THAT INTERESTING QUESTION OF THE “FOUR HUNDRED THIRTY YEARS” (Galatians 3:17)
Although we have touched upon this question already in our exposition of verse 17, we believe that the matter calls for a little discussion and analysis in depth. This does not mean that it will affect the argument of Paul one iota. Yet, we ought to give a little reply to those who constantly stand on the alert to try to find some flaw in the Sacred Scriptures, inspired by God. Such ought to have their mouth stopped. Their insidious question, “Are there mistakes in the Bible?” ought to be met with a little solid argumentation and refutation. By the critics of the Bible and all unbelievers, it is pointed out that Paul here made a rather serious error in his computation of history, and in his quoting of the Law and the Prophets.
Let us try to see whether Paul was really in error inGalatians 3:17. Is the Bible here inerrant or not? Do we really have here a serious error in Biblical chronology?
Paul writes that the Law became “four hundred and thirty years” after the promises (plural) were spoken to Abraham. This means that Paul is not thinking of any definite, single occasion in which God spoke to Abraham over a period of some thirty or forty years. There were many of these “promises,” which ended in the great confirmation of the promise by oath on Mt. Moriah. (Hebrews 6:10, 11) The Hebrew writer speaks of “those who through faith and patience inherited the promises.” This includes Isaac and Jacob also. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Hebrews 11:9) They were heirs of the same promise. And Hebrews 6:17 says that the oath was for “the heirs of the promise.” When Paul, therefore, writes that the “promises” came to Abraham four hundred and thirty years, this is a general statement, it is of wide historical reference in the lives of the patriarchs and their patriarchical pilgrimage. That time of the pilgrimage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lasted till the Lord himself allowed Jacob to go down into Egypt. At Beersheba the LORD appeared to Jacob: “I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation.” (Gen. 46:3) This was the terminus ad quem, the parting of Jacob from the days of the Promises, to that of the fulfilment. It was the fulfilment of Gen. 15:13. Here God placed an historical period back of His own work of the patriarchal dwelling in the land of promise. The hour on God’s clock was striking the ushering in of a new era in the coming of the kingdom of God, and the fulfilment of the promises. That period was approximately two hundred thirty two years, when the promises are given.
Now Moses writes something very great and significant in Exodus 12:40, 41; here is recorded for the church and all their posterity the solemn and great work of God’s fulfilling the promise to Abraham, in bringing Israel forth out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. And then we read the solemn and sure words of the inspired writer, “Now the sojourning of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day, it came to pass, that all the house of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night to be much observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.” Truly, this is a very great and memorable occasion. It was remembered in each Passover feast. (Exodus 12:14-17)
Now it is a fact that the Jewish translators of the Old Testament Scriptures, which translation is called The Septaugint, had the brazen courage to interpolate into the text the phrase, “and in the land of Canaan” (kaix en gee Chanaan). These were Alexandrian Jews, after the time of Alexander the great, and some two hundred years before Christ. They lived centuries after Moses. By what right did they insert this into the text? Did they feel that Moses did not know what he was writing so emphatically? Or was it that they did not understand the very relationship of the Exodus to all the promises? Did they count the years in the account of the genealogies given in the Bible concerning the people who lived in this period of the Old Testament, and then make their own computations? And ergo: the period of four hundred thirty years must include the time of Israel’s living in Canaan too. The trouble is that Israel as “a nation” did not live in Canaan. They were formed into a nation in Egypt. (Gen. 46:3)
And, to compound the folly, various “interpreters” of Galatians very learnedly assert that Paul was quoting the Septuagint here. Fact is, that Paul is not quoting at all. He is asserting a fact from the record in Exodus 12:14-17, in which Moses wrote in pure Hebrew that it was four hundred and thirty years.
It is of interest, no doubt, to all who are further interested in this matter of the accuracy of the Scriptures here in Galatians 3:17, to notice what Keil and Delitzsch write in the Commentary On The Pentateuch, Vol. II, Pages 30, 31. These learned and highly regarded scholars of the Bible show rather conclusively that we must believe the text in Exodus 12:14-17 where we are instructed that Israel dwelt in Egypt four hundred and thirty years. We can summarize their arguments as follows:
a. The text in the Hebrew is authentic. It stands by good critical standards as the text written by Moses in Hebrew. And that is really the keystone in the entire argument. Moses definitely states this. And it undergirds the institution of the Passover to beobserved in the generations.
