ExoTheology & Space-Age Interpretations of the Bible

(religious implications of an inhabited universe)

Human life span and Genesis 6:3 (“his days shall be 120 years”)

Genesis 6:3

Genesis 6:3

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years” (Genesis 6:3 ESV).

What about this? Has anyone lived past that age? Is that our maximum age?

Of course, it’s possible this verse ought not even to be interpreted as pointing to human life span. I was reading Genesis 6:3 in the NET Bible the other day. (I love it when I read a new translation and it leads me to a new interpretation.) Anyway, instead of interpreting the verse as meaning that human beings as individuals will not live past 120 years, the NET translators have it as, in essence, “human beings will get 120 more years before they’re destroyed as a whole (in the flood)”: “So the Lord said, ‘My spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for 120 more years'” (Ge 6:3 NET).

But the more I read various commentators, the more I came to think that it’s much more likely the traditional interpretation is accurate — i.e., that eventually (after the great life-spans of the pre-flood patriarchs) human life span will max out at 120 years.

Then I saw this video (below). Check it out. At minute 1:16, one Dr. Kasten says,

Nobody lives past 120… yet.

Turns out that’s basically true. The one person who lived past 120 (Jeanne Calment) is the exception that proves the rule.  Of the “100 Verified Oldest People,” only nine lived beyond 115, and only one (Jeanne Calment) lived beyond 120. Most lived to 113-115.

I also guess someone could say that the verse would be more fulfilled if we human beings averaged 120 years. But of course life expectancy has varied so much from century to century and from place to place. And I think it’s unlikely that the biblical writer thought of “120 years” in the sense of an average — 1) since the whole concept of average would not be one he would likely have used much, and 2) the whole sense of “My spirit shall not abide in man forever” (ESV) implies duration of life once it’s started.

But what has been our average life span? Currently the world average is 67.2 years, according to this Wikipedia article. It’s actually sad how short out life spans have been over the centuries.

So I guess someone else could say that this verse is not fulfilled because for most of recorded history, our life span has been significantly less than 120 years. But it makes more sense that the Biblical writer is saying that 120 years will be the maximum human life span, since so much of what has kept our life-spans shorter has been non-genetic factors. As the writer of this same wikipedia article points out,

In general, the available data indicate that longer lifespans became more common recently in human evolution. This increased longevity is attributed by some writers to cultural adaptations rather than genetic evolution, although some research indicates that during the Neolithic Revolution natural selection favored increased longevity. Nevertheless, all researchers acknowledge the effect of cultural adaptations upon life expectancy. [Bold mine]

Anyway, this verse sure implies that the biblical writer(s) had access to some advanced scientific data — either that or he/they guessed well and his the number “120” right on.


3 responses to “Human life span and Genesis 6:3 (“his days shall be 120 years”)

  1. Avi Katz February 10, 2013 at 9:41 am

    I’m constantly puzzled that people are puzzled by the Biblical lifespans. The word ‘shana’ today means ‘year’ and so it is always translated. But it really means just ‘change’. In the Torah there are two ‘new shana’ occurrences, one in Tishri (fall) and one in Nisan (spring). In other words, in the Patriarchal period the ‘shana’ is six months. Moses liberates the slaves at forty (not eighty) and dies at 60 (not 120) Sarah gives birth at the amazingly advanced age of 45 (not a ridiculous 90) when her husband is 50, not 100… Joseph doesn’t go out with the shepherds because he is 8.5 (not 17 which in a pastoral society is an adult). Okay, so what about Methuselah? (I hear you ask) In the ancient period the records are lunar– a shana is one month. Methusaleh is the oldest of men– he lives to 75…but NOT 900!!

  2. Laura D. May February 10, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Hi, Avi. Interesting! If that’s a more accurate translation, yes, that would certainly dissolve all the mystery. Are there English translations which translate “shana” in that way, do you know? or commentators who say it should be translated that way? Interesting.

    • Avi Katz February 10, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      I’ve discussed this subject with a number of world-class experts, in Israel and abroad…and they all said “interesting… yes, that makes sense…hmmmm….” To me it seems completely obvious– anyway I go by that system when doing my Biblical illustrations, especially the ‘straight’ ones…. Did you have a look at the “Alien Corn” series?

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