Resolving Bible Contradictions - How many sons did Abraham have?




Context

The 3rd contradiction listed on the BibViz website is: "How many sons did Abraham have?"

The alleged contradiction is as follows:
  • Abraham had only one son.
    • "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten [son]," Hebrews 11:17
    • "And he said, Take now thy son, thine only [son] Isaac, whom thou loves, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." Genesis 22:2
  • Abraham had more than one son:
    • "And Hagar bore Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael." Genesis 16:15
    • "For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.  And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac." Genesis 21:2-3
    • "Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name [was] Keturah.  And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah." Genesis 25:1-2
    • "For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman." Galatians 4:22.
Argument

The claimed contradiction is that the verses from Hebrews 11 and Genesis 22 contradict with the verses from Genesis 16, 21 and Galatians 4.

Reflection

The first point to note is that Abram and Abraham are the same person in Genesis.  Likewise,  Sarai and Sarah are the same person.  God changes both of their names during the narrative.

In order to review this proposed contradiction, it helps to take the verses used and list them in chronological order:
  • Genesis 16:15 - "And Hagar bore Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael."
  • Genesis 21:2-3 - "For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.  And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac."
  • Genesis 22:2 - "And he said, Take now thy son, thine only [son] Isaac, whom thou loves, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of."
  • Genesis 25:1-2 - "Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name [was] Keturah.  And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah."
  • Galatians 4:22 - "For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman."
  • Hebrews 11:17 - "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten [son],"
In Chronological order in the story, we can observe the following:
  • Abraham certainly has two sons prior to Genesis 22:2, but has other children later in Genesis 25.
  • Hebrews 11:17 is commenting on Genesis 22, and thus it could be argued is not considering what came later in the story.  Rather, Hebrews 11:17 is making a point based on this point of the Abrahamic narrative.
  • Galatians 4:22 (in its context) is likewise speaking on the two sons of Abraham that were born to him prior to Genesis 25 - Isaac and Ishmael.  At this time, there were only two sons to Abraham, the others only coming in Genesis 25.
This indicates that Galatians 4 (which is providing a commentary on the relationship between Isaac and Ishmael) is not incorrect to claim that Abraham had two sons, as at that point in time he did only have two sons.

The question then follows, is it incorrect to say that Abraham had one son?

There are at least three possible solutions:

  1. Isaac is the only son of Abraham via Sarai / Sarah, and is in this sense his only begotten son (by Sarah). 
    • A child to be born by Sarah was prophesied by God, but God explicitly says that Ishmael is not this child (Genesis 17:15-22).
    • The word 'Only-begotten" used in Hebrews 11:17 (Monogenes) provides the sense of the Hebrew word 'yacht' used in the text of Genesis.  'Monogenes' has two primary definitions, "pertaining to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship" and "pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind". [Source: Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BAGD, 3rd Edition)].  In this sense, Isaac truly is an only-begotten son, but Ishmael is not.
    • Note: this sense also applies in the event of later children born to Keturah.
  2. Ishmael had been sent away with his mother by Abraham.  It could be that this represents a disownment of him as a son (though this is not explicitly said nor implied).
  3. Since Hagar was a concubine, her son Ishmael may not have been considered a legitimate son (i.e. he was legitimately a bastard, having been born outside of wedlock).  Isaac is therefore at this point in the story the only-begotten son of Abraham, in the sense that he is the only son begotten legitimately in wedlock to Sarah.
In any of these scenarios, Isaac can truly be said to be Abraham's only-begotten son.

Conclusion
Abraham had both one son (by Sarah) and many sons (by Sarah, Hagar and Keturah).  Isaac, Sarah's son, is the only-begotten son of Abraham (by Sarah) in a unique sense, but he is not his only son.  The claim that these passages contradict is a false dichotomy.

Resolving Bible Contradictions - Was Abraham Justified by Faith or Works?



Context

The second contradiction listed on the BibViz website is: "Was Abraham Justified by Faith or Works?"

It is claimed that two contradictory views are proposed in the Bible:
  • He was justified by faith:
    • "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory; but not before God." Romans 4:2
  • He was justified by works:
    • "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" James 2:21

Argument

It is claimed that Romans 4:2 and James 2:21 contradict each other about how Abraham was justified.  The latter claims that works justified Abraham, whereas the former claims works do not provide a point of boasting for Abraham before God, and it was his faith that justified him.

Reflection

This answer is incorrect because it suffers from the fallacy of equivocation.

Protestants say that the fallacy of equivocation occurs in this question because the word 'faith' has different uses in the contexts of the books Romans and James.  Catholics however believe it is the word 'works' that has different meanings in each book.

The nuances are made clearer by looking at Abraham's life in more detail:

  • In Genesis 12:1-4, at age 75, Abraham has faith, in God and so he obeys God and leaves his hometown to go the the place God calls him.  This is confirmed by Hebrews 11:8.
  • In Genesis 15:6, Abraham (now 85), after ten years of obedience again / still has faith and is counted as justified / righteous before God.
  • In Genesis 22, Abraham (now circa 110) is justified by works and the scripture of Genesis 15:6 is fulfilled.  This is confirmed by James 2:14-26.
Christians usually summarise this as follows:
  1. Abraham first has faith and obeys God's call in Genesis 12.
  2. Ten years later, Abraham is declared as justified by God because he has faith.  This faith is not on the basis of works of the Mosaic law, which at this time did not exist.  Where there is no law, there is no transgression (Romans 4:15).
  3. This justification is then either:
    1. A redeclaration of the justification resulting from Abraham's faith in Genesis 12 (held by some Protestants)
    2. The point of Abraham's justification, with prior faith not being deemed as justifying (held by people such as James White, the Reformed Churches, other Protestants)
    3. A further infusion of the justification that occurred in Genesis 12, i.e. justification is a process (held by Catholics, Greek Orthodox churches, etc.)
    4. A restoration of Abraham's justification after losing it due to sin (held by some minority catholic groups, etc.).
  4. Abraham's works in Genesis 22 are then either:
    • The fruit of his justifying faith (Protestant), or
    • Works of love that are not works of the law and thus contribute to the Abraham's process of justification.

