According to Genesis 6:3:

“My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

This verse is not understandable for me:

What does “spirit" mean? Is it the Holy Spirit or is it "the breath of life” that is referred to in Genesis 2:7?

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

  • Check the Moody Bible Commentary by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham. I think it gives a good explanation.
    – user9841
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 0:42
  • Does anyone have any thoughts as to whether or not the animals, birds, etc. within which was the breath/spirit of life had to have their lives shortened as well or if they were made subject to death from the get-go?: Brenton: Psa 104:29 But when thou hast turned away thy face, they shall be troubled: thou wilt take away their breath, and they shall fail, and return to their dust. Psa 104:30 Thou shalt send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created; and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
    – user10231
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 13:08
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    Related, related and related Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 5:15
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    Perhaps there is an overall misunderstanding going on here. The one hundred and twenty years is not referring to the average lifespan of a man, or all men. It is referring to God giving man 120 years until he destroys them in the flood. Whether it is remain or contend (credit to @Susan) either way it is speaking of the life of mankind, not the length of individual men's lives. I hesitate to write this up with more detail as an answer, because it really isn't addressing the question itself, just the preconception behind it. Any thoughts?
    – Joshua
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 13:40
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4 Answers 4


Jewish Torah scholars are actually uncertain about the exact meaning of the underlying Hebrew in the phrase the NIV translates as My Spirit will not contend with (see, e.g. Oxford Jewish Study Bible, p. 21n).

The passage is clearer in the Septuagint, which reads:

Οὐ μὴ καταμείνῃ τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τούτοις


My Spirit [τὸ πνεῦμά μου] shall certainly not remain [οὐ μὴ καταμείνῃ] among these men [ἐν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τούτοις]

The Church Fathers held that this verse referred to the Holy Spirit. Cyril of Alexandria (4th century) related this particular verse to the passage in Joel later cited by Peter:

Joel 2:28 (KJV 1900)

And it shall come to pass afterward,
That I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh

In his Commentary Upon the Gospel of St. Luke, he writes:

Come therefore and let us see what the blessed Evangelist says, when Christ was now going to battle in our behalf with him who corrupted the whole earth. But Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from the Jordan [Luke 4:1]. Here behold, I pray, man’s nature anointed with the grace of the Holy Ghost in Christ as the firstfruits, and crowned with the highest honours. For of old indeed the God of all promised, saying, It shall come to pass in those days, that I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh. And the promise is fulfilled for us in Christ first. And whereas of those in old time who without restraint gave way to fleshly lust, God somewhere said, My Spirit shall not dwell in these men, because they are flesh now because all things have become new in Christ, and we are enriched with the regeneration that is by water and Spirit

Sermon XII

John Chrysostom (4th c.) contrasts "the Spirit" to the flesh, relating the passage to what Paul wrote in Romans:

Romans 8:8–9 (KJV 1900)

So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

He writes:

By “the flesh” in this passage, he does not mean the body, or the essence of the body, but that life which is fleshly and worldly, and uses self-indulgence and extravagance to the full, so making the entire man flesh. For as they that have the wings of the Spirit, make the body also spiritual, so do they who bound off from this, and are the slaves of the belly, and of pleasure, make the soul also flesh, not that they change the essence of it, but that they mar its noble birth. And this mode of speaking is to be met with in many parts of the Old Testament also, to signify by flesh the gross and earthly life, which is entangled in pleasures that are not convenient. For to Noah He says, My Spirit shall not always make its abode in these men, because they are flesh. And yet Noah was himself also compassed about with flesh. But this is not the complaint, the being compassed about with the flesh, for this is so by nature, but the having chosen a carnal life. Wherefore also Paul saith, But they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

Homily XIII on the Epistle to the Romans

Theodoret, Jerome, Ambrose, and John Cassian also interpret Genesis 6:3 as meaning that the Holy Spirit no longer abided in men as before due to the extreme carnality present just before the flood.

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    You're going to need to give us a hint about what's in "Oxford Jewish Study Bible, p. 21n", I think.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 19:04

The verse should probably be understood as

Therefore God said,

I wont put up with man endlessly,

he being flesh [whereas I am spirit],

So [I will limit] his days to 120 years

The MT is

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהֹוָ֗ה

לֹֽא־יָד֨וֹן רוּחִ֤י בָֽאָדָם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ם

בְּשַׁגַּ֖ם ה֣וּא בָשָׂ֑ר

וְהָי֣וּ יָמָ֔יו מֵאָ֥ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים שָׁנָֽה

The initial ו in ויאמר should be understood as a consequential vav, "Therefore", rather than the connective vav, "And", as this verse appears to indicate God's response to the events of the previous verses, especially the immediately preceding verse.

