The late Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

It is well at this point in our discussion, after the history of Cain and Abel, that we give our attention to the genealogical and chronological data of the prediluvian period furnished us by Scripture. This is necessary if only for the reason that Scripture itself furnishes this data, so that we are compelled to face the question of its meaning and significance. Or, if you will, we are compelled to face the question of the revelatory significance of this data. Why, for example, does the Bible furnish us with a partial record of the line of Cain, taking us exactly to the point of Lamech and his family? Why do the Scriptures trace the line of Seth-Noah in full? Why, too, does the Word of God furnish us with all the data concerning the birth and death of the generations of Adam-via-Seth?

Part of the answer to these questions lies, certainly, in the fact that from the point of the conflict of Cain and Abel forward, there is a history which moves toward the consummation of the Flood along two lines. The positive line of that history is represented in the generations of Adam-via-Seth, and for this reason it is this genealogy and its chronology which is recorded in “the book of the generations of Adam” in Genesis 5. But all the rest of the history of that era must also be understood only in the light of the history of that positive line; in fact, in the deepest sense the rest of the history is the history of that line, belongs to it, is of significance only in relation to it. The data which Scripture furnishes, both genealogical and chronological, as well as all the other factual data in Genesis 4:16 to Genesis 6, must serve to place that history in its proper light and proper perspective. (It is interesting in this connection to study the relation between the “toledoth” of Genesis 2:4 and of Genesis 5:1, and to note the apparent overlapping between them.)

The Data

The data which Scripture furnishes is found, first of all, in Genesis 4:17-22. In this passage the line of Adam-via-Cain is traced to the eighth generation:








8.Jabal, Jubal, Tubal-Cain; Naamah.

Concerning these generations we may note:

1.That no chronology accompanies this brief genealogy, as in the case of Adam-via-Seth. It is perfectly reasonable, however, to assume that these generations generally parallel the generations of Seth.

2.That the genealogy of Cain is not carried beyond the eighth generation. This is not only to be connected with the fact that, for the purposes of Old Testament history, it was the eighth generation which was especially significant; but it also points us to the fact that the line of Cain has no continuation; it perishes. If we look at the fact that it is parallel to that of Methuselah in the generations of Seth — and Methuselah lived up to the year of the Flood — then it is not at all impossible that this eighth generation would have been the (first) generation of Cain’s line which actually did perish in the Flood. Moreover, it is not at all impossible that this is the generation of the time “when men began to multiply on the face of the earth” (Gen. 6:1).

In the second place, there is the detailed data of Genesis 5 and Genesis 7:6. Concerning this data we may note the following:

1.It consistently follows the formula, “N. lived x number of years and begat N.; and N. lived after he begat N. y number of years, and begat sons and daughters. And all the days of N. were z number of years; and he died.” This means, therefore, that in this genealogy we have an unbroken chain from Adam to Noah, a chain which is accompanied by an exact chronology which totals 1,656 years.

2.The son mentioned in each instance is not necessarily the firstborn. We know that Seth was not the firstborn of Adam. Cain and Abel both preceded him; and obviously others preceded him (among whom was Cain’s wife). But one son is mentioned, the significant son, the son in whom the line is continued all the way to Noah. It is by this son that the chronology is dated in each case.

3.In order to have the full picture, we must bear in mind that in the case of each generation it is specifically mentioned that after the named son was born, there were sons and daughters born. How many we are not told. But the fact is significant. We certainly do not get the picture, either with respect to the line of Seth or with respect to that of Cain, that the population of the earth was limited to those who are named and their offspring. The contrary is true.

4.Finally, we may mention the fact that in this data we get the picture not only of a chronological genealogy, but also of one in which the generations were characterized by tremendous longevity. The one exception to this longevity in the line of Seth is, of course, Enoch, who was translated at the age of 365 years. Again, we may legitimately assume that the same longevity generally characterized the generations of Cain.

With respect to all of this data we maintain that it must be accepted literally, so that the Scriptures do indeed present us with a genealogy which is at the same time a chronology. We may mention in passing that the Samaritan Text presents a chronology which is much shorter, totaling only 1,307 years, and the Septuagint presents one which is much longer, totaling 2,242 years. We hold with the Hebrew Text, however, for two reasons:

1.There is no textual evidence against the Hebrew Text.

2.The deviations presented by the other texts can be readily explained as attempts to emend the record as presented in the Hebrew Text, i.e., either as deliberate attempts to shorten the lifespan of some or as deliberate attempts to lengthen the lifespan and the total number of years.

There have been various objections raised against the literal acceptance of this genealogy-chronology. We may consider them briefly.

1.The objection is brought that the great longevity pictured in the passage is altogether unrealistic and impossible. Our reply is that this is a rationalistic objection, not based on Scripture itself.

