2 Samuel 24:13 and 1 Chronicles 21:12
"Could You Repeat The Choices?"

There are two accounts in the Old Testament of the same story of David taking a census of the Israelites, one in 2 Samuel 24 and the other in 1 Chronicles 21. God is displeased with David's actions and offers him three choices as punishment. There is an interesting "problem" that arises when studying these passages, for the three choices of punishment do not match in each account in the KJV:

2 Samuel 24:13 (KJV) "So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me."

1 Chronicles 21:12 (KJV) "Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me."

What makes this "contradiction" interesting is that it is not a translational issue, but perhaps a copyist issue - the "contradiction" appears in the Hebrew that the KJV was translated from as well. However, the "contradiction" does not appear in the LXX (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament). This article is not an attempt to prove one or the other as correct, but to explain what's going on here.

Here's how the comparison looks in 3 popular versions, including the KJV:

2 Samuel 24:13seventhreeseven
1 Chronicles 21:12threethreethree

As you can see, the NIV does not contain the "contradiction", as each verse has "three". However, a footnote in the NIV shows us that this is because the translators of the NIV have chosen in this instance to follow the LXX instead of the available Hebrew manuscripts so as to eliminate the "contradiction", noting that the LXX has "three" while the Hebrew has "seven". I'm not sure whether they were correct or not, but as the KJV translators said, "doth not a margin do well to admonish the Reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily?"

Although we cannot be 100% certain, "three years" in 2 Samuel 24:13 may be correct for the following combination of reasons:

- it matches the 1 Chronicles 21:12 account.
- it fits the pattern of choices better: 3 years, 3 months, 3 days.
- it matches the LXX, which is older than the available Hebrew.
- the Hebrew letter Zayin, used for "seven", may have been mistaken for the Hebrew letter Giymel, used for "three", by a copyist somewhere down the line.

Of course, the last reason could be easily reversed (ie. perhaps Giymel is mistaken for Zayin). However, because of the first three reasons given, translating it "three" has more support.

Why then does the LXX have "three" while the Hebrew has "seven"? A few reasons are possible, although we can't know for sure because we don't have the Hebrew manuscripts used to produce the LXX:

- perhaps because the Hebrew originally had "three", which was later unintentionally changed (after the LXX was produced) because of the Giymel/Zayin similarities.
- perhaps the Hebrew originally had "seven", but the LXX translators thought they would "correct" the "contradiction".
- perhaps the LXX translators accidentally mistook the Zayin as a Giymel, thus translating "seven" as "three".

So, the issue is somewhat unresolved, due to our lack of the originals for comparison. Although there is a possibility that "seven" is the correct number, it seems the original most likely had "three".

A thought-provoking side note...

A simple comparison of these two verses provides a good example of the same event and message given by someone, but by using different words. If one was to get really sticky over the issue of "inerrancy", one would have to examine which words of the message were really the ones spoken by Gad:

Differences in what was spoken by Gad
2 Samuel 24:13 (KJV) 1 Chronicles 21:12 (KJV)
"famine come unto thee in thy land?" "famine"
"before thine enemies" "destroyed before thy foes"
"while they pursue thee" "while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee"
"three days' pestilence" "three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence"
[not preset] "and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel"
"now advise, and see" "Now therefore advise thyself"
"what answer I shall return" "what word I shall bring again"
Choices worded as questions Choices worded as a list (not questions)

In other words, for 100% accuracy and inerrancy, did Gad say "they" or "sword of thine enemies"? Did he mention "destroy" in the second choice or not? Did he say "pestilence" or "sword of the LORD, even the pestilence"? Did he mention the "angel of the LORD destroying" in the third choice or not? Where the choices given as questions or not?

Did Gad say "pursue" or "overtake"? There is a big difference in meaning between those two words - one can be overtaken without being pursued, and one can be pursued without being overtaken.

If the KJV-only position is about the exact "words" of God, which "words" were really spoken by Gad in this event? I guess I'm pointing this out to make you think: what really is "inerrancy"? I realize this is "straining at (out?) a gnat", but it at least shows that differing words can be used and still be considered "true". Why can the KJV and Hebrew use differing words to tell of an event but another version is considered "in error" when it does the same thing?