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Why did Adam and his descendants live so long?

TitleWhy did Adam and his descendants live so long?
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1994
AuthorsValletta, Thomas R.
Issue Number2
Date PublishedFebruary 1994
KeywordsAdam (Prophet); Age; Longevity; Noah (Prophet)

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What understanding and/or information is there to help us comprehend the longevity of Adam and his descendants until the age lengths were reduced during the Mosaic era to life spans similar to ours? Why did they live so long?

Thomas R. Valletta, instructor, Ogden Utah Institute of Religion. A number of factors can be considered when studying the longevity of the Patriarchs. First and foremost, modern revelation supports the scriptural indication that many Old Testament patriarchs lived incredibly long lives. (See Moses 8:1–13; D&C 107:41–55.) Second, early prophets of this dispensation understood these scriptural references to be literal. (See Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 12:37; Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 13:319; Wilford Woodruff, Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 3:253.) And third, early historical sources reveal that the ancients took these statements quite literally. The first-century historian Josephus tells us, for example, “Let no one, upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives, and with the few years which we now live, think that what we have said of them is false; or make the shortness of our lives at present an argument that neither did they attain to so long a duration of life.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 1, ch. 3, par. 9.)

The reasons for the longevity of the Patriarchs are not made completely clear in scripture. Yet several propositions have been put forth. Some have interpreted 2 Nephi 2:21 [2 Ne. 2:21] as referring to the antediluvians: “The days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened.” (See, for example, Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987–92, 1:198–99.) Others have suggested that it was righteousness that affected so profoundly the longevity of their lives. Josephus asserted that God “afforded [the ancients] a longer time of life on account of their virtue, and the good use they made of it in astronomical and geometrical discoveries, which would not have afforded the time of foretelling [or determining the periods of the stars] unless they had lived six hundred years.” (Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 1, ch. 3, par. 9.)

The Prophet Brigham Young likewise attributed obedience to the “laws of life” as the primary reason for longevity. He called upon the world to cease “wasting their lives and the lives of their fellow-beings, and the precious time God has given to us to improve our minds and our bodies … , so that the longevity of the human family may begin to return.” (Journal of Discourses, 14:89; see also Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 1, ch. 3, par. 9.) A passage in the Book of Mormon supports the contention that the righteous may have their days “lengthened out.” (Hel. 7:24.) It has also been suggested that something in the earth’s environment may have changed radically during or after the time of the great flood and that this also is what accounted for man’s decrease in longevity immediately thereafter. (See Moses 8:17.)

Among the many possible purposes for the prolonged life-span of the ancient patriarchs was the establishment of truth through the Lord’s divine law of witnesses. This design is clearly delineated in Lectures of Faith. After a brief recitation of the “chronology of the world from Adam to Noah,” the commentary declares: “From the foregoing it is easily to be seen, not only how the knowledge of God came into the world, but upon what principle it was preserved; that from the time it was first communicated, it was retained in the minds of righteous men, who taught not only their own posterity but the world; so that there was no need of a new revelation to man, after Adam’s creation to Noah, to give them the first idea or notion of the existence of a God; and not only of a God, but the true and living God.” (Lectures on Faith, 2:44.) All of these factors listed above are feasible explanations. They are not mutually exclusive, nor do they exhaust the possibilities.