Methuselah's Age - Just How Old was the Oldest Man in the Bible? (2024)

The days before the Great Flood are a mystery to history in many ways. What was the culture like? How did God have a relationship with people before the Law, but after Eden? Did it really not rain?

Perhaps one of the biggest questions is: how did people live so long? Practically a thousand years of history are covered in Genesis 5, with one of the more curious details being the long lives of the men mentioned. The one who lived the longest was Methuselah, son of Enoch, who lived 969 years.

His longevity is unique even among other men living almost a millennia. The story of Methuselah, the man who lived longer than anyone, is a life of hardship, prophecy, and testifying to God’s will.

Who Was Methuselah and How Old Was He?

To understand the significance of Methuselah, it is important to understand the period of history in which he lived. He was one of the ante-diluvian patriarchs, or pre-flood patriarchs. These were ten men who held prominence in the world after man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, but before the Flood, who descended from Adam and his third son, Seth. These men – and it is implied the other people alive at the time – lived for centuries. Adam, the first man, lived to be 930 years old. In fact, due to the longevity of these men, there is an approximately 30-year period when they were all alive at the same time.

These men were: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, and Noah.

Methuselah was the son of Enoch, the father of Lamech, and the grandfather of Noah. Enoch was notable for the closeness of his relationship with God:

“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with Godafter he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not,for God took him” (Genesis 5:21-24).

Enoch did not die, but was translated, or taken up, to heaven to be with God. He had the shortest lifespan on earth of all the patriarchs.

By contrast, Methuselah lived for 969 years, and was, according to the Genesis record, the first of the patriarchs to outlive his son. Methuselah was the last of the patriarchs who could have met Adam, and learned about the Garden of Eden first-hand. He also died the year of the flood, making Noah the last righteous patriarch. Methuselah is known as the oldest man in the Bible.

By the end of his life, and possibly throughout its entirety, humanity had rejected their Creator, reveling in evil, to the point where it grieved God that He made the world. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Noah and his family, which by inference can include Methuselah, were the exception.

What Does “Methuselah” Mean?

Theologians generally agree that his name foreshadows the flood, and the destruction of the ante-diluvian people and culture. While there is some debate as to the exact translation, all have a sense of foreboding, an ominous warning of destruction and judgment. Some variants on the translation include, “Death of the Sword,” “When He Dies – Judgement,” or “When He Is Dead, It Shall Be Sent.” Some speculate the nature of Methuselah’s long life was because God was giving Noah time to build the ark, and an opportunity to repent. There are also theories that Methuselah served as a priest or prophet of some sort, since prophets of God later would sometimes take on, or be given names at birth, that were symbolic, significant, or prophetic.

His appearance in Genesis is brief, “When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech. Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died” (Genesis 5:25-27). His long lifespan is what makes him stand out amongst the other patriarchs.

Methuselah's Age - Just How Old was the Oldest Man in the Bible? (1)

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Methuselah in Other Faiths

Methuselah appears in other religious texts outside of the Bible. He is a figure in Jewish works as well. He takes a more prominent role in some of the Rabbinic texts. These do not deviate greatly from the Genesis account, instead, adding to the narrative. They will include details such as Methuselah and Noah trying to correct the behavior of the wicked world around them.

In Islam, he is counted as one of the pre-Islamic prophets. Many of the prominent figures of the Old Testament are recast as Muslims or Islamic prophets in the Quran. Ibn Ishaq, a Muslim historian, includes him in the genealogy of Mohammad. In Arabic, his name is Mattūshalakh.

He is also a prophet in the Book of Moses, a text for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this version of his life’s story, he was not taken up with Enoch so that God may keep a promise to Enoch that Noah would be his descendant.

He also makes appearances in the Apocrypha, a collection of books that have been debated as to whether or not they should have been included in the Biblical canon. Most theologians agree the correct decision was to leave them out, though there are a few who would argue that some or all of them should be included; the Book of Enoch is generally considered to have some of the strongest claims for canonicity, but some of the content and timelines contradicts books with stronger historicity. The premise of this apocryphal text is that Enoch was given visions, preserved by his son. Methuselah is a prophet as well. When Enoch ascends to heaven, it says Methuselah and his brothers made an altar and worshipped God.

Why Did People Live So Long in the Old Testament?

One of the enduring questions about these early days after Creation, but before the flood, is how and why did people live so long?

Firstly, sin had only just entered the world. While there were sins, problems, and repercussions, many theologians point out that it has taken a stronger grip on people through time. While they died eventually, they were closer to Creation, and the way things ought to have been. There is also speculation that because the world was different before the flood, with higher barometric pressure and greater vegetation, that perhaps the climate was well-suited to longevity.

Ultimately, there is only one verse that may or may not indicate God putting a limit on the life of man. In Genesis 6:3, it says, “Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years’” (Genesis 6:3). While some argue this verse is the Lord capping man’s lifespan, there is another camp which believes that this verse is God giving man 120 years until the Flood. Ultimately, there is no clear-cut answer as to why people lived so long in the Old Testament - even after the Flood. Some argue the years should be taken symbolically, rather than literally, however that does make some the ages of the fathers and their sons - including Enoch and Methuselah, impossible, as they would have been very young to father children.

Over time, man’s lifespan continues to shrink. Abraham lived to be 175 years old; Joseph’s lifespan was 110 years; Moses was 120 years old when he died. By the time David wrote Psalm 90, the average age of people resembled those of today.

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

Ultimately, the reason why man dies is more important than how long it takes for mankind to pass away. When Adam sinned, death became reality. “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). For those who have put their hope in Christ, and their sins are forgiven, they will live forever with God in Heaven.

What Was Methuselah's Impact on the Whole Story of the Bible?

Methuselah is only briefly mentioned in the Bible, usually as a minor player in someone else’s story. Outside of Genesis, he is mentioned in the genealogy of Saul, and Luke’s genealogy of Jesus Christ. Even still, the life of Methuselah does speak to the nature of God.

In the long life of this one man, God’s longsuffering, patient nature is shown. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). For almost a thousand years, God let man flourish, waiting for them to repent of their wickedness and turn to Him, though they refused.

To make a way for people's sins to be blotted out, Jesus Christ died on the cross, and rose again in three days. By putting faith in this miracle, anyone can be saved forever. During the church age, God shows His longsuffering, giving humanity time to turn to Him before Jesus returns. God remains the same today as He was during the days of Methuselah: patient, hoping that everyone will turn away from sin, and toward Him.

Sources

Baxter, J. Sidlow. Explore the Book.Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1960.

Gowan, Donald. From Eden to Babel: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis 1-11. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.

Laurence, Richard. The Book of Enoch the Prophet. Alternmüster: Jazzybee Verlag, 2010.

Walvoord John F. and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. USA: Victor Books, 1984.

Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide To the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 1981.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Casper1774Studio

Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.

Methuselah's Age - Just How Old was the Oldest Man in the Bible? (2024)
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