Reconciling Gen. 11:26, 12:4 and Acts 7:4, Abraham and Terah's age (Turretin)

Discussion in 'OT Historical Books' started by Johann Amadeus Schubert, Jan 26, 2019.

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  1. Johann Amadeus Schubert

    Johann Amadeus Schubert Puritan Board Freshman

    Hello PB,

    Turretin writes on pages 81-82 in vol. 1 of his Institutes:

    "The difficulty consists in this: that Moses says that Abram was in the seventieth year of Terah (Gen. 11:26), and Stephen expressly asserts that Abraham removed from Haran to Canaan after the death of Terah (Acts 7:4). Now it is plain from Gen. 12:4 that Abraham departed from Haran in his seventy-fifth year, and his father Terah lived to the age of two hundred and five years (Gen. 11:32)"

    Later in the page, he says that others solved the difficulty right:

    "They maintain that there were two calls of Abram: the first from Ur of Chaldees to Haran, his father being alive and in his 145th year, and Abraham in his seventy-fifth (of which Moses speaks, Gen 11:31;12:1). But the other (after the death of his father) from Haran to Canaan with appears to be intimated in Gen.12:4, 5. Stephen indeed plainly refers to this when he says "Abraham called of God came out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Haran; and afterwards and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him in Cananna" (Acts 7:4) Here God is said to have called him twice: first from Ur of the Chaldees to Hara; afterward from Haran to Canaan. This seems to be a fit and easy solution of the difficulty."

    So Turretin says the first call from Ur to Haran was when Abraham was in his 75th year (Terah then 145 years old). And then Abram departed Haran at the second call after the death of his father (205 years old). Does this reconcile Acts 7:4 and Gen. 12:4?

    Any insights? Was Turretin successful in making his case?

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2019
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I don't know that it is absolutely necessary to say that God called Abram twice. That is to say, a faithful reading of the text does not require us to identify 12:1 as being chronologically after the vv at the end of ch.11. The old AV (and perhaps other translations) presented 12:1 in the pluperfect past:
    Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:"​

    In other words, Abram simply takes his exit from Ur in two stages, divided by his father's death when he had gone with Abram as far as he could (which is given in the text of 11:31 as Abram accompanying Terah, the latter being the honored patriarch and recognized (formal) leader of the clan). It is Abram who is called out of Ur, converting his father to his cause; but his father continues as the principal until he is dead.

    Otherwise, the proposal of Turretin is fairly common as harmonization. Terah's age at 70 (11:26) appears to state the age his first son was born (who is evidently not Abram, though he is stated ahead of the others).
  3. Johann Amadeus Schubert

    Johann Amadeus Schubert Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you, Rev. Buchanan,

    I am inclined to think along the same lines as you concerning Terah's age and the later birth of Abram. It seems to be an apt solution.

    Turretin also mentions this as a possible solution but notes that some may feel that this is a rather forced reading since the Bible says nothing about it and Abram's genealogy may thus be rendered uncertain. I myself have not done enough research on Abram's genealogy to form an opinion of its uncertainty yet.

    Thank you again.
  4. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    To me, the idea that the genealogy is rendered uncertain or less certain by a judgment that the sons are listed out of birth order (but note: not out of order-of-importance!) is the most forced and wooden reading.

    Consider: if Haran was the firstborn (most likely, in my opinion), and his son Lot stood to gain his father's inheritance in his place after he died, but then Haran died early before his father Terah, and before Terah's generational divide (double portion to the lead heir) the later-born second son (Abram) now stood to inherit the double portion, and Lot would have to content himself with being in line after Abram (and beside Nahor, who married Lot's sister) to inherit from Terah's estate.

    Abram had no children (and didn't look to get any, for those who looked by sight not faith) when Terah died; making nephew Lot a naturally dominant heir to Abram's/Terah's possessions, if he stuck with the patriarch. He did not, we know, in part because he was already profiting so well from his association to Abram, he could afford a quarrel with him. Yet, Abram did not appear to be trying too hard to acquire status in the land, and build his influence commercially and politically. All he did was preach his doctrine, and live on the margins.

