Contradiction and Conflict in the Biblical Text  

 2 Samuel 24:1 vs  I Chronicles 21:1
by Sidney Dosh, Jr.


I often read with both interest and amusement the battles that rage over the accuracy of this translation or that translation.  Most of the war is waged by those who proclaim that the King James Version is the ONLY accurate text.  This is understandable since the KJV has been the standard of English Bible translations for such a long period, and tradition is difficult, if not impossible to overcome. 

But the proponents for the KJV can rest easy, along with all the other proponents and opponents for various translations, because this article will deal with two verses which all translations agree upon.  The only problem is that the verses themselves, reporting on the exact same incident, do not agree.  Within the constraint of the space available, I will examine these verses and try to lead us to some understanding as to why these verses are in conflict.

First let us look at the verses, beginning with the oldest record, namely II Samuel 24.  Since all translations agree in the content of the verses to be quoted, we will use the KJV.

2 Sam. 24:1: And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go number Israel and Judah."

Now let us look at the report of this same incident as reported by the Chronicler in I Chronicles 21:1:

And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to go and number Israel.

Although the overall wording is not identical in each of the verses, the event and the consequences are the same.  The obvious difference in the verses is the conflict as to who "moved against" or "provoked" David to number Israel ‑ God or Satan.

The first and most obvious question is: "Did the writer of the book of Chronicles, a much later book (circa 500 B.C.), consider God and Satan as one and the same?"

Or perhaps the writer, given the result of this action, namely the destruction of 70,000 people, was unwilling to attribute such an act to God and simply substituted Satan as the influence behind David's apparent disobedience.

Or we may insist that there was indeed some development in the life of Israel that produced a view of an individual entity that influenced men to do evil.

Or we might find that a better understanding might come from a linguistic approach and see if the word Satan must be understood as a personal name for an evil supernatural being.

There are many other possibilities which we could consider, but let us take the four questions we have posed and deal with them. 


You can, on your own, develop questions which will having meaning to you in understanding this apparent problem in the text.  However, in developing your thoughts please bear in mind the following.  The verses in question are a part of the Hebrew Scriptures (Christianity calls them the Old Testament) and must be viewed in light of Hebraic concepts.  Thus the concept of Satan as presented in the New Testament cannot be carried backward and imposed upon the Hebrew Scriptures.

From a Hebrew perspective there is no independent supernatural power, co‑equal with God.  To the Hebrew, God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.  Everything emanates from God, both good and evil.  There is nothing that is not in His power or subject to His control.  He dispenses both mercy and justice.

With these last thoughts in mind we can understand that although it is probably not possible for the Chronicler to consider Satan and God as one and the same, this does not mean that the writer would not have considered Satan to be an instrument of God to "provoke" David.  This view is supported by several commentators who insist that God allowed this as a test to prove David's character.


The second possibility, substituting Satan for God was considered a valid option.  Ezra, the accepted writer of Chronicles, was a priest.  Although much of the prophetic literature contains notions of God manifesting Himself in the form of angelic beings, this concept was avoided in the priestly literature.  There was an attempt on the part of the priests to eliminate any concept of mediatory beings of a divine nature.  There was no provision for God to come to earth.  God was holy and He would not come to the profane, rather it was the profane that was in need of holiness in order to achieve union with God in His abode.

Thus it is possible that Ezra found the idea of God in the role of an evil adversary as repugnant.  Many commentators agree that this substitution of the word "satan" into the text of Chronicles is a clear example of the way in which Ezra felt comfortable in modifying a part of the source text which presented unacceptable ways of speaking of God and Israel's past.

The third possibility deals with currents that were in operation during the time of the writing of Chronicles that would have influenced the use of the word "satan" to mean an individual evil entity.  In support of this idea we must realize that this period was the period of return from exile in Babylon.  For seventy years the people had labored under the control of the Persians.  Within the Persian religious system a fully developed system of worship was in place that recognized two gods, one evil and one good.  These gods were constantly interfering in the life of man, seeking to influence him toward their own purposes.

It is indeed possible that Ezra was influenced by these years of association with this culture and decided to "correct" the source text to coincide with his new system of belief.  Although this line of reasoning is possible, the record of the Hebrew Scriptures weighs heavily against it.  It takes several hundred years from the time of the writing of Chronicles for the concept of dualism to develop in Judaic thought.  This concept does not begin to appear until the Rabbinical writings of the 1st and 2nd Century (A.D.) expand upon the Biblical text.            9904 DTB ¨



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