Old Testament Numbers Proven True

In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, we find the following:

1 Kings 15:25:  Now Nadab the son of Jeroboam became king over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years.

1 Kings 15:33 In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha the son of Ahijah became king over all Israel in Tizrah,, and reigned twenty-four years.

The discerning reader immediately notices a problem: Nadab was Asa’s second year + 2, and Baasha began in Asa’s third year. The yearly totals of the Old Testament kings have many of these, so much so that the totals have baffled people for many centuries. No doubt critics and liberal Bible commentators have held these as examples of errors. The task gets more difficult when we consider there were 44 kings over the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, some of the kings had similar names (Ahaziah, Athaliah, Azariah, Amaziah), and the counting continued through the rising and falling of multiple nations.

Edwin Thiele spent a good bit of time time untangling the chronology, and published it in his book The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Thiele goes into much tedious detail referencing and counting the kings. He attributes the issues to the following:

  • Some nations started counting from the day the king started reigning, while other nations started counting at the beginning of the new year following the crowning of a new king.
  • Some new years started in different months (Nisan vs. Tishri)
  • The method of counting changed over the centuries, depending on which nation was the the dominant ruler at the time
  • Some kings crowned their sons before the older king died, so some kings co-reigned

If you add this up over the four dozen kings who reigned for almost four centuries, and the numbers can be confusing. Thiele systematically documents each interaction between each king, which dating system was used in which nation, and who overlapped who.

Thiele carefully cross-referenced himself with known dates in ancient history, but only after he had worked out the internal consistency of the Hebrew dating systems. “Charts were prepared without dates of any kind to show the interrelationships of the rulers of Israel and Judah. Only at the end was there to be a check with the known years of ancient history.”(p.21)  As Thiele states,

As this pattern of lengths of reigns and synchronisms is carefully studied, we see that the individuals who first recorded these data were dealing with contemporary chronological materials of the greatest accuracy and the highest historical value. Back of the seeming discrepancies lies an underlying harmony not previously appreciated because of failure to understand the principles of the chronological systems then in use. (p.50)

The once ambiguous and confusing numbers of the Hebrew kings have taken on new value and meaning. Bewilderment and doubt have been replaced by certainty and assurance. In these numbers we now know that we are dealing not with fancy but with fact. The true meanings of these once seemingly irreconcilable data have been clarieifed nad we are in a position to appreciate their value the fields of biblical scholarship and ancient historical research. . . .

In our work with these data we did not begin with the assumption that they were largely in error, whether because of mistakes in original recordings, scribal corruptions that crept in along the way, or editorial misjudgments of some late day. But we did begin on a quest to ascertain whether there might not be some basic chronological pattern into which these numbers would fit . . .

The reigns of both nations are constantly interwoven with each other in strict accord with the requirements of the data provided by the original Hebrew recorders. This chain we believe to be complete, sound, and capable of withstanding any challenge that historical evidence may bring upon it. (p.211)

Thus the Bible is again proven accurate. The lesson for us today is not so much the tedious details of ironing out a list of ancient kings, but that of how the original confusions were approached. Many Bible critics take all Biblical questions or confusions as evidence of error. A more prudent approach is to consider that since the Bible has been proven accurate in so many other places, there is likely a reason for why it reads as it does. If we first take the text to be written for a purpose, with the writer being at least as intelligent as we are, if not more so, then we will more often find the truth. In the case of the numbers of the Hebrew kings, Thiele shows that the Bible is true and inerrant, and it is unwise to hold that it made a mistake merely because we cannot resolve a question.



About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Bible, Skepticism. Bookmark the permalink.

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