    Lot's greed took him away from the Promise, and off to Sodom. There, he found him position and influence; which got him a generally faithless family and connections to go with his wealth, Gen.19:14; it got him kidnapped, 14:12 (probably for a hoped-for ransom that likely would never have come--thank God for Abram and his privateers); it got him a commodious dwelling in a city so unsafe no stranger would likely survive a night on an open square, 19:3; and it got him the insults of his native-born neighbors who supposedly honored him right up until he crossed their wicked wills, 19:9. He ended up with nothing, living in a hole, drunk, and used by his own remaining daughters as a sexual surrogate.

    Lot, thereby, became an object lesson (2Pet.2:8) of a Christian who falls very far indeed, by taking his eyes off of the Promise. Like Ishmael, he was not destined to inherit anything directly from Abram's (after Terah's) estate; unlike Ishmael, he is regarded ultimately positively for his weak-but-real faith. And through his descendant Ruth the Moabitess, he contributed to the Savior's coming.

    It is not more likely that Nahor should have married the daughter of a younger brother who also died young) than that he should have married the daughter of an older brother possibly with his own eye on gaining any share of his brother's estate. Lot appears closer in age to Abram than we might otherwise have guessed, if Haran was younger than Abram. But if he was older, then an estimated age for Lot not far off Abram's makes good sense.

    Add to those considerations the precise age of Terah when he died (205), and Abraham's precise age when he left Haran (75), and Stephen's confirmation that it was after his father died that he left from there (Act.7:4); then Abram is a good candidate for son#2 in birth order, moved up to son#1 when his elder brother passed away. And since he is the dominant character in the following narrative, and the inheritor of Terah's double portion, he deserves to be listed first as much or more than his deceased brother. The interlocking pieces start to look remarkably like a coherent picture.

    But, you and others should feel very free to dissent from my reasons. There may be relevant factors I've overlooked, and some I've overvalued.
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  5. Johann Amadeus Schubert

    Johann Amadeus Schubert Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you, Rev. Buchanan,

    You make a very convincing argument. I concur and am also of the opinion that Abram was not the firstborn but of greater prominence and therefore is mentioned first (Gen. 11:26). And this is not unprecedented as Shem was listed first among Noah's sons (Gen. 5:32) before Japheth the elder (Gen. 10:21).

    Thank you again.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2019
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    As it happens, I don't think that Noah's sons are ever listed out of order, other than when in Gen.10 the scattering of the peoples who come from each brother is told out.

    I believe Gen.10:21 is present because Shem was the elder (i.e. eldest) brother of Japheth; which note is helpful in the text of the table of nations, since the order of the list of the brothers' descendants does not go as traditionally (we presume they do) from oldest son to youngest son. If I'm correct, the list goes: 3nd Japheth, 2rd Ham,* 1st Shem, reverse of birth order and all the name triplets, and the notice in v21 makes that crystal clear. Otherwise, we'd naturally assume Japheth was oldest (in spite of the many triplet listings) because he and his descendants are stated first; then Ham, then Shem.

    The pattern given in Gen.10 is seen elsewhere in the book of Genesis, as when Cain's story and family is presented in Gen.4:16ff, and then set aside. Ishmael's generations are all given ahead of time, Gen.25:12ff, and then his story and family are set aside out of the narrative. The same thing happens in Gen.36 with the generations of Esau, allowing Jacob's generational story to move forward. In Gen.10, the nations all around are mentioned descending from two brothers; then the story goes forward with Shem, and down one family line to Peleg (ancestor of Abram).

    * Is Ham the 2nd son? Does 9:24 say differently? For what its worth, v18 includes the name of the (obviously) "youngest son" of Noah, the only other name we know of his descendants at that point: Canaan. And Canaan is also cursed. Didn't Ham do his father ill? That judgment is entirely dependent on supposing a marked contrast between actions reported in v22 and v23, and the blessing upon Shem and Japheth (and not Ham). Remember that the positive action of Shem and Japheth is as a result of the knowledge they gain from Ham. If Ham doesn't tell them, maybe Noah's dignity is never preserved; maybe something worse happens. Whatever was "done to Noah," it was evidently Canaan's doing; and he bears the curse for it.
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  7. Johann Amadeus Schubert

    Johann Amadeus Schubert Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you again, Rev. Buchanan,

    I appreciate your concern for precision. You have researched and thought about this matter more than I.

    The AV translates Gen. 10:21 as "the brother of Japheth the elder but I'm aware that others translations (ESV) render it as "the elder brother of Japheth" And commentaries have different opinions. Poole's commentary is somewhat convincing to me.

    Your post has given me much to think about. Thank you.
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