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?

6 Answers 6


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".


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.

  • 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.
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 13:13

I think the word "According to the time of life" does not mean much to the physical man in terms of psychological interpretation. It's an expression that was associated with prophetic utterances and in most cases used in impossible cases in the Bible.

For example, like for Sarah in Genesis 18:10,14. Sarah had to laugh because it seems God is trying to play on her (self) intelligence and her human calculations seeing that she had passed the age of bearing a son. Also, the Shunammite woman also doubted the prophesy of the man of God in 1 Kings 4:16,17 because what he was talking about was against natural things, since her husband was old (v 14).

So, God has a way of stepping into private issues to change the course of nature in order to favor His chosen one.

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    – enegue
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 23:55

Time of Life (God is not in time ; God is of Life)

And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid.( Kings 4: 17) KGV

(Scientifically it takes 9 months for a baby to come out of the womb. But as the Man of God said "About this season, according to the Time of Life" which means not in the time to come or in future, but this season, which is not even gonna that 9 months for you to embrace the baby). Miracle Baby


We must first understand that the life and story of Abraham is is an allegory which God the holy spirit used to teach spiritual truth. The time of life as used hers refers to a particular time an event which precides life must takes place before life itself or reproduction can tale place. The time of life here i believe is the time of death which must happened in the life of both Abraham and Sarah. That is why Romans 4:19. The bible recorded that when sarah has reached the deadness of her womb and Abraham being a hundrend years old. It means when all hope has been lost on SELF, that is when spiritual life is produced. Without the death of the natural, spiritual life can not come. Paul spoke about this in 2 Corinthians 4:11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. This is the essence of the cross as it is the instrument of death of the natural death in us and also the instrument of life in us.

Again if we look at the book john 21: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. xref-3 [xref-1]

19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Except we come to the tine of death of that which is natural in our life which includes our will, strength in self, etc. We will nerver come to time of eternal life.

  • Hi Ola, welcome to the site. Could you clarify how this answers the original question? Please be sure to take the site tour, and thanks for contributing! Commented Jun 24, 2022 at 2:08

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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 13:15

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