My Journey: The 400 Years in Genesis 15.13

At last, I have finished revising my grammar analysis and translation discussion of Genesis 15.13 in the Masoretic and Septuagint texts. I admit both essays are technical and complex, but I wanted to record my research and thought process for future reference. I think it likely I’ll forget some of the nuances over time.

‘And He said to @Avräm, “Know for certain that your seed will become a sojourner in a land not theirs and they will serve them and [by them] they will be afflicted: 400 years.”’  [Genesis 15.13 (dmd translation)]

Currently, there is a belief among many Christians that the benê->Yisrä@ël were enslaved in Mitsräyim (Egypt) for 400 years.  I am confident that is incorrect.

Taking Exodus 12.40-41 (Septuagint) and Galatians 3.15 into account, as well as my research into the grammar and translation of Genesis 15.13, I contend the logical understanding of the 400 years is that @Avräm’s seed would be strangers and afflicted in whatever land they would be residing in during the 400 years. Only in hindsight was it clear that sometime during that 400 years, they would be enslaved.

I just realized that I did not include the following: the 400 year count starts with Yitschäq. Since the 400 years refers to @Avräm’s seed, that is the logical starting point. It was actually 405 years between Yitschäq’s birth and the Exodus. The 400 years is a rounding, something Scripture does more often than is probably realized.

I’ve included a summary of the main points of my translation discussion below, but if you want the reasoning behind them, you need to read the essay here.

I hope to post more about my journey of building the Internal Chronology of the Bible more quickly.

Grace and peace to you,


Summary of Translation Discussion

1) The words in the Masoretic translated “serve” and “afflict” do NOT connote slavery.  The word translated “serve” is the same word used to describe @Ädhäm ‘serving the ground.’  The word translated “afflict” is an intensified form of the verb but it does not connote slavery.

2) So, this verse does not refer to slavery, but rather to service and affliction, which YHWH permits in order to humble @Avräm’s seed so that they will depend on Him.  The idea that YHWH @Élöhîm was telling @Avräm that his seed would be enslaved is an interpretation made after the fact, years after the benê Yisrä@ël were, in fact, enslaved by the inhabitants of a land not belonging to them.  What YHWH @Élöhîm says to @Avräm does not require an understanding that his seed would be enslaved.  I would seriously question whether @Avräm understood YHWH to be saying so.

3) While slavery is not a concept conveyed in the words used in the Masoretic, it is a concept in the words used in the Septuagint. But the Septuagint was translated centuries after the event, by which time the translators knew “serve” and “afflict” included slavery; they emphasized that point in their translation word choices.

4) The English Reform scholars who translated the Geneva Bible in the 1550s noted in their comments on both Genesis 15.13 and Acts 7.6 (Stephanos’ paraphrase of Genesis 15.13) that the 400 years counted from the birth of Yitschäq to the Exodus. Since there are actually 405 years between the birth of Yitschäq and the Exodus, the 400 years is a rounding.

5) As I discussed in my essay on the 430 years, the Septuagint preserves a text fragment in Exodus 12.40-41 clarifying that the 430 year count includes the time spent in the land of Kenaøan. Paul confirms this in Galatians 3.15. In addition, the comments by the Geneva Bible translators indicate they also understood the 430 year count went from @Avräm to the Exodus.

6) I concede that the Septuagint translation gives the impression that the enslavement lasted for 400 years, yet it is the Septuagint that preserved the text fragment indicating that the 430 years ran from @Avräm to the Exodus.  So, looking at the two relevant passages in the Septuagint clarifies that the 400 years cannot refer solely to the time spent in Mitsräyim nor to the period of enslavement; it must include the time spent in Kenaøan when @Avräm’s seed were semi-nomadic herdsmen.