2.It has been objected that Scripture itself more than once presents a genealogy in which some generations are skipped, so that, for example, the line may run via a grandson instead of a son. To this we reply:

a.When this is the case, there is scriptural evidence of it. If this is to be maintained with respect to Genesis 5, the evidence will have to be produced from Scripture.

b.Besides, in this case Scripture itself presents a genealogy which is accompanied by chronological data. How, in this light, are generations to be interpolated?

3.It has been objected that the Scriptures are not interested in chronology and that therefore it is not legitimate, but biblicistic, to discover a chronology in this and similar passages. To this we reply, in the first place, that we fully grant this argument if by it is meant that the Scriptures are not interested in the mere passage of time as such, as a succession of days and months and years, or is not interested in mere dating. Nor are the Scriptures interested in merely satisfying our curiosity as to the length of human history or the antiquity of the world. But no historian, sacred or profane, is interested in this naked question.

In the second place, we must remember that there are deeper issues involved here, issues which concern one’s view of history as well as one’s view of science in relation to the Scriptures and one’s view of the entire creation versus the evolution question.

In the third place, one is confronted by the simple fact that the Scriptures present this data. It is right there. Moreover, similar data is presented in the Scriptures with respect to other periods of history. We may ask: what is the student of Holy Scripture going to do with such data — ignore it, in order to accept alleged data from other sources, or accept it at face value?

In the fourth place, as we will point out later, this chronology is not a mere recounting of the passage of a certain amount of time, but is of very great significance.

4.Finally, it is objected that there is evidence from science which contradicts the scriptural data, both as to the time of the origin of the universe and as to the antiquity of the human race. We shall not enter into all this alleged evidence in detail. Our position is that the testimony of the Scriptures must stand as the only authoritative testimony, that so-called outside evidence can neither contradict it nor even “interpret” it, but that rather the outside evidence must be tested and interpreted by the Scriptures.


A study of the data of this genealogy-chronology brings out sharply the several characteristics of the prediluvian period which we mentioned in our introduction to this period. There we mentioned especially the following in this connection:

1.The sharp division into two distinct lines, viz., that of the seed of the woman and that of the seed of the serpent.

2.The fact that already in this period the Lord very plainly establishes His covenant organically in the line of continued generations.

3.The fact that this period is characterized by rapid development and speedy degeneration and decline along the line of the descendants of Cain. (It should be noted in this connection that the view of history which posits a restraint of sin in this period by a “common grace” and which even cites the words of Genesis 6:3 as scriptural proof is totally unrealistic and contrary to fact. There never was a period which gave less historical evidence of such a restraint. This period is frequently mentioned in the New Testament as an example to the contrary.)

To these we may add the fact that it is very plain by way of comparison that the line of the human race, positively speaking, i.e., of redeemed, elect humanity — the new humanity in Christ — is continued in the generations of Seth. In “the book of the generations of Adam” there follows in Genesis 5 an account of the line of Seth only. There is a beautiful and comforting truth implied here, namely, that that line of Seth constitutes the race. Not in the mighty and rich and famous line of Cain-Lamech is that race represented, but in the line of Seth. The line of Cain and the ungodly, great as they may seem to be in this world, are the branches which are cut off from the tree of the human race. Also in the respective genealogies this is evident. Cain’s genealogy, in Genesis 4, is carried to the eighth generation only, and there it is dropped. It has no continuity, but perishes in the Flood. In fact, it is not at all impossible, in view of the chronology of the period, that that very eighth generation was one which perished in the Deluge. But Seth’s line proceeds to Noah and his sons — to Noah, the righteous, who finds grace in the eyes of the Lord, who also walks with God, and who becomes heir of the world.

But there are several details and historical factors brought out by a careful study of this genealogy-chronology (and its counterpart in the genealogy of Cain) which shed light on the characteristics mentioned above. When we take note of these factors, the history of this period assumes a greater degree of reality, becomes more realistic and concrete, as well as more readily understandable, so that its spiritual characteristics come to stand in sharp relief.

In the first place, a study of the chronology will make clear the fact that in this period, when there was as yet no written record of God’s revelation, there was a very strong and trustworthy line of oral tradition. True, there is abundant evidence that God made known His Word to His people directly during this period; and there were men like Enoch, a prophet, and Noah, a preacher of righteousness, through whom God spoke His Word. But there was no written Word by means of which God’s revelation might be transmitted from generation to generation. But the historical situation was such that an oral tradition sufficiently strong to take the place of the written Word of God was possible.

