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Genesis 6:3 refers to when God set humans' lifespans to (approximately) 120 years. However, the NLT (the translation I prefer) has a slightly different translation for the 120-years part.

Genesis 6:3 (NIV)
3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

Genesis 6:3 (ESV)

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Genesis 6:3 (NLT)
3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years.”

In particular, the NLT says "no more than" whereas the other translations don't. Thus, my question is: Why did the NLT translators choose to translate the Hebrew this way and is there any reason why this is a good or bad English rendering of the Hebrew?

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One of the most interesting aspects of this verse is that it is out of place in the narrative, it is one of the places where you could have an interpolation. But I don't see any possible motivation for anyone to interpolate this, other than it looks like an interpolation. NLT is not very good in keeping faithful nuance of meaning--- it is a crude translation IMO. – Ron Maimon Apr 12 '12 at 6:53
I always interpreted this to mean that from that point it was 120 years until the flood of Noah considering the time it took to build the ark and so forth. Not human life spans, because even after the flood people we living 3 and 4 hundred years fairly commonly up until Abraham and even he lived well over 120 years. – user654 Jun 29 '12 at 22:24
From the three translations that you give, it seems that the NLT simply adds some padding to the literal translation so as to make it more digestible. In particular, one could suspect that the NLT translators found the phrase "and his days will be 120 years" confusing, since it would seem to imply that everybody would live to exactly 120 years; hence they added the clause "no more than". The original Hebrew bears this out: it simply reads wehaiu iamaiu meʼam we'esrim shanah, which word-for-word translates as "and-they-will-be his-days hundred and-twenty years". So this seems pretty clear. – René Oct 1 '15 at 16:46
I cannot believe this was asked 3 years ago, with no answer, I just saw that. – seedy3 Nov 5 '15 at 0:34
@seedy3 This and several other "unanswered" questions you might run across actually did get answered early on, but more recently the contributor, for personal reasons, went through a process to have their contributions removed. Normally such posts would be anonymized and remain visible to the community, but there were complications and we ended up having to remove them entirely in this case. Hence a few old questions around here are again in need of answers. – Caleb Nov 5 '15 at 9:42

We do not actually have the original Hebrew to judge the NLT by. What we have is essentially a transliteration into a later form of Hebrew that was compiled in the Middle Ages.

I think others have addressed the question of whether the Masoretic Hebrew (not the original Hebrew) is correctly represented, and defer to the Masoretes to have transliterated accurately what they believed to be the original. Some Jewish scholars translate the Masoretic Text here:

The LORD said, My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years. (JPS Tanakh Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004).

(The JPS editors note that the Hebrew underlying the phrase "My breath shall not abide" is uncertain).

We might also consult the Septuagint, which, although a Greek translation, refers to a Hebrew text that is several centuries older than the Masoretic Text. The Alexandrian Jews chose to translate the portion you are referring to as:

καὶ εἶπεν κύριος ὁ θεός Οὐ μὴ καταμείνῃ τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τούτοις εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα διὰ τὸ εἶναι αὐτοὺς σάρκας, ἔσονται δὲ αἱ ἡμέραι αὐτῶν ἑκατὸν εἴκοσι ἔτη

The last phrase reads, "but their days will be one hundred twenty years".

There doesn't seem any basis for the rendering in the NLT (their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years) in how either Alexandrian Jews in antiquity read this verse or how at least one group of modern Jewish scholars interpret it.

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There seem to be 2 main schools of thought on this, well maybe 3, the third I'll discuss after the first 2.

The scriptures you quote seem to indicate that the lifespan of humans will be limited to 120 years, as do many other translations, however the NET bible translates it differently, as do a few others:

6:3 So the Lord said, “My spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for 120 more years.”

However problems come up when either of these translations are applied to this scripture.

