There are many possible explanations for why Biblical time contradicts time as we know it today. One is that years were calculated differently, perhaps in terms of new moons, as opposed to revolutions of the Earth or seasons of the year. Of course, in Egypt, in Ethiopia, or in the Tigris-Euphrates valleys, there were no winters to anchor the kind of calendar used all over the world today. But there would have been moons, and Methuselah’s lifespan – 969 years – measured in moons, puts the great man in his late 70s at the time of his death, a much more plausible figure to attribute to an old man of his time, even the oldest on record.
Another explanation is that years were expressed as a literary device, a means for expressing hyperbole numerically, before the proper words existed – if they even do now. Indeed, it is still more powerful to say that the People walked "40 years" through the desert to reach the Promised Land than to say they walked for “an extremely long time.” Similar to how, in the New Testament, it is more powerful to say that Jesus turned "water into wine" than to say he “made the best of any situation.’
The truth is that we don’t know the true meaning of Biblical time, how it translates to the modern calendar, if at all. But a closer look reveals that, at the very least, it is not arbitrary: more complicated than measuring in moons; and more calculated than hyperbole.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Genesis 5 traces the lineage – nine generations – from Adam to Noah, always through sons, and always stating: 1) the father’s age upon begetting the son leading to Noah; and 2) the father’s age upon his death. Adam begat Seth at age 130, and died at 930; Seth begat Enosh at 105, and died at 912. Our boy Methuselah, meanwhile – the grandfather of Noah and great-great-great-great-great grandson of Adam – begat Lamech at age 187, and died at 969 years of age, making him the oldest character in the Bible.
But amazingly, this number – 969 years – is not random, not mere literary hyperbole. Since Lamech begat Noah at age 182, and since Noah was 600 years old when God flooded the Earth, we can add the years together – the 187 between Methuselah and Lamech, the 182 between Lamech and Noah, and the 600 between Noah and the flood – and get exactly 969 years between Methuselah and the flood!
Measured in moons, meanwhile, Methuselah begat Lamech when he was 187 moons, or about age 15, in revolutions. Again, as with the measure of his full lifespan, the timing of his fatherhood also seems perfectly plausible. However, our moon theory quickly falls apart; Methuselah’s father Enoch, it is written, was only 65 years old in moons when he begat Methuselah, or about five years old, in revolutions. And five-year-olds cannot physically be fathers; that would be as miraculous as living until 969.
Here’s a third theory. If not for the flood, Methuselah would have continued living, and there’s no telling how long. We also know that he never received a proper burial, since by all indications, he drowned in the flood. So here’s the theory: Methuselah is still alive, hyperbolically speaking, I am 353 years old, measured in moons, and Biblical age was calculated differently for men once they became fathers. Think some combination of moons, harvest seasons, rain seasons, and time elapsed (however calculated) until news of a father’s death reached his son.
I certainly buy it.