Genesis 10:21 Contradiction Explained

On October 23, 2013, in Bible Lessons, by Milton Carnes

Typically, if there seems to be a contradiction in The Scriptures, it is because of two reasons #1. The translation itself and #2. Our interpretation of the translation.

Why Is There An Apparent Contradiction?

Japheth is often regarded as the youngest son, though some regard him as the eldest. This can easily be done if we take one verse (Genesis 10:21) and rely upon that verse to develop doctrine. The order of the birthright is listed as "Shem, Ham, and Japheth" in Genesis 5:32, 9:18, 10:1.

Genesis 10:2-20 list the three sons and their descendants in reverse order, Japheth, Ham, and then Shem. Because of this reverse listing, does that change the birthright order in Genesis 5:32, 9:18, 10:1? Absolutely not!

Pay attention to verse 21 because of the reverse order

Genesis 10:21 states "Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Beer, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born". However, the Revised Standard Version and the Aramaic Peshitta reads, "To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born." the differing interpretations depend on whether the word "elder" is referring to as Japheth or Shem.

Can this be resolved without going into any other resources? Of course it can. A very simple way to look at this is through the "pattern of the birthright". Throughout the Scriptures, the birthright always went to the first-born. If the first-born was disqualified because of sin, then it (birthright) would go to the next son. An example of this can be found in Genesis 49:1-8 (KJV):

[1] And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. [2] Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father. [3] Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the Excellency of dignity, and the Excellency of power: [4] Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wettest up to thy father's bed; then defiles thou it: he went up to my couch. [5] Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. [6] O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they dogged down a wall. [7] Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.

[8] Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thane enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. [9] Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? [10] The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

The birthright belonged to Reuben, but he lost it because of sin. The next in line was Levi and Simeon but they lost it because of sin. Lastly, the blessings of the birthright rested upon Judah. Likewise, the blessings of the birthright went to SHEM and to the first-born of his descendants. This is the underlying pattern found throughout Scripture.

In Genesis 10:21, "Elder" is speaking of SHEM and not of Japheth being the elder based upon the context. The lineage of SHEM is the subject of Genesis 10:22-32 through Genesis 11:10. The Messiah would come from the lineage of SHEM through the lineage of Judah and not Japheth.

Scriptural Patterns Are Very Important.

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