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I will present five possible explanations. Sadly one of them frequently offered by "Christians", as the first listed, believe there was a scribal error in the Hebrew manuscripts. This "defence" is offered by a group calling itself The Christian Think Tank.
by Steve Van Nattan--
This is one of the last alleged major contradictions which version junkies feel sure we cannot answer. Many of them will stake their soul on this being proof that God cannot preserve His Word in the English language, and they could lose their soul for their arrogance. If you are one of these reprobates, you now have at least four very rational discussions if you really WANT to believe God's Word is pure.
First the written objection and then the "answer". This particular Christian group is following the NASB reading. All the Christian sites I visited which are new version proponents agree there is a scribal error.
2 Samuel 8:4 and 1 Chronicles 18:4: Samuel says that David captured 1,700 horsemen and Chronicles says he captured 7,000 in the exact same battle. 1,700 does not equal 7,000 no matter what you do so one or the other must be in error. Again, you can claim copyist error but it is yet another error in our current version of scripture.
The "Christian" answer:
"Yes, it is an 'error' in ONE of the MSS families--the Masoretic Text...Other families such as 2 Samuel in the LXX and (most probably) in the Dead Sea Scroll version of this reflect identical wording in the two passages...it is simply a text-critical decision that someone made that created a conflict (in this case). Again, we have mss. data that resolves the issue plausibly."
This, my friends, is the typical "Christian" answer. "The Hebrew text is wrong, but it is all straightened out in the LXX." Well, not even the NASB got it right, did they? This 'Think Tank' merely tanked; not much thinking involved.
The King James Bible reads in 2 Samuel 8:4 "And David took from him a thousand chariots, and 700 horsemen, and 20,000 footmen." Other Bible versions that agree with the KJB are the NKJV, Webster's 1833 translation, the Third Millenium Bible and the KJV 21st Century Version.
I Chronicles 18:4 says: "And David took from him a thousand chariots, and 7,000 horsemen, and 20,000 footmen."
The NIV and NASB don't even agree with each other and both disagree with the KJB. In I Samuel 8:4 the KJB says 1,000 chariots and 700 horsemen and 20,000 footmen; the NASB says David captured from him 1,700 horsemen and 20,000 footmen, while the NIV says David took 1,000 of his chariots, 7,000 charioteers and 20,000 foot soldiers.
The NASB, while omitting any reference to the chariots here, is in conflict with itself when the parallel passage of 1 Chronicles 18:4 is compared. There the NASB also reads as does the KJB with 1,000 chariots, 7,000 horsemen and 20,000 footmen.
The NIV reading in 2 Samuel 8:4 of 1,000 chariots, 7,000 (not 700) horsemen comes from the Greek Septuagint. They tell you this in the NIV footnote.
Here are some different explanations given by men who did not try to change the KJB reading.
Matthew Henry - "The horsemen are here said to be 700, but 1 Chr. 18:4 they are said to be 7000. If they divided their horses by ten in a company, as it is probable they did, the captains and companies were 700, but the horsemen were 7000."
John Wesley commentary - "Seven hundred - Or, seven hundred companies of horsemen, that is, in all seven thousand; as it is there being ten in each company, and each ten having a ruler or captain."
Dr. Peter Ruckman says on page 178 of his book Problem Texts that most of today's "scholars" say the number of 700 in I Samuel 8:4 is a scribal error. Then he asks if it never occurred to these men that professional soldiers might not be as stupid as Bible scholars.
He continues: "Why wouldn't a war chariot have spare horses? What if both of them (or four to six in a harness) were killed? What do you do, silly, leave the chariot lying there in the mud? Obviously, the Syrians have ten horsemen per chariot. Observe exactly the same thing comparing 2 Samuel 10:18 and 1 Chron. 19:18; ten men per chariot.
2 Samuel 10:18 says "the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the MEN OF 700 chariots of the Syrians, and forty thousand horsemen." Then in I Chronicles 19:18 we read: "But the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew of the Syrians 7000 men WHICH FOUGHT IN chariots, and forty thousand footmen."
An explanation offered by Gerardus D. Bouw in The Book of Bible Problems. He says on page 84: "Apparently the 6,300 were captured as a group while the remaining 700 were captured at a different time. In support of this theory he notes the differences in the language used in the two sections.
In II Samuel 8:3 it says David smote Hadadezer as he went TO RECOVER his border at the river Euphrates, while in I Chronicles 18:3 it says David smote Hadarezer as he went TO STABLISH his dominion by the river Euphrates.
So, in effect he is suggesting that Hadarezar initially went to stabilize his control over the Euphrates and David took his troops of 700 horsemen. Then Hadarezar sent another 6300 to recover his previous dominion and then these too were taken by David, thus making a total of 7,000.
Here is another possible explanation for the apparent contradiction. It seems more likely there was only one battle that took place between king David and Hadadezer the king of Zobah. In one account we are told David took 700 horsemen while in the other the number is 7000 horsemen.
I believe an important part of the equation is that some footmen were also horsemen; they could either fight on horse or on foot since they were specifically trained for both methods of combat. Those footmen who were also horsemen could then replace the number of fallen horsemen in the midst of battle. We see this double role in another passage. In 2 Samuel 10:18 we are told of 40,000 HORSEMEN of the Syrian army who were slain by king David and his men; but in 1 Chronicles 19:18 this same number is listed as 40,000 FOOTMEN. These particular soldiers could fight either on foot or on horseback.
When we compare 2 Samuel 8:4 - the 700 horsemen taken with the number of 7000 horsemen taken in battle in I Chronicles 18:4, the difference can be attributed to how each writer is considering the men in question. The additional 6, 300 men were trained as both horsemen and footsoldiers. As "horsemen" reserves they could be included with the 700 and so would be combined as a total of 7000, but as footsoldiers they would be counted among the 20,000.
So how many "horsemen" were slain? Seven hundred - but also an additional 6,300 who were trained both as horsemen and footmen. The two different writers are giving two different views of the same events.
Any one of the last four explanations could be the correct one or perhaps there is another God has not yet been pleased to reveal to us. But there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the King James Bible. We can have all confidence that it is indeed the true and perfect word of the living God.