This is a translation issue which the meaning changes greatly on, depending on how it is rendered. For a Christian reader this matter of spirit or flesh (or both) would be highly relevant.

Some texts read like this:

American King James Version

And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

English Standard Version

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

NET Bible

So the LORD said, "My spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for 120 more years."

The first rendition implies "also", such as "he is also comprised of flesh" - eluding to the fact that he is not only spirit.

The second rendition gives attention to the flesh alone, and the third gives emphasis to the mortality of the flesh. Still other renditions render it as "he is corrupt" or similar meanings.

According to the translation, or even the context of the scripture, what is being implied here? That man is ALSO flesh, he IS FLESH, or he IS MORTAL or IS CORRUPT?

Biblehub shows the many different renditions which change the meaning of the scripture.


4 Answers 4


The question of interpretation here is the meaning of the Hebrew phrase בְּשַׁגַּם. This phrase is the key determinant for interpreting this verse.

On the one hand, early Rabbinic Bibles (published in the 18th Cent by Kennicott et al.) and other versions of the Hebrew Bible (Syriac, Targumim, and LXX) seem to understand this Hebrew as the infinitive contstruct of שָׁגָג (with the preposition בְּ), which would mean "through their erring." In this regard, Brown-Driver-Briggs provide the following.

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Please note that the vowel pointing would not be בְּשַׁגַּם, but בְּשַׁגָּם (with the Qāmeṣ instead of the Patach).

On the other hand, the same Hebrew phrase may be a compound of three parts: the preposition (בְּ), abbreviated relative pronoun (אֲשֶׁר), and adverb (גַּם). In this regard, Brown-Driver-Briggs provide the following.

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Please note that the vowel pointing would not be בְּשַׁגָּם, but בְּשַׁגַּם (with the Patach instead of Qāmeṣ).

This apparent difficulty has one explanation by Rabbi Moshe David Cassuto (1883–1951), who was a Biblical scholar of the last century. The following commentary on Gen 6:3 is his able and well-balanced interpretation of this question at hand (note: emphases added in bold type) -

In as much as he, too, [בְּשַׁגַּם bešaggam] is flesh]

The vocalisation בְּשַׁגָּם bešaggam [with Qāmeṣ], found in some editions and manuscripts, has nothing to support it. In the MSS of Ben Asher, the word is pointed בְּשַׁגַּם bešaggam. All the expositions based on the pointing with Qāmeṣ (meaning: ‘through their erring’) are not only unsuited to the context but do not even accord with the grammatical form of the word. In respect to this word, too, it appears that the correct interpretation is that of the ancient versions: בַּאֲשֶׁר גַּם baʾăšer gam [‘in as much as, also’]. It is precisely in the Book of Genesis that we find בַּאֲשֶׁר baʾăšer twice in the sense of in as much as [E.V. because] (39:9, 23). Here, for reasons of poetic style, Scripture has chosen the form -שַׁ ša-, which is found also in the Song of Deborah (Jud. v. 7) in preference to the form אֲשֶׁר ʾăšer. If the Bible had written בַּאֲשֶׁר גַּם הוּא בָשָׂר bešaggam, hūʾ bhāśār, the language would have been prosaic; whereas בְּשַׁגַּם הוּא בָשָׂר bešaggam hūʾ bhāśār is a line of poetry. The meaning is: My spirit shall not abide for ever in the children born of these marriages, who belong, on their mother’s side, to the species of man, in as much as he, too, is flesh, that is, because man, even though he transcends the earthly creatures, is also flesh like them (for the significance of גַּם gam [‘also’, ‘too’] see Naḥmanides). It is possible, perhaps, to explain the phrase to mean: also because he is flesh; but despite the accents the previous interpretation appears to me preferable.


Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (2000). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, passim.

Cassuto, Umberto (1998). A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Part I, From Adam to Noah (Genesis I–VI 8). (I. Abrahams, Trans.). Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 296-297.


So much depends on punctuation! Yet the Book of Genesis was written before punctuation was developed, allowing us to choose where to put a comma or a colon, thereby changing the meaning. A further difficulty is that many words and phrases do not have exact correspondence from one language to another, so we have to not just translate, but 'interpret'.

'Strive' (Strong's 1777) can also mean to judge or rule, which I think is the key to what the author intended by this passage. Here, 'flesh' is sinful. God is not going to continue to judge [or abide] these sinful people, but allow them just 120 more years.

Of course, the 120 years could be read as a person's potential lifetime, but Rashi believes it is the number of years left before God brings the flood to destroy them.

Rashi realised a difficulty with his interpretation of the "120 years" is that Genesis 5:32 already says that Noah begot sons when he was 500 years old, but verse 7:6 says that Noah was only 600 years old when the flood came. He resolves that by saying there is no sequence of earlier and later events in the Torah. This decree had already been issued twenty years before Noah begot children.

