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How many sons did Jesse, the father of King David, have?

David is anointed by Samuel, as his brothers and father watch.
David is anointed by Samuel, as seven brothers and his father watch.

Alleged Bible Contradiction

1 Samuel 16:10-11 clearly implies that Jesse, the father of Israel's King David, had at least eight sons, of which David was the eighth. But 1 Chronicles 2:13-15 indicates that Jesse had only seven sons, and that David was the youngest. Which text is correct? How many sons did Jesse really have? And how can the Bible be trusted if you read one thing in one place and a totally contradictory statement in another place?

Sensible Solution

Both texts are no doubt correct. It is most likely that one of Jesse's sons died before making any significant impact during David's reign—thus being of no account to the chronicler.

You will note that 1 Chronicles 2:13-15 does not state that Jesse only ever had seven sons. It simply names seven of his sons (including David) and two of his daughters.

If one of Jesse's sons had died before being married, or without having had any children of his own, or without having ever done anything particularly noteworthy, it would not be unusual for his name to be omitted from the written record in 1 Chronicles. Even today it is often common practice (except in formal genealogical registers) to refer to only the surviving children.

The two texts in question here do not constitute a necessary contradiction. Therefore, this difficulty is resolvable and cannot be legitimately used to cast doubt on the trustworthiness of Scripture. Therefore, the case for the authority of the Bible as an inspired, accurate, and inerrant revelation from God remains intact.

Relevant Principles for Dealing with Bible Difficulties

A significant number of Bible texts really do seem (at least initially) to pose a challenge to the claim that the bible is 100% reliable. But every one of those “problem” texts has long since been uncovered, carefully considered, and resolved in an intelligent and reasonable manner. No new Bible difficulties are about to be revealed.

Here are a few principles to keep in mind as one approaches Bible texts that appear problematic:

  • There is a choice as to the ground upon which one stands in reviewing the matter of Bible difficulties. One may choose to presuppose that the Bible is without error, which acknowledging that it contains some very hard-to-explain texts. Or one can presuppose that the Bible is full of error, although it may also still contain many truths. One's presuppositions often prove determinative.

  • If one accepts as a premise the charge that the bible contains even one minute error, then the bible automatically, necessarily, loses its authority as the Word of God. If the Bible is not 100% accurate (even regarding matters of history and science) then it becomes 100% suspect. Without inerrancy the Bible cannot be infallible, and without infallibility the bible cannot be trusted as the reliable record of an Almighty God.

  • The Bible certainly presents itself as being 100% inspired and authoritative. See 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

  • Jesus consistently recognized all Scripture as being both reliable and authoritative. See Luke 16:17, Matthew 5:18, and John 10:35.

  • Verse context and historic word usage are both keys to unraveling many so-called Bible contradictions.

  • Copyist and transmissional errors do not imply Bible errancy. A broad range of scribal errors have been identified, categorized, and explained in ways that allow one to continue to reasonably insist on an inerrant original autograph (Bible).

Helpful Resources

Is Jesus Christ the answer to your questions?Paradise or Pain? Why is the world the way it is?Jesus Christ: His Identity, Life, Death and ResurrectionChristian Answers WebBible
  1. Dr. Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask (SP Publications, 1992).
  2. Dr. Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan, 1982).
  3. Erwin W. Lutzer, Seven Reaons Why You Can Trust the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998).
  4. Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense: Over 60 Vital “Lines of Defense” for Christianity (San Bernardino, California: Here's Life Publishers, 1990).

More Information About the Bible

Author: Daryl E. Witmer of AIIA Institute.

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