Reflections on Genesis 6:3

Genesis 6:3 “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.”

To dig into this with any substance, I think it is worthwhile to provide a recent commentary note found in the CSB Study Bible that paints a decent picture of the history of debate on this verse.

“The meaning of this verse is one of the most disputed in the Bible: Is it about God shortening humanity’s life spans, or about God setting a time for the universal flood? There is no general agreement as to its meaning, so the various Bible translations reflect translators’ differing viewpoints. Accordingly, disagreement exists among translators regarding the reference to Spirit; some understand the Hebrew word to refer to the animating force present in living beings—thus rendering it “spirit” (KJV)—while many others, such as the CSB, understand it to refer to the Holy Spirit. Closely related to this issue is the appropriate translation of the phrase rendered in the CSB as remain with. Significant variations include “abide in” (ESV) and “contend with” (NIV). Complicating the issue still further is the Hebrew word basar, which is normally translated as “flesh” (KJV) but which can be taken figuratively to refer to that which is corrupt.”

 Robert D. Bergen, “Genesis,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 15.

With this note as a sort of introduction, I would like to focus on a couple of things that seem to be connected to this verse. It connects to Christ becoming the God-man (Philippians 2:7; Colossians 2:9; John 1:1-3; Matthew 1:23), the promise of glorified bodies in the new heaven and new earth (Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 49; Romans 8:23), and potentially even the cross and resurrection of Christ (Matthew 27:50). 

  1. Christ, the God-man and Genesis 6:3
    1. Philippians 2:6-7 says that “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but aemptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” This is related to Genesis 6:3 because it discusses a person of the trinity (Jesus, who is coequal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit within the Godhead) taking on flesh, becoming like humanity. If Genesis 6:3 is interpreted as meaning that God has made some sort of covenantal promise that the Holy Spirit or that Divinity more broadly would not strive, abide, or contend with the flesh then there arises a contradiction with a person of the Trinity taking on flesh. Thus, the interpretation of Genesis 6:3 cannot negate the interaction or abiding of the Divine with the corruptible flesh.
    2. I expand my commentary to include the whole of divinity because of what Colosians 2:9 says “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,”
    3. John 1:1-3 and Matthew 1:23 are both related to Jesus and the Trinity and are included to reinforce the points made in the commentary note for Philippians 2:6-7 in relation to Genesis 6:3
  2. Glorified Bodies in the New Heaven and the New Earth and Genesis 6:3
    1. This topic is arguable the most convoluted of things which are connected to Genesis 6:3 because it is the most circumstantially based connections, however I find that there is still merit in examining the topic for the purpose of showing how Scripture can circumstantially influence interpretation of other passages.
    2. Philippians 3:21 says that Jesus is the one “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” The humble state is reference to our physical body, 1 Corinthians 15:49 echoes this idea in the following way, “Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.” It is the notion that there is a transition between bearing the image of the earthly and bearing the image of the heavenly that connects to Genesis 6:3 for just as we cannot say that there is not a promise of no mingling between the divine and the corruptible, neither can we say that there is not a promise of limited mingling, regardless of which direction you interpret the passage as both options are supported throughout church history. The unlimited mingling of God with humanity in the New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelation 20-22), forces us to contend with the reality that the passages of Genesis 6:3 is connected to the promise of a limited mingling between the divine and the corruptible flesh. The notion that God will not always contend with corruption should not be read as the promise of a negative given the theme of redemption in scripture, what is more plausible is that the promise of limited mingling with the corrupted flesh is that God is promising that there will come a time when the flesh is no longer corrupted for it will be redeemed one day in the future. This redemption is what 1 Corinthians and the other passages referenced bring into the conversation on Genesis 6:3.
  3. The Cross of Christ, The Resurrection of Christ, and Genesis 6:3
    1. Matthew 27:50 records one of Jesus final sayings “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.” My point in referencing this text is that based on what we have covered thus far there seems to be this odd tension in Genesis 6:3 as we consider it in the context of God’s plan of redemption and promised restoration. Divinity dwelled on earth in a physical body in Christ. Christ also gave up the breath of life which allowed Him to live upon the cross. Thus, it is entirely possible for Genesis 6:3 to be directly related to the abiding breath of life in the immediate context of the flood and the depravity of the culture, while also being allegorically linked to the theological realities of the redemption of the body and the promise of victory over corruption. The Early church leaders often recognized a duality in scripture as containing a literal interpretation that was specifically related to the context of the passage while also recognizing allegorical connections to the whole of scripture that painted the picture of eternal truths directly handled in other passages.

I do not aim to settle the debate that Bergen discusses in his commentary note, what I aim to do is help show how Genesis 6:3 connects to New Testament passages and how we can draw hope from Genesis 6:3 because of God’s promises in the New Testament. God will not abide with corruption, how wonderful and majestic is He who redeems and restores our bodies such that they will no longer be corrupted!

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