30 Bible Contradictions Cleared Up
Summary: Thirty of the Bible's seeming contradictions are solved.
 
 

1. Who Incites David to Conduct Census?

Does God incite David to conduct the census of his people (2 Samuel 24:1), or does Satan (1 Chronicles 21:1)?

(Category: misunderstood how God works in history)

This seems an apparent discrepancy unless of course both statements are true. It was towards the end of David’s reign, and David was looking back over his brilliant conquests, which had brought the Canaanite, Syrian, and Phoenician kingdoms into a state of vassalage and dependency on Israel. He had an attitude of pride and self-admiration for his achievements, and was thinking more in terms of armaments and troops than in terms of the mercies of God. Perhaps this attitude also pervaded among Israel as well.

The Lord therefore allowed David to go ahead with his census, in order to find out just how much good it would do him, as the only thing this census would accomplish would be to inflate the national ego (intimated in Joab’s warning against carrying out the census in 1 Chronicles 21:3). As soon as the numbering was completed, God chastened David.

What about Satan? Why would he get himself involved in this affair (according to 1 Chronicles 21:1)? In reality, it was Satan that tempted David to pride and self-admiration and Satan who incited David to carry out the census, knowing that a census would displease the Lord (1 Chronicles 21:7-8). God merely allowed David to go through with it.

There are a number of other occurrences in the Bible where both the Lord and Satan were involved in soul-searching testings and trials:

In the book of Job, chapters one and two, we find a challenge to Satan from God allowing Satan to bring upon Job his calamities. God’s purpose was to purify Job’s faith, and to strengthen his character by means of discipline through adversity, whereas Satan’s purpose was purely malicious, wishing Job as much harm as possible so that he would recant his faith in his God.

Both God and Satan are involved in the sufferings of persecuted Christians according to 1 Peter 4:19 and 5:8. God’s purpose is to strengthen their faith and to enable them to share in the sufferings of Christ in this life, that they may rejoice with Him in the glories of heaven to come (1 Peter 4:13-14), whereas Satan’s purpose is to ‘devour’ them (1 Peter 5:8), or rather to draw them into self-pity and bitterness, and down to his level.

Both God and Satan allowed Jesus the three temptations during His ministry on earth. God’s purpose for these temptations was for Him to triumph completely over the very tempter who had lured the first Adam to his fall, whereas Satan’s purpose was to deflect the Saviour from His messianic mission.

In the case of Peter’s three denials of Jesus in the court of the high priest, it was Jesus Himself who pointed out the purposes of both parties' involvement when he said in Luke 22:31-32, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."

And finally the crucifixion itself bears out yet another example where both God and Satan were involved. Satan exposed his purpose when he had the heart of Judas filled with treachery and hate (John 13:27), causing him to be-Continued on next page tray Jesus. The Lord’s reasoning behind the crucifixion, however, was that Jesus, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world should give His life as a ransom for many, so that once again sinful man could relish in the relationship lost at the very beginning, in the garden of Eden, and thereby enter into a relationship which is now eternal.

Thus we have five other examples where both the Lord and Satan were involved together, though with entirely different motives. Satan’s motive in all these examples, including the census by David was driven by malicious intent, while the Lord in all these cases showed an entirely different motive. His was a benevolent motive with a view to eventual victory, while simultaneously increasing the usefulness of the person tested. In every case Satan’s success was limited and transient; while in the end God’s purpose was well served, furthering His cause substantially.

2. Total Population of Israel

II Samuel 24:9 gives the total population for Israel as 800,000, whereas 1 Chronicles 21:5 says it was 1,100,000.

(Category: misunderstood the historical context or misunderstood the author’s intent)

There are a number of ways to understand not only this problem but the next challenge as well, since they both refer to the same passages and to the same census.

It is possible that the differences between the two accounts are related to the unofficial and incomplete nature of the census (which will be discussed later), or that the book of Samuel presents rounded numbers, particularly for Judah.

The more likely answer, however, is that one census includes categories of men that the other excludes. Joab’s report in 2 Samuel 24 uses the word "is hayil", which is translated as "mighty men", or battle-seasoned troops, and refers to them numbering 800,000 veterans. It is reasonable that there were an additional 300,000 men of military age kept in the reserves, but not yet involved in field combat. The two groups would therefore make up the 1,100,000 men in the 1 Chronicles 21 account which does not employ the Hebrew term "is hayil" to describe them.

3. Fighting Men of Judah

II Samuel 24:9 gives the round figure of 500,000 fighting men in Judah, which was 30,000 more than the corresponding item in 1 Chronicles 21:5.

