The expression ‘as old as Methuselah’ describes someone who’s very, very old.
And it makes sense when you learn about this interesting figure, Methuselah, from the Bible. According to Genesis, he lived to be an astonishing 969 years of age!
With a genealogy that connects all the way back to Adam and Eve and eventually leads to Noah, Methuselah is an important figure in the biblical family tree.
Methuselah's name is now culturally connected to the very idea of growing old, but what explains his incredible age? What does the Bible say about Methuselah and his relatives, and what can we learn from his story?
Let’s take a look back at Genesis to discover the answers to these questions.
Methuselah, meaning ‘man of the javelin’ in Hebrew, was a biblical patriarch and figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
He’s most notable for being the oldest person in the Bible (and the person with the longest human lifespan ever recorded under the literal interpretation), at a reported 969 years. And as the grandfather of Noah, his influence on the family tree cannot be understated.
Methuselah is a figure of the earlier Biblical Sagas, featured in multiple places within the Old Testament — most notably in the Book of Genesis, the Book of Chronicles, and the Gospel of Luke.
He also appears in extra-biblical texts such as the Book of Moses, the Book of Enoch, and the Slavonic Enoch.
Methuselah’s genealogy is described in Genesis. Enoch was the father of Methuselah, and Lamech was Methuselah’s son. Methuselah’s grandson Noah was, accordingly, the son of Lamech.
Methuselah is seven generations removed from Adam and Eve, and he is of the Seth lineage (a brother of Cain and Abel).
According to scripture, Methuselah died at the same time as the great flood. It’s not understood whether he died as a result of the flood or just before it.
The Catholic encyclopedia summarizes his legacy outside of the Methuselah tree of genealogy, highlighting that the name itself has become synonymous with the very idea of living a long life.
Other examples of this cultural legacy include the record-setting 4,853-year-old bristlecone pine tree in California, aptly named ‘Methuselah.’
Like the many fascinating figures and stories from the Bible, like Samuel or Jonah, we can learn a lot from them about the context surrounding the Bible’s setting, as well as valuable moral and theological lessons.
As mentioned, Methuselah is mentioned in the New Testament in the gospel of Luke, but he is most prominently discussed in the Hebrew Bible.
Let’s take a closer look at how Methuselah is described.
“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.”
This provides the basis of our understanding of Methuselah’s place in the family tree. It continues:
“When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he became the father of Lamech. After he became the father of Lamech, Methuselah lived 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Methuselah lived a total of 969 years, and then he died.”
More straightforwardly, 1 Chronicle 1:3 lists Adam’s lineage all the way down to Noah.
“Adam, Seth, Enosh, 2 Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah.”
Luke 3:23–38 traces the lineage more exhaustively, recounting all the sons of the family tree from Jesus to Adam (condensed here from Noah to Adam).
“Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”
Of course, today, we understand that the oldest human being ever verifiably recorded lived to be 122 years old. Naturally, not many people accept Methuselah’s age of 969 as literally true.
There are varying interpretations of Methuselah’s age.
Biblical literalists, who maintain every word of the Bible to be factually correct, propose that Methuselah did indeed live to be 969.
Explanations for this interpretation include some disproven theories about superior nutrition contributing to a long life and geological explanations like the existence of vapor canopies protecting the earth and its inhabitants from the effects of solar radiation.
However, most biblical literalists put forward a theological explanation — that lifespans were longer (or infinite) until God shortened them due to the emergence of sin.
A more likely explanation for Methuselah’s unlikely age is the result of mistranslation. It’s possible that months were mistranslated as years, which would put Methuselah’s age at 78.
This, however, doesn’t account for the ages of other figures. For example, Enoch would have fathered Methuselah at the even more unlikely age of five, according to this theory.
It’s possible, then, that the numbers listed in Genesis used a shorthand that may have suggested a multiple of five or ten.
The story of Methuselah has many similarities to other, more ancient mythologies from across the globe.
The Sumerian mythological figure Ubara-Tutu, the ancient Mesopotamian figure Gilgamesh, and some Babylonian figures lived for ages and similarly met their demise in flood events.
A final explanation of Methuselah’s age would be its use as a literary device to quickly connect Adam to the year of the flood.
Methuselah was a biblical figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam who‘s noted for his incredibly advanced age of 969 years.
He was mentioned in Genesis, Chronicles, and Luke, with ancestry going back to Adam and Eve.
Some maintain his impressive age to be a result of theological forces. But it may also be due to mistranslation, as a convenience to quickly connect the story of Adam and Eve to Noah, or as part of the great tapestry of mythological figures worldwide.
As a grandfather to Noah and great-grandfather to Shem, Ham, and Japheth, he is an important figure in the Biblical family tree, whose name has become synonymous with the idea of growing very old.