Kolbe Report 6/12/21

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Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I would like to dedicate the next two or three newsletters to reflecting on the genealogical chain that connects each and every one of us to our first parents, St. Adam and St. Eve.  I will strive to show the spiritual benefits that result from maintaining this chain intact and the disastrous consequences of allowing any break in the chain that connects us directly to our specially-created first parents.

The Importance of Genealogy

Let us begin by imagining that we have been transported to the old city of Jerusalem—without a vaccine passport and without taking any experimental vaccines!—and that we find ourselves in the home of an Orthodox Jewish family, not far from the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer.  The father of the family has just recited some evening prayers, and he sits down in an armchair opposite his young son.  While the lady of the house prepares dinner, the father spreads out a genealogical chart on a small table in front of his son and begins to instruct him in the family’s genealogy.  The little boy learns how, over the centuries, the patriarchs of the family have moved from one country and one part of the world to another, leaving no trace of their presence behind because of the persecution that usually accompanied their departure.  Yet the little boy never thinks of questioning a single detail in the family’s genealogy.  After all, it is his “Abba” who imparts the secrets of his family’s history to him, just as he will one day impart the same knowledge to his offspring.

It is sometimes wrongly asserted by Christian apologists that the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. proved that the Messiah must already have come because the genealogical records in the Temple were destroyed.  But this false claim is easily rebutted by Jewish rabbis today, since the priestly families in particular have carefully preserved their genealogies.  Since the Messiah was to be “of the House of David,” any descendants of King David would have been especially careful to preserve their genealogies.  Indeed, the secular Guiness Book of World Records has accepted just such a genealogy as “the oldest-known living family in the world today,” citing them in the “longest lineage” category in its 1999 edition.

In a foreword, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau unequivocally endorsed the validity of the historical links. “After examining the subject, I came to the conclusion that indeed it is correct to connect the Lurie family back to the Rashi — and from there to Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar, King Yehizkiyahu and, obviously, to King David,” he wrote.

Just as the diaspora draws a curtain across much of the past of Orthodox Jewish families so that it is impossible to corroborate what has been passed down from generation to generation, so the Creation-Providence Framework revealed by Moses in his account of the Sabbath rest of the Lord draws a curtain between the present and the original order of things when God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all they contain.  As the little boy believes his Abba unquestioningly, so the Apostles and Church Fathers believed their Abba unquestioningly when He revealed to them the Creation-Providence framework and confirmed the literal historical truth of the genealogies contained in the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis.  Confronted with the preservation of a genealogy from King David for more than three thousand years, are we to believe that our Heavenly Father could not preserve the entire genealogy of His only begotten Son intact for a period less than twice that long, when the entire lineage from Adam to King David is contained in the inerrant Holy Scriptures?

In His Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord points out that even a sinful mortal father would never give his son a scorpion if he asked for an egg, and that our Heavenly Father will never withhold the Spirit of Truth from those who ask for Him.  In light of this teaching, is it conceivable that Our Heavenly Father would allow His Church to teach that the genealogies of His Divine-Human Son, beginning in Genesis 5 and 11 and continuing throughout the Old and New Testaments, are historically accurate, if He knew all along that they were false?  It is a measure of the almost total collapse of genuine piety among the faithful that this question could even be asked, much less be taken seriously!

“God of the Gaps” or “God of No Gaps”?

Critics of the traditional Catholic doctrine of fiat creation often accuse its defenders of invoking a “god of the gaps” to explain the origin of things for which natural science will eventually discover a natural explanation.  This is quite ironic because the God of the Christian Revelation is actually the “God of NO GAPS”—who has given us the ability to trace our lineage in an unbroken chain, all the way back to the special creation of Adam.  Indeed, there is no doubt that Dr. James Barr, formerly Regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford University, was correct when he wrote that:

So far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story” (quoted in “24 Hours: Plain as Day” Jud Davis, Answers, April-June 2012, p. 68).

Modern scholars have attempted to reconcile the genealogies of Genesis with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of years from Adam to Abraham.  But, by making this attempt, these scholars have contradicted the plain sense of the text as interpreted by the greatest Jewish and Christian commentators for more than two thousand years.  Worse yet, they have impugned the character of God by holding that He allowed His Church to misinterpret His Revelation from the beginning, maintaining a direct lineal connection to our first parents when none existed.  Modern scholars claim that there are gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 that allow for tens or hundreds of thousands of years from Adam to Abraham, as if the Fathers of the Church were not capable of detecting these “gaps” if indeed they existed.

As in virtually all controversies regarding the interpretation of Genesis 1-11, the argument from the character of God is decisive and sufficient to refute modernist misinterpretations.  However, even modern-day exegetes have been able to vindicate the traditional interpretation of the genealogies with common-sense arguments. For example, in his book Faith, Form and Time, Dr. Kurt Wise, a Harvard paleontologist and former student of the late Stephen Jay Gould, offers a brilliant analysis of the genealogical data in Genesis 1-11.  Dr. Wise observes that:

Genealogies are usually only marginally useful for chronology purposes. A list of names, even if it contains a complete list of fathers and sons in the proper sequence, provides only the number of generations.  This can be translated into actual time only when the average generation time (the average age of parents at the birth of their children) is known—or guessed—information that is rarely provided in any genealogy.   The most common time-type information given in genealogies is the age of people at their deaths.  And although this kind of information is somewhat helpful, at least to provide an upper limit on generation time, it does not give us the actual generation time.  The genealogy that is most useful for chronology is one that provides the age of parents at the time of the birth of their children.  But this is uncommon among genealogies, both ancient and modern.