In the second clause, the word רוחי should probably be understood as part of the idiomatic expression ידון רוחי. So instead of translating רוחי on its own as "my breath" or "my spirit", the entire idiom should be translated as "I wont tolerate" or "I wont deal with" or "I wont contend with". This understanding reads against the Masorete marking pashta etiv pashta, ("will not contend, my spirit...") and reads instead pastha teres tvir, ("I wont tolerate...") but results in a simpler and clearer understanding than the common translations that read with the Masorete markings in this clause.

The ב and ש in the בשגם at the start of the third clause have aroused much commentary and differences in translation, as the shin is pointalized with a patah instead of the expected segol. Rashi dismisses this and reads this patah as a segol and brings as an example a similar transcription in Judges 5:7. Rashi's reading can be supported by the fact that there was no segol in the Babylonian system of pointalization, from which this word could have received its tradition. In any event, the meaning of בשגם appears to be ב-ש-גם, "in that also [merely] he is flesh", which in English is "he being flesh" or "he being only flesh".

The בשר, "flesh", of the third clause provides an indirect contrast and counterbalance to the רוחי of the second clause. The contrast is indirect because the רוח in ידון רוחי is not "spirit" but the idiom "I will not contend with".

This interpretation expands on Rashi's interpretation of the verse.

The Onkelos Aramaic translation is blunt, no "spirit":

וַאֲמַר יְיָ לָא יִתְקַיַּים דָּרָא בִּישָׁא הָדֵין קֳדָמַי לְעָלַם בְּדִיל דְּאִנּוּן בִּסְרָא וְעוֹבָדֵיהוֹן בִּישִׁין אַרְכָּא יְהִיב לְהוֹן מְאָה וְעַסְרִין שְׁנִין אִם יְתוּבוּן

Which I render as:

Therefore God said, I wont let this foul generation stay before me forever. Because they are flesh and their deeds are foul, I will set them a limit, 120 years, if they behave well.


Richard Elliot Friedman in The Bible With Sources Revealed classifies this passage (Gen 6:3) as having J authorship under the documentary hypothesis. Friedman gives the following footnote to the verse "YHWH sets the maximum age of humans at 120 here in J...In J, no one lives longer than 120 years, and it culminates with the report that Moses lives to the maximum of 120 (Deut 34:7)." Genesis 2:7 is also from the J source, so identifying "the breath of life" there with "my spirit" in Gen 6:3 at least seems reasonable.


What does “spirit" mean?

In Genesis 6:3, the Hebrew word used for "spirit" is רוּחִ֤י (ruhi). This same word also appears in Job 9:18 and in this passage should unquestionably be translated as "breath." In this passage, Job uses this word to refer to his own breath.

"Indeed, I know that this is true. But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?" ... He would not let me catch my breath but would overwhelm me with misery."

In fact, רוּחִ֤י (ruhi) is frequently translated as breath and it can be translated as spirit, wind or breath. When used in connection with God, the אֱלֹהִ֑י ר֣וּחַ (Ruach Elohim) or Holy Spirit can be thought of in any or all contexts. The Holy Spirit (aside from being a spirit) often brings a message from the Lord - she acts as the Lord's "breath" or speech. Likewise she also acts as God's force, power or strength to act upon the world - The wind (power) of the Lord.

Is it the Holy Spirit or is it "the breath of life” that is referred to in Genesis 2:7

In Genesis 2:7, scripture states that Man was brought to life by "breathing" it into man. While this is not the same word used for breath in Job 9:18 or a conjugation and shares no root with רוּחִ֤י (ruhi), it is doubtful that the fact that both words share a meaning is merely coincidental. Just as God gives us life, by breathing into mankind, so he shortens mankinds life by removing his breath (spirit) from mankind.

What was the reason(s) for "the spirit” not remaining in humans?

This question is much more difficult to answer. My opinion is that the reason for this lifespan shortening is for the same reason that God sent the flood. It is my belief that in order to understand the reason for the shortened lifespans, you must first understand who the נָפִיל (Nephilim) and האלהים בני (bene ha'elohim) were. The translations of these words are tenuous based on archaic words that translators and lexographers really aren't sure how to translate, but if my theory on this is correct, the reason had to do with idolatry which came about through the intermarriage of Hebrew and surrounding peoples. This then is the ultimate basis for the shortened lifespan and ultimately the flood.

  • I've edited the question to remove the 'bonus' questions — you may like to edit your answer to reflect this. Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 8:48