Dear 100 Hour Board,
What do you think about the life spans listed in the Old Testament (and Pearl of Great Price, which is mostly JS additions to the OT)? Noah, Adam, Methuselah, Enoch, etc., are all said to have lived to stupendously old ages. So what do you think? Translation errors (should be 900 months or something like that)? Exaggeration by people writing down the stories many generations after the fact? Or do you take the listed ages as literal fact? If you do believe they did live that long, do you have any thoughts on how it happened, when it stopped or why it stopped?
-Not middle aged by OT standards
Kirito does an awesome job below me to explain scriptural evidence in favor of a literal interpretation of ages in the Old Testament. I just want to say that I believe the length of average life spans to be immaterial. After all, for mortality, we're making the transition from the eternal to the ephemeral; the ratio of 100 to infinity versus 1000 to infinity is the same, thus it doesn't really matter which one we end up with.
I think what truly matters is that we have the capacity to gain experience, and exercise our agency in favor of Christ, regardless of the time that may take.
There's a curious passage in Genesis 6:3 when God is declaring the coming flood to Noah. "And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years." [Emphasis added] To me, it sounds like God is resetting the maximum age from 1000 to about 120.
Verse 4 goes on to say that some wicked men had many, many children and "became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." To me, it sounds like people were living for an awfully long time. God was tired of a world full of ancient, legendary polygamists and decided to flood it.
In Abraham 3:4 we learn that "the reckoning of the Lord's time" is "a day unto the Lord" per one thousand years on Earth. Then in Abraham 5:13, we learn that when God told Adam, "In the time that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," that God was referring to "the Lord's time," since the reckoning of days had not yet been appointed to Adam. Hence, the initial 1000 year limit on mortality. The oldest anyone got in record was Methuselah, at 969.
It would be one thing for the Old Testament to be wrong, but D&C 107 seems to verify a lot of the ages, while giving even more concrete evidence for the old age. Verse 48 claims that Enoch was 25 years old when he was ordained, and verse 49 claims that he was 430 years old when he was translated. Enos was ordained "at the age of one hundred and thirty-four years and four months." So at least in the D&C, years and months are two different things. Moses 8 has a similar list of ages, so the Pearl of Great Price is on board too. And if we go back to Genesis, Enos had a child at 90 and died at 905. That's over a factor of 10 difference. Even if you divide both numbers so he had a child at 16, that still puts him dying at 160, which is longer than anyone lives today.
D&C 107:53 says that before he died, Adam gathered Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were each descended from the last. That's 8 generations alive at the same time. You don't see that today.
Genesis 11 has a list of ages for people after the flood. The ages get shorter and shorter, eventually dropping below 200. This leads me to my theory: When God created Adam, he created a perfect body for him. Adam fell, but his genetics were still really good. But, after Adam's descendants inbred a lot, and again after Noah's descendants inbred a lot, those genetics got mutated so that humans simply couldn't live as long.
Now, I don't think the Old Testament has to be entirely literal. I completely accept that maybe things aren't quite what they seem. But I see no evidence persuading me to disbelieve what's written in the Old Testament, the D&C, and the Pearl of Great Price. Unless future revelation tells me otherwise, I'm going to believe what's written.
For more information, you can read this article on the Church website. While not pronouncing doctrine, the article explores some possibilities.
Like Kirito, I accept that the Old Testament may not be literal in every case, but I see no reason to discount it outright in this situation. My dad has an interesting hypothesis about this question, which is that people didn't eat meat until after the flood. The first mention of meat as food is in Genesis 9, when the Lord gives Noah and his descendants dominion over all forms of life and commands them not to eat blood. Obviously, even vegans don't live to be 900+ years old now, but it's an interesting thought.