YEARS IN EGYPT – 400 or 430 or was it 215?
There has been confusion, misinterpretation, or plain unbelief of God’s Word in the answering of this question. Is there a discrepancy in the Bible? Some teachers (textual critics) say that a scribal error accounts for the discrepancy. There are four main Scriptures that must be understood to answer this question. They are:
Ex 12:40 – Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.
Gen 15:13 – And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and shall afflict them four hundred years.
Acts 7:6 – And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage and entreat them evil four hundred years.
Gal 3:17 – 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.
One of my seminary teachers surmised that there was a scribal error here! Could this be, I thought? This bothered me greatly! Are there errors in the Bible? Bible believing Presbyterians believe what the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, sections 4 and 8 teach. “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is the truth itself,) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.” The Apostle Paul commended the church at Thessalonica writing, For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but (as it is in truth) the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe, 1 Thess 2:13. See also 2 Pet 1:19, 21; 2 Tim 3:16; 1 Jn 5:9. Section 8 says – “The Old Testament in Hebrew…and the New Testament in Greek…being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical…” Matt 5:18 – For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one title shall in not wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Isaiah 8:20 – To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is not light in them. See also Acts 15:15, Jn 5:39, 46.
I believed this doctrine and searched until I found the solution. The following is the solution to the reconciling of the four verses, showing that there is no discrepancy or error here. Note:
- A careful reading of the four texts gives the solution to the question. In Gal 3:17 Paul tells us that the period of time from the covenant, made with Abraham (see the context) to the law, that God gave to the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai, was 430 years. What about Ex 12:40? The context of this verse is the celebration of the Passover, where the children of Israel were instructed to kill the Passover lamb and apply the blood to the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses…and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt, Ex 12:7,13. When Pharaoh saw that all the firstborn of Egypt were killed, he hastily sent Israel away, Ex 12:29-33. The phrase, who dwelt in Egypt, must be understood as referring to the predominance of time spent in Egypt.
- The reference to 400 years in the Gen 15:13 and Acts 7:6 passages refers to the period of time that Israel was afflicted, starting with the persecution of Isaac by Ishmael and continuing to the giving of the law. The remaining 30 years is the time from the giving of the covenant to the weaning of Isaac.
Let us now look at the various passages determining the chronology of these 430 years.
1. Abraham was 75 years old when the promise (the covenant) was given, Gen 12:4; 86 years old when Ishmael was born, Gen 16:15,16; 100 years old when Isaac was born, Gen 21:5; 105? when Isaac was weaned and mocked, Gen21:8,9.
God revealed that Abraham’s seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and shall afflict them and bring them into bondage and entreat them evil four hundred years, Gen 15:13, Acts 7:6. The beginning of this affliction was Ishmael’s mocking Isaac. And the child (Isaac) grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar (Ishmael) the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking, Gen 21:8,9. This is the start of the 400 years. The end of the 400 years is the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. The 30 years prior to this 400 is the time from the giving of the covenant to Abraham to the weaning of Isaac (25 years to Isaac’s birth + 5 (?) years.
2. From the giving of the promise to Jacob’s going down to Egypt was 215 years. 25 years to the birth of Isaac (Gen 12:4, 21:5), 60 years to the birth of Jacob (Gen 25:26), 130 years to his going down to Egypt (Gen 47:9)
From Jacob’s (children of Israel) going down to Egypt to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai was 215 years computed as follows:
3. Joseph was 39 years old when Jacob came down to Egypt, Gen 41:46,47; 45:6. Therefore, he was born when Jacob was 91, (130-39).
4. Joseph was born 6 years before Jacob left Laban (compare Gen 30:25 with 31:4, having been with him 20 years, Gen 31:38, 41.
5. Jacob served Laban 14 of them for his two daughters, Gen 29:20,24,30. Jacob’s marriage with Rachel took place when he was 84 (91 +6 -20 +7). The marriages with Leah and Rachel were contemporaneous; the second seven years of service occurred after, not before, the marriage.
6. Levi, the third son of Leah, whose first son was born after Rachel’s marriage, Gen 29:30-32, must have been born not earlier than Jacob’s 87th year, and consequently was about 43 (130 – 87), when he went down with the family to Egypt.
7. Levi lived in all 137 years, therefore, he lived about 94 (137 -43) years in Egypt, Ex 6:16.
8. Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron, married his father Kohath’s sister, Jochebed, who was “the daughter of Levi (Num 26:59), whom her mother bear to Levi in Egypt,” Ex 6:16 – 20. Therefore, Jochebed must have been born within 94 years after Jacob’s going down into Egypt.
9. Moses was 80 years old at the Exodus, Ex 7:7.
10. The sojourn in Egypt was, therefore, 94 + 80 + X = 430 or 94 + 80 + X = 215, where X is the age of Jocebed when Moses was born. Since X would be 266 years in the first case, (people weren’t living that long at the time), the time in Egypt could not have been 430 years. X would be 41 years in the second case, which is reasonable. Therefore, the time in Egypt was 215 years!
This study proves once again that the Bible is the Word of God, and that difficult questions have answers!