(Category: misunderstood the historical context)

Observe that 1 Chronicles 21:6 clearly states that Joab did not complete the numbering, as he had not yet taken a census of the tribe of Benjamin, nor that of Levi’s either, due to the fact that David came under conviction about completing the census at all. Thus the different numbers indicate the inclusion or exclusion of particular unspecified groups in the nation. We find another reference to this in 1 Chronicles 27:23-24 where it states that David did not include those twenty years old and younger, and that since Joab did not finish the census the number was not recorded in King David’s Chronicle.

The procedure for conducting the census had been to start with the trans-Jordanian tribes (2 Samuel 24:5) and then shift to the northernmost tribe of Dan and work southward towards Jerusalem (verse 7). The numbering of Benjamin, therefore, would have come last. Hence Benjamin would not be included with the total for Israel or of that for Judah, either. In the case of 2 Samuel 24, the figure for Judah included the already known figure of 30,000 troops mustered by Benjamin. Hence the total of 500,000 included the Benjamite contingent.

Observe that after the division of the United Kingdom into the North and the South following the death of Solomon in 930 BC, most of the Benjamites remained loyal to the dynasty of David and constituted (along with Simeon to the south) the kingdom of Judah. Hence it was reasonable to include Benjamin with Judah and Simeon in the sub-total figure of 500,000, even though Joab may not have itemized it in the first report he gave to David (1 Chronicles 21:5). Therefore the completed grand total of fighting forces available to David for military service was 1,600,000 (1,100,000 of Israel, 470,000 of Judah-Simeon, and 30,000 of Benjamin).

4. Years of Famine

2 Samuel 24:13 mentions that there will be seven years of famine whereas 1 Chronicles 21:12 mentions only three.

(Category: misunderstood the author’s intent, and misunderstood the wording)

There are two ways to look at this. The first is to assume that the author of 1 Chronicles emphasized the three-year period in which the famine was to be most intense, whereas the author of 2 Samuel includes the two years prior to and after this period, during which the famine worsened and lessened respectively. Another solution can be noticed by observing the usage of words in each passage. When you compare the two passages you will note that the wording is significantly different in 1 Chronicles 21 from that found in a 2 Samuel 24. In 2 Samuel 24:13 the question is “shall seven years of famine come to you?” In 1 Chronicles 21:12 we find an alternative imperative, “take for yourself either three years of famine…” From this we may reasonably conclude that 2 Samuel records the first approach of the prophet Gad to David, in which the alternative prospect was seven years; whereas the Chronicles account gives us the second and final approach of Gad to the King, in which the Lord (doubtless in response to David’s earnest entreaty in private prayer) reduced the severity of that grim alternative to three years rather than an entire span of seven. As it turned out, however, David opted for God’s third preference, and thereby received three days of severe pestilence, resulting in the deaths of 70,000 men in Israel. (2 Sam 24:15)

5. 800 or 300?

Did the chief of the mighty men of David lift up his spear and kill 800 men (2 Samuel 23:8) or only 300 men (1 Chronicles 11:11)?

(Category: misunderstood the historical context or misunderstood the author’s intent)

It is quite possible that both authors may have described two different incidents, though by the same man, or one author may have only mentioned in part what the other author mentions in full.

6. Ark of the Covenant

Did David bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem after defeating the Philistines (2 Samuel 5 and 6), or before (1 Chronicles chapters 13 and 14)?

(Category: didn’t read the entire text)

This is not really a problem. We should continue reading on further to 1 Chronicles 15, to see that David brought the Ark after defeating the Philistines. The reason for this is that the Israelites moved the Ark of the Covenant twice. The first time, they moved it from Baal, prior to the defeat of the Philistines, as we see in 2 Samuel 5 and 6 and in 1 Chronicles 15. Once the prophet Samuel narrates David’s victory over the Philistines, he tells us about both times when the Ark was moved. However in 1 Chronicles, the order is as follows: the Ark was first moved from Kirjath Jearim; then David defeated the Philistines; and finally, the Ark was moved from the House of Obed-Edom.

Therefore the two accounts are not contradictory at all. What we have here is simply one prophet choosing to give us the complete history of the Ark at once (rather than referring to it later) and another presenting the history in a different way. In both cases the timing of events is the same.

7. Stalls for Horses

Did Solomon have 40,000 stalls for his horses (1 Kings 4:26), or 4,000 stalls (2 Chronicles 9:25)?

(Category: copyist error, or misunderstood the historical context)

There are a number of ways to answer these puzzling differences. The most plausible is that the decadal number had been rubbed out or distorted due to constant use.

