Reconciling The Ages of Noah And Shem

Q. I have been studying Genesis, using the NLT as my source and I’m stumped. It’s probably just me and numbers, but please help me understand. Genesis 5:32 says “By the time Noah was 500 years old, he was the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Genesis 11:10 says, “Two years after the great flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arphaxad.” Noah was 601 years old when he came out of the ark, so how could this timeline work out? Other translations say “After Noah was 500 years old”, but what am I missing in the NLT?

A. A literal reading of Genesis 5:32 only tells us, “Noah was 500 years old, (and) Noah begat Shem, Ham, Japeth” but obviously they were not all born at the same time. Genesis 7:6 tells us the flood came when Noah was 600 years old and the waters finally receded when he was 601. His actual time in the ark was a bit less than one year.

Genesis 11:10 says Shem became the father of Arphaxad two years after the flood. Most scholars assume this means two years after the flood began. If so, then Shem was 98 when Noah was 600. This would mean that Shem was born when Noah was 502 which approximates what Genesis 5:32 says. A few modern English translations say Noah’s sons had all been born by the time Noah was 500, but none of the literal translations interpret the Hebrew that way.

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