Bible Question:

I was reading about the 120 years that people would yet live according to Genesis 6:3. I used to think it was a prophecy that God would flood the earth in 120 years. But I found that it was only 100 years or less until the flood. In Genesis 5:32 Noah is 500 years old. In Genesis 7:6 Noah was 600 years old when the flood was upon the earth. At most, the flood took place 100 years after the prophecy. To what does the 120 years refer?

Bible Answer:

There are three verses that are relevant to your question. They are Gen. 5:32, 6:3 and 7:6.

Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (NASB) Genesis 5:32

Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (NASB) Genesis 6:3

Now Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of water came upon the earth. (NASB) Genesis 7:6

The first passage, Genesis 5:32, says that Noah was 500 years old when he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The third passage tells us that the flood started when Noah was 600 years of age. That means that flood occurred 100 hundred years after his sons had been born. The question before us is since Genesis 6:3 occurs between Genesis 5:32 and Genesis 7:6, to what does the 120 years refer?

First View

The first view believes that the middle passage is not a prophecy about the coming flood. This view says that due to man’s sin, God announced a judgment on men and women that they would no longer live more than 120 years. But this view cannot be supported by the fact that men and women continued to live longer than 120 years even though their length of days were dropping. That is the testimony of Genesis 11:10-26, Genesis 23:1; 25:7; Genesis 47:28. Notice that Sarah lived to be 127 years (Gen. 23:1), Abraham lived to 175 years (Gen. 25:7), and Jacob lived 147 years before dying (Gen. 47:28).

A previous question titled, “Where did Noah come from?” provides a chronological timeline of Noah’s ancestral line. The flood occurred about 1,556 years after Adam and Eve were created. After the flood the length of life began to shorten, but men continued to live longer than 120 years for a long time.

Later in Psalm 90 God indicates that it is very difficult for anyone to live past 80 years of age.

As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away. (NASB) Psalm 90:10

Second View

The second view states that Genesis 6:3 is a prophecy of the coming flood. This is possible even though the verse occurs between Genesis 5:32 and Genesis 7:6. Notice the additional details about the creation of Adam and Eve that were provided in Genesis 2:4-25 after a lengthy description of the creation was given in Genesis 1. It is clear that Genesis 2:4-25 did not occur after Genesis 1. The creation account in Gen. 2:4-25 merely overlaps the creation account given in Genesis 1. This reveals that the book of Genesis is not always chronological. The beginning of Genesis 6 does not follow after Genesis 5 chronologically. The purpose of Genesis 5 is to provide a genealogical account from Adam to Noah. It would be awkward and strange to interrupt the genealogical account in order to insert a prophecy about the destruction of the world by a flood. Thus there is no discrepancy for the event described in Genesis 6:3 to have actually occurred prior to Noah’s five hundredth birthday and the births of his children.

Further, note that the birth of Noah’s sons is actually given six verses later in v. 9-10. This implies that Genesis 6:3 occurred before the birth of Noah’s sons. It should further be noted that God speaks to Noah about building the ark in the verses after the statement in v. 9-10 about the birth of Noah’s sons. This reveals that God’s request of Noah to build the ark occurred after the births. Therefore, Noah’s ark was constructed in less than 100 years since Noah was 500 years old when his sons were born and since the flood began when Noah was 600 years old. This means that Noah would have had to construct some of the ark on his own without the help of his sons.

Conclusion:

From 1) the flow of the announcement, 2) the fact that the birth of Noah’s sons was repeated after Genesis 6:3 and 3) since men and women continued to live longer than 120 years we conclude that Genesis 6:3 is an announcement of the coming flood, a warning that God will not tolerate man’s sin forever and not a statement about the longevity of man’s life.

Reference Links:

Where did Noah come from?
Why do the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 differ?
The King Reigns!