Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | August 14, 2008

18. Age of the Earth—Luke & Cainan Explanation

(3 Minute Read)


Luke’s genealogy of Jesus grounds Jesus in humanity and history by giving His full genealogy in Luke 3:23-38. The genealogy traces the ancestors of Jesus, father by father, through King David, Abraham, and Noah all the way back to Adam.

Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, as given in our English Bibles, has the extra name Cainan (son of Arphaxad and father of Shelah). Cainan is not in the Genesis 11 genealogy where Arpachshad (not Cainan) is given as Shelah’s father. Which genealogy is correct, the one in Luke 3 or the one in Genesis 11?

In my previous blog post I discussed the “extra Cainan” in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus. The extra name “Cainan son of Arphaxad” is not in any Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. It is only in Septuagint copies of the Old Testament made long after Luke was written, and Cainan is not in the earliest Luke manuscript. So how did the extra Cainan get in later Luke and Septuagint manuscript copies?

Luke’s original manuscript was certainly without error. However, I do not think the extra Cainan was originally part of Luke’s gospel as he wrote it. I think Cainan in Luke 3:36 is one of the extremely rare copyist errors that has crept into the text. I think the best explanation to account for all the evidence is copyist error.

The original manuscript by Luke, given by inspiration of God, was perfect and inerrant. But copyists were not perfect, and they occasionally introduced errors. The science of textual criticism examines the many extant manuscript copies in order to ascertain as closely as possible the original text. The fact that these copies vary demonstrates that errors did occur in the copying process. Scholars believe our current Bibles are about 99% accurate, but there are some minor copyist error issues—none of which affect essential doctrines. I think the extra Cainan in Luke is one of these copyist errors.

Gentile copyists of the New Testament were not as careful as Hebrew copyists of the Old Testament. In Greek, Cainan and Kenan are the same. An early copyist’s eye likely went to the wrong place in what is now verse 37 of Luke 3 and copied Cainan from there into verse 36. This is especially plausible because New Testament Greek was written without punctuation or spaces between words, so it would be easy for a tired scribe to lose his place in the text.

It is likely that later someone spuriously added Cainan into the Septuagint to harmonize it with miscopied versions of Luke.

The best explanation to account for
all the evidence is copyist error.

It’s also interesting (and supportive of the miscopying theory) that the extra Cainan in later copies of the Septuagint has the same two ages for the birth of his son (130 years) and for the years following that till his death (330 years) as does Shelah who immediately follows. Moreover, these are the Septuagint numbers, not the Masoretic numbers. There are no numbers in Luke, so the Septuagint scribe used the next set of numbers from Shelah for the inserted Cainan.

Luke 3:36 is the only verse in the entire English Bible that mentions Cainan son of Arphaxad and father of Shelah. No other Bible verse mentions him. The other Cainan (or Kenan) son of Enosh and father of Mahalalel is mentioned 7 times.

Moreover, other Scriptures confirm the Genesis 11 record that Shelah, not Cainan, was the son of Arphaxed. The genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1:18, 24 includes Arpachshad-Shelah twice.

Genesis 10 records the first few generations descending from Shem right after the Flood as Noah’s family replenished the earth. Arpachshad begat (yalad) Shelah who begat Eber who begat both Peleg and his brother Joktan (Genesis 10::24-25). Yalad (begat) is used for all three indicating immediate descent. Eber’s begetting 2 named brothers strengthens this immediate descendant understanding. Thus Genesis 10 confirms the completeness of the genealogical record of Genesis 11 and thereby endorses Shelah, not Cainan, as Arphachshad’s son.

Thus I believe the record in Genesis 11 provides a complete and accurate chronology for the period it covers. Arpachshad’s son was Shelah, not Cainan. The extra Cainan in Luke was mistakenly inserted somewhere in the copying process and was not present in Luke’s original gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria.

This is the 18th in a series of blog posts on the Age of the Earth. I began with the Biblical testimony that the earth is 6,000 years old, because the evidence from nature should be interpreted and understood in the light of clear Biblical truth. The prequels considered the issue’s importance and what Jesus thought. Current posts are analyzing the Genesis genealogies. Future articles will survey the historic teaching of the church and discuss scientific evidence on the age of the earth, explaining fallacies of radiometric dating methods and giving examples of scientific methods which yield short ages.

Read the prequels:
1. How Old Is the Earth?
2. Why Is the Age of the Earth Important?
3. Earth: Young or Old?
4. Age of the Earth—Jesus’ View
5. Age of the Earth—Jesus Interpreted OT Literally
6. Age of the Earth—What Did Jesus Say?
7. Age of the Earth—What Did Jesus’ Contemporaries Think?
8. Age of the Earth—Genealogies
9. Age of the Earth—What Does Begat Mean?
10. Age of the Earth—Interlocking Genealogies
11. Age of the Earth—Any Gaps in Genealogies?
12. Age of the Earth—No Gaps in Genealogies
13. Age of the Earth—Any Missing Generations?
14. Age of the Earth—Scriptural Confirmation (Adam to Noah)
15. Age of the Earth—Scriptural Confirmation (Noah to Abraham)
16. Age of the Earth—Luke’s Testimony
17. Age of the Earth—Luke & Cainan Puzzle

Read the sequel:
19. Age of the Earth—Add It Up

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Thursday August 14, 2008 A.D.

And Arpachshad lived thirty-five years, and became the father of Shelah; and Arpachshad lived four hundred and three years after he became the father of Shelah, and he had other sons and daughters. (Genesis 11:12-13 NASB)


  1. Thanks for another excellent post. You’ve judiciously removed this stumbling block to confidence for believers and disarmed those who use these clerical glitches as weapons against the truth and excuses for their rejection of the Biblical text.


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