Others believe that the stalls mentioned in 2 Chronicles were large ones that housed 10 horses each (that is, a row of ten stalls). Therefore 4,000 of these large stalls would be equivalent to 40,000 small ones.

Another commentator maintains that the number of stalls recorded in 1 Kings was the number at the beginning of Solomon’s reign, whereas the number recorded in 2 Chronicles was the number of stalls at the end of his reign. We know that Solomon reigned for 40 years; no doubt, many changes occurred during this period. It is quite likely that he reduced the size of the military machine his father David had left him, because his reign was such a peaceful one.

8. Baash'a Death

According to the author, did Baasha, the king of Israel die in the 26th year of king Asa’s reign (1 Kings 15:33), or was he still alive in the 36th year ( 2 Chronicles 16:1)?

(Category: misunderstood the historical context, or copyist error)

There are two possible solutions to this problem. To begin with, scholars who have looked at these passages have concluded that the 36th year of Asa should be calculated from the withdrawal of the 10 tribes from Judah and Benjamin which brought about the division of the country into Judah and Israel. If we look at it from this perspective, the 36th year of the divided monarchy would be in the 16th year of Asa. This is supported by the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel, as well as contemporary records, which follow this convention.

Others prefer to regard the number 36 in 2 Chronicles 16:1 and the number 35 in 15:19 as a copyist’s error for 16 and 15, respectively. In this case, however, the numbers were written using Hebrew alphabetical type (rather than the Egyptian multiple stroke type used in the Elephantine Papyri, referred to in questions 5 and 6). It is therefore quite possible that the number 16 could quite easily be confused with 36. The reason for this is that up through the seventh century BC the letter yod (10) greatly resembled the letter lamed (30), except for two tiny strokes attached to the left of the main vertical strokes. It required only a smudge from excessive wear on this scroll-column to result in making the yod look like a lamed. It is possible that this error occurred first in the earlier passage, in 2 Chronicles 15:19 (with its 35 wrongly copied from an original 15); then to make it consistent in 16:1, the same scribe (or perhaps a later one) concluded that 16 must be an error for 36 and changed it accordingly on his copy.

9. Solomon's Overseers

Did Solomon appoint 3,600 overseers (2 Chronicles 2:2) for the work of building the temple, or was it only 3,300 (1 Kings 5:16)?

(Category: misunderstood the author’s intent)

This is not too great a problem. The most likely solution is that the author of 2 Chronicles included the 300 men who were selected as reservists to take the place of any supervisors who would become ill or who had died, while the author of the 1 Kings 5:16 passage includes only the supervisory force. With the group as large as the 3,300, sickness and death certainly did occur, requiring reserves who would be called up as the need arose.

10. Solomon's Many Baths

Did Solomon build a facility containing 2,000 baths (1 Kings 7:26), or over 3,000 baths (2 Chronicles 4:5)?

(Category: misunderstood the author’s intent, or copyist error)

The Hebrew verb rendered “contained” and “held” is different from that translated “received”; and the meaning may be that the sea ordinarily contained 2,000 baths. But when filled to its utmost capacity it received and held 3,000 baths. Thus the chronicler simply mentions the amount of water that would make the sea like a flowing spring rather than a still pool. This informs us that 3,000 baths of water were required to completely fill the sea which usually held 2,000 baths.

Another solution follows a theme mentioned earlier, that the number in Hebrew lettering for 2,000 has been confounded by the scribe with a similar alphabetical number for the number 3,000.

Some critics have also said that if the bath had a diameter of 10 cubits it cannot possibly have had a circumference of 30 cubits as the text says (since ‘pi’ dictates that it would have a circumference of 31.416 or a 9.549 diameter). But we must read the text properly, because the text says that it was about 8cm thick and had a rim shaped like a lily. Therefore it depends on where you measure from. The top or bottom of the rim or the inside or outside for the vessel would all give a different diameter; and depending on whether you measure at the top of the rim or at the narrower point, you would get a different circumference.

11. Israelites Freed from Babylonian Captivity

Are the numbers of Israelites freed from Babylonian captivity correct in Ezra (Ezra 2:6, 8, 12, 15, 19, 28) or in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:11, 13, 17, 20, 22, 32)?

(Category: misunderstood the historical context)

In chapter 2 of Ezra and in chapter 7 of Nehemiah there are about thirty-three family units that appear in both lists of Israelites returning from Babylon to Judea. Of these 33 family units listed in Ezra and Nehemiah, nineteen of the family units are identical, while fourteen show discrepancies in the number of members within the family units. Two of the discrepancies differ by 1, one differs by 4, two by 6, two differ by 9, another differs by 11, another two by 100, another by 201, another differs by 105, a further family differs by 300, and the largest difference is the figure for the sons of Azgad, a difference of 1,100 between the accounts of Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7.

