400 Years. Or Was That 430 Years?

Stephen references the Genesis record again: “And God spake on this wise, at his seed should sojourn in a strange land: and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.” The reference is to Genesis 15:13. Rackham’s comment on this is as follows: “Stephen and Philo with Genesis 15:13 give 400 years as the time of Israel’s bondage in Egypt, evidently using a round number. Exodus 12:40 is more exact and says 430 years. This is the number given by Paul in Galatians 3:17, but he makes it over the whole period from the covenant with Abraham. This was also the reckoning of the rabbis, and of the Greek translators, who in Exodus 12:40 read, ‘in Egypt and in Canaan’. Sometimes Josephus agrees, assigning 215 years to the stay in each country; at other times he simply says, ‘400 years’”.

So Rackham suggested that the 400 years was an approximation (“evidently using a round number”), while 430 years “is more exact”. We might wonder why this would be so. Why would Scripture be comfortable with twice giving a rough figure of 400 years (Gen 15:13; Acts 7:6), and twice giving an “exact” figure of 430 years (Exod 12:40; Gal 3:17)?

No – 430 Years is Correct

Paul relates the time period as dividing Covenant and Law. The Covenant was given when Abraham left Haran and came into the land of Canaan (Gen 12:1-3; 7). 430 years later, the nation left Egypt (Exod 12:40). The record of Exodus 12 puts it this way: “Now the sojourning of the children 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 hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt”. The expression “even the selfsame day” denotes precision in the chronological detail.

And, 400 Years is Correct Too

We do not accept that 400 years is meant to be an approximation. The reduction of 30 years from the time when Abram, aged 75 years entered the land takes us to Abraham, aged 105 years with his son Isaac, ve years old. is appears to be the time of Genesis 21:8-9, when Isaac was weaned and was mocked by his half-brother, Ishmael. This commenced the “affliction” referred to in Genesis 15:13. Isaac was the first in the line of “thy seed” there referred to.

Included here is a chart setting out the suggested 400 and 430 year time periods. This is based on the book, The Chronology of the Old Testament by Dr Floyd Nolen Jones (Master Books, 2015).

Stephen and Paul are both correct. Stephen refers particularly to the 400 year time period because it relates specifically to the “seed” and subsequent affliction, with obvious allusion to the Lord Jesus as Abraham’s seed and the affliction wrought upon him and his followers by the leaders of the nation.