The issue of the inerrancy of the Bible is a non-consideration for most in the circle of scholars. The university community assumes that the biblical material, which is treated as religious testimony and little more, is full of error and abundant contradictions. A fabulous example of this is found in the comparison of two accounts of David’s numbering Israel as recorded in 2 Samuel 24 and its parallel account in 1 Chronicles 21. In these parallel accounts there are five clear, alleged contradictions. Consider the following.
In 2 Samuel 24, the Lord places the desire to number Israel in David’s heart. 1 Chronicles 21 moves about as far as one can another direction by alleging that Satan stirred David’s heart to number Israel. Samuel records that God’s retribution on David includes a choice. David can accept seven years of famine, three months of subjection to his enemy, or three days experiencing the plague of God. The Chronicler, however, offers three rather than seven years of famine.
The third “blunder” is in the result of numbering. Samuel gives the total count of Israel prepared for battle as 1,300,000 while the parallel account in the Chronicles provides an inflated number of 1,570,000 men of valor.
As if all this was insufficient evidence for doubting the Scriptures, both texts tell us of David’s abject repentance for his sin of chutzpah. Gad, seer for David, instructs David to locate Araunah the Jebusite and purchase his threshing floor for an altar. But the difficulty lies in the fact that Chronicles notes David’s approach to Ornan, the Jebusite. Now which is it? Araunah or Ornan? If that were not a sufficiently difficult mountain to ascend, in Samuel David pays Araunah a sum of 50 shekels of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen; whereas, in Chronicles, Ornan is awarded the princely share of 600 shekels of gold for “the place.” That is a broad variance on purchase price!
To summarize, here is the interpreter’s dilemma:
2 Samuel 1 Chronicles
God stirs David Satan stirs David
7 years famine 3 years famine
1,300,000 men 1,570,000 men
Araunah the Jebusite Ornan the Jebusite
50 shekels of silver 600 shekels of gold
The apparent discrepancies above are disconcerting for the advocates of the inerrancy of Scripture. But like almost all supposed disagreements, the reality is never so daunting as it first appears. Actually, once properly interpreted, the texts provide the reader with confidence in being able to understand even a challenging passage.
So did God or Satan stir up David to number Israel? The appropriate answer is “both.” As in Job 1–2, Satan (our adversary) ultimately proceeds with nothing of his nefarious plan without the permission of God. As Luther complained, “the devil is God’s devil.” Satan from the Chronicles account is the immediate instigator of the thought in David’s heart. But God (in Samuel) had a nobler instigator of the thought in foreseeing David’s repentance, the rich lessons for Israel and the purchase of the extensive real estate needed for the future building of Solomon’s temple.
The supposed discrepancy of 270,000 men of war is not difficult either. Samuel’s 1,300,000 men of war appears to be a rounded number; whereas 1,570,000 men in Chronicles is more precise. The numbers do not have to mirror one another in order to be accurate.
And is David’s choice to be for seven years or three years of famine? At this point, the reader needs a cogent reminder that the “inerrancy” of the Bible relates to the text as it was transmitted originally to the biblical authors. Any text of Scripture is accurate to the degree that it rediscovers and produces the autographic text. Our English text is the product of several different text forms such as the Masoretic text, the Samaritan text, and others (See Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible by Emanuel Tov for a thorough explanation of this process). In this passage, one may be reasonably certain that the Masoretic text reads “seven years” as a textual inadvertency. The original text doubtless reads “three years” as does the text of Chronicles.
Two problems remain. Is David’s bargaining concerning his threshing floor with Araunah or with Ornan? Once again, the answer is “yes.” Both names are exactly the same. The Hebrew radicals (“radical” is reference to a letter or consonant in the Hebrew alphabet) found in both Araunah and Ornan are exactly the same. The difference arises from the vowels respectively added to the two terms, but the Hebrew text shows the name to be the same man.
What did David pay in the transaction? Did he pay 50 shekels of silver or a much greater price of 600 shekels of gold? Again, the answer is “both.” The price indicated in Samuel is the cost of the “threshing floor” and the oxen and implements Araunah agreed to include as specified. But Chronicles informs the reader that David paid 600 shekels of gold for “the place” (makom, Hebrew). That represented the entire cost of “the place,” which could be the entire summit of the “temple mount” designated for the construction of Solomon’s temple.
The Bible is an amazing book! Any person of faith approaching this unique holy, God-breathed book knows his presuppositions must be that God cannot contradict Himself. Any perceived imperfection will be found in the individual’s hearing or seeing or writing and ultimately understanding what has been transmitted!