Friday, March 30, 2012

Are Mans’ Days Limited to 120 Years?

And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Gen. 6:3)

From the verse above, many wonder if God was teaching that man’s maximum life span was going to be 120 years or if he was teaching that it was going to be 120 years until The Flood.  Let’s have a look… 

The 120 Years Refers to Life Span

If man’s life span was reduced to 120 years, then those who follow this interpretation must explain how those born after The Flood managed to live longer.  The following list provides a sampling of some of those people. 

Gen. 11:10-13

Gen. 23:1
Gen. 11:14-15

Gen. 25:7
Gen. 11:16-17

Gen. 25:17
Gen. 11:18-19

Gen. 35:28
Gen. 11:20-21

Gen. 47:28
Gen. 11:22-23

Num. 33:39
Gen. 11:24-25

Dt. 34:7
Gen. 11:32

Indeed there seems to be a problem with their interpretation, but they do have a logical explanation.  They correctly observe that the overall trend is down; and so when God said that man’s years would be 120, they take it to mean that there would be a gradual decline rather than a steep drop – and Scripture seems to support this view.  Joseph later dies at 110 (Gen. 50:22) followed by a continual drop as one continues reading through Scripture.  Even today there are only a handful of people who make it beyond 100.  But while this is logical, it isn’t necessarily biblical.  Here’s why.  

To begin, the immediate context of Genesis 6:3 is that of impending judgment against man for sin via The Flood and not life expectancy – and so the context of the passage doesn’t support that interpretation. 

Second, the language of the verse is given in specific rather than general terms.  The verse says that a man’s days “shall be” 120 years which is definite; it doesn’t say or imply that a man’s days will be “limited” or “reduced” to a 120 years maximum.  This is a meaning that has been read into the text that the text itself doesn’t support (eisegesis).  In other words, if the life span interpretation is correct, then from this same verse you must also teach that we should be dying on our 120th birthday or in the 120th year of our life.  And of all people in the Bible, Moses is the only one recorded as having done so (that this author could find, anyway).      

Third, limiting man’s years on earth is no real deterrent to sin.  People back then didn’t know how long they were going to live any more than those living today, and so the limiting of a man’s life offers no real deterrence to sin.  In 2 Peter 2, Peter uses the story of The Flood to remind us that judgment is coming (again) and so we’d all better “get onboard” unless we all want to go to Hell.  So again, the context is one of impending judgment and not life-span.  In addition, people living longer in sin is actually more harmful than having lived fewer years because the Bible teaches that those who sin more will receive more punishment; and so in this regard, having fewer years of life is actually more beneficial to the sinner than living longer. 

And fourth, if the 120-yr life span was a curse upon the ungodly, then why are the righteous descendants of Noah smitten with it?  Including us!  Why are God’s people being held accountable for the sins of the ungodly that were destroyed in The Flood?  The answer should be obvious – something is wrong with this interpretation.  It implies that both saint and sinner will suffer the same judgment, and that is anathema.  Selah. 

The 120 Years is Prophetic

Others believe that God was saying that it was going to be 120 years until The Flood.  They compare Noah’s age in Genesis 5:32 (500) and his age in Genesis 7:6 (600) which is a difference of 100 years, but not the 120 years mentioned in Genesis 6:3.  So to explain where the other 20 years went, they often say that God was only speaking in general terms.  But why does God need to speak in general terms when he knows exactly when something is going to take place?  It’s no more difficult for him to say “100” than it is “120.”  If God was speaking in general terms, then his “prediction” was off by 20%.  Men often speak in general terms, but not God – not when he’s giving dates or prophetic timelines.  Speaking in general terms over specific matters only leads to frustration and resentment.  If I tell you that I’m going to meet you for dinner at 5:00 p.m. but I don’t show until 9:00 p.m., you’re going to be frustrated and resentful.        

But if both of these interpretations are incorrect, then what’s the answer?  It’s actually very simple.  In short, the 120 years are prophetic but for different reasons than described above.  There are two possible outcomes. 

(1) God told Noah when he was 480 years old that The Flood was going to come.   

Genesis 6 is actually a continuation of the story from Genesis 4 and not Genesis 5.  Genesis 5 is a pause or break from the narrative that provides us with chronological and genealogical information; and so it wasn’t 120 years from Noah when he was 500 years old in Genesis 5, it was 20 years prior sometime during the narrative when only reading Genesis 4 and Genesis 6. 
(2) God was “talking to himself” in Genesis 6:3 but told Noah 20 years later when he was 500 years old.

Thus, the 120 years is preserved and so God’s people need not hide behind the implication that God was wrong, which is the subtle undercurrent behind the thoughts of many who are trying to explain the perceived disparity in numbers.  The context of the verse is not one of life span but one of judgment and we should all be mindful of it.  Selah.


