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Numerical Contradictions in the Bible

There are many numerical contradictions in the Bible. We will give a few below to illustrate the point.

Jehoiachin's Age at Royal Ascension

II Kings tells us that Jehoiachin became king when he was eighteen while II Chronicles alleged that he became King at age eight:

II Kings 24:8
Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became King and he reigned three months in Jerusalem
II Chronicles 36:9
Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem.

So how old was Jehoiachin when he became king? Eight or eighteen years old?[1]

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Ahaziah's Age at Royal Ascension

The same problem exists with the age Ahaziah ascended the throne.

II Kings 8:26
Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem.
II Chronicles 22:2
Ahaziah was forty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem.

Not only does II Chronicles contradict the information in II Kings, it even contradicts itself. For the author mentioned that Ahaziah took over from his father, Jehoram, who had just passed away - at the age of forty! (II Chronicles 21:20) Thus according to II Chronicles Ahaziah was two years older than his own father![2]

This is a glaring contradiction. How does the fundamentalist apologist explain such an occurance? Studying this is an interesting exercise in the fundamentalist theological psyche. It turns out that they have a “catch all” explanation for contradictions: “copyist error”! What they mean is that the Bible, as it stands today, contains contradictions such as that given above-however these have crept in due to the error of a scribe. In other words, the original manuscript-when it left the hand of the writer-was error free. There are a few problems with this explanation:

Firstly, the original manuscripts no longer exists! Thus this explanation is based on the assumption that the Bible is without error. We already see the beginnings of a circular argument here: The Bible is without error, if any error exists it must have crept in at a later date, since the Bible could not possibly contain any error! However, the current editions of the Bible are based on the best scholarly attempt to get to the original manuscript-and the best still says that the contradiction exists. Thus, far from proving that the Bible is without error, modern attempt to get at the original rendition (or “lower or textual criticism”) shows that the error exists.[3]

Secondly, if one assumes that it is a copyist error, one can with equal validity, assume that the error arose at the very first writing down of Chronicles. Since we know that the writer of Chronicles use much of II Kings as his source, it is equally likely the the Chronicler himself got the numbers wrong! So here is a case where “copyist” error does not exclude the Bible from being inerrant.

This apologetic defence does not hold water due to the two reasons above. Yet the reader will find that it is used by fundamentalist whenever they get the chance!

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Contradictions in the Accounts of the Building of Solomon's Temple

We give few more-Chronicler-Kings numerical contradiction below[4]:

  • The authors of Chronicler and Kings can’t agree on how many foremen Solomon used in building the temple. I Kings 5: 16 he is said to have used 3,300 of them, while in II Chronicles 2:18 he was suppossed to have used 3,600. Thus we have a contradiction of 300 people.
  • They also disagree on how many stalls Solomon had for his chariot horses. I Kings 4:26 said there were 40,000 stalls while II Chronicles 9:25 said there was only 4,000.
  • Finally they could not agree on the actual capacity of the tank built by Solomon. I Kings 7:26 said that its capacity was 2,000 baths while II Chronicles 4:5 contradicts this by mentioning that its capacity was 3,000 baths!
Now how does the apologists account for these discrepancaies? Of course, the usual “copyist’s error” explanation is used -with the same difficulty we have mentioned above. Perhaps aware that using the same unproved assumption could be hazardous to their ecclesiastical paychecks-some apologists have provided other ad hoc explanations. The funny thing is that they often provide these explanations side by side with the “copyist’s error” one. In other words what they are saying, in effect, is “well, this may be an explanation but if you don’t like this one, try another!”. This is NOT a rational method. An explanation has to be probable-just because an explanation is possible does not mean that the contradiction has been accounted for.

The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy quotes a typical fundamentalist attempt (William Arndt, Does the Bible Contradict Itself?) at “solving the problem” of Solomon’s stalls (I Kings 7:26 and II Chronicles 9:25)

[T]he First Kings deals with the affairs of Solomon and the beginning of his reign, while that in Second Chronicles belongs to the closing verses of the section describing the life and deeds of the wise king [at the end of his reign]

The explanation is ad hoc, since in no way does the verses lead one to conclude what Arndt had suggested. It is introduced purely as an attempt to get out of the obvious contradiction. One sense that he himself is not too happy with such a defence when he later says:

If anyone feels that the difficulty is not fully removed by this method, he may assume that a copyist’s error has crept into the text, a scribe writing 40,000 instead of 4,000.

Amazing! Notice that it does not matter which explanation is true, so long as it can be used! It is obvious that apologists are not looking for the truth but merely for ways to keep to their faith.

Here’s another lame explanation, this time regarding the contradiction of the capacity of the tank built by Solomon (Carl Johnson, So the Bible is Full of Contradictions?):

There are at least two possible solutions to this. It could be a copyist’s error, or it could be that the molten sea ordinarily contained 2,000 baths, but that when filled to capacity it received and held 3,000 baths. Either way there is no real contradiction here.

Note, again the ad hoc explanation. There is no hint in any of the passages that I Kings gave the “ordinary” capacity while the Chronicler gave the “maximum” capacity. It was introduced purely to resolve the problem. And, if that it not good enough, try “copyist’s error”!

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Contradictions Between II Samuel and I Chronicles

There are also many numerical contradictions between II Samuel and I Chronicles:[5]

In II Samuel 8:4, David was said to have captured 1700 (seventeen hundred) of the King of Zobah’s charioteers. Yet I Chronicles 18:4 said that David actually captured 7,000.

Now for an example of two contradictions in one verse:

II Samuel 24:9
And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people of the King: in Israel there were eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand.
I Chronicles 21:5
And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and in Judah four hundred and seventy thousand who drew the sword.

Thus the verse in Samuel said that there were 800,000 fighting men in Israel while the Chronicler gave this figure as 1.1 million-a total discrepancy of 300,000. Secondly Samuel said that there were 500,000 men in Judah, while the Chronicler gives this as 470,000. The numbers are so different here that even the “copyist’s error” excuse does not work. Apologists have tried other ad hoc explanations: one is that the numbers of one verse are simple “rounded off” versions of the other. It is hard to see how 1.1 million could be a “rounded off” figure of 800,000!

Here is another example of one verse with two contradictions:

II Samuel 10:18
And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the Syrians the men of seven hundred chariots, and forty thousand horsemen...
I Chronicles 19:18
And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew of the Syrians the men of seven thousand chariots, and forty thousand footsoldiers...

So which is which, did David slay the men of 700 or 7,000 chariots? And were there 40,000 footsoldiers or horsemen?

The examples here (complete with attempted explanations by fundamentalist theologians) should be enough to prove the point that numerical contradictions exist in the Bible.

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References

1.Howell-Smith, In Search of the Real Bible: p21
2.Lofmark, What is the Bible?: p43
3.McKinsey, Biblical Errancy, p490
4.McKinsey, Biblical Errancy, p72-73
5.McKinsey, Biblical Errancy, p73-74

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