I feel angry. Envious. Cheated.

There’s no justice in the world.

These are not evil thoughts. They are valid.

These moments are going to happen.

I won’t deny them; I acknowledge them.

I will chat it through with a friend.

I will bring it to God in prayer.

There are no taboo reflections.

But I won’t let them fester inside me.

They don’t define me.

I don’t have to act on them.

The Heart of the Story

The core of this story is God’s questions and statements to Cain: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” It will become a crouching tiger.

Eventually, the feelings will dissipate. But If you don’t healthily process them, the tiger will pounce. If you handle your disappointments correctly, you will have greater strength to overcome those same temptations in the future. It’s a wonderful ancient story with a practical modern-day message.

There’s a fascinating and mysterious story in Genesis chapter 6 that has been the subject of much debate and conjecture. It concerns the increase of the human population in the ancient world. Verses 2 and 4 are particularly intriguing:

“The sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose…The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” The following few verses describe why God decided to judge the ancient world with a flood. There’s nothing to suggest the two stories are linked.

The Nephilim

Who were these Nephilim that were on the earth before and after the Flood? They pop up again in Numbers 13:33, “We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Nephilim is from the Hebrew word “Naphal,” which refers to bullies and tyrants. Nephilim is translated as “giants” in KJV. The author of this part of Genesis tells us they were the heroes [powerful men] of old, men of renown (infamous or base). These giants appear to be the offspring of sexual relations between the sons of God and the daughters of humans.

The Sons of God

There are several theories as to who these sons of God are:

  1. The sons of God are angels that had sexual relations with women and produced exceptional offspring.
  2. The sons of God are demons that had sexual relations with women and produced exceptional offspring.
  3. Demons are the spirits of the Nephilim that perished in the Flood. Because they were part human, they are restricted to the earth, continuing to create havoc.
  4. The sons of God are extra-terrestrials that had sexual relations with women and produced exceptional offspring.
  5. The sons of God are human men who had sexual relations with women and produced exceptional offspring.
  6. Genesis 6 is an ancient myth, a story to teach truth (parable).

The first four appear far-fetched and unbiblical, so I’ll go for either options 5 & 6 for the following reasons:

  • God has created each species to procreate after their kind (not people and angels). Incubus, demons posing as men and having sex with women, and succubus, demons posing as women and having sex with men, is the stuff of legend.
  • Nowhere does the Bible call demons “sons of God.” The phrase refers either to angels or people, as in “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
  • Angels don’t marry and have intercourse or procreate. Jesus taught, “At the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
  • 10,000 years ago, men’s average height was 162 cm (5′ 4″). But there would have been exceptions, but to little men (by today’s standards), a man of 190 cm would appear to be a giant. Maybe these men called “sons of God” were physically exceptional. The Bible says they chose any woman they wanted. It figures they would have selected outstanding women.

As for option 6. It’s important to realise that the content of Genesis chapters 1 to 11 are classed as “memory.” In the ancient world, there was no writing. Stories were transmitted orally from one generation to another. Imagine a primitive nomadic tribe sitting around a campfire at night, entertaining themselves by telling their much-loved stories. It wasn’t until 1200 BCE that Jewish scribes decided they should begin to write the stories down ~ a process that took one thousand years.

Modern Day Learnings

And here we are in the twenty-first century, reading these accounts and trying to work out exactly what was happening. No wonder there’s so much discussion and conjecture.

My rabbi friend tells me that to Jews, Genesis 1-11 are “stories chock full of truth with little factual evidence.” I prefer the word “parable.” They are stories that communicate truth.

And why would we find this so strange? We have our own stories that are told and retold over decades and centuries. Our stories are entertaining and keep memories alive. We have no problem with accounts being changed to be appropriate to different people for various purposes.

How Stories Change

Consider the Titanic as an example. The first film, “Saved from the Titanic,” is a 1912 American silent motion picture short starring Dorothy Gibson, an American film actress who survived the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912.

The first sound film was released in 1929 and was a highly fictionalised account. The 1933 movie, Cavalcade, featured two fictional main characters who perish in the sinking. The 1943 film, Titanic, was a German Nazi propaganda film.

In 1953 Titanic centred on an estranged couple sailing on the ill-fated ship. The 1958 film “A night to remember” was historically accurate, unlike “The unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), which was a musical.

1992’s “Titanica” was a documentary on the discovery and exploration of the wreck. Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy narrated. We remember 1997’s Titanic, which combined a romantic myth (Jack and Rose) with some characters based on historical figures. Since that time, a further 6 movies have been made, plus numerous documentaries.

