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Dealing with a Bible discrepancy: How long was Israel in Egyptian captivity, 200 years or 430 years?

In this article I want to deal with what appears to be a discrepancy in the Bible between how long Israel was in Egyptian captivity before they started their journey to the Promised Land under Moses.

In the Book of Exodus, we are told that Israel was captive in Egypt for 430 years:

40 Now the time that the sons of Israel had lived in Egypt was 430 years. (Exodus 12:40 NASV)

However, in Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes that the 430 years starts from the time that God first gave his promise to the Patriarch Abraham to the end of their Egyptian captivity:

16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as one would in referring to many, but rather as in referring to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came 430 years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. (Galatians 3:16-18 NASV)

After we deduct the years from when God gave the promise to Abraham and the other patriarchs’ time in Canaan (ie. Isaac and Jacob), Paul implies that Israel was in Egyptian captivity for little over two hundred years.

So why the difference?

Well, in a nutshell blame the Septuagint.

We believe that the original Old and New Testament writings are God inspired and accurate. But over the following thousands of years, they were meticulously recopied by hand.

This led to copiest errors, interpretive differences, and the odd instance of poetic licence.

However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the late 1940s and early 1950s revealed that the mistakes in the Old Testament are minimal, but still they did occur.

Which leads us to the difference between the time frame in the Book of Exodus and the one provided by the Apostle Paul.

The difference is simply this.

We know from the various Old Testament quotes in his letters, that the Apostle Paul used the Septuagint, which is an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

And when we look at an English translation of Exodus 12:40 in the Septuagint, we see that this is what Paul based his statement on because according to the Septuagint, the 430 years included the time they were in Canaan:

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. And it came to pass after the four hundred and thirty years, all the forces of the Lord came forth out of the land of Egypt by night.
(Exodus 12:40-41 Septuagint English translation by Sir Lancelot Brenton, 1851)

So what is the Septuagint?

It is called the Septuagint, literally 70, because it’s believed that 70 Jewish Rabbis and scholars were involved in the first translation of the Hebrew Torah into Greek.

The first five books of the Old Testament were translated into Greek around the mid-3rd century BC, and the remaining Old Testament in the mid-second century BC.

Our modern English versions of the Old Testament are based on original Hebrew manuscript copies (Masoretic Text), a Hebrew version of the Old Testament compiled by a group of Jewish Rabbis in the 9th century AD.

So in other words, though a Greek translation, the Septuagint is based on Hebrew manuscripts that were arguably 1,200+ years older than what we use today for our modern English translations.

Which explains why, when it comes to a conflict between the Septuagint version of the Old Testament and the Hebrew manuscripts used in our modern Bibles, some scholars tend to favour the Septuagint as being the more accurate.

One example of this is Dr Steve Collins, a professor of archaeology at Trinity Southwest University, who argues in his presentation that Thutmose IV was actually the Pharaoh of the Exodus instead of Ramses based in part on the Septuagint version of Exodus 12:40:

Well, things are never that simple because the Septuagint says they were in Canaan, that the patriarchs were in Canaan and in Egypt 430 years.  If you look at the interior, internal chronology of the Masoretic texts itself, it was 215 years from the promise of Abraham to Jacob before Pharaoh and 215 years from Jacob before Pharaoh to the Exodus for a total of 430 years from Abraham to Exodus.  That’s what the Septuagint says.  That’s also what the Samaritan Pentateuch says.  That’s also what Josephus says adamantly and that’s also what the apostle Paul says in Galatians 3.

Paul says in Galatians 3, “From the giving of the promise to Abraham,” that’s when he comes.  Genesis 12, “From the giving of the promise to Abraham, to the coming of the law under Moses is 430 years.”  The Holy Spirit inspired that and I would say guess what, that’s what I’m going to go with.  That’s the Septuagint date.  So one line of evidence says they were in Egypt 430 years.  All the other lines of evidence say that they were in Egypt 215 years.  If they were in Egypt 215 years, that places them in the time of Hyksos.

And I might add, this is not the only time, when the Septuagint version of the Old Testament provides an interesting twist on a verse.

READ OR LISTEN to Dr. Collins’ presentation: Will the Real Exodus Pharaoh Please Stand Up?

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