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In Genesis 15:13 God told Abram that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years. This number is also mentioned in Acts 7:6.

Exodus 12:41 says that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years. This number also appears in Galatians 3:17.

But when you add up the genealogical record [which?] you only come up with about 190-215 years.

How can we resolve this seeming contradiction?

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5  
I edited your question to clarify it a little. Can you please add in the specific details for which genealogical records add up to 190-215 years? –  curiousdannii Oct 10 '13 at 7:29
    
The answer is 300 years. Here is a video that explains it perfectly: youtube.com/watch?v=dNeskKUTUnw –  user2919 Nov 8 '13 at 4:14

5 Answers 5

Gal 3:16-17 says that the law came 430 years after Abraham received the promise of blessing (in Gen 12). 25 years passed before he got his son Isaac, who lived 60 years until he got his son Jacob, who was 130 years old when he entered Egypt. That is, 215 years passed between Abraham received the promise, and Israel entered Egypt. Israel received the law the same year they left Egypt. Thus Israel was 430 - 215 = 215 years in Egypt.

Gen 15:13, 16 says that Abraham's descendants will be strangers afflicted in a foreign land for 400 years. This period must have started with Isaac, who was afflicted by both the Philistines and Abimelech. This also fits with Acts 7:6 and Ex 12:40-41. Some think that this period of affliction started with Ishmael mocking Isaac.

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My hesitation with your approach here is that it seems (to me) like the NT authors were simply referencing information that was already available in the OT records, not adding new information about ancient chronologies. With your approach, if we didn't have Galatians we could never know how long they were in Egypt because Paul was essentially operating under Sensus Plenior and adding information that was never before available from the ancient chronologies. I think there is a simpler solution for those with a high view of Scripture. Looking forward to your feedback on my answer. –  Jas 3.1 Nov 8 '13 at 18:37
    
@Jas3.1 , good point. I don't know where Paul got his information, whether from Rabbinic tradition, his interpretation of Ex 12:40-42, or from manuscripts we simply don't have access to. This is admittedly a weak link in my interpretation. However, it is not without precedent for an NT author to provide new information about OT stories not directly divulged in the Old Testament, e.g. 1Cor 10:4, Heb 11:10, 19, Acts 7:23 - this extra information may have been available to them through traditions, through more accurate manuscripts of the OT than those we have, or some other source. –  Niobius Nov 8 '13 at 21:41

Jewish scholars long ago realised that there is a problem with the number of years the Israelites spent in Egypt. For this reason, they decided that the 430 years was not just the period in slavery, as reported in Exodus, but that it started at the time Abraham received the promise, a revision that nicely fits in with 215 years. This new tradition was known to Paul, who records in in Galatians 3:16-17.

From a historical perspective, these contradictions and harmonisations are not really so important. There is no extra-biblical evidence that the Israelite people were ever in Egypt, and the respected Israeli archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein, says that over 90 per cent of scholars do not believe that the Exodus from Egypt ever happened, as described in the Bible. Lawrence E. Stager, author of Forging an Identity: The Emergence of Ancient Israel (The Oxford History of the Biblical World) says the evidence from language, costume, coiffure, and material remains suggest that the early Israelites were a rural subset of Canaanite culture and largely indistinguishable from Transjordanian rural cultures as well. They did not exodus from Egypt and there was no unified conquest of the Canaanites. Thus the Israelites, as a national group, never spent any time enslaved in Egypt, although small numbers of individuals may well have done so.

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"no evidence"? What is the account/testimony of Scripture? –  Sarah Dec 22 '13 at 23:53
    
Have you encountered the work of James Hoffmeier? See in particular: Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (OUP, 1996); and Ancient Israel in Sinai : The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (OUP, 2005). The question, at any rate, is about biblical chronology, not the veracity of the exodus traditions. James Barr gives a good orientation; there's lots more in this non-comprehensive listing. –  Davïd Mar 6 at 7:37
    
@Sarah asks, ""no evidence"? What is the account/testimony of Scripture?" please note carefully that I said,"No extra-biblical evidence." I did not dispute that there is biblical evidence (even if it is contradictory, as noted above) and I see no one disputing that there is No extra-biblical evidence. On that point I rest my case. –  Dick Harfield yesterday
    
I see that you edited your post based on my comment so it now reads "no extra-biblical evidence." You must have missed David's comment from March 6th; you may want to unrest your case. –  Sarah yesterday

Short Answer: The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. There is nothing in the chronologies that indicates anything different.


Here's the chronology as provided in the Hebrew Scriptures:

The easy calculations:

  • When Abe was 100 he had Isaac
  • When Isaac was 60 he had Jacob
  • When Jacob (Israel) was 130 he and his sons went to Egypt

    • NOTE: Jacob was not enslaved in Egypt! He enjoyed favor all the days of his life in Egypt.
  • After some time the Egyptians became jealous and fearful and enslaved the Israelites as prophesied

  • The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years

The back-calculations:

  • The sons of Israel were in Egypt for 430 years, which means they were in Egypt 30 years before they were enslaved (that clarifies the unknown from the previous note above)

  • When Jacob and his sons entered Egypt, they were in the 2nd year of famine

  • The years of famine were immediately preceded by 7 years of plenty

  • Joseph stood before Pharoah and interpreted his dream about the impending plenty/famine when he was 30 years old

  • That makes Jacob about 91 years old when he had Joseph, and Joseph about 69 years old when the Israelites were enslaved. He lived another 41 years after that, dying at around 110 years old

Conclusion: There is nothing in the Biblical chronology that indicates they were only in bondage in Egypt for 215 years.