Consider the fact that for all the generations up to and including Lamech, the father of Noah, a direct, firsthand tradition from Adam was possible. For Lamech, who was born in the year 874 after creation, was a contemporary of Adam for some 56 years before Adam died. This means that Noah, the heir of the new world, could receive the tradition of the history of Paradise and the fall and the protevangel secondhand, i.e., with only one link between him and Adam. Comparatively, this would mean that in the new dispensation the tradition of Christ would have reached into Reformation times secondhand; and, considering that Noah lived to the age of 950 years, it would mean that the tradition of Christ could reach us in the twentieth century only thirdhand!

If, in addition to this, we assume, as we certainly may, that there must have been a very close-knit community of the people of God in those times, then we can readily understand that this oral tradition was very strong and that it was quite capable of taking the place of a written record.

Considering also that not only Noah, but also Shem was a link between the prediluvian and the postdiluvian world, this same oral tradition assumes great importance with respect to the period between the Flood and the patriarchs, and, in fact, between the Flood and Moses.

Similarly, we may note that there was but one link between Enoch, who was a prophet, and Noah, in whose time Enoch’s prophecy was fulfilled.

In the second place, a study of the comparative chronology of the Sethites and the Cainites reveals some interesting and significant parallels. It reveals that Lamech and his wicked family must have been contemporaries, for example, of Enoch. This surely helps to explain the fact that Enoch must have lived in a time of rapidly increasing wickedness, as is plain from his prophecy in Jude, 14 and 15. It would also serve to explain that Enoch was translated in a time of increasing conflict and persecution, as is suggested by the Scriptures. This fact also implies that the Lamech-family and its contemporaries and offspring were contemporaries of all the generations of the Sethites from Enoch to the time of the Flood.

In the third place, a study of the data presented by Scripture will reveal that there must have been a tremendous “population explosion” during this period, both in the line of Cain and in the line of Seth. In this connection, there is the factor of the longevity of mankind during this period — something that is almost inconceivable in its ramifications and importance to us, who live but 70 or 80 years. Consider the fact that it was the usual thing for men to live more than 900 years! Then, too, there is the factor that the reproductive capacity of mankind must have been extremely great. In each case, in Genesis 5, after the birth of the named son is recorded, it is mentioned that N. “begat sons and daughters.” How many sons and daughters we are not told. But it does not require a great imagination, when this fact is combined with the fact of the race’s longevity, to conceive of a tremendously fast-growing population, so that by the time of the Flood there could easily have been a population of millions.

If each human pair, beginning with Adam and Eve, produced only 3 couples, the seventh generation alone would number more than 2,100, and the population more than 3,500; the eighth would number 6,500+, and the population 10,000+; but the ninth would mount to 18,000+, with a population of 28,000+; while the tenth would jump to 55,000+, with a population of 84,000+. And these are extremely conservative projections. (For some interesting notes on this subject, see the appendix at the conclusion of this chapter.)

Now all this is of great significance and sheds light on several aspects of the course of history during this period.

First of all, it sets in sharp relief the fact that few, that is, eight souls were saved in the ark. This indeed becomes an astounding fact when we consider the longevity of the patriarchs before the Flood and the large numbers of the population in the line of Seth as well as the line of Cain. As we have indicated, there must have been a multitude of men in both lines. In fact, under normal circumstances there must have been a veritable multitude of the children of Seth living when the Flood came and destroyed the first world. Seth was born in the year 130 after creation. When he was one hundred five years old, Enos was born to him. And after the birth of Enos, Seth lived another eight hundred seven years, during which time sons and daughters were born unto him. At the age of nine hundred twelve, or in the year 1,042, he died. It is easy to see that under normal circumstances there must have been children Seth who were still living at the time of the Flood and who perished in the Flood. The same applies to the patriarchs after Seth.

When you consider that all these men begat sons and daughters, who in turn had their children and children’s children (and then remember that a 900-year life span was ordinary during that age), then it is not difficult to see that there must have been many thousands, and even possibly millions, of the children of Seth still living at the time of the Flood, some of them even of the second and third generations. Yet there were but eight souls saved in the ark. Is this not an astounding picture? And does this not also lend new emphasis to the fact that the days of Noah were typical of the days preceding the return of the Son of Man? In that first world there were only a few who were righteous when the Lord came for judgment in the Flood; at the coming of the Son of Man we must expect a similar situation.

In the second place, it is these very natural factors of longevity and rapid increase of population which contributed to and made possible the creation of that spiritual development and that ultimate situation in which the Flood’s judgment was wrought and in which a very small remnant was saved.

The reduction of the remnant of the faithful people of God to a very small number, the apostasy in the generations of Seth, the amalgamation of the line of Seth with that of the Cainites in large numbers, the rapid growth of wickedness to the point that the measure of iniquity was filled and that world could not go on any longer, the “filling” of the earth with violence — all of these do not merely “happen,” nor do they or can they come about in a situation where there is a relatively small population and a relatively small degree of natural development of the race. No, there are certain natural factors which must be present to create such a situation. These very natural factors were indeed present in such a combination that this situation could came about in the short span of 1,656 years.

