Is There A Divinely Decreed Lifespan For Mankind On Earth?

(All Bible quotations, except otherwise stated, are from the New International Version).

Some people have set various lifespans for mankind, based on various interpretations of certain scriptural verses in the old testament. From these verses of scripture in the writings of Moses, some Biblical scholars have put mankind’s lifespan first at 120 years (just before the flood) and later at 70-80 years (during the time of the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness). Thus, we frequently hear of people who get to 80 years of age being described as having fulfilled the biblical fourscore years and therefore considered mature and fit to die. Any additional years spent on earth beyond 80 years are traditionally considered “bonus years” by this school of thought. Did God actually decree a fixed lifespan for humanity, apart from the fact that every person must certainly die? Was 80 years (or even 120 years) actually set by God as mankind’s maximum limit on earth? We shall examine the Scriptures to answer these questions.

Genesis 6:1 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them,

Genesis 6:2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.

Genesis 6:3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal ; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The scripture above (Genesis 6:3) has been variously interpreted to mean that because of the extreme violence on earth at the time preceding the flood, God became disgusted with mankind and set a lifespan of 120 years for the race. Taken out of context, it might appear to be so, but when we consider the verses of scripture that follow, it will be readily understood that the expression “their days will be a hundred and twenty years” referred to the fact that mankind would have no more than 120 years of grace before God would wipe out the world of wicked men with the flood. God had decreed judgement upon the antediluvian world because of the extreme violence perpetrated by the wickedness of mankind at this period, which had made God to regret his creation of mankind. Despite this judgement, God still gave men space to repent. That’s the one hundred and twenty years spoken of in the verse above, the time of grace remaining for men on earth, before God’s judgement would come to wipe away the race and begin afresh with Noah and his family.

Genesis 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days —and also afterward —when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

Genesis 6:6 The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.

Genesis 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created —and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground —for I regret that I have made them.”

Genesis 6:8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

Genesis 6:9 This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.

Genesis 6:10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Genesis 6:11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.

Genesis 6:12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

Genesis 6:13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

Genesis 6:14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.

Genesis 6:15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.

Genesis 6:16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.

Genesis 6:17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.

Genesis 6:18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark —you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.

Genesis 6:19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.

Genesis 6:20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.

Genesis 6:21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

Genesis 6:22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

To buttress the aforementioned point that the 120 years mentioned in Genesis 6:3 was not man’s new lifespan going forward, we find people who lived well beyond 120 years after the flood. Noah, for instance, lived an additional 350 years after the flood, and died at the age of 950 years (Genesis 9:28-29). Shem, Noah’s son, lived an additional 500 years after the flood, and died at the age of 600 years (Genesis 11:10-11). In the generations after the sons of Noah, we find men living above 400 years (Genesis 11). Ten generations from Noah, Abraham lived for 175 years (Genesis 25:7); Abraham’s son, Isaac, lived for 180 years (Genesis 35:28), while Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, lived for 130 years (Genesis 47:9). These all exceeded 120 years, several generations after the flood, proving that mankind’s lifespan on earth was not set at 120 years.

Another school of thought puts mankind’s lifespan at 70-80 years, and considers those who live beyond 80 years as enjoying “extra time” on earth. This is based on the erroneous interpretation of a verse of scripture in the 90th Psalm penned by Moses, the man of God. In Psalm 90, Moses was lamenting about Israel’s condition in the wilderness, following God’s pronouncement of judgement upon all those who were 20 years and above at the time of leaving Egypt. The entire nation was to roam for 40 years in the wilderness, until all those aged 20 years and above had died, for failing to believe God’s word that he would expel the inhabitants of Canaan and give Israel their land. So, those who were 20 years when they came out of Egypt died at the maximum age of 60 years, after wandering for 40 years in the wilderness, while those aged 40 at the time of the exodus died at the maximum age of 80. Thus, Moses was describing the maximum lifespan of the people under God’s judgement in the wilderness. Majority of them were not getting past 70 years, with only a few strong ones getting to 80 years. That Scripture has nothing to do with mankind’s lifespan in general. Moses himself lived for 120 years (and died with his natural strength still unabated, and could have lived longer, if not for the divine proclamation that he would not enter the promised land, because of his rebellion- Deuteronomy 34:5-7). Joshua, the next leader of the Israelites after Moses, lived for 110 years (Joshua 24:29). Eli, Israel’s high priest and judge during the reign of the Judges, lived for 98 years, dying from an unnatural cause, several generations after the exodus (1 Samuel 4:13-18). So, 70-80 years couldn’t have been the maximum age God set for the whole of mankind at any point in time. Some people in our generation are living well beyond 80 years, further disproving 80 years as man’s decreed maximum age on earth.

