My question is this. In Gen 6:3, God said, my spirit shall not remain in man for ever and his days shall be 120 years. However, The age of man extended far beyond 120 years after the flood, as Arphaxad lived 403 years.
If God shortened the life of man to 120 years, how therefore could anyone after the flood have lived beyond this? This seems contradictory?
Can you help me with this please as it has me confused.
—C.C., Ireland

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—W.F., Canada

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Thank you for contacting AiG. There are many passages in the Bible that do seem difficult. However, a closer examination reveals that the problem is not insurmountable (we deal with many of these in our new web-only series called Contradictions, published each Monday). First, let’s see what the passage says.

And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3, NKJV)

At first glance, this verse may seem to indicate that God is limiting a human’s lifespan to 120 years. Yet after the Flood, men continued to live well past 120 years. So, is there a contradiction between what God decreed and what actually came to pass?

If we look closely at the context and the fulfillment, we’ll actually find that God is not discussing how long humans will live. Instead, God is referring to His own actions. In this passage, God is ordaining that the number of years between His decree to punish the wickedness of mankind and the carrying out of that decree will be 120 years. He gave mankind 120 years to repent of their sin and return to their Creator before sending His divine judgment in the form of the worldwide, earth-covering Flood.

Note that this 120 years does not necessarily refer to the amount of time that God gave Noah to build the Ark. It’s more likely that Noah has less than 100 years to build it, as God commanded Noah build the Ark and to take his sons and daughters-in-law into the Ark with him (Genesis 6:18). Yet Noah’s eldest son was born 20 years after God pronounced His 120-year decree. (See How Long Did It Take for Noah to Build the Ark?)

God’s ordination of 120 years refers not the limit of man’s life, but to the number of years of grace until He would unleash His divine wrath on the wickedness of mankind. Although He hasn’t given us an exact timetable for when He’ll judge the earth with fire, we can be sure that now is the time to repent or to call others to repentance and faith in the only Ark of salvation—Jesus Christ.

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