BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 125 (1969): 306-16
Copyright © 1969 by
The Duration of
The Egyptian Bondage
Harold W. Hoehner
When one looks at the various passages of Scripture con-
mediately discovers that there are apparent disagreements
in the biblical record. Various scholars have attempted to
resolve the apparent discrepancies. The purpose of this article
is to discuss and evaluate the various views and then attempt
to present a solution to the problem.
I. THE SCRIPTURES INVOLVED
Before discussing the various theories, a review of the
Scripture passages concerning the duration of the bondage
is in order. The passages are the author's own translation.
PASSAGES MENTIONING 400 YEARS
Genesis 15:13. And he said to Abram: "Know with cer-
tainty that your descendents shall be strangers (sojourners)
in a land that is not theirs and they shall serve them1 and
they shall oppress them for 400 years."
Genesis 15:16. And in the fourth generation they shall
come back here again. . . .
Acts 7:6. And God spoke in this manner; that his [Abra-
ham's] descendents shall be strangers in a land that is not
theirs, and that they shall enslave them and maltreat (them,)
for 400 years.
PASSAGES MENTIONING 430 YEARS
Exodus 12:40-41. Now the sojourning of the children of
pass at the end of the 430 years, on that very day it came to
1 The LXX adds here "and shall maltreat them." When this verse is
quoted in Acts 7:6 this phrase is retained.
2 The Samaritan Pentateuch (hereafter designated as SP) as well as the
Alexandrinus and Lagardiana codices of the LXX add "and their fathers."
Since there is no other MS evidence for this additional reading, the Masoretic
text (hereafter designated MT) should stand as is.
3 The SP has: "in the
LXX has the same words but in inverted order. Again because of weak sup-
port, the MT should stand as is.
THE DURATION OF THE EGYPTIAN BONDAGE 307
pass, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of
Galatians 3:17. Now this I say: "The law which came 430
years afterward does not make void a covenant previously
ratified by God4 so as to invalidate the promise.
PASSAGE MENTIONING 450 YEARS
Acts 13:17-20. The God of this people
exalted the people when they sojourned in
and with a high arm he led them out of it, and for approxi-
mately forty years as a nursing father he bore5 them in the
wilderness. And when he destroyed seven nations in the land
approximately 450 years. And after that7 he gave them judges
until Samuel the prophet.
II. THE PROBLEM STATED
One sees immediately that there are three figures for the
years? Can these differences be resolved in a way which will
satisfy the given data in all these passages?
4 Some MSS add the words "in Christ." Although the weightiest MSS
omit the words, their inclusion or exclusion is of no significance for this study.
The textual variant "cared for" has about equal weight as the reading
used in the above translation. The same two variants are found in the LXX of
Deut. 1:31, the passage to which Paul is alluding, but the MT has simply
xWn which means "to bear."
6 This word is inserted for clarity in English and is included in some MSS.
7 The Textus Receptus which the AV follows has the phrase "and after
that" preceding the words "approximately 450 years." This would mean that
there was an approximate 450-year span between Joshua's conquering of the
land and Samuel the prophet. Thus the period of the judges was about 450
years. The reading of the Nestle text is better because: (1) it is favored by
the more weighty MSS (p74, x ABC 33 81 181 it-ar c vg arm geo), and
(2) it fits better with I Kings 6:1 where there is a 480-year period from the
Exodus to the fourth year of Solomon-otherwise if one accepts the Textus
Receptus reading, one would have to squeeze into the 480-year period the
450 years of the judges period, the reigns of Joshua, Saul, David, and the first
three or four years of Solomon's reign, and forty years of wilderness wander-
ings. Accepting the reading of the Nestle text, viz., the placing of the approx-
imate 450 years from the commencement of the Egyptian bondage until Joshua's
conquest of the land, will be discussed in the text below.
308 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA October, 1969
III. THE PROBLEM DISCUSSED
There are two major views to be considered at this time
after which the present writer's view will be given.