Psalms 90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

Psalms 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Psalms 90:3 You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

Psalms 90:4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

Psalms 90:5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death — they are like the new grass of the morning:

Psalms 90:6 In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.

Psalms 90:7 We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.

Psalms 90:8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

Psalms 90:9 All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.

Psalms 90:10 Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Psalms 90:11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.

Psalms 90:12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalms 90:13 Relent, LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.

Psalms 90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Psalms 90:15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.

Psalms 90:16 May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.

Psalms 90:17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.

Numbers 14:26 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:

Numbers 14:27 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites.

Numbers 14:28 So tell them, ’As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say:

Numbers 14:29 In this wilderness your bodies will fall —every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me.

Numbers 14:30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

Numbers 14:31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected.

Numbers 14:32 But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness.

Numbers 14:33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness.

Numbers 14:34 For forty years —one year for each of the forty days you explored the land —you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’

Numbers 14:35 I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.”

Numbers 14:36 So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it —

Numbers 14:37 these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the LORD.

Numbers 14:38 Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.

Truth be told, there is no divinely set lifespan for mankind. The only certain divine proclamation concerning man’s life on earth is that all men must die someday, for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Physical death is sure for everyone, because of the fall. However, lifespan is an individualised affair. How long each person will live depends on a lot of factors, including genetic makeup, personal lifestyle, environmental factors, presence of diseases, poverty, ignorance, and one’s relationship with God and his fellowmen. Sin and rebellion can cut short one’s life, as we saw with Israel in the wilderness. Disobedience to parents can equally shave some years off one’s life. Unwise use of the tongue and not being a person of peace can also shorten one’s life. Generally speaking, mankind’s lifespan has been progressively shortening from creation, and a combination of all the aforementioned factors may be responsible to varying degrees. All things being equal, people can live for as long as their bodies can carry them, barring man-made or natural disasters and diseases. Hence, keeping the body healthy by healthy eating habits and healthy lifestyles can enhance longevity, just as destructive lifestyles can bring about premature death. But, even more important than maintaining healthy lifestyles, being at peace with God and dwelling under the covering of the Almighty protects from diseases and natural as well as man-made disasters, and prolongs life on earth.

Deuteronomy 5:32 So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.

Deuteronomy 5:33 Walk in obedience to all that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.

Ephesians 6:2 “Honor your father and mother” —which is the first commandment with a promise —

Ephesians 6:3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

1 Corinthians 3:17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

1 Corinthians 11:23 I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread.

1 Corinthians 11:24 After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.”

1 Corinthians 11:25 He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.”

1 Corinthians 11:26 Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:27 This is why those who eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord inappropriately will be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood.

1 Corinthians 11:28 Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way.

1 Corinthians 11:29 Those who eat and drink without correctly understanding the body are eating and drinking their own judgment.

1 Corinthians 11:30 Because of this, many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few have died (CEB).

1 Peter 3:10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.

1 Peter 3:11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.

1 Peter 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Exodus 15:26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

Psalms 91:1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalms 91:2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalms 91:3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

Psalms 91:4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalms 91:5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,

Psalms 91:6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

Psalms 91:7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

Psalms 91:8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

Psalms 91:9 If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling,

Psalms 91:10 no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.

Psalms 91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;

Psalms 91:12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

Psalms 91:13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

Psalms 91:14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

Psalms 91:15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.

Psalms 91:16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

In conclusion, from the evidence of Scripture alone, there is no divinely set lifespan for mankind. Though it is appointed unto every man to die because of the fall, the age at death is not universally fixed, and varies from person to person. How long each person lives on earth depends on a number of variables such as genetic makeup, environmental factors, presence of diseases, poverty, lifestyle, and an individual’s relationship with God and his neighbours, amongst others. Obedience to God and God’s words prolongs life on earth, while disobedience and rebellion to him have the opposite effect. Barring natural and man-made disasters, longevity is mostly dependent on individual lifestyle and personal relationship with God and neighbors. That said, even though everyone must die ultimately, there is life after death, and there’s a possibility of living eternally in bliss in the afterlife, if we accept God’s salvation in Christ Jesus. It’s wonderful to aspire to live long on earth, but it’s even more glorious to be able to live eternally in paradise after death. That’s only possible for those who have been redeemed and sanctified from the effect of the fall by the blood of Jesus Christ.

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Published by Dr. Ndubuisi Emmanuel Ojo

Dr Ojo is a Biblical scholar and teacher who believes firmly in the original Apostolic faith as the only authentic version of Christianity, and the only legitimate basis for Christian doctrine and conduct.

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