Contradictions

Originally available only on the Web, this series tackling the supposed contradictions in God’s Word is now also available in book form.

2 Kings 8:26
Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah the granddaughter of Omri, king of Israel.
2 Chronicles 22:2
Ahaziah was forty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah the granddaughter of Omri.

Was Ahaziah 22 or 42 years old when he became king of Judah? Ahaziah’s true age when he became king of Judah is easy to discern by further research. In 2 Kings 8:17, Ahaziah’s father Joram reigned for 8 years after beginning his reign at age 32. Joram was 40 when he died, showing that Ahaziah could not have been 42, but was instead 22 when he began his reign. So what does the 42 in 2 Chronicles 22:2 indicate?

There are two primary answers that Christian scholars have given. Either answer reveals there is no contradiction:

  1. The 42 is in reference to the beginning of the kingly reign of which Ahaziah is a part.
  2. This was a copyist error which changed the original 22 in 2 Chronicles 22:2 to 42.

Was 42 Years the Beginning of the Kingly Reign?

Leading Hebraist Dr. John Gill listed several responses to this alleged contradiction in the 1700s:

  1. “Some refer this to Jehoram, that he was forty two when Ahaziah began to reign, but he was but forty when he died;
  2. “others to the age of Athaliah his mother, as if he was the son of one that was forty two, when he himself was but twenty two; but no instance is given of any such way of writing, nor any just reason for it;
  3. “others make these forty two years reach to the twentieth of his son Joash, his age twenty two, his reign one, Athaliah six, and Joash thirteen;
  4. “the one, that he was twenty two when he began to reign in his father’s lifetime, and forty two when he began to reign in his own right; but then he must reign twenty years with his father, whereas his father reigned but eight years: to make this clear they observe, as Kimchi and Abarbinel, from whom this solution is taken, that he reigned eight years very happily when his son was twenty two, and taken on the throne with him, after which he reigned twenty more ingloriously, and died, when his son was forty two; this has been greedily received by many, but without any proof;
  5. “that these forty two years are not the date of the age of Ahaziah, but of the reign of the family of Omri king of Israel; so the Jewish chronology; but how impertinent must the use of such a date be in the account of the reign of a king of Judah? All that can be said is, his mother was of that family, which is a trifling reason for such an unusual method of reckoning.”1

Obviously Dr. Gill was appealing for another view: that it was simply a copyist mistake. More recently, chronologist Dr. Floyd Jones expands on Gill’s fifth explanation in Chronology of the Old Testament in much more detail.2 This is a respectable position and is one of the two possibilities put forth by most scholars.

Dr. Jones makes the case that 42 should remain in 2 Chronicles 22:2. He points out that Ahaziah’s age was indeed 22 as 2 Kings 8:26 says. However, he interprets 2 Chronicles 22:2 as the beginning of the kingly reign of his family line (starting with Omri, then his son Ahab, and then Ahab’s daughter Athaliah who was Ahaziah’s wife).

Dr. Jones points out that the numbers given in the Hebrew text are not the numerals 42 and 22 but are written out as “two and forty” and “two and twenty,” which would seem to make a copyist mistake less likely. Hence, he reinterprets the verse instead of appealing to a copyist mistake.

He points out that the words was and old in 2 Chronicles 22:2 are not in the original Hebrew but were added to the English translation to make it smoother. Without them, it reads “a son of 42 years.” Dr. Jones states:

Thus the sense of Ahaziah’s being “a son of 42 years” in his reigning is seen to refer to his being a son of the dynasty of Omri which was in its 42nd year. Putting the two Scriptures together reveals that Ahaziah was 22 years old when he began to reign during the 42nd year of the dynasty of Omri, of which he is also an integral part.3 [emphasis in original]

Although this seems to answer this alleged contradiction, many are not entirely convinced. If 42 is to be interpreted as the beginning of the dynasty of Omri in 2 Chronicles, then why is 22 in 2 Kings 8 not also referring to the beginning of the dynasty of Omri? By this reasoning, this would mean the alleged contradiction could still exist. Another reason others are not entirely convinced is that other ancient texts have 22 in this verse, not 42. Let’s look at the possibility of a copyist mistake.

