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."

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