James Ussher and His Chronology

PMT 2014-052b

James Ussher and His Chronology: Reasonable or Ridiculous?
by Jerry Bergman, Ph.D.

Archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656) was one of the most important biblical scholars of the 17th century. His research and scholarly work have even earned high praise from some who are opposed to his conclusions. Called “the greatest luminary of the church of Ireland” and “one of the greatest scholars of his day in the Christian Church,” his work has influenced generations of Christian thinkers with a force still felt today.

An expert on the writings of the early church fathers, Ussher majorly impacted Reformation theology. The 18-volume set titled The Whole Works of James Ussher contains his most important writings. Today, he is best known for his chronology research that concluded Adam was created in 4004 B.C. Consequently, anti-creationists heavily criticize him, often picturing him as naive, ignorant, anti-science, and someone whose research was superficial and based solely on the biblical record. Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote that Ussher “is known to us today almost entirely in ridicule—as the man who fixed the time of creation at 4004 B.C.”

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In reality, Ussher was a first-class scholar very involved in scholarly research. He regularly interacted with “the most learned men of the day” to intellectually savor their ideas. He was also “a real connoisseur of books,” and there was scarcely a book in any British library that he was unfamiliar with.

History and Scholarship

In the West, our knowledge of the ancient world has historically been determined largely “by a straightforward reading of the Old Testament” plus a study of history. This practice conflicted with many “Eastern religions [that] allowed for a far older universe than was common in Judaism. And the Greeks, Aristotle for example, thought that the world was eternal. Early Christian theologians like Augustine dismissed pagan estimates that ran into the hundreds of thousands of years as myths.”

According to the Jewish calendar, the creation event occurred in 3761 B.C. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, known today as the Septuagint, put the date at 5500 B.C., and “by the time of the Renaissance, an age of the Earth somewhere around 5000 to 6000 years appeared perfectly reasonable.” Furthermore, it was widely accepted that the narrative “given in the book of Genesis, which parallels to some extent creation narratives from other cultures of the Middle East, accounts for the origin of the physical world as the deliberate act of an almighty Creator.”

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In the 17th century, “Archbishop James Ussher turned his outstanding scholarly expertise” to the problem of the date of creation. This project meshed very well with his strong interest in history, astronomy, math, and geometry.

To finish reading the full article with footnotes click on James Ussher.

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One thought on “James Ussher and His Chronology

  1. Charles E. Miller, BA in Germanistik; MA in Religion April 30, 2014 at 6:58 am

    I have not made up my mind how I feel about the creation. Oh, I know that God did it through Jesus the Son; however, what method was used. I can accept Young Earth Creation or any variety of Old Earth Creation views. God’s universe is wonderful; however, I look forward to the New Heaven and New Earth (Isaiah 65:17-25; 66; Second Peter and Revelation 21).

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