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Galatians 3b – 430 Years? Really?

Paul makes the statement in Galatians 3:17 that the law came “430 years afterward.”  The context is Paul speaking of God’s covenant with Abraham (3:16).  But how do we get from the Abrahamic Covenant to the Law on Mt. Sinai in only 430 years?

            Paul’s statement coincides with Exodus 12:40, which says that the people of Israel lived in Egypt for 430 years.  Genesis 15:13, however, notes that it will be “400” years that the Israelites will be strangers in another country.  It could be that the Gen 15 reference is a round number.  However, this does not solve the problem fully.

            Let’s look at the facts from the biblical text:

            Abraham was 75 years old when he received the covenant and departed from his homeland (Gen 12:4).

            Abraham was 100 years old (25 years later) when he had Isaac (Gen 21:5).

            Isaac was 60 years old when he had Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:26).

            Jacob left Canaan and moved to Egypt at 130 years old (Gen 47:9).

            Let’s do the math, starting at Abraham’s 75th year, when he received the covenant:

            25 + 60 + 130 = 215 years between Abraham first receiving the covenant and the Israelites leaving Canaan and going to Egypt.

            Genesis 15:13 notes that the Israelites would be “400” years in the land of Egypt.  How, then, can Paul say that it was “430 years after” the Abrahamic covenant that the Law was given?  If the time between the Abrahamic covenant in Gen 12 and the Israelites leaving Canaan to inhabit Egypt was 215 years, and the time in Egypt was 430 (or 400) years, then don’t we have 645 (or 615) years between the covenant and Law?

            Perhaps the easiest solution is to see Paul’s statement in Gal 3:17 referring not to the initiation of the Abrahamic covenant in Gen 12, but instead to the last time the covenant was confirmed with Jacob in Gen 46:1-4.  This would be right before the Israelites left the land of Canaan, when Jacob was 130 years old.

            So between the time Abraham initially received the covenant in Gen 12 at 75 years old to the time Jacob and the Israelites left Canaan and moved to Egypt, it was 215 years.  Right before they left, God spoke to Jacob, re-confirming the covenant with him.  Between that moment and the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai was 430 years, which is what Paul references in Gal 3:17.

            Bible math… fun stuff!


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