Monday, October 24, 2011

"Contradictions in the Word of God": #4- How Much Did David Pay for the Threshing Floor?

What was the price paid to Ornan for the Threshing Floor? One Explanation.

Without delving into the entire background of this account, suffice it to say the text in 2 Samuel 24:24 states “So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.” The Chronicler in 1 Chronicles 21:25 also relates this story and writes “So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight.”

I guess if you are convinced the Bible is not the Word of God and contains errors then you will likely see several errors when comparing these two verses. For example:

1. 2 Samuel says David paid Araunah for the threshing floor. 1 Chronicles says he paid Ornan.

2. 2 Samuel says David bought “the threshing floor and the oxen.” 1 Chronicles says he bought “the place.”

3. 2 Samuel says David paid 50 shekels. 1 Chronicles says it was 600 shekels.

4. 2 Samuel notes these 50 shekels were of silver. 1 Chronicles notes it was 600 shekels of gold.

So, you have just found 4 contradictions or errors in the Bible.

On the other hand, if, like me, you believe the Bible is, indeed, the very Word of God, a God who never makes mistakes or deceives, given by Him to men who faithfully wrote His Word, protected from error as they wrote then you know there is an explanation to these apparent and alleged contradictions.

I know some speculate on the possibility the later copyists of the Hebrew manuscripts may have copied a letter incorrectly resulting in a change of the numeric value. Given the Hebrews often used specific letters for numerals that is always possible. Personally, I am not convinced that is the case in this particular situation.

Let me briefly look at each of these alleged problems.

1. Hopefully this particular “problem” may be easily dismissed. Most folks accept the fact that Araunah and Ornan are the same individual. For example, I have a friend whose first name is “Arthur”. The only people who call him “Arthur” are those who don’t know him. Most folks call him by his middle name. Some who know him very well use the initials of his first and middle name. Perhaps “Ornan” is a shortened version of “Araunah” or a nickname, I have no idea. But I see no reason to charge the Bible with an error on this account.

2. Of importance is the fact that 1 Chronicles was written at a later date than 2 Samuel. While it retells the events of David’s reign as king, it adds information to the accounts in 2 Samuel. David did buy Ornan’s threshing floor and oxen per 2 Samuel. Threshing floors were not all that large. But 2 Chronicles does not simply say the threshing floor and the oxen. Rather it states David paid for “the place”.

The author of 2 Samuel ends his account with this story, but no so for the Chronicler. In verse 29 of 1 Chronicles 21, David ponders the present location of the Tabernacle, the portable house of worship. Chapter 22 then accounts David’s decision to build a Temple. And the Chronicler discusses the location for the building of that permanent house of worship in 2 Chronicles 3:1 – the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

There is no way the Temple would ever fit in the confines of a former threshing floor Threshing floors were not very large. Therefore, the building was built on the floor purchased by Ornan (per 2 Samuel 24) but extended outward from there on top of Mt. Moriah. I see the 2 Samuel passage referring to David’s immediate intent to obtain the threshing floor and oxen in order to construct an altar and offer a sacrifice for his sin of numbering the people (2 Samuel 24:17-19). But, after doing so (2 Samuel 24:25), he is impressed by God to obtain more of the land on top of Mt. Moriah (“the place” of 1 Chronicles 21) for the future building of the Temple.

3. If, as I believe, we are looking at two distinct transactions, probably made roughly at the same time, there is no difficulty with the different prices. 50 shekels would be an appropriate price for the threshing floor itself and the oxen to satisfy David’s immediate need. 600 shekels would be a fair price for the surrounding land (“the Place”).

4. Again, if we are dealing with two separate transactions, the difference in silver and gold poses no problem. A crude example from my personal life will illustrate this. There have been times when, in my love of McDonalds, I order a meal and pay with cash (e.g, $5 in U.S. currency). While I am eating, I am joined by family members who also want to eat. Being a good father, I offer to pay. Alas, no more currency. So I whip out my debit card and create a second transaction (e.r., $20 on my debit card). The first was for my immediate need (threshing floor and oxen); the second for a “future” need (the place). The first was paid with currency (silver); the second with a debit card (gold). The first cost me very little (50 shekels); the second was a higher cost (600 shekels).

I believe this is a reasonable explanation. There is no doubt David bought more land than simply the threshing floor according to the 2 Chronicles passage. More land would have cost much more money than the threshing floor.

I’m sure you can read Biblical commentators on these passages and see their explanations for this “contradiction”. There are other viable possibilities.

So, I do not see this as a contradiction or an error. While I may not have the exact sequence of events which occurred, my understanding of the two texts would explain the differences. Of course, if you dismiss the Bible as a book written only by man and, therefore, full of errors, you will likely dismiss my explanation or anyone else’s explanation.