2 Samuel 8:4 And David took from him 1,700 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses but left enough for 100 chariots.
1 Chronicles 18:4 And David took from him 1,000 chariots, 7,000 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses, but left enough for 100 chariots.
This story of David is told twice in the Bible, once across 1 Sam 16 to 1 Kings 2 and again in 1 Chronicles. Here we have near identical verses from both sources describing the same event, but with some important distinctions: The chariots are not referenced in 2 Samuel and a different number of horsemen are listed, 1,700 versus 7,000. And if you look at other translations these differences increase. The King James Version for example lists only 700 horsemen in 2 Samuel. This may seem like an insignificant discrepancy, but what does this difference tell us about the sources themselves? Was this an error? How can we know what the original text said if one of these numbers is incorrect?
This is likely an error from copying ancient manuscripts. "This is most probably a copyist error or a copy of a manuscript where the number was altered through decay. 1 Chron. 18:4 is probably the correct number since it is a better preserved manuscript. 'Probably [an] earlier copyist inadvertently omitted the word 'chariot' that we find supplied in some translations. This in turn created a problem for a later copyist who would have recognized that it was not proper Hebrew structure to write 'one thousand seven thousand" horsemen,' so he would have reduced the second 'thousand' to 'hundred' resulting in the reading we now have in 2 Samuel 8:4.'" (Geisler and Howe, When Critics Ask, p. 171-172) (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry: How many Horsemen did David Capture, 1,700 or 7,000?)
Follow-up Question: If this was an error, how can we be certain that the Bible is accurate in all historical accounts? This particular discrepancy was easy to identify because it is one of the few stories told in near identical fashion in two separate books of the Bible. For most stories that are only told once in the Bible it's possible that we will never find the original manuscripts. How could we ever determine with 100% certainty that any single word or phrase is not simply the mistake of an ancient cleric? When a single word can sometimes have great importance it seems problematic to accept that such alterations are possible and in fact have happened as seen in 2 Samuel.
This is a scribal error. "In fact, this is very popular in 1 and 2 Samuel. Kaiser writes, 'The present Hebrew manuscripts for the books of 1 and 2 Samuel have more transcriptional errors in them than any other book or combination of books in the Old Testament.' It was very easy for Hebrew scribes to make errors with numbers." (Evidence Unseen: (2 Sam. 8:4) How many horsemen did David capture?)
Follow-up Question: If the Bible was divinely inspired and God wanted us to have an accurate accounting of his word, why would he allow incorrect translations or errors to proliferate throughout history? Why would he allow his original words to be lost when the copies are admittedly inferior? Why is his most important message susceptible to the same errors as any other ancient text? If God intended for us to hear this story, as is implied by it being included in the Bible - and doubly so for it being told twice in different books, why would he leave any doubt over something so simple as the number of horsemen that David captured?
This is not an error. The numbers come from observations taken at two different points in the battle. "[We] should take these texts as they are, but without accepting all sorts of copying errors. The theological disposition to harmonize what doesn’t fit, or the custom of assuming a copyist error in case of a synoptic question, only show incomprehension and narrowness of mind... Obviously 2 Samuel reported the first confrontation, as it offers the smaller numbers. The capturing of 20,000 foot soldiers certainly referred to a massive surrender already at the beginning of the fight. From the second report (1 Chronicles) they learned that a large group of riders escaped after the first confrontation and had been taken later on during the pursuit." (Contradicting Bible Contradictions: 7000 or 1700 horsemen?)
This is not an error. There were 7,000 men on horses at the beginning of the battle, but only 700 at the end. "[When] 2 Samuel 8:4 (KJV) says that there were 'seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen,' there were not 20,700 men in total, but rather 20,000 men of which 700 were considered horsemen by the author of 2 Samuel. Likewise, when 1 Chronicles 18:4 says that there were 'seven thousand horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen,' there were not 27,000 men in total, but rather 20,000 men of which 7000 were considered horsemen by the author of 1 Chronicles... If at the start of battle there were 7000 men on horses, one historian can say that David captured 7000 horsemen in battle. However, if at the end of the battle 6300 horses go out of commission and only 700 men remain on horses, then another historian can say that David captured 700 horsemen in battle. The discrepancy in numbers is due to the different perspectives of the historians. The author of 1 Chronicles still referred to the men who lost their horses as 'horsemen' whereas the author of 2 Samuel only referred to the men still on horses as 'horsemen.'" (700, 7000 or 1700 horsemen in 2 Samuel 8:4?)
Follow-up Question: Why would the surrounding text be nearly word-for-word identical if they were accounts from different points in the battle or from different observers? Wouldn't it be more reasonable to assume that near-identical accounts originate from the same source rather than two distinct observers or times of observation? Furthermore, if God values communicating exact details of such battles, why would he deal in rounded numbers and labels that could be interpreted in multiple ways? It seems difficult to believe that exactly 20,000 footment were captured for example. Why didn't God provide the author with an exact figure if the text was indeed divinely inspired? Why would God obfuscate the truth behind complex categorical interpretation? And why do some of these answers claim that their Bible translation is specifically inerrant? There are different manuscripts of the Bible that have discrepancies between them. How do we know which translation is the version that God has supernaturally preserved, especially when we do not have the original texts to compare? Why is a supernatural assumption of divine preservation more likely than a simple human copying error?
The Bible is 'inerrant', but yet also contains errors. "[Inerrancy], simply means that the Bible is without error. It’s a belief in the 'total truthfulness and reliability of God’s words' (Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity, 2004, 90)... This inerrancy isn’t just in passages that speak about salvation, but also applies to all historical and scientific statements as well. It is not only accurate in matters related to faith and practice, but it is accurate and without error regarding any statement, period (John 3:12)." (Defending Inerrancy: WHAT’S INERRANCY!? AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?) (Continuing to explain 2 Samuel 8:4 on a separate page, similar to the explanation from CARM) [2 Samuel 8:4] "is undoubtedly a copyist error. Probably an early copyist inadvertently omitted the word 'chariot' that we find supplied in some translations. This in turn created a problem for a later copyist who would have recognized that it was not proper Hebrew structure to write 'one thousand seven thousand horsemen,' so he would have reduced the second 'thousand' to 'hundred' resulting in the reading we now have in 2 Samuel 8:4. It is probably the 1 Chronicles passage that retains the correct number." (Defending Inerrancy: 2 SAMUEL 8:4—DID DAVID CAPTURE 1,700 HORSEMEN OR 7,000 AS 1 CHRONICLES 18:4 SAYS?)
Follow-up Question: How can the Bible be both 'inerrant' and also contain errors at the same time? How are these beliefs compatible?
- The vast number of textual variants found among ancient manuscripts implies that human error has played a large role in the formation of the Bible. The most recent estimate puts the number of non-spelling variants among New Testament manuscripts around 500,000. (Wikipedia: Textual variants in the New Testament)
- Many stories about David may be legends later ascribed to him and are not reliable history. "Jacob L. Wright, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University, has written that the most popular legends about David, including his killing of Goliath, his affair with Bathsheba, and his ruling of a United Kingdom of Israel rather than just Judah, are the creation of those who lived generations after him, in particular those living in the late Persian or Hellenistic periods." (Wikipedia: David)
2 Samuel 8:4, 1 Chronicles 18:4