For one thing, the natural factors were present to bring about precisely such a tremendous growth of population and such a fast development of culture and civilization and such a manifold development and variety in the human race itself as were necessary to bring about a rapid and full development of sin. Such a development of sin is impossible until there is a certain degree of natural development. Even numerically, it requires more than a few men to bring to expression all the “potential” of sin. It requires, too, a development of so-called culture and a development of and refinement of civilization and its products in order to bring about the situation and the means for the full development of sin.

The sin of Adam is a root sin. That root sin does not bear its full and manifold fruit immediately, for the simple reason that the natural factors to make this possible are not present immediately. The organic development of sin goes hand in hand with the organic development of the race. In the first world the factors were present to produce a very rapid organic development of the race, and, therefore, of sin. The tremendous longevity of the various generations resulted in each generation’s having an opportunity of centuries to develop. Add to this the large degree of overlapping of generations, which made it possible for various generations to cooperate in development and for the various generations to profit from one another and to reap the fruits of one another’s development. Then you have the ideal situation for a rapid development in natural life, and, along with it, the rapid development and bringing to manifestation of the fruits of iniquity.

If you add to all this the fact that it was Cain’s race rather than the generations of Seth who were endowed with those gifts and talents, that genial power of invention and production by which man subdues the earth, makes the powers and resources of creation his servants, and wrests from nature the means to enlarge and enrich human life from a natural point of view, the picture becomes complete. Bear in mind that this is the picture which the Scriptures present. It is Cain’s genius which conceives of building the first city, and which calls it after the name of his son, Enoch. It is in the line of Cain that you find the giants of that era’s civilization — men like the three sons of Lamech. In the line of Cain, in other words, an unusual degree of natural power of mind and body displayed itself and rapidly developed.

These same natural factors would bring about the situation described in the beginning of Genesis 6. They would explain the fact that “men began to multiply in the earth.” It is easy to see, for example, that it was at the time of the generations of the sons of Lamech that the situation was ripe for a “population explosion” in the literal sense of the word. This, in turn, would bring about a situation when the amalgamation of the line of Seth and the line of Cain would become both possible and attractive. And it would also bring about a situation in which it would rapidly become true that the earth was literally filled with iniquity and violence. If you add up all these factors, it is not at all difficult to imagine that the situation was created in which there was increasingly sharp conflict between the faithful children of God and the ungodly, and in which the faithful were increasingly persecuted and deprived of a place in the earth.

Taking all these factors into consideration, therefore, we can come to a better understanding of that ultimate situation at the time of the Flood, when the measure of iniquity was filled and when a remnant of only eight souls was saved through water.


The following is quoted from The Genesis Flood, by John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967), pp. 25ff.

The record in Genesis 5 clearly implies that men had large families in those days. Although in most cases only one son is named in each family (apparently for the purpose of tracing the line of descent from Adam to Noah), it is also said that each “begat sons and daughters,” so that each family must have had at least four children, and probably many more. Furthermore, the age of the fathers at the birth of each of the named sons ranged from 65 years (in the case of Mahalaleel and Enoch) to 500 years (in Noah’s case). Consequently the Bible implies that: (1) men typically lived for hundreds of years, (2) their procreative powers persisted over hundreds of years also, and (3) through the combined effects of long lives and large families, mankind was rapidly “filling the earth” (Gen. 1:28; 6:1, 11).

All things considered, it is certainly very conservative to estimate that each family had, say, six children, and that each new generation required ninety years on the average. That is, assume the first family (Adam and Eve) had six children; the three families that could be established from these had six children each; and the nine families resulting from these each had six children, and so on. Actually, each probably had far more than six children, but this figure will allow for those who did not marry, who died prematurely, etc. At an average figure of ninety years per generation, which seems far higher than was probably actually the case, one can calculate that there were some eighteen generations in the 1,656 years from Adam to the Flood.

The total number of people in the nth generation can be calculated on this basis as equal to 2(3)n. Thus, at the end of the first generation (n equals one), the number in the family was 2(3), or 6. At the end of two generations, it was 2 x 3 x 3, or 18. Finally, at the end of 17 generations, the number was 258 million and, at the end of 18 generations, it was 774 million! If, at this time, only one previous generation was still living, the total population of the earth would have been over 1,030 million! And we believe that anyone would agree that these calculations are extremely conservative, assuming only that the biblical statements are true.

Note: The above is quoted only to show the possibilities. In a situation as described above, the authors note further, the rate of population growth is 1.5% annually, while today a rate of 2% or even 3% is not unusual in so-called underdeveloped countries.