How long were the children of Israel sojourning in Egypt? - 400 years, 430 years or 215 years? Genesis 15:13; Exodus 12:40-42; Acts 7:6 and Galatians 3:17.
At a Bible club I belong to a man, who does not believe The Bible or any bible in any language is the inspired, complete and inerrant word of God, posted the following example of what he undoubtedly picked up from some other site claiming ERROR in the Bible. If you get on the internet, you will find tons of Islamic and Bible Sceptic sites that bring up this example as being a clear contradiction in the Bible.
He posted his criticism of the Bible using one of the modern fake bible versions (which DOES have a contradiction), but his main arguments are to be considered, since they do seem on the surface to constitute a contradiction in the Scriptures.
This man posts: “In Genesis 15:13 God tells Abraham that: Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.
In Exodus 12:40 we learn that:” Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 400=430? Well, maybe God was giving a round number in Genesis. But there is more.
One of the Israelites who went down to Egypt was Kohath – see Genesis 46:11. Kohath had a son born to him in Egypt, Amram, and lived to be 133 years old: Exodus 6:18 The sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. Kohath lived 133 years. Amram had a son named Moses. Amram lived to be 137 years old. Exodus 6:20 again: Amram married his father's sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years.
In Exodus 7:7 we learn that Moses was 80 years old at the time of the Exodus: Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.
So, Let's add up the years. All of Kohath's life, all of Amram's life, and the 80 years that Moses lived in Egypt before the Exodus. 137+133+80= 350. So the maximum number of years the Israelites could have been in Egypt is 350, not 400 or 430. And the figure of 350 is only achievable if Kohath moved to Egypt at age zero, and both he and Amram died immediately after their sons were born. This is highly unlikely, to say the least, and even if it was the case, it still leaves us with a contradiction - 430=400=350?” (end of post)
How to Explain this Apparent Contradiction
At first glance this does seem to be a contradiction. On the surface it appears as though the children of Israel had been in bondage in Egypt for 430 years, yet this would be mathematically impossible if we take the ages of Levi, Kohath, Amram and Moses at face value. It is more likely that the children of Israel were in Egypt for no more than perhaps 215 years before God delivered them by the hand of Moses.
What we need to do is to look carefully at all the texts that touch on this subject and put them together in the correct way. God is not so dumb that He doesn’t know how to count, nor did “scribal errors” enter into the inspired text.
The verses we need to consider are the following: Genesis 15:13-16 (but in THE FOURTH generation they shall come hither again); Exodus 12:40-41; Acts 7:6-7, and Galatians 3:17.
Genesis 15:13-16 - “And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.”
Exodus 12:40-41 - “Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.
And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.”
Acts 7:6-7 - “And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.
And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. “
Galatians 3:17 - “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.”
In Genesis 15:13 we read that the Lord said to Abraham, "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them: and they shall afflict them four hundred years." This text raises the questions whether the 400 years refer to the time of affliction or sojourning, or both, and what the relation of the 400 years is to the 430 years of Exodus 12:40, 41, and Galatians 3:16, 17.
Galatians 3:17 tells us that the full period of 430 years started from the covenant of grace given to Abraham and his seed to inherit the promised land and extended to the time of the giving of the law by Moses to the children of Israel.
Genesis 12 tells us that God had called Abraham to leave his country, kindred, and father’s house to go into a land that God would show him and later give to his seed as their promised inheritance. However Abraham tarried for some time (perhaps 5 years) in Haran before he finally “departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him” (Gen. 12:1-4).
When God again appears to Abraham in Genesis 15, the sacrifice is offered and the covenant is further developed. God tells Abraham “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them: and they shall afflict them four hundred years.”
The solution here is that the period of 400 years affliction does not refer only to the time spent in bondage in Egypt. Abraham’s seed could not possibly have been there for 430 nor 400 years as the genealogies tell us.
According to Galatians 3:17, at that time the 430 years began, Abraham was probably about 70 years old when God initially called him to leave his father’s house and go into the promised land. Abraham was 75 when he finally left Haran to enter the land. Ishmael was born to Abraham when he was 86 (Gen. 16:16) and Isaac was born when Abraham is 100 years old (Genesis 17:17).
The “affliction” that the seed of Abraham endured was to occur over a span of 400 years.
