Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Contradicting Numbers In The Bible

Biblegems #64

Question: Why is it that one event involving numbers, such as a person’s age or the number of soldiers in an army, can be recorded in more than one place in Scripture and those references give apparently contradictory numbers?

For example, 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5 both give an account of the same event—a census of the number of fighting men available to king David throughout Israel and Judah, but give different numerical totals:

2 Sam. 24:9  Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand.

1 Chr. 21:5 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.

A second example has to do with a discrepancy over the age of Jehoiachin when he began his reign as king—was he 18, as recorded in 2 Kings 24:8, or 8 years old, as it says in 2 Chronicles 36:9?

These examples represent two of the most common types of apparent contradictions in the Bible when it comes to numbers. The first is an example of misunderstood context, while the other is an example of a scribal error during copying of the biblical text.

The issue of context is familiar to Biblegems readers. In the case of 2 Sam. 24:9 and 1 Chron. 21:5, the key to the problem is found in the reference to able-bodied men”  (“valiant men” KJV) in 2 Sam. 24:9. The term in Hebrew is “hayil,” meaning “battle-seasoned” troops. So the passage in 2 Samuel represents Joab’s report of 800,000 seasoned veterans ready for duty if called upon. The accounting in 2 Chronicles, however, is larger by 300,00 because it lists “all who could handle a sword,” in addition to the veterans.

The second example represents an error made by a scribe in the process of copying the text. Early Hebrew writing, such as that used in 2 Kings 24:8 and 2 Chronicles 36:9, used horizontal lines with a downward hook on the right end to represent a “10”. The number 20 would be shown as 2 of these hooked horizontal lines, one above the other. Vertical lines represented the number “1”. So 12 would be two vertical lines followed by a hooked horizontal line.

A scribe copying the number “18” onto a new parchment could easily misread the number as “8” if one of the horizontal lines were smudged, obscured by a crease or missing because of a tear in the original document.  This is not an error in Scripture, or a contradiction, but a human error made in the process of copying. The miracle is how few—and how insignificant—such scribal errors are!

For those interested in an overview of further explanations of apparent Bible contradictions, I refer you to Debate Topics Apologetics 101 at http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Who Are The Holy Ones? 1 Thess.3:13

Biblegems # 63

Question: Who are the “holy ones” Paul is referring to in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 who will be with Jesus when He returns?

There are three possibilities as to whom “all His holy ones” refers to. Either the phrase refers to all God’s angels, or all of those who are saved (the dead in Christ and those who are raptured at His appearing), or to a combination of God’s angels and the resurrected redeemed.

Some commentators say the phrase cannot refer to both angels and the redeemed of the Lord because “Paul would hardly include two such diverse groups in the same category.”1

I disagree.

The apostle Paul has much to say about the Lord’s Return throughout his letters. In 2 Thessalonians he talks about the Lord being glorified in His people at His Return:
         2 Th. 1:10 …on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.

Paul stated previously, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, that the dead in Christ will join with those who meet the Lord in the air at His Return:
         1 Th. 4:15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (16) For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

This “joining” of those who are raptured and those who are already with the Lord in heaven would constitute “all His holy ones,” if “holy ones” refers only to people and not angels. However, this joining of the living and dead in Christ at His return happens, we are told by Paul, “with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thess. 4:16). The timing is important in identifying the “holy ones.”

Jesus spoke of this same event in Matthew 24:
         Matt. 24:31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Notice that according to both Jesus and Paul, the Rapture takes place at the trumpet call of God, which Jesus says is blown by angels (Matt. 24:31), and Paul says is accompanied by the voice of the archangel. All this, Jesus says, is at the visible return of Jesus Christ to planet earth (Matt. 24:30) immediately after the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:29).

“All his holy ones” refers to all those who are in Christ at His appearing, together with all the angelic army of heaven.

1 The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, Ed., Zondervan,1415 Lake Drive, S. E. Grand Rapids, MI 49506. ISBN: 0-310-36440-X Copyright © 1990 Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 1.5, in loc.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Bible Through Fresh Eyes

Biblegems #62

Question: I wonder at times, can I trust the person reading said translation, meaning myself? Regardless of translation, I am trying to bring fresh eyes to the reading of scripture. Thank you.

What follows are four questions I use to help get deep beneath the surface. 

WARNING! You cannot dig deeper into Scripture without actually digging.


• What am I asking of God? (Meditation)
Open your Bible.

Close your eyes. Ask God to speak to you through His Word. Ask God to reveal new insights into His Word. Ask God to speak His Word through you at some time during the day.

Open your eyes. Read the passage. If it’s very familiar, read it aloud to force yourself to read each word.

Read it again. Slowly. Savor each word. Let it sink in.

Do this a total of five times.

If the passage is short—one or two verses—write it down on an index card that you can put in your pocket or purse and re-read it throughout the day.
Ps. 119:97 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.

