BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 125 (1969): 306-16

Copyright 1969 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.


The Duration of

The Egyptian Bondage

Harold W. Hoehner


When one looks at the various passages of Scripture con-

cerning the length of Israel's bondage in Egypt one im-

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.



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.



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.



Exodus 12:40-41. Now the sojourning of the children of

Israel,2 who dwelt in Egypt,3 was 430 years and it came to

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 land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt." The

LXX has the same words but in inverted order. Again because of weak sup-

port, the MT should stand as is.




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.



Acts 13:17-20. The God of this people Israel chose our

fathers, and exalted the people when they sojourned in Egypt

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

of Canaan he gave (them6) their land as an inheritance for

approximately 450 years. And after that7 he gave them judges

until Samuel the prophet.



One sees immediately that there are three figures for the

length of Israel's sojourn in Egypt. Was it 400, 430, or 450

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



There are two major views to be considered at this time

after which the present writer's view will be given.


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

215-year sojourn in the land of Canaan and another period

of 215 years in Egypt,13 hence making a total of 430 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

sojourn of 215 years in Palestine and one of 430 years in Egypt, thus making

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.



Jacob was 130 years old when he went to

Egypt (Gen. 47 :9, 28) 130

Sub total 215

Remaining 215 years were in Egypt 215

Total 430


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 Palestine in the fourth generation which they did according

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 Egypt. The 400 years was from

the weaning of Isaac to the time of the Exodus.

Objections to the position. Firstly, the tenor of Scripture

for their sojourn in Egypt is more than 215 years. Both

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 Palestine in the

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

Judah to Nahshan, a tribe in the time of Moses; in I Chron-

icles 2:18 there are seven generations from Judah to Bezaleel,

the builder of the tabernacle; and in I Chronicles 2:2; 7:20-27,

29 there are at least ten generations between Jacob and

Joshua (Jacob-Joseph-Ephraim-Rephah-Resheph-Telah-

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

would mean that oppression in Egypt will last three full lifetimes and part

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

430-year stay in Egypt as noted in the Hebrew text" (op. cit., p. 57). However,

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.



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 Egypt. In both of these passages the

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

and Edom) which were probably taken from Num. 26:28-37 and/or I Chron.

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

400 years.

312 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA October, 1969


In conclusion, from biblical and other lines of evidence

an Egyptian bondage of 215 years is highly improbable and




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,

pp. 179-83.



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.



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

the Abrahamic covenant before going into Egypt was given

to Jacob in Genesis 35:9-15. Jacob's name was confirmed

as Israel at that time. It is interesting to note that Exodus

314 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA. October, 1969


12:40-41 mentions that it was the children of Israel--not

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,

It would mean that Jacob and his family went to Egypt

(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

years mentioned in the Scriptures for the duration of Israel's


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,

namely Egypt. Hence, the 430-year sojourn would include

the 400-year bondage in Egypt plus another 30 years of

sojourning outside of Egypt.

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,

2d ed.)

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.



whereas the AV translates it who which refers back to "the

children of Israel." Since rwx is indeclinable and its ante-

cedent may be singular or plural and may be of either gender,

it allows for great latitude in translation. However, here it

seems best to have "the children of Israel" as its antecedent

rather than the word "time." The reasons are twofold. Firstly,

the phrase "the children of Israel" would be closer in posi-

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

("who dwelt in Egypt") would be nonrestrictive and only

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

children of Israel never remained in one place in Canaan but

were always travelling (cf. Gen. 35:16, 21, 27; in 37:1 they

dwelt in the land of Canaan with no specific location men-


Thirdly, it is interesting to notice that whereas in Exodus

12:40 the MT has "now the sojourning of the children of

Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was 430 years. . . ." the SP and

LXX has "now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who

dwelt in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt (the LXX

has it in inverted order), was 430 years. . . ." This indicates

that the sojourning would include Canaan and Egypt. Although

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

translating Exodus 12:40-41, the clause "who dwelt in Egypt" is set off by

commas. For clarity it could be rendered: Now the sojourning of the children

of Israel (who dwelt in Egypt) was 430 years. . . ."

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

Abrahamic covenant to Israel (Jacob) before going into

Egypt (Gen. 35:9-15) until the time of the Exodus, the 400

years would be that period of time when the nation Israel

was in Egypt, that is, from the time when Jacob and his

family entered Egypt (Gen. 46) until the Exodus. The phrase

"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 land of Palestine which

makes a total of 447 years or "about 450 years."



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

(Gen. Egypt Egypt Mosaic at (Josh.

35:9-15) (Gen. 37) (Gen. 40) Covenant Canaan 14:7,10)

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)


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Dallas, TX 75204

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