Calculations based on genealogies recorded in Genesis 5, 10, and 11 help form the foundation for the belief in a young earth. However, guest writers Dan Dyke and Hugh Henry argue that the relationships listed in these genealogies may indicate more general ancestor-descendant relationships (rather than parent-child relationships), thus implying that there are gaps in the genealogies that render them unreliable for determining a creation date.
In the age of the earth controversy, some who support a young-earth view assert that the Hebrew word yālad—which is translated as “beget” in the King James Version—always refers to a direct father-son relationship in Genesis 5, 10, and 11 and other genealogical passages. In an earlier series of articles we discussed that yālad implies only an ancestral relationship, not necessarily a parent-child relationship. This allows for gaps in the genealogical records in the Pentateuch.
Our research has been questioned based on the form (similar to the English concept of verb tense) of yālad. In Genesis 5, 10, and 11, the form of yālad used is called a hiphil, which means the subject is either directly or indirectly causing the result of the verbal action. In this article we confirm that yālad in the hiphil describes an ancestor-descendant relationship that is not necessarily a direct father-son relationship. This conclusion is derived from applying to yālad the same principle of interpretation employed with biblical Hebrew words in general: that the surrounding narrative is key to proper interpretation. In the case of the genealogies, the narrative reveals the nature of the relationship between the one begetting and the one being begotten. Taking Noah as an example, the use of yālad in the hiphil form indicates direct causation when he begets Ham, Shem, and Japheth. However, yālad in the hiphil by itself shows only that Ham, Shem, and Japheth are related to him in a direct line of descent; the surrounding narrative is what reveals that these are father-son relationships.
To further demonstrate the validity of our argument, we’ll examine two narratives that provide examples of yālad in the hiphil used to describe an ancestor-descendant relationship. In both of these cases, a direct father-son relationship is without question impossible. The texts will be examined in reverse historical order.
The setting of the first narrative—recorded in Isaiah 38–39 and 2 Kings 20—is the time Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah, which took place around 701 BC during the latter part of King Hezekiah’s reign. (This includes the famous story of when God sent an angel to kill 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in the night.) The biblical record of this period also describes Hezekiah’s illness and the visit of emissaries from Merodach-Baladan (aka Marduk-apla-iddina II), king of Babylon. The historical order of these events is a matter of debate among scholars, but it seems certain that they center around the year 701.
The third event is of importance to this discussion. The Babylonian king appears to have sent emissaries to Hezekiah to enlist his aid in fighting against Sennacherib. Isaiah describes it as follows: