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."

Resolving Bible contradictions: The age of Ishmael


Context

I was recently reading through the introduction to the New American Bible, a Catholic Bible translation which, whilst not denying inspiration of the Bible, does affirm Biblical Criticism.  I came across an alleged contradiction I had not seen before.  This was as follows:

"Though Scholars have noted inconsistencies (compare Ishmael's age in Gn 16:16 and 21:5, 14)..."

The Bible verses mentioned are as follows:
Genesis 16:16, "Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael."
Genesis 21:5, "Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him."
Genesis 21:14, "Early the next morning Abraham got some bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar.  Then, placing the child on her back, he sent her away..."
The NAB footnote reads:
"Placing the child on her back: a reading based on an emendation of the traditional Hebrew text.  In the traditional Hebrew text, Abraham put the bread and waterski on Hagar's back, while her son apparently walked beside her.  In this way the traditional Hebrew text harmonies the data of the Priestly source, in which Ishmael would have been at least fourteen years old when Isaac was born; compare 16:16 with 21:5, cf. 17:25.  But in the present Eulogist (?) story, Ishmael is obviously a little boy, not much older than Isaac; cf. vv. 15, 18."

Argument

The argument the commentator/s are trying to make is that in Genesis 21:14, Ishmael was considered small enough to be carried on Hagar's back, but the chronology indicates he must have been 13 years old.  This, at first perusal to atheists, Christians and Muslims, would appear to be a contradiction.

Reflection

It is apparent from the footnote that the commentator/s affirm the JEDP theory of the Pentateuch (the view that four different authors put the first five books of the Bible together over a period of time, with subsequent editors adding their oral traditions, etc. into the original composition.  These are known as the Jawish, Elohist, Deuteronomist and Priestly authors).

Saint Augustine, the Early Church Father was known to have said, "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."

In light of this, it would appear the Biblical critical position would argue that the text has been corrupted in this point from the Hebrew original, due to translator errors.

That could be true, but this need not necessarily be dismissed straight away as a copyist error, or a potential contradiction.  Perhaps it is that, as St Augustine proposes, we have failed to understand it.

Here are some other explanations:
  1. These sorts of "improbabilities force on the reader the conviction that the figures are not intended to reflect the actual ages of the historical patriarchs but are schematic and to be considered in relation to those of the ante- and postdiluvian patriarchs.  That these were known to be schematic only is indicated by the freedom with which they were altered in early times as is clear from a comparison of the Hebrew, Samaritan and LXX [Greek] texts." "According to the schematic presentation of ages Ishmael was now over 14 years old, 16:16 and 21:5... He was certainly older than Isaac and apparently capable of mischief, v.9). Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, circa 1950 AD
  2. There were practical reasons for the placement of "the boy.  The boy, too, he placed on her shoulder - for Sarah implanted the evil eye into Ishmael, and a fever took hold of him, and he was unable to walk on his feet." Rashi (Jewish Commentator), Genesis, circa 1100 AD
    1. The Evil Eye mentioned by Rashi may be pointing to a belief in Malocchio.  I can't say for certain.  But I think that it could be quite a simple, plausible and logical explanation to say that Ishmael may have needed to be carried due to an illness he was experiencing, which prevented him walking.  This could certainly be supported by the following verses in light of the fact that he was left under a tree and was able to cry to the Lord.
  3. A third possible explanation could be that she had to carry the boy on the shoulder as part of some ceremonial exit that we no longer understand or that is no longer known to us.
  4. A fourth possible explanation is that in this time period, because people lived longer, they also aged much slower.  Perhaps it was that Ishmael was the size of a young child at the age of 13.  
    1. This seems to be the view of Haydock's commentary on verse 8 of Chapter 21; "Ver. 8. Weaned. St. Jerome says when he was five years old, though some said twelve. The age of men being prolonged, their infancy continued longer. One of the Machabees suckled her child three years, 2 Machabees vii. 27. (2 Paralipomenon xxxi. 16.) (Calmed)"

Conclusion

Whichever explanation is correct, the conclusion is this: through thinking about the possibilities rationally, one could realistically find a solution to this problem without having to admit an error within the Biblical text, or without having to embrace the JEDP source hypothesis in this instance.

Obviously, this sort of logic can be applied to all apparent contradictions with sufficient time, access to the right material, knowledge of scripture verses and their relationship and interpretation, prayer and reflection.  I'll continue to post on these sorts of things as review them from time to time.

January 2017

Happy New Year everyone!

This year, I've decided to avoid New Year's Resolutions.  I find that I often don't keep the ones I set for myself.

Instead, I've opted to continue working on developing and maintaining new and existing habits.  I'm more interested in creating sustainable ways of life rather than giving up as many people are doing on their resolutions about now.

I hope you find this format more beneficial than daily posts.  If however you feel that you preferred smaller posts, then please email me: josh@joshmoore.com.au

I wish you a 2017 filled with every blessing and happiness.


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How I Started Praying the Liturgy of the Hours


From the start of Advent in November last year, I have been praying the full Liturgy of the Hours, including the Invitatory, Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Prayer During the Day, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer.

However, praying daily did not start there for me.  Not by a long shot.

