Genesis 15:13, Exodus 12:40-41, and Galatians 3:17
These three passages seem to be referring to the exact same era of time, but the number of years do not agree. Why is this? Some Bible commentators treat this as a ‘mild textual discrepancy,’ while many Bible critics point to it as proof that the Bible is not perfect and clearly has errors in it.
Though the same general era of time is in view in each of the passages, the specific issue being referred to and dated within that era in each of the passages is not exactly the same. And this accounts for the difference.
In Galatians 3:17 Paul’s dating of 430 years pertains to the span of time between when the covenant “was confirmed before of God in Christ” until “the law” was brought in. This is the specific issue that Paul is dealing with. However it is obvious that this issue is not the exact same issue that is in view back in Genesis 15:13. Though the same general era of time may be involved, the two passages are dealing with two different issues and therefore set forth two differently dated issues within that general era of time.
Paul in Galatians 3 is dealing with the particular issue of “the covenant” aspect of God’s “promise” to Abraham. But not only this, Paul is specifically concerned with the point at which “the covenant” was “confirmed.” Notice that there are these three issues in Paul’s doctrine: the “promise,” “the covenant,” and it being “confirmed.” Simply put, when God first dealt with Abraham, (to which Abraham responded with the hearing of faith), what God said to him was in the form of a “promise.” Then God put it in the form of a “covenant.” And then even subsequent to doing that God specifically “confirmed” it in a way that made it so that just as with a “man’s covenant” “no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.”
So when it comes to Paul’s dating he begins it with the point of time at which God did the ‘confirming.’ This is what he is concerned with for the subject matter that he is dealing with in Galatians 3. And again it is obvious that what Paul is concerned with is not the issue that is in view in Genesis 15:13. Neither is it the exact same issue that is set forth in Exodus 12:40-41, even though the time span cited there coincides.
With respect to the dating in Genesis 15:13, the particular issue there has to do with the amount of time involved in Abraham’s seed being “afflicted” “in a land that is not theirs.” The issue is not the ‘confirming’ of the covenant as with Paul in Galatians and the span of time between it and the bringing in of the law. So this itself means that we should not expect the time spoken about in the two passages to match up, since the two passages are not talking about the exact same thing.
Moreover note that in Genesis 15:13 the amount of time spoken of is not even specifically for the time of Abraham’s seed being “a stranger in a land that is not theirs” and ‘serving them.’ Hence this also shows that the time referred to here is not supposed to be the same as the time cited in Exodus 12:40-41. Instead the last expression in verse 13 of Genesis 15 specifically states that the time denoted pertains to them being “afflicted” while they are that “stranger.” Abraham’s seed was not always “afflicted” while they were that “stranger.” But during the overall time of them being that “stranger,” for “four hundred years” of it they would be “afflicted.”
Hence the three passages are dealing with the dating of three different issues during the same general era of time, with the specifics and details related in each passage making this obvious.
– K.R. Blades