Genesis 6:3 is one of the most interesting verses in the book of Genesis. In the New English Version, it reads, “Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.’” I used to believe, along with some good commentators, that this verse referred to how long God would give humanity to repent before the flood would come and destroy them. But I’ve changed my mind! I now agree with the New Living Translation that puts it this way: “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years.” Thelma Sutcliffe of Omaha helped change my mind. There was an article in the Omaha World-Herald about her recently. She passed away at 115 years of age. She was the oldest living person, verified by responsible sources, since the passing away of Kane Tanaka of Japan, who lived to be 119 years of age. Others claim to have lived longer, but their ages could not be verified. As far as I can find out, Lucile Randon celebrated her 118th birthday in February of 2022 and is the oldest living person alive today. That could change at any minute and might have between me writing this and you reading it!

Another reason I changed my mind is the phrase “his days shall be.” Walton convinced me. He wrote, “Of nearly one hundred occurrences of the plural ‘days’ with pronominal suffix, almost all refer to life span. The exceptions that offer the greatest deviation from that pattern are references like Deut. 12:19, which pertains to Israel’s tenure in the land. It should also be noted that the refrain of ch. 5 is ‘All the days of X were Y years, and he died,’ so the reader is used to seeing the life-span formula.”[1]

Notice also that death was pronounced upon Adam and Eve upon eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but the sentence was not carried out immediately. The genealogy of Chapter five of Genesis shows the patriarchs lived to be nearly a thousand years old at times. After the flood, we see the decreasing lifespans of the patriarchs from Abraham at 175 to Jacob at 143, and then at the end of Deuteronomy, we see Moses’ age at his death is given at 120 years exactly. Furthermore, the point of Genesis 6:3 is that “all” mankind will experience the consequences of the sin arising before the flood. It would not just affect the current generation. But “Life span limits all of us, not just some.”[2]

[1] Walton, John H. 2001. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Roop, Eugene F. 1987. Genesis. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.