AN EGYPTIAN BONDAGE OF 215 YEARS
Statement of the position. Anstey,8 Mauro,9 Cooper,10
Thiele,11 and The New Scofield Reference Bible12 favor the
position of a 215-year Egyptian bondage. The adherents of
this view take the 430 years mentioned in Galatians 3:17 as
beginning with the call of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) and ending
with the Exodus. The 400 years has reference to the period
from the weaning of Isaac and the casting out of Ishmael
(Gen. 21:10.) until the Exodus. Therefore, one would have a
sojourn in the
of 215 years
for the sojourn.14 It may be outlined as follows:
The call of Abraham who was 75 years
old (Gen. 12:4) 0
Isaac born when Abraham was 100 years
old (Gen. 21 :5) 25
Isaac was weaned and Ishmael was cast
out when Isaac was 5 (this begins the
400-year period) 5
Jacob and Esau born when Isaac was
60 (Gen. 25.26) 55
8 Martin Anstey, The Romance of Bible Chronology, I, 116-18.
9 Philip Mauro, The Chronology of the Bible, pp. 37-40 "
10 David L. Cooper, Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled, pp. 129-34.
11 Edwin R. Thiele, "Chronology, Old Testament," The Zondervan pic-
torial Bible Dictionary, ed. Merrill C. Tenney, pp. 166-67. This is in agree-
ment with The Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary, I, 184-, 192. Thiele is
one of its contributors and it may be that he wrote the section "The Chronol-
ogy of Early Bible History" (ibid., I, 174-96).
12 E. Schuyler English, et al (eds.), The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 86 n. 2.
13 Rowley has gathered material of those in the Jewish tradition that
hold to this position (H. H. Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua, pp. 67-69).
14 Dewey M. Beegle (The Inspiration of Scripture, pp. 56-58) has another
view which will not be considered separately. He thinks that there was a
215 years in
a total of 64-5 years. Hence he concludes that Paul's statement in Gal. 3:17
is inaccurate for he states: "Evidently it seemed good to the Holy Spirit to
let Paul use the traditional 430 years without informing him that he was
technically wrong and should be using 64-5 years as found in Hebrew" (ibid.,
p. 58). However, it is obvious that Beegle does not try to find a solution,
rather he attempts to demonstrate inaccuracies within Scripture and yet be
inspired (cf., ibid., pp. 189-93). But the present writer believes that one can
plausibly resolve the problem and consequently the Scripture being inspired
must be accurate in its details.
THE DURATION OF THE EGYPTIAN BONDAGE 309
Jacob was 130 years old when he went to
Sub total 215
215 years were in
Those who hold this position make a distinction between
430 years and 400 years. The 400-year period begins not with
Isaac's birth but when he was acknowledged as the seed and
heir and consequently Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael
(Gen. 21:8-10). This 400-year sojourn is deduced from. Genesis
15:13 and Acts 7:6 which states that the 400-year sojourn
in a land that is not theirs is made by Abraham's seed which
would have reference to Isaac at the time he was weaned.15
The proponents of this view also mention the fact that
in Genesis 15:16 it was prophesied that they would return
to Exodus 6:16-20; Numbers 3:17-19; 26:57-59; I Chronicles
6:1-3; 23:6, 12, 13 (Jacob-Levi-Kohath-Amram-Moses).16 To
fit four generations into a 215-year period is much more
reasonable than a 430-year span.
In conclusion, the 430 years went from Abraham's call
to the Exodus. The first 215 years was their sojourn in Pales-
tine and the
last 215 years in
the weaning of Isaac to the time of the Exodus.
Objections to the position. Firstly, the tenor of Scripture
Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6 state that they will be in a land
that is not theirs and be oppressed for 400 years.
Secondly, Galatians 3:17 does not state that the 430 years
was from the time of Abraham's call to the time of the
Mosaic covenant. Rather it is to be measured from the con-
firmation (not its institution) of the Abrahamic covenant
until the Sinaitic covenant.
Thirdly, to say that Isaac was weaned and Ishmael was
cast out when Isaac was five years old is mere guesswork.
There is no statement in Scripture stating that Isaac became
heir at five years of age. This is deduced from the need of
15 Cf. Mauro, op. cit., pp. 39-39; Cooper, op. cit., pp. 164-65.
16 Cf. Cooper, op. cit., pp. 132, .164-65.
310 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA October, 1969
an extra five years after Isaac was born so as to make a
total of thirty from the time of Abraham's call to Isaac's
being weaned which would account for the 430 and 400-year
periods. If one would carry this out logically then Isaac,
Abraham's seed, would be the one in bondage for 400 years.
All Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6 are saying is that Abraham's
progeny would be sojourners and be afflicted for 400 years.
This does not compel one to think it has reference to Isaac
personally but that the descendents of Abraham sometime
in the future will be in bondage for 400 years.
