October 23, 2017

What Your Question? Bible Answers to Bible Questions

By James P. Needham

QUESTION: Concerning the Number of Sons of Jesse.

"Why is there a difference in the number of sons of Jesse in I Chron. 2:13-15, and I Sam. 16:6-117 This was a jolt to my faith when I first heard of it."--Ark.



This type of question is difficult to handle. It requires tedious research, and close attention to the language used. There are some seeming numerical contradictions in the Old Testament. Before we allow any such supposed discrepancies to weaken our faith, we should be sure that we have given them sufficient study, that we are treating fairly the language used, and that there is no possible way to reasonably explain them. Before we push the panic button, we should seek all the help we can get from others, as our querist evidently is doing. It is still true, that when all circumstances are understood, there are no contradictions in the Bible, certifying it to be a production of an infinite and infallible God (I Cor. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:21).

The Question Considered

1. The problem stated: There are at least two places where Jesse is said to have had eight sons: I Sam. 16:6-11; 17:12. But I Chron. 2:13-15, states that he had only seven. I Chron. 2:15, has David the seventh of seven sons of Jesse. I Sam. 16:6-11, has David the eighth of eight sons of Jesse.

2. The problem explained: Examination shows that I Chron. 2 is a genealogical table. PULPIT COMMENTARY suggests that the explanation may be that one of Jesse's sons "died early without issue, and would accordingly be the less wanted in a genealogical register" (Vol. 6, p. 19). To this agree the following, ALLEGED DISCREPANCIES OF THE BIBLE, p. 383; JAMIESON, F AUSSET AND BROWN; I.S.B.E.; KEIL AND DELITZSCHE, Vol. 7, p. 62; and LANG'S COMMENTARY, Vol. 7, p. 40. Genealogical tables frequently omit certain descendents who were not pertinent to said tables.

We frequently omit the deceased when speaking of our families, depending upon
what we are seeking to establish at a given time, or circumstance.

It should also be pointed out that some of these seeming contradictions are rooted in textual problems, that is, what comes through to us in the English translation depends upon what was in the particular manuscript from which it was translated. Such falls into the field of "lower criticism" which "deals with the text of the OT, its transmission and condition" (Harrison, BAKER'S DICTIONARY OF THEOLOGY, p. 150). This is a very technical field, and must often concern itself with what is known as "variant readings," which are certain differences that occur among the ancient manuscripts. Many of these are attributed to "copyist errors," which are similar to what we call "typographical errors." These manuscripts were made by hand, and sometimes the copyist made inadvertent errors.

For instance, concerning the present problem, Lange says, "The Peshitta (which is the simple or common Syriac translations of the Old Testament-JPN) has in our passage 8 instead of seven sons of Jesse, of whom it calls the seventh Elihu, the eighth David. The first 6 agree with the Masoretic text." (COMMENTARY ON THE HOLY BIBLE; Lange, Vol. 7, p. 40)


The reader may think this answer too indefinite, but I cannot give a more definitive answer. I have given two reasonable explanations: (1) that latter genealogies omitted the deceased who had no children, or (2) that the difference comes about as the result of a scribal error. I cannot tell the reader which explanation is the most logical.

My purpose is to suggest that there is no ironclad evidence that these passages present an irreconcilable contradiction. This is never the case as long as there is even one other alternative that is sensible. In this case, we have two explanations that are neither fanciful nor frivolous, but plausible and credible. This being the case, there is certainly nothing here that should damage one's faith in the infallibility of the Bible.


April 23, 1970