• What does the Scripture specifically say? (Meaning)
We all have a tendency to read into Scripture what we assume is already there or what we have been taught. This is called “eisegesis.” To avoid this it is important to force yourself to ask ‘What does this passage actually say?’

For example, many of us have learned that 1 Peter 3:18-19 teaches that Jesus descended into hell between His crucifixion and resurrection. Read the passage in your favorite translation. Does the passage actually say Jesus descended into hell?

Does it identify the “spirits in prison” as people in hell?

Well, who are these “spirits” then?
         Ah-ha! Now we have some digging to do!

• What does the Scripture in general say (Context)
Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Using 1 Pet. 3:18-19 again, does the Scripture anywhere identify these spirits? Begin your search close, then fan out into Bible in general. Does the Bible anywhere else talk about what happened between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection?

• What Is God saying to me? (Application)
Once you understand what the passage means, close your eyes. You are now protected from incorrect doctrine and ready for God to apply this to your life. Ask God, ‘What do you want me  to learn from this that will make me more like Jesus?’ Ask Him, ‘Is there someone you want me to share this truth with today?’

He may not answer you right away. You may need to walk into your day with Him before the truth of this passage comes into focus. You may need to share it with someone who needs it before you fully see its beauty and power. But God will answer.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Answering Fools

Biblegems #61

Question: It appears on the surface that Proverbs 26:4-5 is contradicting itself. Verse 4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him.” But verse 5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Does this mean that we are to answer a fool according to his folly, just do it with love and the Word of God, not in arrogance and ignorance like the fool himself or we will become like him and he will become wise in his own eyes?

We have a saying in English that there are two sides to a coin. This passage in Proverbs is an example of the two sides of a coin in dealing with “fools.”

On one side of this coin, Verse 4 gives the usual approach a person should take in dealing with a fool. Responding to a fool at all will likely make you look like a fool as well. The Bible is cautioning us to stay away from getting into a fruitless argument or discussion with fools. There is virtually no way to answer such a person without coming across ourselves as equally opinionated, argumentative or just plain ridiculous.

However, on the other side of that coin, in verse 5, there are times when the “fool” is expressing ignorant or even dangerous opinions about important topics, and to say nothing could give the impression of being in agreement. In that case, it can become necessary to “answer a fool according to his folly”—in other words, rebuke him for saying something foolish that could lead others astray. If the fool is not challenged and rebuked, he will prattle on and on, thinking himself wise.

The apostle Paul had to take this second approach in dealing with some self-proclaimed spiritual leaders in the Corinthian church who contradicted Paul’s teaching and boasted about their superiority over Paul. Like all fools, they viewed themselves more highly than they deserved. Because of the damage they were creating in the church, Paul had to answer these fools “according to their folly” by boasting about himself in order to show how ridiculous they sounded:

2 Cor. 11:16-17 I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.

So, rather than contradicting itself, proverbs 26:4-5 shows two different ways of responding to a fool, depending upon which response is the most helpful and wise.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Can I Trust My Translation? Part 2

Biblegems # 60

Luke 24:44 He [Jesus] said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

If Jesus believed the Bible, then it should be trustworthy and accurate, right?


Did you know that the Bible translation most often quoted by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament? Sometimes they quoted directly from the Hebrew, and sometimes they mixed their quotes with both the Hebrew and Greek! Like most Christians today, Jesus and the apostles understood that God has preserved His Word through time and cultures by using translations into new and changing languages.

Last week’s blog highlighted the importance of manuscript evidence used in Bible translations. Today we will focus on how those manuscripts help provide accuracy and confidence in God’s Word.

There is a common misconception that there is one single Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) manuscript of the Bible. That is not the case. The truth is there are literally thousands of ancient manuscripts, and portions of manuscripts, of biblical texts spanning 2,000 years in composition and copying over countless languages. All agree in content and meaning and prove the reliability and accuracy of Scripture!

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest OT manuscripts available were from about 900 AD (the OT was completed about 1300 years earlier!) The translators developing the KJV had available to them an edited Greek text from the 5th century A.D.  They relied upon this and the Latin Vulgate (383 A.D.) to bring to English speaking people a new, dependable translation which the average person could read.

Now, through archeological research, we have discovered OT manuscripts dating from before the time of Christ. We have also discovered manuscripts of the Greek New Testament that are far older than anything previously available. These confirm the accuracy of the texts we already had. Where there are differences, these older manuscripts often help provide greater accuracy in determining a specific word or phrasing. Translations that take full advantage of these ancient manuscripts help bring us closer to the inerrant originals as composed by Moses, Paul, John, Isaiah, etc.

For example, Isaiah 2:22 in the KJV reads:
         “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?”

The NIV reads:
         “Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?”

The same passage translated from the “Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa)” discovered in the Qumran caves at the Dead Sea that is nearly a thousand years older than any OT manuscript we had before this discovery reads:
         Stop focusing on mortals, who have only breath in their nostrils – for what are they really worth?”

What a beautiful reminder to trust God for the preservation of His Word as He uses human hands to bring it to new generations of Bible readers!