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Thanks for your comment! Your answer is simple, neat, and easy to understand. But a couple of questions arise: 1) Why does Paul in Gal 3:16-17 say that 430 years passed between Abraham's promise and the giving of the law on Sinai? 2) Why does Ex 1:6-10 indicate that Israel began to be enslaved after Joseph was dead? 3) Why does Gen 15:16 say that Israel would return to the promised land four generations after leaving - whereas you say Israel was outside the promised land 430+40 = 470 years (certainly more than four generations)? Looking forward to your response! –  Niobius Nov 8 '13 at 21:30
    
@Niobius Great questions. (1) First, I'm not sure Paul's authorial intent was to clarify the chronology of the Israelites' time in Egypt so much as to highlight the extremely large temporal separation in events. Second, even if he did mean to establish an exact chronology, by my reading the time would start with the ratification of the covenant, so we would need to determine what that refers to. (2) In studying the literary structure of Ex 1, it appears vv.1-7 are introductory, and not necessarily chronologically prior to v.8, similar to Gen. 1-2, etc. (cont...) –  Jas 3.1 Nov 8 '13 at 22:37
    
@Niobius (...cont) (3) It is feasible that this span was four generations. See Exodus 6:14-20. Levi --> Kohath --> Amram --> Moses. The problem only arises when we artificially define a generation as "x number of years." –  Jas 3.1 Nov 8 '13 at 22:40
    
Thanks for the answers! But 1) Though the authorial intent of Gal 3:16-17 is certainly not to give an accurate chronology, we cannot simply dismiss the number 430 as irrelevant to the chronology - the number must have come from somewhere. Moreover, it says, "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made ... the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later". Paul seems to be talking about when the promises were made not ratified. (cont...) –  Niobius Nov 9 '13 at 13:55
    
(...cont) 2) It says in Exodus that a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph - it would be difficult not to know one of the most powerful men in the country (if he was alive). It also says that Israel was more numerous and powerful than the Egyptians - a great feat if we are talking about the 70+3 people of Israel after only 30 years in Egypt. 3) If Sarah were way too old to have children (unmiraculously) at 90 and Abraham was considered too old at 100 (Rom 4:19), it seems odd that for 4 generations, the average age of childbirth would be ca. 100. Odd, but admittedly not impossible. –  Niobius Nov 9 '13 at 14:05

At the outset let me state that I am Jewish, not Christian. That being said, Gal 3:16-17 is line with the Oral Tradition (that Orthodox Jews believe provides authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament). Abraham is told that his children will sojourn in "a land that is is not their own" for 400 years (Genesis 15:13). Egypt is not specified and neither is it clear that the suffering and enslavement would last the full 400 years (in the cantorial notes there is full stop, which functions like a semi-colon) before the words "400 years"). The Jewish tradition understands the 400 years to begin with the birth of Isaac who was always a sojourner, moving from place to place and never governing land.

The reason why it is unlikely that the enslavement was actually 400 years is because it would mean that Yocheved (Jochabad), the mother of Moses, lived an extraordinarily long time, well beyond the norm of her time period, without any mention of a miracle. Moses was 80 years old at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 7:7). Moses' mother, Yocheved, was the daughter of Levi (Exodus 6:16-20). Levi died at the age 137 (Exodus 6:16). Joseph was 39 when his brothers came to Egypt (30 + 7 + 2). While we don't know exactly how much older Levi was than Joseph, we can conservatively estimate (i.e. the lowest possible) at 6 years. Therefore Levi was at least 45 when he came to Egypt. Even if Yocheved was born in the very last year of Levi's life (92 years later) she would have been 228 (400 - 80 - 92) when Moses was born!

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Read until the end, you will have your answer. May the Most High Bless you

The bile didn't say that Israelites would be in captivity for 400 yrs. From the beginning to the Exodus you could not get 400 yrs. Genesis 15:13 Know for a surety that thy seed should be a stranger in a land that is not theirs and shall serve then and shall afflict the 400 yrs. His seed was Isaac and it expound to Jacob, this wasn't talking about captivity in Egypt. God was sending the Israelites into Egypt to get the substance needed to prepare them for the promise land. Genesis 15:16 but in the 4th generation, they shall come hither gain for the iniquities of the Ammorites is not yet full.----You cannot get 400 years from the 4th generation of Abraham. Exodus 12:41 All of the children of Israel left Egypt at the end of 430 years. The law came 430 years after the promise that God gave Abraham unto the Exodus. Galatians 3:15-17 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

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 the Septuagint original text book of Exodus 12:40 And the sojourning of the children of Israel, while they sojourned in the land of Egypt and the land of Chanaan, was four hundred and thirty years. SEE, the 430 years was over a period of time that they lived in the land. In the new translation, they left out "and in the land of Canaan".

The book of Josephus Book 2 Chapter 15 para 2 2. They left Egypt in the month Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt. (28) It was the eightieth year of the age of Moses, and of that of Aaron three more. They also carried out the bones of Joesph with them, as he had charged his sons to do.

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