It is interesting, then, that the genealogies of both Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 do provide the age of fathers at the birth of their sons—exactly the kind of information we need in developing a chronology.  Since the words of Scripture are both accurate and economical, the structure of these genealogies suggests a chronological purpose.

A chronological function is further evidenced by comparison of these with other biblical chronologies—and there are many of them (including the genealogies in Gen. 4, 5 10, 11; Exod. 6; 1 Chron. 1-8; Neh. 7; Matt. 1; and Luke 3).  The genealogy of Moses in Exodus 6:16-20 contains the age of the patriarchs at the time of their deaths.  This is more useful than a list of patriarchs but not sufficient to determine an accurate genealogy.   Yet at least this brief genealogy does contain some time information—a feature that stands in contrast even with the larger genealogical list in which it is found (Exod. 6:14-29).  In fact, aside from the three genealogies of Genesis 5, Genesis 11, and Exodus 6:16-20, none of the many genealogies of Scripture (including genealogies of Genesis 4 and 10) contain anything more than a list of people.

Of all the steps in a biblical chronology from creation to Christ, only two steps require a genealogy—the time between creation and the Flood and the time between the Flood and Abraham.   And guess what?  These happen to be the only genealogies that have chronological information!

An accurate and efficient Scripture would suggest strongly that the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 were specifically designed for chronology . . .

Dr. Wise goes on to observe that the only way to reconcile the genealogies of Genesis with tens or hundreds of thousands of years would be if there were gaps in the genealogies.  But the only apparent basis for believing in “gaps” in the Genesis genealogies is the so-called “second Cainaan” who appears in the genealogy of Luke Chapter 3 between Shem’s son Arphaxad and Salah but who does not appear at all between Arphaxad and Salah in the genealogy of Genesis 11.

Many modern scholars have argued that the appearance of this Cainan between Arphaxad and Salah “proves” that there is an unspecified “gap” between the two.  They argue further that if there is one gap, there are probably many others, perhaps accounting for tens of thousands of years between Adam and Abraham.  However, as masters of Scriptural exegesis, the Fathers of the Church considered this question long ago and noted that no matter how many names or descendants might be missing between Arphaxad and Salah, the relationship between their ages is clearly given—since, at the time of Salah’s birth, Arphaxad was 35 years old.  It follows that the only real question is why Cainan’s name is missing from the genealogy of Genesis 11.  Some commentators have argued that insertion of Cainan’s name in Luke 3:36 is a “copyist’s error.”  But there are many plausible explanations for the omission of Cainan from Genesis 11 that do not require us to believe that God allowed errors to creep into the Holy Scriptures.  In short, while the evidence for gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 is very weak, Dr. Wise shows that “the evidence against gaps is rather strong”:

  • First, the narrative makes it clear that Seth was the actual son of Adam and Eve (Gen. 4:25); Shem, Ham, and Japheth were the sons of Noah (Gen. 5:32; 6:10; 7:13; 9:18-27; 10:1); and Abram, Nahor, and Haran were the sons of Terah (Gen. 11:26-31).
  • Second, the Scripture indicates that the names of some patriarchs were almost certainly given to them by their actual fathers. This suggests that Seth was the actual son of Adam (Gen. 5:3); Enos was the son of Seth (Gen. 4:26), and Noah was the son of Lamech (Gen. 5:29).
  • Third, the distinct way in which the relationship between parent and child is related in Genesis 4:25-26 and 10:25 further suggests that Seth was the actual son of Adam (Gen. 5:3); Enos was the son of Seth, and Peleg and Joktan were the sons of Eber.[1]

It is interesting to note that the Fathers of the Church in their own day had to contend with a host of skeptical intellectuals who refused to accept the historical testimony of Genesis 1-11 at face value.  But even the most sophisticated of the Fathers, like St. Augustine of Hippo, adamantly refused to call into question any of the historical facts related in Genesis 1-11.   For example, in The City of God, St. Augustine rebuked those who called into question the great ages or lofty stature of the antediluvians as related in Genesis.  And of the pagans who believed in long ages of tens or hundreds of thousands of years, he wrote:

They [pagans] are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents that profess to give the history of [man as] many thousands of years, though reckoning by the sacred writings we find that not 6,000 years have yet passed (St. Augustine, City of God., 12:10).


Our Heavenly Father wants us to share one life with Him through prayer, through the Sacraments, and through a continuous stream of grace-filled actions; but He also wants us to honor our Godly heritage and to hold fast to the chain that connects us with Him through the lineage of our First Parents Adam and Eve.  One could think of the first series of chain-links as the vertical bar and of the second series of chain-links as the horizontal bar of the Life-Giving Cross.  It is only the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith that allows us to take up this Holy Cross in its entirety, with its complete vertical and horizontal dimensions.  We will examine this mystery more deeply in our next newsletter.

Yours in Christ through the Immaculata in union with St. Joseph,

Hugh Owen

P.S. On Monday, June 14, at 3 p.m. Eastern Time, I will be interviewed for a full hour on Radio Maria by Kathie Duggan on her program "Catholic Treasures."  Please pray that Our Lady will obtain the grace for me to say what Our Lord wants me to say, in the way that He wants me to say it.


[1] Kurt Wise, Faith, Form and Time (Nashville: Bradman and Holman, 2002), pp. 50-51.

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