Please explain to me the discrepancies, both theological and numerical,
between 2 Samuel 24 and 1Chronicles 21.


If you read my book Reasons for Belief on the reliability of the biblical
texts, you will find the comment that we have a NT which is a virtually
perfect copy of the original. With the Old Testament, this would be a
significantly too strong statement to make. Due to copying over a period
from a couple of hundred years (Chronicles, Malachi, Zechariah, etc.), up
to several hundred years (Leviticus, Isaiah, etc.) until the time of the
Septuagint translation and the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls, there was
sufficient time for a number of errors to come in. From the Isaiah scroll
in the Dead Sea scrolls, we know that over a period of about 1050 years,
there were a significant numer of copying errors. The vast majority of
these errors are small spelling errors, the addition of an “a”, the change
of a preposition, and things like that. Not a single significant
difference of meaning was made between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the
Masoretic Text of AD 1000.

Having said that, there is one particular aspect of copying which is
particularly unreliable. That is the copying of numbers. The Jews used a
numbering system somewhat like Roman numerals, only worse. Worse in the
sense that the Hebrew letters used for some of the numbers are very
similar looking. In addition, it is very easy to detect a spelling errer
(to use an example), but because numbers are somewhat arbitrary, it is
difficult to detect or correct a mistake in copying a number. For this
reason, as a general rule, the numbers found in the Old Testament, such as
the number of soldiers in an army or the number of years between two
events are not very reliable. Fortunately, it is very unusual for a
number to be significant to doctrine, theology or anything significant to
the Christian religion. God used people, obviously, to transmit the Old
Testament. We know from comparing the DSS to the Masoretic text that
these people did an absolutely remarkable job, but they were not perfect.
The most suspect element in the Old Testament in terms of reliability is
the transmission of numbers. For this reason, I am not at all surprised
that 2 Sam 24:9 is in apparent contradiction to 1 Chron 21:5. I do not
see any significance theologically or otherwise to the difference between
these passages.

You mention the theological difference between these two passages. To
what are you referring?

John Oakes, PhD

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