5:3–32 These verses contain ten paragraphs, each written in the same form, with one paragraph for each generation in Adam’s line through Seth. There are some similarities, as well as significant differences, between this material and the Sumerian King List (written c. 2000 b.c. ), which mentions eight antediluvian (pre-Flood) kings who reigned for exceptionally long periods (up to 72,000 years). Following the Sumerian flood account (cf. chs. 6–9), there is another list of shorter-lived postdiluvians (cf. ch. 11).
More significant are the formal similarities and material differences between this Sethite genealogy and the Cainite genealogy in ch. 4. Both are initially linear, focusing on one individual in each generation, and both conclude by dividing the line among three sons (4:20–22; 5:32; the same is true in 11:10–26). But the central themes of these genealogies contrast sharply. Cain’s line dies in the Flood; Seth’s lives through it. Whereas the former presents the curse-laden line of Cain that concludes with murderer begetting murderer (4:17–24), the latter links the founder of humanity, Adam, with its re-founder, Noah (4:25, 26 note). The Enoch and Lamech in Seth’s line cannot be confused with the first and last descendants bearing these names in Cain’s line. Enoch, the seventh in the line of Seth, “walked with God” and “God took him” (v. 24); and the Sethite Lamech names his son Noah, hoping the Lord will “bring us relief” (cf. v. 29).
Because the Hebrew word translated “fathered” often means “became the ancestor of,” and because some of the numbers appear to be symbolic, many scholars argue that there are gaps in these genealogies, and that they therefore cannot be used to compute a precise chronology. The significant seventh generation of each genealogy marks a high point—the height of wickedness in the Cainite Lamech (4:18–24), and the height of godliness in the Sethite Enoch (vv. 18–24; cf. vv. 21–24 note). The figure of ten generations from Seth to Noah (vv. 3–32) matches the ten generations from Shem to Abram in 11:10–26 (this latter genealogy appears to contain gaps, 11:10–26 note; cf. Matt. 1:17 note). Also, the ages of some antediluvians may be symbolic, and are perhaps related to astronomical periods known to the ancient Near Eastern peoples (e.g., the three hundred sixty-five years of Enoch’s life, vv. 21–24 note).