During this time Ishmael, who "was born after the flesh persecuted him [Isaac] that was born after the spirit" (Galatians 4:29; Genesis 21:9-11), beginning a time of affliction of Abraham's seed which intermittently would be continued until the time of the Exodus. Isaac not only had troubles with his half brother Ishmael, but also with the Philistines (Genesis 26:15, 20, 21); Jacob fled for his life from Esau (Genesis 27: 41-43), and later from Laban (Genesis 31:21), and then was again in jeopardy from Esau (Genesis 32:8); Joseph was sold into slavery by his brethren (Genesis 37:28), and the children of Israel were oppressed by the Egyptians for many decades (Exodus 1:14).
Acts 7:6-7 tells us - “And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. “
Abraham’s seed did sojourn in a strange land because they had not yet received the promised inheritance, and they were eventually brought into bondage in Egypt, but the period of their being evil entreated was not limited only to the time spent in Egypt, as the rest of Scripture tells us.
The time from Abraham's call to Jacob's entry into Egypt was 215 years, being the total of (1) thirty years lying between Abraham's call and the birth of Isaac (Genesis 12:4; 21:5), (2) sixty years lying between Isaac's birth and Jacob's birth (Genesis 25:26), and (3) the age of Jacob at the time of his migration into Egypt (Genesis 47:9). This leaves the remaining 215 years of the 430 as the actual time the Hebrews spent in Egypt. Hence the 430 years of Exodus 12:40 includes the sojourn of the patriarchs in Canaan as well as their stay in Egypt.
Let’s first carefully define our terms and then look at some of the bible versions that DO contain a contradiction.
The King James Bible properly says “Now the SOJOURNING of the children of Israel (comma), who dwelt in Egypt (at this time, comma), was 430 years.”
The verb “to sojourn” means “to dwell for a time as a temporary resident, or as a stranger, not considering the place a permanent habitation.” The noun “sojourn” is “a temporary residence, as of a traveler in a foreign land.”
Sure, Abraham was in the land of Canaan, but it was NOT his land all the time he sojourned in it. He was a stranger and a sojourner in the land. Neither he nor his seed had yet inherited the land as their own possession.
See Genesis 12:7; 13:15, 17:8 - God tells Abraham "And I WILL give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land WHEREIN THOU ART A STRANGER, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession: and I will be their God."
Then we read in Exodus 6:7-8 where God says to Moses in the land of Egypt - "And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land, concerning the which I DID SWEAR TO GIVE IT TO Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; And I WILL GIVE IT YOU FOR AN HERITAGE: I am the LORD."
Notice carefully what the King James Bible says.
King James Bible - Exodus 12:40 - "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years."
The KJB says "the sojourning of the children of Israel was 430 years". The phrase "who dwelt in Egypt" is placed within commas and merely modifies the children of Israel, who at this time were in Egypt, as part of their whole sojourning history. The KJB does NOT say that they sojourned IN Egypt FOR 430 years, as some of the modern versions do.
Exodus 12:40 is to be read in the sense that the total time of sojourning of Abraham and his seed was 430 years. This includes all the time Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his family spent wandering around the land that was owned by others until the time came when God gave it to them as their promised inheritance. At the time Exodus 12 describes, the children of Israel were in Egypt, but the text does NOT say that they had been in Egypt for the full 430 years.
The Bible says that Abraham is the father of us all. Romans 4:1, 11, 12 and 16. He is the father of all them that believe. And we are the true Israel of God. The name Israel does not just apply to the man Jacob. It is applied to all spiritual Israel. "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:29.
The first person in the Bible referred to as "the Hebrew" is our father Abraham. See Genesis 14:13 The next person referred to as "an Hebrew" is Joseph. And Joseph refers to the land promised to Abraham and his seed as "the land of the Hebrews".
All believers, including Abraham, are the true Israel of God. Galatians 6:16 "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Philippians 3:3.
King James Bible - "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years." There are very few Bible versions that I have found that either word or punctuate this sentence correctly, and the vast majority of English versions create a direct contradiction. However Lamsa's translation, the 1936 Hebrew Publishing Company version, and the Modern Greek (not the LXX) have the commas in the right places.
NKJV is pretty good with: - "Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years."
However many modern versions like the NASB, NIV, RSV, ESV and Holman Standard create a contradiction by the way they are worded. NASB - "Now the time that the sons of Israel LIVED IN Egypt was four hundred and thirty years."