b. The number (430) four hundred thirty years is in harmony with the round number employed in prophetic style in Genesis 15:13, where God speaks of the four hundred years, after which the sin of the Amorite will be full.
c. The interpolation of the Jewish translators is not based on the text, nor is it corroborated by the computation of the years given in genealogies. Fact is, that in these chronologies and genealogies there are no continuing links. The Bible does not give us mere family-tree records, but gives us the development of the kingdom and priesthood of God in Israel. The tracing of genealogies is a vain endeavor. It has no spiritual value. (I Tim. 1:4, 4:7)
d. To corroborate this Keil and Delitzsch write the following noteworthy arguments from the Old Testament Scriptures. We quote the following:
“For example, the fact that there were more than the four generations mentioned in Exodus 6:16 sqq. between Levi and Moses, is placed beyond all doubt, not only by what has been adduced at Exodus 6:18-20, but by a comparison of other genealogies also. Thus, in Num. 26:29 sqq. Num. 27:1, Josh. 17:3, we find six generations from Joseph to Zelophehad; in Ruth 4:14 sqq., I Chron. 2:5, 6, there are also six from Judah to Nahshon, the tribe prince in the time of Moses; in I Chron. 2:18 there are seven from Judah to Bezaleel, the builder of the tabernacle; in I Chron. 7:20 sqq. nine or ten are given from Joseph to Joshua. This last genealogy shows most clearly the impossibility of the view founded upon the Alexandrian version, that the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt lasted only 21.5 years, for ten generations, reckoned at 40 years each, harmonize very well with the 430 years, but certainly not with 215.” (Page 30, of work cited.)
Thus we see that the Bible here is not in error, and Paul need not have quoted the Septuagint when he refers to the period from the time of the promises, which concluded when Jacob is given revelation at Beersheba, ere he goes down into Egypt. Had Paul written that the exact time was 1430 years he would have been in error. Had he written that the exact time from the days of Abraham to the giving of the law was 430 years he would have been in error. But now the time was 430 years. Only it was more. And so the argument stands. The mere citing of this figure gives the distance from the “promises” to the “law-giving” to show that the latter could not remove the former. It was a later and subsequent act of the Lord by many years. The promises stand!
THE IRREPRESSIBLE QUESTION: WHY THEN THE LAW (Galatians 3:19)
With sure hand, as a master interpreter of the Scriptures, Paul leads us deeper into the profound implications of the law-giving in relationship to the promises. If the law could not change the “promises” ratified by God in Christ to Abraham, then why give the law on Sinai’s heights through Moses, “the lawgiver.” (John 1:17) This question is not only of interest, but it is of the utmost importance to ask and to answer. The answer is forthcoming. It is crystal clear: “It is added for the transgressions.” Yes, the law was “added”; it never is part and parcel of the “promises.” It is of a wholly different character and with an entirely otherpedagogical purpose of God. It was divine pedagogy. It was to glorify grace in the Cross.
But we are anticipating on the text. The term “added to the” promise is of interest to us. In the Greek it is “prosetethee.” It means: place, give next to Sinai was placed next to the promises given to the fathers, particularly to Abraham, the father of all believers. Since it was “added” in such a way that it could not change the promises and their ratified character in Christ, they could disappear when the time came that the promises would be fulfilled in Christ, the Seed.
What was the “function” of this law which. was added? Was it to make the people better, or to provide a way to salvation? This, as Paul teaches in Gal. 3:10 is impossible. The law puts each one under curse, ratified curse of Mt. Ebal. What then? It was “because of transgression.” This means that the law simply makes greater and more pronounced sinners of men. That is the clear teaching in Rom. 4:15, “Because the law worketh wrath” and “where no law is, there is no transgression.” And in Rom. 5:20 we read, “Moreover the law entered (came in beside) that the offense might abound.” Paul teaches in Rom. 7:11, “For sin taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” I Cor. 15:56: of the law as the “strength of sin.” It is the very dynamo of sin in us, this law which was added for the transgressions’ sake. The law, “written on tables of stone, killeth.” (II Cor. 6) That is the “letter” and it is not the “Spirit,” as the fulfilment of the promise of God.
The apostle writes in the text in the plural: “the transgressions.” He has in mind all the transgressions of Israel under the law, as this law brought out the very sinfulness of sin in God’s people. The term used here in the Greek is “parabasis.” This means to overstep, neglect, violate, transgress. It points toward sin which is excessive, enormous. That is the implication of the teaching of Paul in Rom. 4:15. It is sin intensified in all its enormity!