Fourthly, with regard to their return to
fourth generation (Gen. 15:16), it seems evident that this
would have reference to the 400 years mentioned in the same
context (15:13). Thus each generation was thought of as
100 years (Abraham was 100 when he bore Isaac)17 and
consequently the bondage would be four centuries. Further-
more, although the ancestry of Moses from Jacob through
Levi, Kohath, and Amram is repeatedly given (Ex. 6:16-20;
Num. 3:17-19; 26:57-59; I Chron. 6:1-3; 23:6, 12, 13), there
are in Joshua 17:3 six generations from Joseph to Zelophehad,
a Manassite who died in the wilderness wanderings; in Ruth
4:18-20 and I Chronicles 2 :4-10 there are six generations from
there are seven generations from
the builder of the tabernacle; and in I Chronicles 2:2; 7:20-27,
29 there are at least ten generations between Jacob and
Tahan-Ladan-Ammihud-Elishama-Nun-Joshua).18 Also Thiele
succinctly states: "that some considerable period [between
Jacob and the Exodus] was involved is clear from the fact
that Joseph before his death saw the children of the third
17 The word rvd is translated generation but it may have the idea of a
lifetime which of course would be longer than a generation, cf. W. F. Albright,
"Abram the Hebrew: A New Archaeological Interpretation," Bulletin of the
American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 163 (October, 1961), 50-51. This
that oppression in
of another, or 400 years.
18 Cf. C. F. Keil, The Pentateuch, II, 30. Beegle states: "While the geneal-
ogies indicate only four generations from Levi through Moses, the preponder-
ance of evidence which archaeology offers at the present time favors the
Beegle did not check the Hebrew text! As mentioned above, the Hebrew text
does indicate more than four generations. Thus there is no discrepancy
between the biblical text and archaeological evidence.
THE DURATION OF THE EGYPTIAN BONDAGE 311
generation of both his sons (Gen. 50:23), and that at the time
of the Exodus Amram and his brothers were already regarded
as founders of clans."19 It is a well recognized fact that there
are gaps in genealogies and thus the passages cited above
which mention only three or four links account for only the
most prominent figures in the line. Therefore, since there are
at least ten generations during the Egyptian bondage, they
"can hardly be reconciled with a mere 215 years (especially
considering the longer life span of pre-Exodus Israelites), but
it fits in very plausibly with an interval of 430 years."20
Fifthly, to have an increase from a family of seventy or
seventy-five21 to a nation of more than two million (on the
basis that there were 603,550 men of arms mentioned in
Num. 1:46; 2 :32) would need more than 215 years. Archer
states that if one were able to cram seven generations into
the 215-year period "there would have had to be an average
of four surviving sons per father."22 This is high especially in
the light of the severe bondage, at least in the last years,
which would discourage having large families. However, as-
suming that from each married couple an average of three
sons and three daughters were born for the first six genera-
tions and two sons and two daughters in the last four gen-
erations, Keil calculated that by the tenth generation there
would be 478,224 sons over twenty years of age and 125,326
men of the ninth generation still living, hence making a total
of 603,550 men by the 400th year of the sojourn who were
more than twenty years old." This calculation is based on the
ordinary number of births and is far more reasonable than
trying to fit it into a 215-year span requiring an astronomical
growth in such a short period.
19 Thiele, Zondervan Pictorial, p. 167.
20 Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 212.
21 The MT of Gen. 56 :27 and Ex. 1:5 states that there were seventy per-
sons of the
house of Jacob who went into
LXX states that there were seventy-five persons. In quoting from the Old
Testament, Stephen follows the LXX of seventy-five persons (Acts 7:14). The
difference can be resolved by the fact that the LXX adds in Gen. 46:27 three
grandsons (Machir, Sutalaam, and Taam) and two great-grandsons (Galaad
7 :14-22 (cf. Anstey, op. cit., I, 122; W. Arndt, Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
22 Archer, op. cit., p. 212.
23 Keil, op. cit., II, 29. His calculation begins with the forty-one grandsons
of Jacob and figures ten generations of forty years each making a total of
312 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA October, 1969
In conclusion, from biblical and other lines of evidence
an Egyptian bondage of 215 years is highly improbable and
AN EGYPTIAN BONDAGE OF 430 YEARS
Statement of the position. The second most prevalent view
is that the 430 years of Exodus 12:40-41 refers to the length
of the Egyptian bondage and the 400 years of Genesis 15:13
and Acts 7:6 is only a round number is advocated by scholars
such as Jack,24 Unger,25 Archer,26 Whitcomb,27 and Kitchen.28
Whitcomb thinks that the 400-year period as a round number
is analogous to Paul's figure of "about 450 years" in Acts
Objections to the position. Firstly, this view does not
adequately explain the difference between the 430 years and
the 400 years. To pass the 400 years off as only a round number
seems to do an injustice to the text. The proponents of this
view do not cite any other examples of such a phenomenon.
