Was Shelah Arphaxad’s son or grandson?

Posted on Jul.08, 2009. Filed in Genesis, Luke. Average rating: 5.0 / 10 (Rate It).

Genesis lists the descendents of Shem, including his son Arphaxad, who lived to be 438 years old. Among Arphaxad’s descendents was Shelah, but the Bible is inconsistent about which generation Shelah belonged to.

According to Genesis, Shelah was Arphaxad’s son:

When Arpachshad had lived for thirty-five years, he became the father of Shelah; and Arpachshad lived after the birth of Shelah for four hundred and three years, and had other sons and daughters. [Genesis 11:12-13]

In Jesus’ genealogy in Luke 3, however, Shelah is presented as Arphaxad’s grandson:

… son of Serug, son of Reu, son of Peleg, son of Eber, son of Shelah, son of Cainan, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech… [Luke 3:35-36]

So was Shelah Arphaxad’s son or his grandson?

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

    The Septuagint does mention Cainan. Cainan must have been lost in a Scribal misstep in the transmission of the Hebrew text. Apparently no similar loss occurred in the transmission of the Greek text of the Septuagint.

    There is a substantial time interval between the initial translation of the Septuagint and the earliest extant copies of the Masoretic Text (approximately 1000 years). That’s plenty of time for a scribal error to occur and propagate.

    The doctrine of inerrancy does not rule out scribal errors.

  2. 2

    It is alleged that “Cainan” was actually added to the Septuagint by copyists after Luke was written:

  3. 3

    That also works. In this case, the claim is that a copyist inadvertently added Cainan twice once correctly as the descendant of Enosh and once incorrectly as the descendant of Arphaxad. This happened because Enosh and Arphaxad are fairly close to one another in the list.

    Usually, it’s easier for me to see how a name can be accidentally dropped from a list in the copy process. But in the case of duplications, accidental additions do not seem too much of a stretch.

    The article you linked also had some very persuasive analysis regarding the oldest Septuagint manuscripts that suggest that either copyists of Luke ‘fixed’ Luke’s genealogy to match a corrupted Septuagint or copyists of the Septuagint ‘fixed’ that genealogy to match Luke.

    So there are three possibilities:

    1. The later Septuagint and Luke are right about Cainan and the Hebrew texts include a scribal error.

    2. The Hebrew texts are right, Luke contains a scribal error that propagated into the copying of the Septuagint.

    3. The Hebrew texts are right, the Septuagint contains a scribal error that propagated into the copying of Luke.

    However you slice it, it’s a copyist’s error (and therefore not a problem for the doctrine of inerrancy). But I was initially tempted by #1. I now find #2 or #3 more convincing.

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