There are two important factors to bear in mind when looking at these discrepancies between the two lists. The first is the probability that though members of the units or families had enrolled their names at first as intending to go, in the interval of preparation, some possibly died, others were prevented by sickness or other insurmountable obstacles, so that the final number who actually went was not the same as those who had intended to go. Anyone who has planned a school-coach trip to the beach can understand how typical a scenario this really is.

A second and more important factor are the different circumstances in which the two registers were taken. Ezra’s register was made up while still in Babylon (in the 450s BC), before the return to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:1-2), whereas Nehemiah’s register was drawn up in Judea (around 445 BC), after the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt (Nehemiah 7:4-6). The lapse of so many years between the two lists (between 5-10 years) would certainly make a difference in the numbers of each family through death or by other causes.

Most scholars believe that Nehemiah recorded those people who actually arrived at Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Jeshua in 537 or 536 BC (Nehemiah 7:7). Ezra, on the other hand, uses the earlier list of those who originally announced their intention to join the caravan of returning colonists back in Babylon, in the 450s BC.

The discrepancies between these two lists point to the fact that there were new factors which arose to change their minds. Some may have fallen into disagreement, others may have discovered business reasons to delay their departure until later, whereas in some cases there were certainly some illnesses or deaths, and in other cases there may have been some last-minute recruits from those who first decided to remain in Babylon. Only clans or city-groups came in with shrunken numbers. All the rest picked up last-minute recruits varying from one to 1,100.

When we look at the names we find that certain names are mentioned in alternate forms. Among the Jews of that time (as well as those living in the East), a person had a name, title, and surname. Thus, the children of Hariph (Nehemiah 7:24) are the children of Jorah (Ezra 2:18), while the children of Sia (Nehemiah 7:47) are also the children of Siaha (Ezra 2:44).

When we take all these factors into consideration, the differences in totals that do appear in these two tallies should occasion no surprise whatsoever. The same sort of arbitration and attrition has featured in every large migration in human history.

12. The Whole Assembly

Both Ezra 2:64 and Nehemiah 7:66 agree that the totals for the whole assembly was 42,360, yet when the totals are added, Ezra – 29,818 and Nehemiah – 31,089. Which is right?

(Category: copyist error)

There are possibly two answers to this seeming dilemma. The first is that this is most likely a copyist’s error. The original texts must have had the correct totals, but somewhere along the line of transmission, a scribe made an error in one of the lists, and changed the total in the other so that they would match, without first totalling up the numbers for the families in each list. There is the suggestion that a later scribe, upon copying out these lists, purposely put down the totals for the whole assembly who were in Jerusalem at his time which, because it was later, would have been larger.

Such errors do not change the historicity of the account, since in such cases another portion of Scripture usually corrects the mistake (the added totals in this instance). As the well-known commentator, Matthew Henry once wrote, “Few books are not printed without mistakes; yet, authors do not disown them on account of this, nor are the errors by the press imputed to the author. The candid reader amends them by the context or by comparing them with some other part of the work.”

There are other instances where copyist errors seem to be the only explanation for the discrepancy. For example, did 200 singers (Ezra 2:65) or 245 singers (Nehemiah 7:67) accompany the assembly? Was Ahaziah 22 (2 Kings 8:26) or 42 (2 Chronicles 22:2) when he began to rule over Jerusalem? Was Jehoiachin 18 years old (2 Kings 24:8) or 8 years old (2 Chronicles 36:9) when he became king of Jerusalem?

All these instances are attributed to copyist errors. Such scribal errors do not change Jewish or Christian beliefs in the least. Because these accounts were written thousands of years ago, we would not expect to have the originals in our possession today, as they would have disintegrated long ago. We are therefore dependent on the copies taken from copies of those originals, which were in turn continually copied out over a period of centuries. In the case of Ahaziah, there is enough additional information in the Biblical text to show that the correct number is 22. Earlier in 2 Kings 8:17, the author mentions that Ahaziah's father Joram ben Ahab was 32 when he became King and he died eight years later, at the age of 40. Therefore Ahaziah could not have been 42 at the time of his father's death at age 40! In such a case, another portion of Scripture often corrects the mistake (2 Kings 8:26 in this instance). We must also remember that the scribes who were responsible for the copies were meticulously honest in handling Biblical texts. They delivered them as they received them, without changing even obvious mistakes, which are few indeed.