NIV - "Now the length of time the Israelite people LIVED IN Egypt was 430 years."
Holman Standard Version - "The time that the Israelites LIVED IN Egypt was 430 years."
Modern versions like the NASB, NIV, ESV and Holman DO create a contradiction by telling us that the children of Israel LIVED IN EGYPT for 430 years. This is numerically impossible. Why? Well, we know from Genesis 46:11 that when Jacob and his sons went down into Egypt, there accompanied him both Jacob’s son Levi, and Levi’s son Kohath. These are added to the number of 33 found in Genesis 46:15.
Exodus 6:16-20 lists these same people and gives us the number of years that each lived. ONLY this family lineage is listed together with the specific number of years each one lived. Levi lived 137 years and died. His son Kohath lived 133 years and died. Both Levi and Kohath were already living when they went into Egypt. Then Kohath had a son named Amram, and he lived 137 years and died. Now Amram married Jochebed and together they had children named Moses and Aaron, and Moses was 80 years old and Aaron was 83 (Exodus 7:7) when they appreared before Pharoah to bring the children of Israel out from bondage into the promised land.
Simply do the math. It is impossible that the children of Israel could have been in Egypt for 430 years. The NASB, NIV, RSV, ESV and Holman versions are wrong, and the King James Bible is right.
Many other Bible commentators have agreed that this is the general sense of all the Scriptural passages when taken together.
Adam Clarke comments: “From Abraham's entry into Canaan to the birth of Isaac was 25 years, Genesis 12:4; 17:1-21; Isaac was 60 years old at the birth of Jacob, Genesis 25:26; and Jacob was 130 at his going down into Egypt, Genesis 47:9; which three sums make 215 years. And then Jacob and his children having continued in Egypt 215 years more, the whole sum of 430 years is regularly completed.”
John Gill Exodus 12:40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.” And certain it is, that Israel did not dwell in Egypt four hundred and thirty years, and even not much more than two hundred years; but then they and their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, dwelt so long in Mesopotamia, in Canaan, and in Egypt, in foreign countries, in a land not theirs, as the phrase is, (Genesis 15:13) where the place of their sojourning, and the time of it, are given by way of prophecy....From his coming out of his own native place, Ur of the Chaldeans, to the birth of Isaac, might be so many years, since he was seventy five years of age when he came out of Haran, (Genesis 12:4) and if he stayed at Haran five years, as probably he did, then there were just thirty from his coming out of Ur of the Chaldees to Isaac's birth, since he was born when he was one hundred years old; and from the birth of Isaac to the birth of Jacob was sixty years, (Genesis 25:26) and from thence to his going down to Egypt was one hundred and thirty, (Genesis 47:9) and from thence to the coming of Israel out of Egypt were two hundred and ten years, as is generally computed, which make the exact sum of four hundred and thirty years.”
Geneva Bible notes - 12:41 “And it came to pass at the end of the (***) four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” (***) From Abrahams departing from Ur in Chaldea to the departing of the children of Israel from Egypt are 430 years.
Jamison, Fausett and Brown remark: Exodus 12:40. the sojourning of the children of Israel . . . four hundred and thirty years...”the period of sojourn in Egypt did not exceed two hundred fifteen years; but if we reckon from the time that Abraham entered Canaan and the promise was made in which the sojourn of his posterity in Egypt was announced, this makes up the time to four hundred thirty years.”
Matthew Henry - Of the date of this great event: it was just 430 years from the promise made to Abraham (as the apostle explains it, Galatians 3:17) at his first coming into Canaan, during all which time the children of Israel, that is, the Hebrews, the distinguished chosen seed, were sojourners in a land that was not theirs, either Canaan or Egypt. So long the promise God made to Abraham of a settlement lay dormant and unfulfilled, but now, at length, it revived, and things began to work towards the accomplishment of it. The first day of the march of Abraham's seed towards Canaan was just 430 years (it should seem to a day) from the promise made to Abraham, Genesis 12:2, I will make of thee a great nation.”
There is no error or contradiction in the Hebrew texts, and the King James Bible gives the best translation in Exodus 12:40, in contrast to versions like the NASB, NIV, RSV, ESV and Holman versions which DO create a contradiction.
The King James Bible is always right.
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