I believe that option 2 [ESV] is marginally the best translation of this difficult passage, with 'flesh' having a sense of sinful (or corrupt) flesh.



This speaks of the internal struggle of the Spirit of God with man who is “also flesh”….that is, man who is living after the flesh and not walking in the Spirit as he was supposed to.

This is not about the mortal body of flesh itself but is talking about the deeds of the flesh that man (who had His Spirit within them) was engaged in during this time.

Genesis 6:3 KJV (3) And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

The Spirit and the flesh (man living after the flesh: envy, strife, wrath, etc) are contrary to one another. There is an internal conflict within as the Spirit strives against the flesh and vice versa.

Galatians 5:16-26 KJV (16) This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (17) For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (18) But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Man living after the flesh behaves in the flesh in his envy, strife, wrath, uncleanness, etc.

Man is “also flesh” when he continues to do the works of the flesh rather than putting to death these things through the Spirit of God…and so there is conflict. The works of the flesh are manifest:

(19) Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, (20) Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, (21) Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is:

(22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, (23) Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (24) And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

The works of the flesh are to be put to death through the Spirit of God within us. If we live in the Spirit, we are to walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh where the Spirit of God strives with the man who does continue to live after the flesh.

(25) If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (26) Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

If we continue to live after the flesh (being “also flesh”), we shall die:

And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

But, if through the Spirit (that dwells within us) do we deaden the deeds of the body, we shall live. His Spirit will not always strive with us....for we shall die if we continue to live after the flesh (my Spirit will not always strive with man for he is ALSO flesh).

*Romans 8:12-14 KJV (12) Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (13) For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live

The “sons of God” before the flood were not being completely led by the Spirit of God as they were behaving as men in the “flesh”. They were not walking with God in the Spirit but were bogged down with their works of the flesh which grieved the Spirit.

The Spirit of God was striving with those men as they walked according to the deeds of the flesh and not according to the Spirit and so there was conflict.

(14) For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

God was grieved at His heart....

Genesis 6:5-6 KJV (5) And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (6) And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

Grieving the Spirit of God is continuing to live after the flesh when we have been sealed with His Spirit and have not put these things to death yet: the bitterness, wrath, anger, evil speaking, etc. There is conflict between the Spirit and the flesh as they are contrary to each other but God is patient with us not wanting us to perish but come to repentance. But His Spirit will not always strive with us....as His Spirit did not always strive with man who was ALSO FLESH before the flood.

Ephesians 4:30-32 KJV (30) And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. (31) Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: (32) And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Thanks for reading and considering.


Maybe the correct understanding of this verse is encapsulate in the term בְּשַׁגַּ֖ם.

We would ask ourselves, From what conceptual root(s) this term come from?

One of the possibilities was presented by Keil&Delitzsch (Commentary on the OT): "בְּשַׁגָּם is regarded by many as a particle, compounded of בְּ, שַׁ a contraction of אֲשֶׁר, and גַּם (also), used in the sense of quoniam, because, (בְּשַׁ = בַּאֲשֶׁר, as שַׁ or שֶׁ = אֲשֶׁר Jdg_5:7; Jdg_6:17; Son_1:7)."

In this case, regrettably, we again remain uncertain if we are to consider the limit of 120 years as applying (1) to the individual man's lifespan (on the average, obviously), or (2) to the global men's lifespan (viewed like a whole).

In fact, K&D continued to analyze: "But the objection to this explanation is, that the גַּם, 'because he also is flesh,' introduces an incongruous emphasis into the clause. We therefore prefer to regard שַׁגָּם as the inf. of שָׁגַג = שָׁגָה with the suffix: 'in their erring (that of men) he (man as a genus) is flesh;' an explanation to which, to our mind, the extremely harsh change of number (they, he), is no objection, since many examples might be adduced of a similar change (vid., Hupfeld on Psa 5:10). Men, says God, have proved themselves by their erring and straying to be flesh, i.e., given up to the flesh, and incapable of being ruled by the Spirit of God and led back to the divine goal of their life."

Chouraqui translated, similarly: "Dans leur égarement".

Jerome (Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim) criticized who did think the 120 years were an individual lifespan limit. He believe, instead, that time period indicated a God allowance to do penance ["Non igitur humana huita, ut multi errant, in CXX annos contracta est, sed generationi illi CXX anni ad poenitentiam dati sunt..."].

Then, a translation of this verse which takes into consideration this second possibility could be so:

"And IEUE said: 'My flux [רוחי] (of energy) will not keep under control [ידון] humans until an unsighted time [לעלם]. So, the days of their contravening [בשׁגם] as fleshly beings will amount [והיו] to 120 years.'"

So, after 120 years counted from the utterance of this prophecy, God sent the Hammabbul (the Deluge, the Flood)...

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