Most of the authors cited above take other figures such as the
480 years in I Kings 6:1 and the 300 years in Judges 11:26
literally. Whitcomb's attempt to prove the use of a round
number by using the analogy is untenable since Acts 13:19-20
specifically states it as being "about 450 years" which is
not the case for the 400 years in Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6.
This is especially noteworthy since Luke seems to be very
interested in chronology.
Secondly, the advocates of this view usually have little
or no discussion on the 430 years mentioned in Galatians 3:17.
Kitchen states: "Paul in Gal. 3:17 is concerned to establish
one single point: that the Law came long after God's covenant
with Abraham. He therefore makes his point, not by labori-
ously calculating the actual interval between these events but
simply and incisively by citing the well-known figure-the
430 years-included within that interval."30 However, can one
really think this of Paul who was so well schooled in the
24 J. W. Jack, The Date of the Exodus, p. 218.
25 Merrill F. Unger, Archeology and the Old Testament, pp. 106, 150.
26 Archer, op. cit., pp. 205, 211-12.
27 John C. Whitcomb, Chart of Old Testament Patriarchs and Judges, 3rd
ed., explantory sheet.
28 K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, pp. S3-S6.
29 Whitcomb, op. dt., explanatory sheet.
30 Kitchen, op. cit., p. 53 n. 97. Cf. Edward J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth,
THE DURATION OF THE EGYPTIAN BONDAGE 313
Scriptures and the Jewish traditions?
Thirdly, it seems strange for Paul to give the duration of
the Egyptian bondage as being, on the one hand, 430 years in
Galatians 3:17 and, on the other hand, 400 years in Acts
13:16-20 (the actual figure is 450 years, but this would include
the 400 years for bondage, 40 years for the wilderness
journeys, and about 7 years for conquest--thus about 450
years). One would think that Paul would have been at least
Fourthly, those who hold to the 430-year period of
Egyptian bondage make little, if any, attempt in trying to
reconcile the "about 450 years" of Acts 13:19-20 and the 430
years of Exodus 12:40-41 and Galatians 3:17. An Egyptian
bondage of 430 years plus a 40 year wilderness journey and
about 7 years for the conquest of the land (all of which are
included in Acts 13:16-20) would make a total of 477 years.
Certainly the "about 450 years" cannot be stretched to 477
Fifthly, if one holds to any sort of doctrine of inspiration
it seems difficult to pass off the 400 years as a round number.
Would not this allow great liberty in interpreting other num-
bers in the Scriptures? One must be careful and see if there
is a reason for the differences in these two figures before
relegating either figure as a "round number."
In conclusion, it seems that this view does not adequately
explain all the biblical data.
AN EGYPTIAN BONDAGE OF 400 YEARS
Statement of the position. The Egyptian bondage refers
to the 400-year period stated in Genesis 15:13, 16 and Acts
7:6. The 430 years expressed in Exodus 12:40-41 and Gala-
tians 3:17 is that period of time from the confirmation of
the Abrahamic covenant to the Mosaic covenant (which is
only two months after the Exodus). There are several rea-
sons for the tenability of this position.
First, Galatians 3:17 specifically states that the 430-year
period began with the confirmation, not the institution, of
the Abrahamic covenant. The last recorded confirmation of
Abrahamic covenant before going into
to Jacob in Genesis 35:9-15. Jacob's name was confirmed
314 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA. October, 1969
mentions that it was the children of
the children of Jacob-who sojourned for 430 years. Thus
if one accepts Thiele's31 and Whitcomb's32 date of 1445 B.C.
for the Exodus, the confirmation or the covenant would have
been in 1875 B.C.
Second, it gives credence to the 400 years of Egyptian
sojourn (mentioned in Gen. 15:13, 16; Acts 7:6) as being
one of bondage. Thus if one accepts the above Exodus date,
mean that Jacob and his family went to
(Gen. 47:9, cf. 47:28) in 1845 B.C.