In the case of Jehoiachin, 18 is most likely the correct number, although some commentators contend that it is entirely possible that he may have been 8. They maintain that when Jehoiachin was 8 years old, his father made him co-regent, so that he could be trained in the responsibilities of leading a kingdom. Jehoiachin then became officially a king at the age of 18, upon his father's death.

As with many of these numerical discrepancies, it is the decade number that varies. It is instructive to observe that the number notations used by the Jews in the 5th century BC Elephantine Papyri, during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, from which the Jehoiachin passage comes, evidences the earlier form of numerical notation. This consisted of a horizontal stroke ending in a downward hook at its right end to represent the numbers in tens. Vertical strokes were used to represent anything less than ten. If the primary manuscript from which a copy was being carried out was blurred or smudged, one or more of the decadal notations could be missed by the copyist. It is far less likely that the copyist would have mistakenly seen an extra ten stroke that was not present in his original than that he would have failed to observe one that had been smudged. Many Bibles often list the scribal error in the footnotes for clarity. It makes sense to correct the numerals once the scribal error has been noted. This, however, in no way negates the authenticity nor the authority of the Scriptures which we have.

In the case of totals in Ezra and Nehemiah, the original texts must have had the correct totals, but somewhere along the line of transmission, a scribe made an error in one of the lists, and changed the total in the other so that they would match, without first totaling up the numbers for the families in each list.

13. King Abijah's Mother's Name

Was King Abijah’s mother’s name Michaiah, daughter of Uriel of Gibeah (2 Chronicles 13:2) or Maachah, daughter of Absalom? (2 Chronicles 11:20 & 2 Samuel 13:27)?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

This apparent contradiction rests on the understanding of the Hebrew word bat, equivalent to the English daughter. Although usually used to denote a first generation female descendant, it can equally refer to more distant kinship. An example of this is 2 Samuel 1:24, which states: ‘O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul…’ As this is approximately 900 years after Israel (also called Jacob) actually lived, it is clear that this refers to the Israelite women, his distant female descendants.

When seen in this light, the ‘contradiction’ vanishes. 2 Chronicles 13:2 correctly states that Michaiah is a daughter of Uriel. We can assume that Uriel married Tamar, Absalom’s only immediate daughter. Together they had Michaiah who then married king Rehoboam and became the mother of Abijah. 2 Chronicles 11:20 and 1 Kings 15:2, in stating that Maachah was a daughter of Absalom, simply link her back to her more famous grandfather, instead of her lesser known father, to indicate her royal lineage. Abishalom is a variant of Absalom and Michaiah is a variant of Maachah. Therefore, the family tree looks like this:

Absalom/Abishalom
|
Tamar-----Uriel
|
Rehoboam-----Maachah/Michaiah
|
Abijah

14. Jerusalem - Captured?

Did Joshua and the Israelites (Joshua 10:23,40) capture Jerusalem or not (Joshua 15:63)?

(Category: misread the text)

The short answer is, not in this campaign. The verses given are in complete harmony and the confusion arises solely from misreading the passage concerned.

In Joshua 10, it is the king of Jerusalem that is killed: his city is not captured (verses 16-18 and 22-26). The five Amorite kings and their armies left their cities and went to attack Gibeon. Joshua and the Israelites routed them and the five kings fled to the cave at Makkedah, from which Joshua’s soldiers brought them to Joshua, who killed them all. Concerning their armies, verse 20 states: "the few who were left reached their fortified cities", which clearly indicates that the cities were not captured. So it was the kings, not their cities, who were captured.

Joshua 10:28-42 records the rest of this particular military campaign. It states that several cities were captured and destroyed, these being: Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron and Debir. All of these cities are south-west of Jerusalem. The king of Gezer and his army were defeated in the field whilst helping Lachish (v.33) and in verse 30, comparison is made to the earlier capture of Jericho, but neither of these last two cities were captured at this time. Verses 40 & 41 delineate the limits of this campaign, all of which took place to the south and west of Jerusalem. Importantly, Gibeon, the eastern limit of this campaign, is still approximately 10 miles to the north-west of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is, therefore, not stated as captured in Joshua 10. This agrees completely with Joshua 15:63, which states that Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites in Jerusalem.

15. Father of Joseph, Husband of Mary

Was Jacob (Matthew 1:16) or Heli (Luke 3:23) the father of Joseph, husband of Mary?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

The answer to this is simple but requires some explanation. Most scholars today agree that Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph and Luke gives that of Mary, making Jacob the father of Joseph and Heli the father of Mary.

This is shown by the two narrations of the virgin birth. Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story only from Joseph’s perspective, while Luke 1:26-56 is told wholly from Mary’s point of view. A logical question to ask is why Joseph is mentioned in both genealogies. The answer is again simple. Luke follows strict Hebrew tradition in mentioning only males. Therefore, in this case, Mary is designated by her husband’s name.

