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Proclamation Index

How Many Sons Did Jesse Have? Resolving Bible Difficulties, Part 1

by Daryl E. Witmer EDITOR'S NOTE: This month's issue of the Proclamation features the first in a three-part series of articles on reason-able resolutions of difficult Bible texts. While there are many alleged discrepancies in Scripture, we believe that - given the right resources - there are sensible ways of unraveling every one. This series cites three such challenges, their respective solutions, a few key principles for tackling Bible difficulties in general, and two helpful resources. ALLEGED PROBLEM I Samuel 16:10-11 clearly implies that Jesse, the father of Israel's King David, had at least eight sons, of which David was the eighth. But I Chronicles 2:13-15 indicates that Jesse had only seven sons, and that David was the youngest. Which text is correct? How many sons did Jesse really have? And how can the Bible be trusted if you read one thing in one place and a totally contradictory statement in another place? SENSIBLE SOLUTION Both texts are no doubt correct. It is most likely that one of Jesse's sons died before making any significant impact during David's reign - thus being of no account to the chronicler. You will note that I Chronicles 2:13-15 does not state that Jesse only ever had seven sons. It simply names seven of his sons (including David) and two of his daughters. If one of Jesse's sons had died before being married, or without having had any children of his own, or without having ever done anything particularly noteworthy, it would not be unusual for his name to be omitted from the written record in I Chronicles. Even today it is often common practice (except in formal genealogical registers) to refer to only the surviving children. The two texts in question here do not constitute a necessary contradiction. Therefore this difficulty is resolvable and cannot be legitimately used to cast doubt on the trustworthiness of Scripture. Therefore the case for the authority of the Bible as an inspired, accurate, and inerrant revelation from God remains intact. RELEVANT PRINCIPLES FOR DEALING WITH BIBLE DIFFICULTIES A significant number of Bible texts really do seem (at least initially) to pose a challenge to the claim that the Bible is 100% reliable. But every one of those "problem" texts has long since been uncovered, carefully considered, and resolved in an intelligent and reasonable manner. No new Bible difficulties are about to be revealed. Here are a few principles to keep in mind as one approaches Bible texts that appear problematic: - There is a choice as to the ground upon which one stands in reviewing the matter of Bible difficulties. One may choose to presuppose that the Bible is without error, while acknowledging that it contains some very hard-to-explain texts. Or one can presuppose that the Bible is full of error, although it may also still contain many truths. One's presuppositions often prove determinative. - If one accepts as a premise the charge that the Bible contains even one minute error, then the Bible automatically, necessarily, loses its authority as the Word of God. If the Bible is not 100% accurate (even regarding matters of history and science) then it becomes 100% suspect. Without inerrancy the Bible cannot be infallible, and without infallibility the Bible cannot be trusted as the reliable record of an Almighty God. - The Bible certainly presents itself as being 100% inspired and trustworthy. See II Timothy 3:16-17. - Jesus consistently recognized all Scripture as being both reliable and authoritative. See Luke 16:17, Matthew 5:18, and John 10:35. - Verse context and historic word usage are both keys to unraveling many so-called Bible contradictions. - Copyist and transmissional errors do not imply Biblical errancy. A broad range of scribal errors have been identified, categorized, and explained in ways that allow one to continue to reasonably insist on an inerrant original autograph (Bible). HERE ARE TWO HELPFUL RESOURCES There are many reputable resources available to those searching for an intelligent solution to difficult Bible texts. Here are two leading volumes, both of which I use regularly in my work: When Critics Ask, by Dr. Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, ©1992 SP Publications Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, by Dr. Gleason Archer, ©1982 Zondervan. This text is now also available on CD-ROM.

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