Third, this view does full justice to Acts 13:19-20 which
states that it was about 450 years from the commencement
of the Egyptian bondage until after the conquest of Pal-
estine. This would mean 400 years for the Egyptian bondage,
(40 years for the wilderness journey, and 7 years33 for the
conquest of the land, making a total of 447 years or "about"
450 years" as the text states.
In conclusion, this view reconciles the 400, 430 and 450
mentioned in the Scriptures for the duration of
Objection to the position. One objection to this view which
may be rightly raised is the fact that Exodus 12:40-41 states
that their Egyptian bondage was 430 years.
Several observations must be made. First, both Exodus
12:40-41 and Galatians 3:17 speak nothing of a bondage last-
ing 430 years but only of a sojourn lasting that long. On
the other hand Genesis 15:13, 16 and Acts 7:6 speak spe-
cifically of a 400-year bondage in a land that is not theirs,
Second, there is a need for a review of the various trans-
lations of the relative pronoun rwx of Exodus 12:40. The
ASV and RSV translated it that, its antecedent being "time"
31 Thiele, Zondervan Pictorial, p. 167. To arrive at this date one should
consult Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings,
32 Whitcomb, op. cit., chart and explanatory sheet. Of course this is based
on Thiele's work.
33 This is calculated from Josh. 14:7, 19 where Caleb states that from
the division of the land back to the time when Moses sent him as one of the
spies from Kadesh-barnea was a period of 45 years. Since he was sent as a
spy in the second year of their wilderness journey one would subtract 38
remaining years which would leave 7 years for the conquest of the land.
THE DURATION OF THE EGYPTIAN BONDAGE 315
whereas the AV translates it who which refers back to "the
cedent may be singular or plural and may be of either gender,
it allows for great latitude in translation. However, here it
to have "the children of
rather than the word "time." The reasons are twofold. Firstly,
"the children of
tion to rwx. Secondly the noun bwOm which comes from bwy
has the primary meaning to sit, rest, dwell and hence the noun
is translated dwelling-place, dwelling, dwellers, assembly, or
seat.34 The ASV and RSV translation time is a derived and
secondary meaning. In fact bwOm which occurs forty-four
times in the Old Testament is never so rendered by the ASV
and RSV translators in any other place except in Exodus
12:40. Even in Exodus 12:20 they translate it habitations and
dwellings respectively. Thus the AV translation sojourning
is an acceptable rendering. This would mean that the clause
gives additional information concerning the sojourners.35 The
commencement of their sojourning would have been the last
confirmation of the Abrahamic covenant as given in Genesis
35:9-15, if one notices that from Genesis 35 onwards the
were always travelling (cf. Gen. 35:16, 21, 27; in 37:1 they
dwelt in the
Thirdly, it is interesting to notice that whereas in Exodus
12:40 the MT has "now the sojourning of the children of
"now the sojourning of the children of
dwelt in the
has it in inverted order), was 430 years. . . ." This indicates
sojourning would include Canaan and
the present writer does not put much stock in the SP and the
LXX as far as chronological matters, this inclusion may point
back to some early tradition in the text. It is somewhat diffi-
34 Francis Brown, s. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and
English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 444.
35 Cf. Cooper op. cit., pp. 129-30. Notice in the first part of this article when
Exodus 12:40-41, the clause "who dwelt in
commas. For clarity it could be rendered: Now the sojourning of the children
116 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA October, 1969
cult to explain its inclusion except that there was some sort
of early tradition for this reading.
Therefore, it seems that if one will take the 430 years
as the period from the last recorded confirmation of the
be that period of time when the nation
"about 450 years" (Acts 13:19-20) would consist of the 400
years of bondage plus the 40 years of wilderness wanderings
plus the 7
years for conquering the
makes a total of 447 years or "about 450 years."
IV. THE CONCLUSION AND SUMMARY
After considering the two more well-known theories in
the attempt to resolve the apparent discrepancies concerning
the length of the Egyptian bondage, a third view was pre-
sented which takes into account and better explains all the
biblical data. Assuming the 1445 B.C. date for the Exodus, it
could be charted as follows:
Confirmation Jacob and
of Abrahamic Joseph family Exodus Conquest
Covenant goes to enter and Arrive Completed
35:9-15) (Gen. 37) (Gen. 40) Covenant
1875 1867 1845 1445 1405 1398
«430 years sojourn (Ex. 12 :40-41; Gal. 3 :17) »
« 400 years bondage »
(Gen 15:13,16; Acts 7:6)
« 447 years =Ca. 450 years (Acts 13 :19-20) »
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Please report any errors to Ted