How did people get so old?
Ask a Pastor
“My kiddos go to a Lutheran preschool and we — me and my kids, ages 4 and 5 — are reading the Bible. How do you explain the very old ages of some of the people in the Bible (Old Testament)?” -- Kali Hetrick, Rocklin, Calif.
Rosanne: It must be difficult for 4- and 5-year-olds to think about age when being 10 might seem old to them and 25 is probably positively ancient! There are many theories about the ages recorded in the Old Testament — like years back then were not the same as years now so that there was a different counting system for years. Or, before the flood, people lived longer and after the flood they didn’t. People have often been obsessed by the numbers in the Bible, thinking that they must give some secret clue to understanding salvation or the mind of God.
I think what might be important here is not so much that the Bible records what seem to be unfathomable ages of people, it just does. Rather, the focus might be on what role did these people play in God’s work and ways in the world. Each one of those old characters is mentioned to tell us something about God and God’s work for us. Focusing on that and not so much on the age might help your children to see God at work then and even now in their own lives.
Brian: Kali, bless you for reading the Bible with your kids! You are giving them a gift — memories of meaningful stories and time with you that will endure throughout their lives. Your question is a challenging one, but to tell you the truth, I don’t explain the very old ages in the Bible. I’m OK with that being “the way it was back then.” It’s not that I’m about simplistic, literalistic answers — it’s just that the Bible asks us to encounter its truth and join its story, not comprehend every piece of data in a way that squares with our modern understanding of the world around us. Enjoy — and talk with your kids about — the truth and meaning you meet in the stories, and don’t be afraid to tell your kids you really don’t know answers about some of the less important elements.
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