Was it a Copyist Mistake?

Many fail to realize that several ancient texts have 22 (or simply 20) instead of 42 as listed in the Masoretic Text (MT) in 2 Chronicles 22:2. The Syriac version (common to Eastern churches) and Arabic version each have 22. The Septuagint (LXX) has 20. In fact, the version used by the Antioch church in New Testament times was obtained by Archbishop Ussher at great cost and it had 22.1 These early translations were obviously drawing from another Hebrew text, different from what we know today as the Masoretic or standard Hebrew text used for most translations in modern times.

So which text should be used in this instance? Before we assume the MT, let’s see what Jesus quoted from. Jesus quoted from the Old Testament about 64 times in the Gospels. More than half of His quotes agree with both the LXX and the MT. In 12 instances, Jesus’s quotes differ from both the LXX and the MT. In 7 instances, He sides with the LXX over the MT. And in another 12 instances, He agrees with the MT over the LXX. So if we make a case that other ancient texts such as the LXX should never be used instead of the MT, then Jesus would be in error as He clearly didn’t draw explicitly from what we know today as the MT.4

Other ancient texts draw from Hebrew versions far earlier than the version of the MT that we have today (current extant copies date from AD 900 to 1000).5 For example, the Septuagint was translated from Hebrew about 200 to 250 years before Christ. Our earliest copy of the Septuagint is from the AD 300s.6 The Syriac version was probably done in the first century AD because of the rapid growth of the church in Antioch as recorded in the book of Acts. It was surely completed by the second century, which is commonly referenced.7

The Arabic version was done much later, in the tenth century by Saadia Gaon in Babylonia.8 But this means it drew from a Hebrew text unique from the Masoretic to utilize 22 instead of 42 in 2 Chronicles 22:2. If this were a copyist mistake in the Masoretic text, then it happened prior to the Masoretes who worked from the seventh to eleventh centuries AD, because Jerome’s Latin Vulgate from AD 400 also has the number 42.

Regardless, all of these texts underwent some copyist mistakes as they simply do not agree exactly with each other. This is why scholars such as Dr. Gill lean toward a copyist mistake. Consider what Dr. Gill says:

[I]ndeed it is more to the honour of the sacred Scriptures to acknowledge here and there a mistake in the copiers, especially in the historical books, where there is sometimes a strange difference of names and numbers, than to give in to wild and distorted interpretations of them, in order to reconcile them, where there is no danger with respect to any article of faith or manners[.]1

Other commentaries are also split on the subject. Had the 42 and 22 been written in number form prior to being spelled out, this discrepancy could easily creep in as מ (mem, forty) and כ (caph, twenty) are very similar. We know for certain that as of about AD 900, the Masoretes have it spelled out (e.g., “two and forty” or “two and twenty”).

The point is that copies and translations are not inerrant (this is different from preservation). Recognizing this gives more credit to God’s originals and focuses less on the fallible copyists since. Also, it stresses the need to handle the copies and translations of the Word of God with great care and reverence. Had translations and copies been kept inerrant, which Scripture doesn’t reveal, then they should all be identical and yet they are not. God has preserved His Word in a variety of copies and has warned against changing His Word. For example, Revelation 22:18–19 reveals that a horrible fate awaits those who changed words when copying the Book of Revelation.

Regardless, either explanation (42 being the beginning of Ahaziah’s kingly family line or a copyist mistake) reduces this alleged discrepancy to nothing and neither harm the integrity of the original inerrant Bible manuscripts.

Postscript: A Note on Preservation

The Masoretic text is easily the best collection of Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament; however, we need to keep in mind that it, too, is a copy of a copy of a copy, etc. And copyists were never given the privilege of inerrancy, unlike the prophets or apostles. Although the MT may be the best, we need to be careful about in-depth studies of words and phrases without consulting other ancient texts.

