Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) headed the Anglican Church of Ireland. Today he is best known for calculating Creation in 4004 BC in his Annals of the World (1650). This is an exhaustive 1600-page Latin history of the world from Creation to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD.
Today many far less learned than Ussher scoff at his 4004 BC date, but he was a highly regarded Hebrew scholar, Semitic linguist, and historian. Widely respected by nobility, clergy, and laity, he was one of the most learned men of his time. His contemporaries called him a “leviathan of learning.”
Ussher’s chronological research required deep expertise in Biblical languages, the Bible, ancient history (especially of Persia, Greece, and Rome), astronomy, ancient calendars, and chronology.
Evolutionist and atheist Stephen Jay Gould did not agree with Ussher’s chronology, but he respected Ussher’s scholarship and research. Gould wrote,
“I shall be defending Ussher’s chronology as an honorable effort for its time and arguing that our usual ridicule only records a lamentable small-mindedness based on mistaken use of present criteria to judge a distant and different past. … Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology. … Today we rightly reject a cardinal premise of that methodology–belief in Biblical inerrancy–and we recognize that this false assumption allowed such a great error in estimating the age of the earth.”
(Stephen Jay Gould, Fall in the House of Ussher, Natural History v. 100, November 1991, pp 10, 12.)
Gould identified “Biblical inerrancy” as the main “false assumption” underlying Ussher’s work. He believed this “false assumption” caused Ussher’s “great error in estimating the age of the earth.” If Gould is wrong and Ussher’s Biblical inerrancy assumption is actually true, then Ussher’s research on the age of the earth stands on firm ground.
When Ussher died Oliver Cromwell buried him in Westminster Abbey with a state funeral, despite Ussher’s opposition to Cromwell’s revolution. His epitaph reads in part,
“Historian, Literary Critic, Theologian. Among saints—most scholarly. Among scholars—most saintly.”
Ussher was convinced the Bible was totally reliable with no gaps in the Genesis genealogies. He derived his 4004 BC date from those genealogies and from chronological information scattered throughout Scripture along with complex correlations with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern histories. His detailed calculations comprise over 100 pages in his book Annals of the World.
Ussher also settled on the date of October 23. This is even more widely ridiculed, but Ussher had plausible justification. He thought there was a reason going back to Creation why the Jews and many ancient peoples began their year in the autumn. He selected the first Sunday following the autumnal equinox as the likely beginning. After accounting for the various calendar adjustments through the centuries, he proposed October 23.
A “9 am” Creation is often derisively attributed to Ussher, but he never specified this. This came from his contemporary, Sir John Lightfoot (1602-1675), Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University.
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the 24th 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 have considered the issue’s importance, what Jesus thought, and the Genesis genealogies. Current posts are surveying the historic teaching of the church. Future articles will 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
18. Age of the Earth—Luke & Cainan Explanation
19. Age of the Earth—Add It Up
20. Age of the Earth—6,000 Years Old
21. Age of the Earth—History’s View
22. Age of the Earth—Church Fathers’ Opinion
23. Age of the Earth—Josephus, Luther, Calvin
Read the sequel:
25. Age of the Earth—Prof. James Strong
Subscribe – Don’t miss future blog posts!
Click the sidebar’s “SUBSCRIBE” button to follow the
Bible-Science Guy Blog. You’ll automatically receive
new posts free by email. Click SUBSCRIBE NOW!
©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 September 4, 2008 A.D.
And Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah; and Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years after he became the father of Terah, and he had other sons and daughters. (Genesis 11:24,25 NASB)