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Genesis 18:10 (KJV)

And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.

Other versions seem to translate this phrase differently.

Genesis 18:10 (ESV)

10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him.

Genesis 18:10 (NET)

One of them said, "I will surely return to you when the season comes round again, and your wife Sarah will have a son!" (Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, not far behind him.

In the light of different translations how can we understand the phrase in the KJV?

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The euphemism translated literally as at the time of life, כָּעֵת חַיָּה, appears four times in the OT (NIV):

  1. Genesis 18:10: Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
  2. Genesis 18:14: Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
  3. II Kings 4:16: "About this time next year," Elisha said, "you will hold a son in your arms." ...
  4. II Kings 4:17: But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.

The classical Jewish commentators interpreted this as meaning "a year". The reason for this is the apparent impropriety in interpreting this as "nine months" from the time of the visit by a mysterious male visitor.

The KJV translators, who usually translate according to the Jewish classical interpretations, apparently felt uncomfortable rendering this particular classical interpretation and possibly equally uncomfortable with the implications of the more straightforward interpretation and therefore punted, provided a literal translation - which makes no sense as an English expression, but is faithful to the Hebrew word-for-word.

Modern scholars such as Dr. Shelly Goldberg of Bar Ilan University interpret this phrase as referring to the term of pregnancy - nine months and dismiss the suggestion of impropriety as the prudishness of later generations. This "time of life", is the time when the child is born and becomes "alive", as children born before full term were either stillborn or usually did not survive.

There is one other use of a similar term כי חיות in Exodus 1:19: The midwives answered Pharaoh, "Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive."

Dr. Goldberg uses Exodus 1:19 to support the view that "at the time of life" means the term of gestation. According to this view, the excuse that the Egyptian midwives give Pharaoh in Exodus 1:19 means "Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they give birth before full term, before the midwives arrive".

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It seems to me that this phrase, "the time of life", is referring to the time in the year at which new life begins; the spring of the year. Life begins anew each year, each spring...flowers bloom, trees foliage, cows calve, frogs lay eggs...on and on new life begins. So this seems the most logical understanding of the time in which this angelic being, though man, was referring His returning.

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  • Hi Alice and welcome to BH StackExchange! Please review the FAQ for the site. You'll find helpful tips on crafting responses, including that they should be supported with the text in question rather than more subjective sources/opinions. Looking forward to reading your future posts! – Frank H. Jul 16 '18 at 13:13
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In modern vernacular we would say 'during your lifetime'. This translation is varying, among different translations simply because the original words being translated have no precise equivalent in the English language. It is incumbent on us to remember that Angels, as the Scriptures define this individual; are from the Spiritual realm. There is no time in the Spiritual realm. There is no such things as the past, nor the future. It is difficult for us to understand where God resides only those things which are material have a beginning, or an end. In our material realm it is necessary to have time as a reference in order to enumerate the relationships to age and sequence, but in the Spiritual realm that is not necessary since there is no such thing as decay. Things simply are. The words you reference are simply added to give a reference point for our convenience. The Angel was merely saying that it would return at what, in our material realm, is known as the future.

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    Is there a Biblical basis for believing time doesn't exist in the spiritual realm? (And by spiritual realm do you mean heaven?) I would appreciate if your answer had sources. – 4castle Oct 30 '17 at 13:15

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