1) Many biblical post diluvian characters lived well past the 120 year mark and listed in the bible. Shem 600 years, Arpachshad 438, Shelah 433, Eber 473, Peleg, 239, Reu 239, Serug 230, Nahor 148, Terah 205 (Gen 11:10-32), Sarah, 127 (Gen 23:1), Abraham 175 (Gen 25:7), Isaac 140 (Gen 35:28), and Jacob 147 years (Gen 47:28). We do notice a shaving of age though as time advances.

2) Additionally, we have the births of Shem, Ham, and Japheth mentioned in the bible, who were born before God places this 120 years more on mankind. The prophecy of the flood was was given to Noah when he was, at least, 500 years old and His children were already born (Gen 5:32)

5:32 After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

And the destruction is spoken of afterwards

6:13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth.

And it's when Noah was 600 years old that the flood started:

7:6 Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters engulfed the earth.

So it was only 100 years after the birth of Noah's children, not 120 years. Both lines of thought, then, have an issue with other scriptural evidence.

However there is a 3rd line of thought and that is the Documentary Hypothesis, which places these differing writings as from different authors and differing traditions. The first giving the limit of the ages of humans to 120 years comes from what is called the Yahwist (J) tradition, the second listing the ages of post diluvian humans was from the Priestly (P) tradition.

P quite likely wrote his story much later (possibly as late as the Babylonian exile) and seems unaware of the 120 year limit set on mankind prior to the flood.

In summation, it is difficult to know what exactly were the thoughts of the writer of this verse or story. There are times, that literary license has to be given the translator when translating ancient literature, in this case the Bible. Often the translation goes the way of "belief" for the translator. This problem is due to the differences in language make up, grammar and the word used in it's location in the texts. So being there is no direct support in the Hebrew, it is possible to read it the way the NLT has it, but they did seem to be a bit more liberal then others.

References used from Dr Steven DiMattei.

All Bible quotes from the NET Bible.

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The OP's main question is about the "not more than" part specifically. while you have good info on how one can interpret the verse, you don't really touch on the question of where NLT gets that phrase from. – ThaddeusB Nov 5 '15 at 15:52
Yes I understand that, and perhaps I didn't answer that answer in full. I felt it was a good idea to present a background to why it is translated as it is. – seedy3 Nov 6 '15 at 1:06

I think it's important to understand why there is a difference between the NLT and the other translations.

The NLT began life in 1962 as Ken Taylor's paraphrase of the NT letters. Almost a decade later, in 1971, Ken Taylor's efforts had spawned The Living Bible, a PARAPHRASE of the entire Bible, based on the ASV. His intent was to make a version of scripture that was readable and understandable by children.

In 1989 it was decided, by whom I couldn't discover (perhaps the publishers of TLB), to produce a TRANSLATION based on Taylor's approach. In the Preface to the NLT, you will see that it was a work of ninety scholars over a period of seven years, to produce a thought-for-thought translation of Scripture for "the average reader of modern English ... at the reading level of a junior high school student."

The purpose and process of translating texts in this way is unlikely to produce ambiguity. The NLT gives readers the consensus opinion of the scholars involved in making a decision about what is being communicated by the text, which, of course, will cause issues for those whose theology depends upon another branch at any point of possible ambiguity.

My conclusion is, therefore: YES, in the consensus opinion of the scholars who produced, reviewed, and refined the NLT translation, the original Hebrew does support this interpretation.

Having said that...

You will find a typical interlinear presentation of Genesis 6:3 at Bible Hub, which results in the ESV's:

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in (fn: contend with) man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

and the NIV's:

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with (fn: remain in) humans forever, for they are mortal (fn: corrupt); their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

And here's my alternate rendering:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֗ה לֹֽא־ יָדֹ֨ון רוּחִ֤י אָדָם֙ עֹלָ֔ם
.always in-man My-breath will-remain not the-LORD Then-said
בְּשַׁגַּ֖ם ה֣וּא בָשָׂ֑ר וְהָי֣וּ יָמָ֔יו מֵאָ֥ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים שָׁנָֽה׃
years twenty-and one-hundred his-days and-shall-become flesh he-is, Indeed

Which becomes:

Then the LORD said, "My Breath will not always remain in man. Indeed, his days (shall become = וְהָי֣וּ ) one hundred and twenty years."