This reasoning is clearly supported by two lines of evidence. In the first, every name in the Greek text of Luke’s genealogy, with the one exception of Joseph, is preceded by the definite article (e.g. ‘the’ Heli, ‘the’ Matthat). Although not obvious in English translations, this would strike anyone reading the Greek, who would realize that it was tracing the line of Joseph’s wife, even though his name was used.

The second line of evidence is the Jerusalem Talmud, a Jewish source. This recognizes the genealogy to be that of Mary, referring to her as the daughter of Heli (Haggai 2:4).

16. Whom did Jesus Descend from?

Did Jesus descend from Solomon (Matthew 1:6) or from Nathan (Luke 3:31), both of whom are sons of David?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

This is directly linked to the above "contradiction." Having shown that Matthew gives Joseph’s genealogy and Luke gives that of Mary, it is clear that Joseph was descended from David through Solomon and Mary through Nathan.

17. The Father of Shealtiel

Was Jechoniah (Matthew 1:12) or Neri (Luke 3:27) the father of Shealtiel?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

Once again, this problem disappears when it is understood that two different genealogies are given from David to Jesus, those of both Mary and Joseph. Two different genealogies mean two different men named Shealtiel, a common Hebrew name. Therefore, it is not surprising to recognize that they both had different fathers!

18. Ancestor of Jesus Christ

Which son of Zerubbabel was an ancestor of Jesus Christ, Abiud (Matthew 1:13) or Rhesa (Luke 3:27), and what about Zerubbabel in 1 Chronicles 3:19-20?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

Two different Shealtiels necessitates two different Zerubbabels, so it is no problem that their sons had different names.

It should not surprise us that there was a Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel in both Mary’s and Joseph’s ancestry. Matthew tells us that Joseph’s father was named Jacob. Of course, the Bible records another Joseph son of Jacob, who rose to become the second most powerful ruler in Egypt (Genesis 37- 47). We see no need to suggest that these two men are one and the same, so we should have no problem with two men named Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel.

The Zerubbabel mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19,20 could easily be a third. Again, this causes no problem: there are several Marys mentioned in the Gospels, because it was a common name. The same may be true here. This Zerubbabel would then be a cousin of the one mentioned in Matthew 1:12,13. A comparison of Matthew and 1 Chronicles gives the following possible family tree:

Jehoiachin
|
Shealtiel----Malkiram----Pedaiah----Shenazzar----
Jekamiah----Hoshama----Nedabiah----...
| |
Zerubbabel Zerubbabel----Shimei----...
| |
Abiud 7 sons
| (1 Ch. 3:19,20)
|
Joseph

19. The Father of Uzziah

Was Joram (Matthew 1:8) or Amaziah (2 Chronicles 26:1) the father of Uzziah?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

Just as the Hebrew bat (daughter) can be used to denote a more distant descendant, so can the Hebrew ben (son). Jesus is referred to in Matthew 1:1 as the son of David, the son of Abraham. Both the genealogies trace Jesus’ ancestry through both these men, illustrating the usage of ‘son’. Although no Hebrew manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel are extant today, it is clear that he was a Jew writing from a Hebrew perspective and therefore completely at home with the Hebrew concept of sonship.

With this in mind, it can easily be shown that Amaziah was the immediate father of Uzziah (also called Azariah). Joram/Jehoram, on the other hand, was Uzziah’s great-great-grandfather and a direct ascendant. The line goes Joram/Jehoram – Ahaziah – Joash – Amaziah – Azariah/Uzziah (2 Chronicles 21:4-26:1).

Matthew’s telescoping of Joseph’s genealogy is quite acceptable, as his purpose is simply to show the route of descent. He comments in 1:17 that there were three sets of fourteen generations. This reveals his fondness for numbers and links in directly with the designation of Jesus as the son of David. In the Hebrew language, each letter is given a value. The total value of the name David is fourteen and this is probably the reason why Matthew only records fourteen generations in each section, to underline Jesus’ position as the son of David.

20. The Father of Jechoniah

Was Josiah (Matthew 1:11) or Jehoiakim (1 Chronicles 3:16) the father of Jechoniah?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

Jehoiakim was Jeconiah’s father and Josiah his grandfather. This is quite acceptable and results from Matthew’s aesthetic telescoping of the genealogy, not from any error.

21. Generations from the Babylonian Exile Until Christ

Were there fourteen (Matthew 1:17) or thirteen (Matthew 1:12-16) generations from the Babylonian exile until Christ?

