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Beyond Flannelgraph Christianity

Father Abraham? At His Age? Are You Kidding Me?

Buddy Spaulding

Abram, later Abraham, makes for wonderful flannelgraph stories, as he should. His story is

central to the history of Israel, and he is important for the Christian as an icon of our faith. The

flannelgraph stories provide a great foundation, but what gets missed if we stay at the


We have all heard of Abraham’s “mid-life” crisis; he is about 75 years old and wealthy,

childless, and more importantly, sonless! That’s a big problem! Who inherits this wealth, and

who keeps the family name and the Promise alive? God shows up – late, as usual – and promises

a son, but ten years pass. No son is to be found anywhere.

It’s usually presented as a hair-brained scheme, but the practice was normal and common. Sarah

gives her servant Hagar to her 85-year-old husband, and in about a year, we have Ishmael. God

says, “Not what I had in mind”, and Abraham gets to wait another thirteen years. God shows up

again – finally. Abraham and Sarah are laughing at the thought of having a child. After all,

they’re about 100 years old. Yet, God is right, as always, and Isaac is born.

Keep reading carefully, however, and you’ll notice Abraham is widowed at about age 137. A

second wife, Keturah, is now mentioned. She bears Abraham six sons. We never get to this at the

flannelgraph. In fact, I doubt many conservative American Protestants think about this very

often. When they do, they might miss something. My take became that Keturah must have been a

concubine some time back, reasoning that if Abraham was laughably-old at 100, producing six

more sons after 137 must be even more laughable. It became obvious to me that the account of

Keturah and the six sons is not presented in chronological order. Still, I missed something.

Romans 4 emphasizes that Abraham was certain that he was too old to father a child at 100, but

he believed in the impossible (see verses 19-21). Okay, that seems reasonable, until…

…until we go back to the end of Genesis 11, where Abram is introduced. Genesis 11:32 tells us

that Abram’s father, Terah, was 205 when he died in Haran; Genesis 12:4 tells us that Abram

was 75 when he left Haran. It seems that Terah was 130 when Abram was born, which raises a

significant question: Why does Abraham consider himself laughably old at 100 to father a child

when he himself appears to be 130 years younger than his own father? Why the change in virility

within a single generation?

I’ve been in the American evangelical environment for over sixty years now, and I don’t

remember anyone raising any questions here. Doesn’t it seem like these accounts should raise a

question or two? And why has it taken me sixty years to see the question myself? I believe the

reason is at least partly because of our flat-earth notions of how the Bible should work.

In my next post, I will explain my understanding of how we think the Bible should work, and

then give my best understanding of how the Bible actually is working, using these accounts of

Abraham’s age problem.

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