Essay / Theology

Staggered by Bible Trouble

Q: I want to believe in every word taught or inspired by the Holy Spirit, but I am simply staggered when I read statements of I Kings 20:30 and I Samuel 6:19. Can you give me any relief? If the figures are incorrectly translated why did not the revisers make the necessary alterations?

A: The doctrine of “Verbal Inspiration” is not that the Scriptures as translated in our Authorized Version, or any other particular version, were inspired in every word, but that the Scriptures as originally given were inspired in every word. There have been errors in manuscripts and errors in translation, though now the correct manuscript readings are practically settled, and no doctrine is affected by any questions as to correct readings, and furthermore, scholars agreed as to the correct translations as far as they affect any fundamental doctrine. There is no doctrine now in doubt because of questionable translations.

In regard to 1 Samuel 6:19, the revisers did make an alteration; instead of reading as in the Authorized Version, “He smote of the people 50, 000 and three score and then men,” the revisers read, “he smote of the people seventy men and 50,000 men.” They put “and” in italics to indicate that it is not in the original, which it is not. In the Hebrew as we have it, it reads, “He smote of the people seventy men fifty thousand men.” There is no “and” at all. The construction is very peculiar. Many explanations have been given of it.

One is that the seventy men who were smitten were as valuable as 50,000 men because they were priests. This to me is not a very satisfying explanation. Another one is that the seventy men that He smote were seventy of the Bethshemites and the 50,000 were those that were slain by the ark while it was in the land of the Philistines. At all events the record does not say that He slew “fifty thousand and three score and ten men,” nor even as we read in the R.V., “seventy men and 50,000 men.” It simply says that “He smote among the people seventy men,” then 50,000 men are mentioned without any “and” and apparently without being connected with the verb “smote.”

The Syriac and Arabic read 5000 and seventy men; the Chaldee reads seventy men of the elders and 50,000 of the common people. Josephus says only seventy were smitten. Whatever is the correct interpretation there is no reason for being staggered. While neither the Authorized or Revised Version is the exact rendering of the Hebrew text as we have it, it is not impossible that there were 50,000 men and seventy men of “the people,” i.e. of Israel present at Bethshemesh at that time. You will notice that it does not say that He smote 57,000 of the men of Bethshemesh. It says He smote of the men of Bethshemesh because they had looked into the ark of Jehovah without stating the number of men of Bethshemesh; then it goes on to state that He smote of (the “of” would be more accurately rendered “among”) the people (i.e. Israel) sevently men 50,000 men.

In regard to 1 Kings 20:30 the Revised Version again makes a change because the Authorized is not an accurate rendering of the Hebrew text as we have it, the Hebrew text does not say that the wall “fell upon twenty and seven thousand of the men that were left.” It says, “the wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand men that were left,” i.e. the wall fell upon the remnant, not twenty and seven thousand of the remnant. This, of course, does not mean that it fell upon every one of them but that there had been such an awful slaughter of the Syrians, 100,000 footmen, only 27,000 were left and as they fled into Aphek the wall fell upon the company that was left. How many of them were hit and killed by the wall we are not told. There is nothing impossible nor improbable in this and so certainly you do not need to be staggered by it.

Q: I am also greatly disturbed in mind when I read the imprecatory Psalms. Were these awful prayers taught by the Holy Spirit or are they the outpourings of a heart filled at the moment by unholy passion written by the will of the Holy Spirit but not approved by Him?

In the Psalms, as we see by a careful study of them, we have not only the prayer and praise inspired by the Holy Spirit, but in some instances the Holy Spirit’s record of the prayers that uninspired men offered and of God’s comments upon those prayers. But in regard to the imprecatory Psalms, Dr. Scofield’s words in his introduction to the Book of Psalms set forth the truth well. He says:

The imprecatory Psalms are the cry of the oppressed in Israel for justice–a cry appropriate and right in the earthly people of God, and based upon a distinct promise in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 15:18 and other passages); but a cry unsuited to the Church, a heavenly people who have taken their place with a rejected and crucified Christ.

It might be said in addition to this that many of these imprecatory Psalms are prophetic, prophecies inspired by the Holy Spirit and to be fulfilled literally. It might be said further still that it is far better to refuse to avenge yourself upon your adversaries with your own hand as David did and to commit vengeance to God to whom it belongeth as is done in the imprecatory Psalms.

Originally published in The King’s Business “Questions and Answers” by R.A. Torrey, August-September 1914, pp. 483, 490

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