Reading the Bible – part 3
Historians and commentators are familiar with discrepancies, not just in the Bible, but with all historical texts. In the Bible, it happens around numbers, dates and measurements.
Here are a few examples where the same story is told in parallel accounts:
- 2 Samuel 23:8 parallel account in 1 Chronicles 11:11 – Number of men slain by Jashobeam is different.
- 1 Kings 7:26 parallel account in 2 Chronicles 4:5 – Number of baths is different.
- 2 Kings 8:26 2 parallel account in Chronicles 22:2 – Age Ahaziah became king is different (KJV, this is corrected in NIV)
Also the difference between Hebrew and Greek texts:
- Ezekiel 4:6-7 – The number of days Ezekiel was to lie on his side, differ in the Septuagint.
A larger issue is with numbers generally in the Old Testament. The word that is commonly translated ‘thousand’ can also mean a ‘squad’ or a ‘unit’. Translators have mostly opted for the word ‘thousand’ when referring to the number of soldiers in an army. But it’s possible that the numbers in the Old Testament are higher than the reality.
While there is evidence of copying discrepancies, this also doesn’t mean the scribes were slack or incompetent. Rather, to the contrary, there is much to suggest these scribes were highly skilled and meticulous in the way they copied the texts.
These discrepancies don’t alter the meaning of texts or change the theological understanding of the passage. Early Christian scribes could have corrected these errors but obviously didn’t think it necessary. The discrepancies are what you would expect from documents as old as the biblical ones. In fact, if there were no discrepancies you would suspect the text had been doctored.