Imagine someone in a few thousand years trying to make sense of the Titanic story with all those resources. That’s how we look back to the ancient world and attempt to understand precisely what was going on.

Today’s stories are in many forms (books, streaming, radio, newspapers, internet, television, and social media). In the ancient world, storytelling was the most used form of entertainment. It was all truth-telling, keeping collective memories alive, speaking into where the community was at any given time, and answering questions about why something happened.

The Western mind gets bogged down on details. For example, the flood ~ did it happen, was it worldwide, when did it occur, is Noah’s ark still on Mount Ararat, how did all those animals live on an ark for all that time, where did they store the food? The Hebrew mind asks who are the people in the story and what are they doing? Is this terminology used anywhere else in the scriptures? What does this mean to me today?

My Rabbi friend says, “We spend time in “that” world, and it gives us a fresh perspective on “this world.” In Scripture, we enjoy holy spiritual moments that we carry back to our everyday lives.


Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is a stunning book. Christians should remember that Genesis was part of the Jewish Scriptures well before completing the Christian Bible. And so, to fully understand it, we need to listen to our Jewish friends.

Hard-line Jewish Theologians believe that God wrote Genesis by dictating it to Moses, and Moses chiselled away on the first tablet that didn’t have autocorrect! Most Jewish scholars believe a series of scribes wrote Genesis (as we know it today) after the Babylonian captivity.

In the ancient world, people told stories around campfires. That was the Netflix of the day, the people’s entertainment. This resulted in a lot of variances in the stories. And some of these differences are recorded in Genesis. Consider, there are two entirely different creation stories (Genesis 1 & 2), Abraham passes his wife off as his sister twice, and there are two accounts of how Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Genesis reflects people’s memories rather than accurate history. My Rabbi friend put it this way, “Our people don’t have history; we have memory.” Genesis then unfolds people’s memories and stories and their interactions with God and one another.

It wasn’t until the 12th century BCE that people said, “We should write this stuff down.” And so, Scribes who are unknown to us today wrote all the stories down. Moses, regarded as the traditional author of the Bible’s first five books, lived a century before.

These Scribes attempted to capture the nation’s oral history—campfire stories with all their variances and disagreements. Codifying a written record of oral stories was a very long process. Many authors took a shot at it over 1000 years between 1200 and 200 BCE.

In 135 CE, the written Tanakh (Old Testament) was sealed. In other words, those who made decisions about sacred text decided the holy text was now complete. The Tanakh was considered the seed of Jewish (and Christian) tradition. And, of course, seeds naturally germinate and grow. Thus, Jews and Christians still enjoy its fruit today.

“Genesis” is the English name for the first book of the Bible. The Greek translation of the Hebrew word, toledoth (to-led-aw), is found 13 times in Genesis. Toledoth is a Story, record, account, or generation. Toledoth marks off the various sections of the book:

Genesis 2:4, “Such is the story of heaven and earth….”

Genesis 5:1, “This is the record of Adam’s line….”

Genesis 6:9, “These are the generations of Noah.”

The Hebrew name for Genesis is Bere’shit (beray sheet), the first word of the book translated as “in the beginning.” In the beginning, a time when time didn’t exist, God created time. Wow. Genesis deals with beginnings, particularly the beginning of the cosmos and Israel. Genesis ends with the death of Joseph (1445 BCE).

The book easily falls into two parts:

Genesis 1-11 (story / parable)

Genesis 12-50 (memory / history)

It is primarily not a history or science book but rather tells of Israel’s self-identity as a nation.

For example, the story of Adam is a parable, a condensed version of Israel’s story. Adam was created by God out of dust and placed in the garden. He was free to eat from EVERY tree except one. God said, if you disobey, you’ll die. Of course, Adam didn’t literally die. Instead, he and Eve were exiled from Eden. Consider the parallel with Israel, a nation created out of the dust (slavery) and placed in Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey (very garden of Edenish). God gave them clear commands to obey and warnings against disobedience. Rebellion would lead to death. Consider Deuteronomy 30:19, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life so that you and your children may live.”

Like Adam, Israel disobeyed and faced exile. And so, Genesis is telling us something about a struggling nation as they return home from being refugees in a foreign land. They are rebuilding and reconnecting with their roots as they embrace a brand-new future. They remind themselves of their stories, who they are, and who their God is to them. The apostle Paul told the church, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11). From the parables, stories, and memories of Genesis, followers of Jesus today can find great encouragement in who we are in Christ and who our God is to us.