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Reason and Revelation Volume 38 #5

Did the Period of the Judges Last 450 Years?

According to Acts 13:20, God gave Israel judges for “about 450 years” (NKJV). However, 1 Kings 6:1 indicates that Solomon, the third king of Israel, was in the fourth year of his reign 480 years “after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt.” When we subtract the 40-year reigns of King Saul and King David from 480 (Acts 13:21; 1 Kings 2:11), we are left with only 400 years. What’s more, if the years of the conquest of Canaan as well as the final years of Joshua and his generation were deducted from the remaining 400 years (Joshua 24:29-33; Judges 2:7-10), the period of the judges appears far less than the 450 years Paul stated in Acts 13:20. Was he mistaken? What can we make of the apparent conflict between these two verses?

Similar to the logical answers to other alleged Bible contradictions,1 this particular question can reasonably be resolved by noting the differences in Bible translations. While the King James and New King James versions (which generally follow later manuscript evidence) place the 450 years during the period of the judges (“he gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years”—NKJV), many other translations, including the ASV, NASB, ESV, RSV, and NIV, place this 450 years before the time of the judges. For example, consider the ESV’s translation of Acts 13:17-20:

The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet.2

On what basis do the ESV and other translations place the 450 years prior to the time of judges? In short, on the manuscripts that are generally accepted as earlier and (thus usually) better. Respected Greek scholar A.T. Robertson commented on Acts 13:19-20 noting that the oldest manuscripts (i.e., those that were copied earlier in history), including the big three uncials3 (manuscripts known as Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus),4 place the 450 years “before ‘after these things’ [or ‘after that’—EL] and so in verse 19. This is the true reading.”5

The 450 years that Luke recorded that Paul mentioned in his sermon in Antioch of Pisidia refers, not to the period of the judges, but to what Paul had been discussing from the beginning of his lesson (Acts 13:17) up to the point at which he noted the 450 years. And how can we logically break down these 450 years? By doing some elementary math: Abraham’s descendants were oppressed in a foreign land for 400 years (Acts 7:6); they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years (13:18); which means it took them about 10 years to conquer the seven nations in the land of Canaan and receive their inheritance (13:19). “All of which took about four hundred and fifty years” (13:19, NASB).

There is no contradiction between Acts 13:20 and 1 Kings 6:1. The question arises only because of a translation problem based on inferior manuscript evidence. The 450 years in Acts 13 covers from the oppression of Abraham’s descendants to inheriting the land of Canaan, while the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 includes the time from Israel’s escape from Egypt, to their conquest of Canaan, to the entire period of the judges (“some three and one half centuries”),6 through the first 80 years of the United Kingdom (Acts 13:21; 1 Kings 2:11).

Endnotes

1 Eric Lyons (2009), “Does God Tempt People?” http://www.apologeticspress.org/AllegedDiscrepancies.aspx?article=2679&b=Genesis.

2 Emp. added.

3 Manuscripts of the New Testament known as uncials were those penned in large, capital Greek letters.

4 These important codices (manuscripts in book form, rather than in scroll form) are often referred to as “the big three” because of their old age (dating back to the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.) and their volume of material. They “are of inestimable worth as witnesses to the New Testament books…and all three have become known since the translation of the King James Bible” [Neil R. Lightfoot (1999), How We Got the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), second edition, p. 45, emp. added].

5 A.T. Robertson (1930), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 3:188, emp. added.

6 Wayne Jackson (2005), The Acts of the Apostles: From Jerusalem to Rome (Stockton, CA: Christian Courier), p. 156.

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