(Category: misunderstood the Hebrew usage)

As Matthew clearly states (1:17), there were fourteen. In the first section there are fourteen names, in the second fifteen and in the third, fourteen. Perhaps the simplest way of resolving the problem is to suggest that in the first and third sections, the first and last person is included as a generation, whereas not in the second. In any case, as Matthew has clearly telescoped his genealogy with good reason, a mistake on his part is by no means shown conclusively. If by some chance another name or two has been lost from the list in the originals, by scribal error, we cannot know. Whatever the real situation, a simple explanation can be afforded, as above.

22. Withering Tree

Matthew 21:19 says that the tree which Jesus cursed withered at once, whereas Mark 11:20 maintains that it withered overnight.

(Category: misunderstood the author’s intent)

The differences found between the accounts of Matthew and Mark concerning the fig tree have much to do with the order both Matthew and Mark used in arranging their material. When we study the narrative technique of Matthew in general, we find that he sometimes arranges his material in a topical order rather than in the strictly chronological order that is more often characteristic of Mark and Luke.

For instance, if we look at chapters 5-7 of Matthew which deal with the sermon on the Mount, it is quite conceivable that portions of the sermon on the Mount teachings are found sometimes in other settings, such as in the sermon on the plain in Luke (6:20-49). Matthew’s tendency was to group his material in themes according to a logical sequence. We find another example of this exhibited in a series of parables of the kingdom of heaven that make up chapter 13. Once a theme has been broached, Matthew prefers to carry it through to its completion, as a general rule.

When we see it from this perspective it is to Mark that we look when trying to ascertain the chronology of an event. In Mark’s account we find that Jesus went to the temple on both Palm Sunday and the following Monday. But in Mark 11:11-19 it is clearly stated that Jesus did not expel the tradesmen from the temple until Monday, after he had cursed the barren fig tree (verses 12 to 14).

To conclude then, Matthew felt it suited his topical approach more effectively to include the Monday afternoon action with the Sunday afternoon initial observation, whereas Mark preferred to follow a strict chronological sequence. These differences are not contradictory, but show merely a different style in arrangement by each author.

23. Where was Jesus?

Was Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:23) or in Pilate’s court (John 19:14) at the sixth hour on the day of the crucifixion?

(Category: misunderstood the historical context)

The simple answer to this is that the synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) employed a different system of numbering the hours of day to that used by John. The synoptics use the traditional Hebrew system, where the hours were numbered from sunrise (approximately 6:00am in modern reckoning), making the crucifixion about 9:00am, the third hour by this system.

John, on the other hand, uses the Roman civil day. This reckoned the day from midnight to midnight, as we do today. Pliny the Elder (Natural History 2.77) and Macrobius (Saturnalia 1.3) both tell us as much. Thus, by the Roman system employed by John, Jesus’ trial by night was in its end stages by the sixth hour (6:00am), which was the first hour of the Hebrew reckoning used in the synoptics. Between this point and the crucifixion, Jesus underwent a brutal flogging and was repeatedly mocked and beaten by the soldiers in the Praetorium (Mark 15:16-20). The crucifixion itself occurred at the third hour in the Hebrew reckoning, which is the ninth in the Roman, or 9:00am by our modern thinking.

This is not just a neat twist to escape a problem, as there is every reason to suppose that John used the Roman system, even though he was just as Jewish as Matthew, Mark and Luke. John’s gospel was written after the other three, around AD 90, while he was living in Ephesus. This was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, so John would have become used to reckoning the day according to the Roman usage. Further evidence of him doing so is found in John 21:19: "On the evening of that first day of the week". This was Sunday evening, which in Hebrew thinking was actually part of the second day, each day beginning at sunset.

24. After His Baptism

Did Jesus go immediately to the desert after his baptism (Mark 1:12-13), or did He first go to Galilee, see disciples, and attend a wedding (John 1:35, 43; 2:1-11)?

(Category: misread the text)

This apparent contradiction asks: ‘Where was Jesus three days after His baptism?’ Mark 1:12-13 says He went to the wilderness for forty days. But John ‘appears’ to have Jesus the next day at Bethany, the second day at Galilee and the third at Cana (John 1:35; 1:43; 2:1-11), unless you go back and read the entire text starting from John 1:19. The explanation about the baptism of Jesus in John’s Gospel is given by John the Baptist himself. It was “John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was” (vs. 19). It is he who is referring to the event of the baptism in the past. If there is any doubt, look at the past tense used by John when he sees Jesus coming towards him in verses 29-30 and 32.

While watching Jesus he relates to those who were listening to the event of the baptism and its significance. There is no reason to believe that the baptism was actually taking place at the time John was speaking, and therefore no reason to imply that this passage contradicts that of Mark’s Gospel.

