How old was Abraham when he left Haran?

Posted on Mar.08, 2009. Filed in Genesis, Acts. Average rating: 4.0 / 10 (Rate It).

In Genesis 12, we read of Abraham (then called Abram) leaving Haran, where his father Terah had settled, and setting out to find the promised land. This account gives Abraham’s age at this time as 75, but read together Genesis 11 and Acts 3 suggest that Abraham was much older than this when he left Haran.

According to Genesis, Terah was 70 when Abraham (then Abram) was born:

When Terah had lived for seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. [Genesis 11:26 (NRSV)]

Terah took Abraham to live in a place called Haran, where Terah died at the ripe old age of 205:

Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran. [Genesis 11:31-32 (NRSV)]

At this point, Abraham was called by God to leave Haran, and obediently did so:

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be bless.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him… [Genesis 12:1-4a (NRSV)]

If Abraham was born when Terah was 70, and left Haran after Terah died aged 205, then when he left Haran he must have been at least 135 years old. Genesis, though, tells us that he was still only 75 years old:

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. [Genesis 12:4 (NRSV)]

The temptation is to harmonise these verses by saying that they don’t relate events in chronological order. Although it is natural to read them as having Abraham leave Haran after Terah’s death, perhaps the verse about Terah dying in Haran aged 205 is just an aside, and actually happened later than it appears in this narrative. Perhaps Terah was 70 when Abraham was born, then took Abraham to Haran, then Abraham left Haran aged 75, and then Terah died in Haran aged 205.

This is perfectly plausible as a reading of Genesis, but it conflicts with Acts. In Acts, Stephen tells the high priest about the call of Abraham, explicitly stating that Terah was dead when he left Haran:

And Stephen replied: ‘Brother and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, “Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.” Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living…’ [Acts 3:2-4 (NRSV)]

So how old was Abraham when he left Haran?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    It’s possible to harmonise the verses by reading Genesis 11:26 as saying something like:

    After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran” (NIV)

    In other words, it might just be saying that his first child was born when he was 70.

    Assuming the three names are not in chronological order, it’s therefore possible that Abram was born when Terah was 130.

  2. 2

    It is also possible that the harmonization that you had in place up to the point of Stephan’s remark is perfectly good.

    Stephan’s remark is correctly reported by Luke. Stephan himself was mistaken, having misread (or misremembered) Gen.11/12 as a chronological account.

  3. 3

    Stephen making a mistake does seem most likely here: the source for his claim about Abraham leaving Haran was presumably Genesis 11, and it’s easy to see how this could be misread as claiming that Abraham left Haran after his father died, which is what Stephen says.

    Whether this is an error in the Bible or not depends on whether Acts is committed to agreeing with Stephen. The Chicago statement suggests that it isn’t, and I tend to agree (a true report of a false report is a true report), but I don’t think it’s clear-cut.

  4. 4

    Terah’s geneology is just like Noah’s. Each came from a pure line of first-borns (a theme fulfilled in Mary’s and God’s firstborn). Each list multiple descendants after a certain age (for Noah, Terah). The blessed child (Shem, Abraham) is not first born, but blessed due to divine intervention (as is also the case with Jacob, and Ephraim). Far from being an error, it is God’s way of getting us to pay attention.

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