  1. So are you saying that after 120 years God's Spirit will stop striving with sinful men, who are sinful since their youth? Did the people born 120 years later no longer sin since their youth?
    I disagree. Today DNA research gives the Hayflick Limit as 120 years, before our cells are programmed to die. The reason most die younger is because of ignoring Biblical diet, including disregard for the glass of wine per day that Jesus drank, as well as Paul advised Timothy. Alcohol in moderation, keeps arteries clear, preventing cardio vascular degeneration, and cancer for many decades. Even the French Paradox proves that we can live past 100 even with some unhealthy meats in our diet. So I take God's words to mean that our DNA was reprogrammed for 120 years, and that Abraham and a few others received an extra dose of grace because of their faith in God. In the 1000 year reign of Christ, those who die at 100 will be cursed as sinners (even when Satan is bound up) and the average human will once again live hundreds of years, some the whole 1000 until the final Judgment.

    1. The context is a specific judgment that's going to occur in 120 years and so it only affected those living then. We are being reminded that God will once again pronounce judgment on the earth. All people are born into sin (except Jesus. Adam was born pure, sinned, and had to be born again). But if they die before having the ability to perceive the need for salvation (age of accountability - only God knows), upon death they go the be with the Father. The people born after The Flood and even now are no different. The earth endured judgment once on a global scale and it will happen again. So when it says that God will stop striving with man, it is as it applied then, but it was only temporary as men were born after The Flood. Today he strives for the hearts of men, but there will be judgment again and next time it'll be for good. Or, his Spirit stooped striving with the men who existed then, but not those born after. Make sense?

    2. I'm the original poster. I disagree that Noah worked for 120 years. God told him to enter with his sons and their wives. Immediately after flood, they had children. So the Sons had recently married in their late nineties (teenagers today), unlike their father who married near 500 (50 today, midlife), and they worked on the ark, by hiring others, possibly hundreds of people, and trading their land, gold and livestock, except for 7 pairs of clean animals. I estimate the construction at 1-2 years max. Noah did not preach repentance for 120 years. Grace came later. I will paraphrase God's statement: I will not destroy man again with floodwaters. Man's ways are sinful from his youth, so even if my Spirit were to strive with him to change his ways for 1000 years, man remains evil. Therefore 120 years is enough time for man to change his evil ways. He can't blame it on youthful foolishness anymore. What happened was a genetic winding down of the biological-clock life-energy given by God's Spirit, from the roughly 1000 year lifespan, to roughly 120 year lifespan. The wicked shall not live out half their days. Moses writes the 70-80 year old psalm in the desert, when God had sworn in his anger that none over 20 shall enter Canaan, so they all had to die in 40 years. God never shortened man's life below 120. We don't reach much past half our alotted days. But the Hayflick limit I mention above, shows the accuracy of interpreting 120 years as a loose rule of general longevity, as opposed to the millenial lifespan pre-flood. Your behavior, attitude (anger, forgiveness, obedience to parents, evil, risk taking, etc) diet, exercise, and faith influence whether you reach, or even exceed that winding down limit programmed in our DNA/RNA clock.

    3. Chapter 5 is a (separate) complete genealogy. It is not part of a chronological story line. For, since it is notating specifically - family lineage - it would be odd to throw in there (at the 120 years prior to the flood mark) that there would in fact be a coming flood. Chapter 6 IS in fact getting back on track with the story. Noah's sons were not yet born at that point. That is stated LATER in verse 10, as to when it happens, which is AFTER God speaks of the 120 year time limit. It is not saying that Noah had his sons at the age of 500 - and THEN God spoke about the sin of man and their days being yet 120 years... No - The genealogy is noted, then it goes on to tell how God speaks of the current hopeless (sinful) state of mankind. THEN later in verse 10 it says that Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. THEN a little later God instructs him to build the ark. Obviously later ENOUGH that the kids were already grown. You're right, the ark didn't take THAT long to build. The boys were adults by then. But God spoke of a limiting of days/years BEFORE they were even born. Which concludes WHY it doesn't make sense to consider chapter 5's genealogy as part of the "chronology" of that entire story. It's an INSERT.

  2. The word or verb "shall" is perhaps translated wrongly. God also says in the bible to honour our parents that our days may be long on earth. That could imply that we get a bonus for obeying that command. When God made the 120 years pronouncement, people older than 120 years did not suddenly die! What am I saying here? God through his Spirit gives us wisdom to dissect such passages and we'll just have to go beyond the literal reading of this verse. Even Psalm 90 v.10 says the days of our years are 60 years plus 10 or 70 years. The scriptures also say that a thousand years are as a day before God; so what did God mean by 120 years?!! May God grant us wisdom to focus on those issues with eternal value than on how many years we live in a temporary abode.

    1. God telling children to obey their parents so that they'd live longer was a reference to a rebellious child who one day may find themselves sitting in judgment before the elders of the city for their sin and constant rebellion against their parents, which may have included the death penalty. So the reference to long life for obedience to parents isn't because it's a blessing, it only means that their life wouldn't be cut short because of the death penalty.

  3. Read the book "The Time of the End" by Tim Warner.

  4. All of you here need to throw away your english bibles and study a latin vulgate. For starters, the lord god of genesis 2:4 and after is a dead man known as "Elias". A five year old knows that a dead man is not GOD.

    1. I understand your confusion. The Latin Vulgate is based upon the Alexandrian Texts from which Rome built its cult.