Or as the NLT renders it:

Then the Lord said, "My Spirit will not put up with (fn: will not remain in) humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan (will be no more than = וְהָי֣וּ ) one hundred and twenty years."

My justification for giving וְהָי֣וּ as "and-shall-become" is,

Genesis 1:14


And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, (and let them serve as = וְהָי֣וּ ) signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,


And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. (And let them be for = וְהָי֣וּ ) signs and for seasons (fn:appointed times), and for days and years,

In both these translations the "let them serve as ..." or "let them be for ..." could easily have been given as "they shall become signs for sacred times/appointed times/seasons and for days and years"

and Genesis 2:24


That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, ( and they become = וְהָי֣וּ ) one flesh.


Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, (and they shall become = וְהָי֣וּ ) one flesh.

Conclusion: There is clear justification, based on the Hebrew language resources available, and the testimony of history itself, for the NLT's use of "no more than".

Whether it is a good or bad English rendering is totally dependent upon whether or not it is in concord or discord with one's personal theology. However, it is abundantly clear that the Hebrew doesn't disallow it.


Based on some feedback in the comments, further justification for giving וְהָי֣וּ as "and-shall-become" comes from the NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible where וְהָי֣וּ occurs as "become" 221 times.

Interestingly, both the ESV and NIV render it in this way when God speaks, in the aftermath of the Deluge, of never again bringing a flood on the world.

Genesis 9:15


I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become ( וְהָי֣וּ ) a flood to destroy all flesh.


I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become ( וְהָי֣וּ ) a flood to destroy all life.

Since there is abundant support for the use of "become", then we have to consider the implications.

If the lifespan of the people before the flood was typically in excess of 120 years, and God says, "his days shall become one hundred and twenty years", then 120 becomes the UPPER BOUND for the lifespan of man, into the future - that is, "no more than 120 years"

This means I have to amend my previous conclusion, and say now, rather than the Hebrew "not disallowing" the NLT's translation, the stronger claim can be made that there is definite support in the Hebrew for the NLT's translation.

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This answer basically says the NLT is a trustworthy translation based on scholarship, so it must have support for its translation. Well, that describes most modern translations - very few, if any, are not the work of committees of scholars... I really think an answer should explain how this translation could be arrived at. – ThaddeusB Nov 4 '15 at 0:52
I thought it was important to give some background as to WHY the translations are different, since one of the comments on the question said "one could suspect that the NLT translators found the phrase 'and his days will be 120 years' confusing". I noticed that someone voted the comment up, so the commenter appears not to be alone in that opinion. – enegue Nov 4 '15 at 5:42
This answer only presents an argument from authority: scholars were involved in the translation ergo their translation must be good. This does not answer the actual question asked or fit the motif on this site of actually examining the text in question. This is interesting tangential information but answering this question on this site will require diving into the actual Hebrew text. – Caleb Nov 4 '15 at 9:39
Even if your interlinear were the definitive resource you claim, this argument doesn’t actually hold together to the point of answering the question. Looking at various uses of the word “to be” and concluding that they mean “they will become” in this inflection (valid as it may be) contributes nothing really toward an answer to the question about the discrepancy between NLT and others concerning the “no more than..” part. – Susan Nov 5 '15 at 11:45
I wasn’t questioning your conclusion that וְהָי֣וּ can mean “(and) they will become”. That really doesn’t require defense. The problem is that this whole post is about that, which was never in question. You’ve only addressed the actual question in one sentence where you simply state your conclusion. (If the lifespan of the people before the flood was typically in excess of 120 years, and God says, "his days shall become one hundred and twenty years", then 120 becomes the UPPER BOUND for the lifespan of man...) – Susan Nov 6 '15 at 1:36

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