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Genesis 6:3 seems to say that God limited a humanís life to no more than 120 years. Is this correct?


I was reading my Bible, and Genesis 6:3 seems to say that God limited a humanís life to no more than 120 years. Is this correct? I have never seen this before.

Steve Answers:

Here’s how Genesis 6:3 reads in the New International Version (NIV): “Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.’”* If you compare this with other translations, you’ll find pretty much the same thing.

But this verse gets interpreted at least two different ways:

1. Humans will live no more than 120 years because God will limit their life span on account of their wickedness.

2. When God spoke this, He was giving the people on the earth 120 years until their day of judgment would come—the Flood. Only eight chose to enter the safety of the ark after the 120 years (1 Peter 3:20).

Neither interpretation can be given with total certainty. If it means that humans will live no more than 120 years, this didn’t happen for some time. For example, after the Flood, Noah’s son Shem had a son and then lived another 500 years, which made him 600 years old when he died (Genesis 11:10, 11). Here are the years of life for 10 generations after the Flood (according to Genesis 9:28, 29; 11:10-32):

While a noticeable decline in life span seems obvious, all of these are well above the 120 years that some think God announced with the introduction of the Flood warning. We find an exact match of 120 years much later with Moses, who died at the age of 120 (Deuteronomy 34:7). Perhaps the exact number of 120 shouldn’t be taken so literally. Instead, the idea of a reduced length of life on account of the wickedness on earth might be the primary message.

Certainly wickedness persisted, even after the Flood (note the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11:1-9). Vegetarians like to point to Genesis 9:2-4, when the human diet began to include meat. The result: shortened life! See, vegetarians live longer (sometimes)!

The other interpretation of 120 years also gets murky. Was God giving the people 120 years to turn from their wickedness or be destroyed by the Flood? The Bible first mentions Noah in Genesis 5, and it says he started to have his sons when he was 500 years old (Genesis 5:32). If this is the same time God made plans for the Flood and gave humanity 120 years to repent, we run into a problem with the numbers, because the Flood came when Noah was 600 (Genesis 7:6)—just 100 years after Noah’s boys began popping out of Mrs. Noah. This comes a bit short of the 120 years to turn from sin prior to the Flood. Maybe God began the probationary time 20 years before Noah started having kids, when Noah was 480. This could be the case, as the Bible doesn’t get specific about the time when God’s words in Genesis 6:3 were spoken.

If it’s not completely clear, perhaps we shouldn’t become too dogmatic on what this means.

But did you notice anything else?

In Genesis 5, the chapter before the verse you mentioned, you’ll find one of those genealogies that seem so boring. But compare how many years of life the 10 patriarchs before the Flood had with the life spans of the 10 after the Flood (already mentioned above).

Years of life for the 10 patriarchs before the Flood (taken from Genesis 5; 9:29):

The verse you picked states: “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years” (NIV). Instead of the emphasis on 120 years, what if we focus on another part of the verse? How about this message: Humans are mortal!

We’ve been denying that with every generation, and yet each generation dies. All 10 of the patriarchs after the Flood have died. All 10 of the patriarchs before the Flood have died . . . wait, almost all of them—Enoch lived 365 years and then went with God. He’s in heaven now, with the Source of Life. That would be God, not humans. And that would be much more than 120 years! Remember, we’re mortal. If you haven’t figured that out yet, you will eventually. Just look around you. Check your family history. Where’s your great-great-great-grandfather? And that’s not even close to 10 generations!

Jesus identified Himself as the Source of Life (John 11:25, 26). And He promised eternal life to those who place their confidence in Him (John 3:16; 5:24). To state it plainly, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12, NIV).

The 120-year limit may apply to life on this earth before Jesus returns, but even life right now can be more than mortal. Jesus told His listeners, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Whether your current lifespan on earth is 120 years or 80 years or 18 years, the amount of life in those years comes back to a very limited amount when you think in terms of merely human life. But it increases exponentially when God’s Spirit enters you and gives you supernatural life starting right now.
Have you seen this before? Have you accepted and even grabbed on to that life? If so, then celebrate! If not, then do it right now! You won’t get 120 years without Jesus!

*Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


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