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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?

  • 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
  • The video posted above seems, for some mysterious reason, to think that the 450 years mentioned in Acts 13:20 refer to the time spent in Egypt. – Lucian Oct 3 '17 at 3:05
  • Much of Biblical chronology seems made up of chunks of 430-440 years: From Abraham's entrance into Canaan to Israel's Exodus out of Egypt, from the Exodus until the building of the Temple (LXX), from the Temple's construction to its destruction, and then we have Daniel's 62 weeks-of-years, spanning from its demolition to the Maccabean uprising. If people would count in dozens, then 432 years would amount to a quarter of a millennium. – Lucian Jan 24 '18 at 8:07
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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.

  • 3
    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
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    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
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    (...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
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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!

  • Do these calculations only apply if we assume the line from Levi to Moses is complete? – joshuahedlund Aug 27 '15 at 21:51
  • Yes. Do you have any reason to believe it isn't? – conceptualinertia Dec 9 '15 at 21:24
  • Some reasons I've seen given to doubt the line being complete are that 1) generally, many Biblical lines are incomplete, 2) specifically, the equivalent line to Joshua has 10 generations, 3) Levi's numbers of descendants per son in Moses' day are unrealistic if only a couple generations later – joshuahedlund Dec 10 '15 at 21:16
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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.

  • 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
  • How does this view reconcile with David's song in 1 Chronicles 16 that God allowed "no one to oppress them" while they were "sojourners," "few in number"? Given that the Hebrew word used for "afflict" in Genesis 15 is the same used in Exodus 1 to describe how the taskmasters "afflicted" the Israelites after they had multiplied, but a different word is used to describe Ishmael's mockery, I find it easier to take all of these passages plainly with Exodus 12:40, and to assume non-chronology in Galatians, than to assume literal time from Galatians and explain away all the others. – joshuahedlund Aug 27 '15 at 21:49
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    @joshuahedlund: The text simply says that God suffered no man to do them wrong, which is not quite the same as saying that no man did them wrong. Indeed, it immediately continues by saying that he reproved kings for their sake, which, as far as I can tell, is primarily a reference to Pharaoh. But why the need for reproval in the first place ? Obviously, because he did indeed do them wrong, at which point God, who does not suffer that to happen, intervened. – Lucian Oct 3 '17 at 1:59
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There are two positions on the time elapsed between Jacob's entry into Egypt and the Exodus:

  • Short sojourn: 215 years. It implies that the 430-year interval of Ex 12:40 began at Gen ch. 15, as stated by Paul in Gal 3:17.

  • Long sojourn: 430 years. It implies that the 430-year interval of Ex 12:40 began when Jacob entered Egypt.

Short sojourn position

To note, 215 years is the absolute minimum duration of the Israelites' sojourn in Egypt in the short sojourn position, not the only possible duration. This can be easily seen from Paul's statement in Gal 3:17 - reflecting the view in the proto-rabbinic circle of Gamaliel, under whom Paul had studied the Torah - that the Law had come 430 years after God's promise to Abraham and to his offspring. Now, Abraham's act of faith mentioned in Gal 3:6 and God's promise to Abraham and to his offspring mentioned in Gal 3:16 are in Gen 15:6 and 15:18 respectively, within the event known as "Covenant of the pieces". Therefore we must estimate the time elapsed between Abraham's departure from Haran (Gen 12:4-5) and the promise in Gen 15:18. If, and only if, both events happened within a few months, so that Abraham was still 75 y.o. at the time of the promise, then the time elapsed from Abraham's birth to the Exodus was:

Abraham's birth - Exodus = 75 + 430 = 505 years

Substracting from that the time elapsed from Abraham's birth to Jacob's entry into Egypt:

Abraham's age at Isaac's birth (Gen 21:5)..: 100
Isaac's age at Jacob's birth (Gen 25:26)...: 060
Jacob's age at entering Egypt (Gen 47:9)...: 130
------------------------------------------------
Abraham's birth to Jacob's entry into Egypt: 290 years

we obtain the absolute minimum short sojourn duration: 505 - 290 = 215 years.

However, the Genesis narrative of ch. 12 to 14 clearly fits better with an elapsed time of several years between Abraham's departure from Haran and the Covenant of the Pieces.

Taking now into account the prophecy in Gen 15:13 that Abraham's offspring ("seed") would serve and be afflicted for 400 years, we can interpret that the servitude and affliction of Abraham's offspring began in any of two moments:

  • at the feast on the day that Isaac was weaned, when Ishmael mocked Isaac (Gen 21:9), or

  • at Akedah, when Abraham laid the wood of the burnt offering on Isaac (Gen 22:6) and then bound him and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood, and reached out his hand and took the knife to slay him (Gen 22:9-10). I prefer this interpretation, since this was real servitude and affliction.

Thus, adopting a convention of denoting a specific moment as X.nn, where:

  • X (or XX) is the initial (or first 2 letters) of the name of a biblical figure or event, and

  • nn is X's age at that moment if X is a figure, or the number of years that have elapsed from X if X is an event,

we have (with A: Abraham, I: Isaac, J:Jacob, and P:Promise), the following chronology:

A.75. Abraham leaves Haran (Gen 12:4-5)

  • a (Time elapsed between Abraham's departure from Haran in Gen 12:4-5 and the promise)

P.0 = A.(75 + a). Covenant of the pieces (Gen ch. 15): Abraham believes the LORD and receives the 400-year prophecy and the promise.