Conclusion

Whichever view is correct, all four demonstrate that a simple quotation of two sentences, from two different books of the bible, using different definitions for at least one of the terms used, does not outline a contradiction.  Instead, all four demonstration a fallacy of equivocation has occurred (either in the word 'faith' or 'work').  

The answer therefore fails to give sufficient proof that a contradiction has occurred.  Furthermore, the evidence indicates that there are a number of possible solutions to this proposed contradiction, and that no contradiction actually exists.

Resolving Bible Contradictions - How many men did the chief of David's captains kill?



Context

The Bible has countless objections, criticisms and claims of contradictions.  No doubt, it will continue to do so for some time.  

BibViz, is a website listing a number of apparent contradictions within the Bible.

Websites like this are not a problem, but an opportunity for dialogue.  They invite one to study their faith, to reason with the Lord, to pray for understanding and to find conclusions.  

Most of the apparent contradictions listed on the website occur because someone has considered two texts which appear to be covering the same topic.  Where they actually are covering the same topic, someone may find what appears to be a contradiction.  

When this occurs, people can approach these apparent contradictions in one of three ways:
  1. There is a contradiction
  2. There is no contradiction
  3. Is it possible that these may / may not contradict?
I suspect that most of the time Christians unintentionally take the second position and atheists the first.  In reality though, the best way to approach these is the third.  It is this approach that requires us to dig deeper and to review these things in more detail.

If the Lord will let me live long enough and I can maintain the interest, I will progressively work through these objections.  To this end, here is the first objection listed under the Skeptics Annotated Bible (SAB) section go BibViz.  It is actually, #211 in the SAB, but I will stick with the BibViz numbering for the purpose of my exercise.

BibViz - SAB Contradiction #1

How many men did the chief of David's captains kill?

  • 300:
    • "This is an account of David's mighty men: Jasho'be-am, a Hach'monite, was chief of the three; he wielded his spear against three hundred whom he slew at one time." 1 Chronicles 11:11 - Revised Standard Version
  • 800:
    • "These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshe'beth a Tah-che'monite; he was chief of the three; he wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he slew at one time." 2 Samuel 23:8 - Revised Standard Version

Argument

The argument is that a contradiction occurs because the chief of David's captains killed 300 in 1 Chronicles, but in the same account in 2 Samuel, the number was 800.

Reflection

This question was a little difficult to me at first and required some further reading and reflection.  Upon reflection though, there are potentially four premises assumed to make this a contradiction, each of which have possible alternatives. 

The premises are:

  • That Jasho'be-am, a Hach'monite and Joshebbasshe'beth a Tah'che'monite are the same person, although perhaps with more than one name.
  • That these are both referring to the same particular slaying of people in war.
  • That both texts are referring to the slaying of the number of these people by him personally.
  • That scribal errors on the translation of the number would invalidate the inspiration of the text.

Possible alternatives to the premises are:

  1. "Some attempt to reconcile this by observing, that not the same person is meant in both places." - John Gill, referring to people such as Rashi the Jewish commentator circa 1100 AD and others, who believe one to be, "The father, and the other the son, who succeeded his father, as in strength and valour, so also in his place of honour and trust." Matthew Poole
  2. "Possibly he slew eight hundred at one time, and three hundred at another; whereof the former is related here, as being the most considerable; and the latter in the Book of Chronicles, which supplies many passages omitted in former writings." Matthew Poole
  3. "He slew 300 with his own hands; and the other 500, though killed by his men, are said to be slain by him, because he was the chief cause of all their deaths; for he, by his undaunted courage, killing three hundred, put the rest to flight, who were easily slain by his soldiers in the pursuit." Matthew Poole
    1. A further explanation of this option by John Gill - "others observe, that he engaged with eight hundred, and slew three hundred of them, when the rest fled, and were pursued and killed by his men; and he routing them, and being the occasion of their being slain, the slaying of them all is ascribed to him; or he first slew three hundred, and five hundred more coming upon him, he slew them also:"
  4. The text has been mistranslated or the transmission of the text corrupted either intentionally or unintentionally by scribes in the copying process, or due to a loss of the correct number in the original manuscripts.
    1. An example of this explained by John Gill - "Kimchi... conjectures, that 'v' being the first letter of the words for three and eight, and the numeral letter being here reduced to its word at length, through a mistake in the copier, was written 'hnmv' (eight), instead of 'vlv' (three): the Septuagint [Greek] version is, "he drew out his spear against eight hundred soldiers at once," [2 Samuel 23:8 LXX] and says nothing of slaying them; and seems to be the true sense of the word, as the same learned writer has abundantly shown.

Conclusion

Whilst these options may not satisfy the atheist, they do provide logically plausible and rational options to show how this text may not contradict.  

The exception to this would be option 4, but this would not be considered a contradiction that violates inspiration under the view of Saint Augustine; "If I do find anything in those books (Scripture) that seems contrary to truth, I decide either that the text is corrupt, or that the translator did not follow what was really said, or that I have failed to understand it."