This brings us to the question of “preservation,” which is distinct from inerrancy. God reveals that He would preserve His Word (Psalm 12:6–7). Currently there are two views on how this preservation has taken place:

  1. One preserved inerrant copy of a copy of a copy (etc.) has been passed down.
  2. Preservation has occurred through the various copies that exist.

Throughout the history of the church, the second view has been dominant. With English translations, for example, from Tyndale forward, each translator made use of textually criticized texts and often consulted variant texts when doing translations. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The idea that one inerrant copy lineage has been passed along is a relatively new idea that, sadly, doesn’t take into account the past.9

Early English translators relied heavily on the various Textus Receptus (TR) editions, published copies of the Greek New Testament, as well as a few other sources, whether English, Latin, or other. Dutch Catholic Erasmus in 1516 did textual criticism of a handful of variant copies (three primary copies and three others) of the Greek New Testament to arrive at this new text.10 He even used quotations by church fathers for comparison and back-translated excerpts of Revelation from the Latin Vulgate that did not appear in any versions of his Greek copies.

Erasmus issued three editions of his Greek New Testament, the latter editions correcting earlier errors. His first edition was apparently rushed for competition with another family of texts that was used for the Polyglot Bible, and it became the dominant text used throughout Europe. Others, such Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevir brothers, further edited Erasmus’s TR for subsequent printings. So early translations such as Tyndale’s, the Geneva Bible, Luther’s Bible, and other New Testaments generally came from this text family because this was what was available. But even then, popular versions such as the King James New Testament differs from the TR nearly 170 times and over 60 times agreed with the Latin Vulgate over any Greek text, including the TR.11

Since the time of Erasmus, nearly 5,300 Greek texts and fragments have been found.12 So why remain confined to Erasmus’s small library that didn’t even have a complete version of Revelation in Greek? There have been many attempts to utilize these other texts instead of ignore them. Among the most popular was Westcott and Hort’s text. But as far as we know, no modern translation uses the Westcott and Hort text except the poorly translated New World Translation.13

There has been further study and textual criticism to arrive at standard texts. Today, the latest editions are used when translating the Bible, whether Old Testament or New Testament. The Lord has preserved other texts besides the MT so that we’re able to compare various texts. Truly, He has preserved His Word.

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Footnotes

  1. Dr. John Gill, Commentary notes, 2 Chronicles 22:2. Back (1) Back (2) Back (3)
  2. Dr. Floyd Jones, Chronology of the Old Testament (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2005), pp. 139–141. Back
  3. Ibid., p. 140. Back
  4. G. Miller, “Septuagint,” A Christian Thinktank, http://www.christian-thinktank.com/alxx.html, January 30, 1995. Back
  5. J. McDowell, The New Evidence that Demand a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999), p. 77; J. McDowell, A Ready Defense, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), p. 48. Back
  6. B. Edwards, Nothing But the Truth (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2006), p. 248. Back
  7. “Peshitta,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peshitta, accessed December 15, 2008. There have been reports that the date is slightly later (3rd or 4th centuries) but it is still far earlier than AD 900. Back
  8. “Saadia Gaon,” Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/SaadiaGaon.html, accessed December 15, 2008. Back
  9. For a more detailed history of the Bible in English please see Donald Brake, A Visual History of the English Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2008). Back
  10. “Erasmus 1516,” Bibliography of Textual Criticism, http://www.bible-researcher.com/bib-e.html, accessed December 15, 2008. Back
  11. Douglas Kutilek, “Westcott and Hort vs. Textus Receptus: Which is Superior?” May 24, 1996, reprinted at http://www.bible-researcher.com/kutilek1.html, accessed December 15, 2008. Back
  12. J. McDowell, A Ready Defense (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), p. 43. Back
  13. New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Revised) (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania and the International Bible Students Association, 1984), p. 5. Back