  • (25 - a)

P.(25 - a) = A.100 = I.0. Isaac is born (Gen 21:2-5).

  • b (Isaac's age at the event beginning the servitude and affliction of Abraham's offspring prophecied in Gen 15:13)

P.(25 + b - a) = A.(100 + b) = I.b. Either Ishmael mocks Isaac (Gen 21:9) or Abraham offers Isaac in sacrifice (Gen ch. 22).

  • (60 - b)

P.(85 - a) = I.60 = J.0. Jacob is born (Gen 25:26).

  • 130 y

P.(215 - a) = J.130. The Sons of Israel enter Egypt (Gen 47:9).

  • (215 + a) (Duration of the Israelites' sojourn in Egypt)

P.(430). Exodus

Since the Covenant of the pieces must have been before Sarai gave Hagar to Abram as a wife, which happened "after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan" (Gen 16:3):

0 <= a <= 10

The 400-year interval of servitude and affliction of Abraham's offspring prophecied in Gen 15:13 implies:

400 = 430 - (25 + b - a) 0 = 30 - 25 - b + a b = 5 + a

Thus we have:

0 <= a <= 10 (Time from Abraham's departure from Haran to the promise)

5 <= b <= 15 (Isaac's age at the event beginning his affliction)

where the values of both variable time intervals move in tandem from left to right within their respective 10-year ranges. Accordingly, the Israelites' soujourn in Egypt may have lasted from 215 to 225 years.

If the event beginning the servitude and affliction of Abraham's offspring prophecied in Gen 15:13 was Akedah, from a practical viewpoint, for Isaac to be able to carry the wood of the burnt offering on top of himself, his realistic minimum age at Akedah is b = 8, so that a = 3, and the Israelites spent 218 years in Egypt. In that case:

Abraham's birth - Exodus = 75 + a + 430 = 508 years

The short sojourn position, both in its usual minimum version or in the adjusted version presented above, fits a literal reading of Moses' genealogy from Levi (Ex 6:16-20), noting that Levi's son Kohath had already been born when Jacob entered Egypt (Gen 46:11). Denoting Kohath's age at the entry into Egypt as KE, Kohath's age at Amram's birth as KBA and Amram's age at Moses' birth as ABM, and knowing that Moses was 80 y.o. at the time of Exodus (Ex 7:7), we have:

Entry into Egypt - Exodus = KBA + ABM - KE + 80

where Kohath's and Amram's begetting ages must be less than their respective lifetimes, and KE must be greater than zero.

KBA + ABM - KE < 133 + 137 = 270

Thus, short sojourn times can be achieved in a number of ways, such as e.g.:

For (KE = 2, KBA = 50, ABM = 90), sojourn time = 218 years

This is fully compatible with Num 3:27-28 stating that the number of male descendants of Kohath was 8600, as e.g. in this way:

Years - Age --- Age ----- Age -- Age -- Kohath's
from -- of ---- of ------ of --- of --- patrilineal
entry - Kohath  Jochebed  Amram  Moses  male descendants
  0 ---   2 ---  .. ----  .. --- .. --- .
 30 ---  32 ---  12 ----  .. --- .. --- 3
 60 ---  62 ---  42 ----  12 --- .. --- 3 x 5 + 1 = 16
 90 ---  92 ---  72 ----  42 --- .. --- 16 x 5 = 80
120 --- 122 --- 102 ----  72 --- .. --- 80 x 5 = 400
150 --- xxx --- 132 ---- 102 --- 12 --- 400 x 3 = 1200
180 --- xxx --- xxx ---- 132 --- 42 --- 1200 x 3 = 3600
210 --- xxx --- xxx ---- xxx --- 72 --- 3600 x 2 = 7200

Long sojourn position

The long sojourn chronology is schematic, intended to assign 1200 years from Abraham's birth to the beginning of the construction of Solomon's temple.

Abraham's birth - entry into Egypt: 290
Jacob's entry into Egypt - Exodus.: 430
---------------------------------------
Abraham's birth - Exodus..........: 720 = 60 x 12
Exodus - construction First Temple: 480 = 60 x 8
---------------------------------------
Abraham's birth - First Temple...: 1200 = 60 x 20
-2

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.

Samuel Davidson, D.D, in An Introduction to the Old Testament, Critical, Historical, and Theological, Containing a Discussion of the Most Important Questions Belonging to the Several Books (published 1862), page 223, disputes this expedient, saying "Why the previous sojourn in Canaan should be inserted does not appear; and it would certainly be inappropriate." He cites Kalisch's Commentary on Exodus on the absurdity of such a short sojourn, 215 years in Egypt:

The oppressive measures of the Egyptian king for checking the increase and annihilating the energies of the Israelites, must have commenced at least 100 years before the Exodus, because Moses was then eighty years old, and already a considerable time before his birth the cruel policy of the king had been carried into effect. Now, is it in any way probable, that a family of sixty-nine persons should, in not more than about 100 years, increase to a nation so formidable as to make the powerful king of a great monarchy tremble at the idea of their possible resistance?

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.

  • "no evidence"? What is the account/testimony of Scripture? – user2027 Dec 22 '13 at 23:53
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    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. – Dɑvïd Mar 6 '14 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 Oct 30 '14 at 5:35
  • 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. – user2027 Oct 30 '14 at 13:37
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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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