Adam lived to be 930 years old. Methuselah lived to be 969 years old. Have you ever wondered how the Bible could make such claims? The ages of early patriarchs of the Bible are recorded as being hundreds of years. Yet modern man barely surpasses one hundred. How could Noah live to be 950? Are there any possible explanations for this?
Something that is important to note is that the Bible is not the only recorded source of remarkable age claims prior to the flood. The Sumerian King list is an ancient tablet that is inscribed with the names of Sumerian rulers and their respective reigns. Frankly, the length of time some of these records show puts the Biblical patriarchs to shame. One record shows a single name as ruling Sumeria for 43,200 years. I don’t want to dive into all the questions surrounding this list, but the point is that there was a period of time where it was recorded that each Sumerian ruler was in power for an incredibly long period of time, thousands of years, and then following a great flood the duration of each reign begins to shorten to much more familiar time frames (decades). Again, the Bible and the Sumerian King List are not the only records of this trend.
I think the real question we should focus on first, rather than translation mistakes, calendar differences, or any other explanation, is whether or not we can account for how this may be possible scientifically. What happens if we just take these things at face value and go from there?
One theory revolves around something called “negligible senescence”. This is a phrase used to denote that a specific organism does not show signs of biological aging. It is also referred to as “biological immortality” and is found in a handful of organisms today. I will provide some links to articles with examples of modern organisms that display this attribute at the end of this article.
Biological immortality does not mean immortality in the traditional sense of the word. It means that an organism simply does not show signs of aging. It can still die from basically anything; disease, injury, malnutrition, etc. Using humans as an example, the difference between a biologically mortal and biologically immortal human would be lifespan and physical “age”. I say lifespan because a biologically immortal human could potentially live exponentially longer than a mortal one. When I use the term “physical age” I am referring to the gradual degradation of muscle mass, bone strength, and organ tissue that eventually will lead to easy injury organ failure. A biologically immortal human would remain youthful and enjoy health reminiscent of a young adult for the duration of its life. We should note that if humanity were to become biologically immortal today, the average lifespan would not increase by much. It turns out that the majority of people pass from various diseases and injury far before they pass from old age.
So enough about what it means to be biologically immortal. How does this theory tie into the Biblical patriarchs? Well basically, negligible senescence or biological immortality could be a trait that was lost by humanity following the flood. If Adam and Eve were to live forever and the first sin ensured their death, negligible senescence would be a great mechanism to facilitate that. In order to live forever, there would have to be no violence, disease, or natural disasters. The first one (violence) would be hinged on mankind’s ability to behave. The other two categories God would handle. This would have changed when Adam and Eve sinned. God had already told them that they would die if they ate of the fruit and, even though it was not immediate, that is exactly what was allowed to happen. Remember that negligible senescence will not protect a creature from disease or injury. Once the first sin occurred, these things may have been “unleashed” so to speak. In other words, immunity to disease was slowly compromised either by strengthened viruses/bacteria or by a weakened immune system.
Aside from my crazy idea that this may be an explanation for how Bible figures lived such long lives, there is also an ongoing effort to synthetically introduce biological immortality to modern humanity. The National Institutes of Health started a program called SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence). If the NIH thinks that this can be introduced to humanity, is it really that unreasonable to think that it may have already been an attribute at one time?
If we could confirm the remains of any of the documented Biblical patriarchs, they could absolutely be tested to determine if they were biologically immortal. The problem is finding one of a handful of remains from a limited period in time.
Hi, I’m James Dusenbery, the Founder/Lead Editor at CanonOfReason.com. I have a deep passion for the Bible and am constantly studying one part or another. In addition to an interest in theology and Christian apologetics, I also love philosophy. My podcast and website merge these interests together to create a unique experience that you will not find anywhere else.