25. Joseph and Baby Jesus

Did Joseph flee with the baby Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23), or did he calmly present him at the temple in Jerusalem and return to Galilee (Luke 2:21-40)?

(Category: misunderstood the historical context)

This supposed contradiction asks: ‘Was baby Jesus’s life threatened in Jerusalem?’ Matthew 2:13-23 says yes. Luke 2:21-40 appears to say no.

These are complementary accounts of Jesus’ early life, and not contradictory at all. It is clear that it would take some time for Herod to realize that he had been outsmarted by the magi. Matthew’s Gospel says that he killed all the baby boys that were two years old and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity. The time that passed between the arrival of the wise men to Jerusalem and the moment Herod realized he'd been tricked and decided to do something about it could have been a year or even more. That would be enough time to allow Joseph and Mary the opportunity to do their rituals at the temple in Jerusalem and then return to Nazareth in Galilee, from where they went to Egypt, and then returned after the death of Herod.

26. Pharaoh's Heart

Did God harden Pharaoh's heart (Exod 4:21 / Exod 9:12) or did Pharaoh harden his own heart? (Exod 8:15)

(Category: misread the text)

One commentator notes that they both did. It is important to note here that people often react very differently to God's actions. For example, let's imagine that God invoked some calamity on people as a judgment for their sin. Some people would respond and repent. Many would simply harden their heart and blame God. Thus, by bringing about this calamity, some might be saved, but God could be said to have indirectly hardened the hearts of others. Of course, sometimes you don't need calamity. For instance, evangelism has the same result. Each time the Gospel is preached, people are brought to a point of decision. Some accept the truth and are changed by it, while others reject it. Since we are creatures of habit, every decision against the truth makes it easier to reject it the next time.

Another explanation for this apparent contradiction could be in the way the verse is read. One could read it as God making the action of hardening Pharaoh's heart. But it could also be said that God (indirectly) hardened Pharaoh’s heart by forcing Pharaoh to respond. Just as exercise strengthens muscles, repeated rejection of truth strengthens rebellion. God hit Egypt with ten plagues, each one designed to challenge the Egyptians’ belief in their gods. With every new plague, Pharaoh was presented with evidence that the Hebrews’ God was real and powerful while Egypt’s gods were imaginary and powerless.

Each plague presented Pharaoh with an opportunity to accept truth and yield to Yahweh or reject truth and become more stubborn and hardened in heart. He repeatedly exercised his choice to reject truth and God’s mercy and strengthened his stubborn will until his proud heart could not be moved, even when threatened with the death of his son. With each plague, God forced Pharaoh to make a choice. So in this sense, God’s actions pushed Pharaoh to act and it could be said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by pressing him to make a choice and allowing him to choose. At the same time, Pharaoh hardened his own heart by making his choices against God.

27. Plague Death Toll

Did twenty-four thousand die of the plague (Num 25:9) or did twenty-three thousand (1 Cor 10:8)

(Category: misunderstood author's intent; plausible explanation)

According to Paul, 23,000 fell "in one day." The account in Numbers simply states that 24,000 died of the plague. It is not contradictory that 23,000 should die in a day, and another 1000 die before or after.

28. Who Purchased it?

Did Jacob buy a sepulchre from Hamor (Josh 24:32) or did Abraham buy it? (Acts 7:16)

(Category: misunderstood author's intent; plausible explanation)

One possible explanation is that Abraham bought the field whereas Jacob went back and specifically bought the tomb. Compare with Gen 33:19 and Gen 23:10-20. Josh 24:32 and Acts 7:16 were based on those verses.

29. Ahaziah's Reign

Did Ahaziah begin to reign in the twelfth year of Joram (2 Kings 8:25) or in the eleventh year of Joram (2 Kings 9:29)?

(Category: misunderstood author's intent; plausible explanation)

Note that Ahaziah is the son of Joram. It's possible that on account of Joram's sickness [2 Chron 21:18,19] that Ahaziah became associated with him in the eleventh year of Joram's rule, but then began to rule alone by the twelfth year.

30. Michal's Children

Did Michal have no child (2 Sam 6:23) or did she have five children? (2 Sam 21:8)

(Category: misunderstood author's intent)

II Samuel 21:8-9 reads as follows:

But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite: And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell [all] seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first [days], in the beginning of barley harvest.

This would appear to be a real contradiction except for the phrase "whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai."

The phrasing tells us that these sons are not Michal's in the normal sense of the term because she did not "bear" these children; i.e. these sons are adopted children.

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