The following is basically how I scaled up to the Liturgy of the Hours.  I have added a few points that I have learned along the way, but I would follow this process if I was to do it again.  If you are interested in commencing a daily prayer life, I would commend the same to you:
  1. Catholic Magazine Melbourne recently had an interview with a priest who said that his prayer life began when he started praying one Our Father every day.  If you are not praying daily I would commend starting your prayer life in the same way.
  2. The early Church writing the Didache (from 60 A.D.; a time when the New Testament was being written), suggests in Chapter 8 praying this three times a day (presumably morning, lunch time and evening).  Assuming you memorise the Our Father and follow this pattern, you should very easily be able to build a sustainable habit of praying three times per day.
  3. Protestant Martin Luther, in a manner similar to the initial steps of the Rosary, taught in his small catechism to begin and finish each evening with the Sign of the Cross, The Apostles' Creed and the Our Father.  He would then (as do many Christians) have other prayers that follow, but this is a great starting point for commencing a daily prayer habit.
  4. The first time I ever set foot in a Catholic Church, the priest suggested in his sermon that someone could start developing their walk with God by saying grace before meals.  Assuming you eat three times per day, this would be another three times per day that you would be praying.  If you did the Sign of the Cross before this grace before meals, that would be another again another prayer added.
  5. You could then add grace after meals to this routine.
If you implemented all of that over the course of four months you would find yourself praying daily as follows:
  • The Sign of the Cross 6 x per day
  • The Apostles' Creed 2 x per day
  • The Lord's Prayer 3 x per day
  • Grace before meals 3 x per day
  • Grace after meals 3 x per day (x 2 prayers per session for a total of 6 prayers)
Total: 20 prayers per day or 140 per week!


From here, I started with a book called 'A Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer', which contains the morning and evening prayers (along with the night prayers) of the liturgy of the hours. I then scaled up to the full hours over the course of about six months.

Of course, you don't have to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  You could add things such as prayer for friends, for your work, for safe travel every time you drive, for your family, etc.  The point is that as you build certain a routine of praying at certain times throughout the day, you can add to it over time.

Don't overburden yourself at this stage, just start by praying one Our Father today.  If you can do this every day for a week, you are on your way to building a consistent prayer routine.


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How I Would Start Reading the Bible in Hindsight


After being challenged (unintentionally) by a friend in 2012, I committed to reading the whole Bible. I read the whole protestant Bible from cover to cover.  I have since gone on to read the extra books in the Catholic Bible as well as some of the extra books in the Orthodox Bible.

When people used to ask me about starting to read the Bible, I suggested doing what I did; reading through cover-to-cover.  Nowadays I don't suggest that method.

Whilst all scripture is inspired of God, some parts are better known than others.  Different parts of the Bible have different purposes from each other, and not all of it is easy to read for some.  So whilst some people are able to do a cover-to-cover read through, a lot of people end up struggling around Leviticus / Numbers, and give up.  This is because laws written circa 3,400 years ago are often difficult to understand, especially since many things addressed seem different from today.

I therefore have two suggestions for how to start:

Suggestion One

  • Begin by reading the Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  A chapter a day will see you get through the gospels in 89 days.  You could go slower if you wish.  Most of the gospels is read by liturgical churches in the west over a three year period.
  • Continue to reread the gospels, but add the rest of the new testament to your reading also.  1-2 chapters per day.
  • Next, start working through the Book of Psalms - the prayer book of the church.  The Psalms were once described as, 'The Bible in miniature.'
  • From there, you can branch out into other parts of the old testament (such as the first five books, known as the Torah, the Prophetic books like Isaiah, etc.).

Suggestion Two

  • Start by reading through the Sunday Mass gospel readings
  • Continue by adding the other readings from Sunday Mass
  • Add the Weekday Mass gospel readings
  • Add the other readings from weekday masses
  • Add the Liturgy of the Hours.
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Weight Loss - The Great Aussie Bloke Slim-Down


I read this book recently by Peter Fitzsimons, the husband of Lisa Wilkinson.  I've been following this plan since boxing day and have lost 2.5 kilos since then, which is probably the best I've gone on the weight loss front in a while.  If you're a bloke and looking to lose some weight, perhaps you should check out this book.


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Documentary - Meet The Romans


This is the second series I've watched by Mary Beard now on the Romans.  This was a really good insight into everyday life of Roman citizens.  Key takeaway: The Romans were very similar to us after all.

You can find the three-part documentary on youtube as follows:

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Early Church Fathers' Test for Finding the True Church Still Works Today


Want to find out where the Church founded by Jesus Christ is?  The Early Church Fathers established a way to test if your church is the true church.

It still works today.  I've trialled it with Presbyterians and not one of them answered correctly according to the Early Church Fathers.

The test is simply this: 

Whenever you are in a town, ask a person not where the Lord's house is, nor where the Church is, but where the Catholic Church is.  

The early church position was that no heretic will point to his own chapel or house.

Here's the quotes from the Early Church Fathers outlining this in more detail:


"But since the word Ecclesia is applied to different things (as also it is written of the multitude in the theatre of the EphesiansAnd when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the Assembly), and since one might properly and truly say that there is a Church of evil doers, I mean the meetings of the heretics, the Marcionists and Manichees, and the rest, for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to you now the ArticleAnd in one Holy Catholic Church; that you may avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which you were regenerated. And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord's House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God (for it is written, As Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it, and all the rest,) and is a figure and copy of Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and the mother of us all; which before was barren, but now has many children... " 
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (313 - 386 A.D.), Catechetical Lectures #18.

"For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom, to the knowledge of which a few spiritual, men attain in this life…not to speak of this wisdom, which you do not believe to be in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations…so does her authority…the succession of priests…and so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church… Now if the truth is so clearly proved as to leave no possibility of doubt, it must be set before all the things that keep me in the Catholic Church… For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church… for it was through the Catholics that I got my faith in it; and so, whatever you bring from the gospel will no longer have any weight with me. Wherefore, if no clear proof of the apostleship of Manichaeus is found in the gospel, I will believe the Catholics rather than you."
Saint Augustine, Against the Epistle of Manichaeus, 4:5,5:6 (A.D 397).


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Biblical Quote for Reflection

"Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."
Colossians 3:12-14 (Revised Standard Version)