Is 1 Kings 4:26 an error in the Bible?

Question: Why does 1 Kings 4:26 say Solomon had 40,000 stalls or horses for his chariots and 2 Chronicles 9:25 says he had 4,000? This is used by people I know to defend that the Bible is not historically accurate but has blatant errors.

Answer: Instead of using numbers the Hebrew writers used letters to spell out names of numbers. The word for 40 is arba im and the word for 4 is arba ah. In the Hebrew these look even more alike than I can represent in the English version of the words I just put there for you. A number of copyists got the number correct, apparently, as agrees with the Chronicles figure, but some got it wrong and their mistake was copied over and over through generations of manuscripts and became standardized in the main manuscript tradition (the Massoretic tradition) that our Old Testament translation is based on. As we have uncovered other textual or manuscript traditions we have found the “4,000” number in 1 Kings in their manuscripts. If you are the kind of person who accepts the Bible as authoritative, you believe that apparent discrepancies will be figured out eventually, especially since you’ve seen the Bible proved historically accurate in so many other instances. If you are predisposed to see it as a product of human foibles, you will not want to give it that chance but will be quicker to accept something as a hopeless contradiction.

Why does the writer of Kings and Chronicles even care to mention how many horses Solomon had? Two reasons have been given: (1) He wanted to highlight how wealthy God had made Solomon. (2) He wanted to foreshadow that Solomon was already in a small way turning from God to dependence on a physical army. In Deuteronomy 17 future kings are warned not to multiply horses, that is, not to become dependent on powerful armies instead of God. The author may be hinting that Solomon was already beginning to do that and was in violation of the Law of Moses.

Randall Johnson

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