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Is The Bible Without Human Error? Saul's Death.

Please note: Claiming that the Holy Bible can contain errors is not done lightly. However, there should be no doubt as to the possibility of errors. A simple example should serve to show this:

2 Kings 8:26

"TWO [shanayim וּשְׁתַּ֤יִם] and TWENTY [‘esriym עֶשְׂרִ֨ים] years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem..."

2 Chronicles 22:2.

""TWO [shanayim וּשְׁתַּ֤יִם] and FORTY [’arba`iym אַרְבָּעִ֨ים] years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem..."

The context in which these statements are written, means that they can only refer to the same apparent fact.

In order to reconcile these two blatant differences, the Literalist may now depart from the usual mindset of: "If the Bible says it, it must be true", and: "What the Bible plainly states should not be twisted", and instead offer some highly unlikely "obvious reason".

Failing the offering of some unlikely reason, the Literalist may now have to claim a "copyist error" to reconcile the contradiction. If this is a "scribal error", then we have a precedent set by the Literalist to also claim a "scribal error" in the following article:

The Death of Saul

The author in Chronicles (1 Chronicles 10:13), writing on behalf of the priesthood tribe of the Israelites, the Levites, seems to have assumed that Saul's visit to the woman at Endor was the reason for his death: "Saul died for asking counsel of a medium", and the Fundamentalists make much of this writing. However, in 1 Samuel 28:18 & 19 the reason, and only reason given in the context, for Saul's present predicament and impending death (the next day) was because he "Because thou didst not hearken to the voice of Jehovah, and didst not execute his fierce anger upon Amalek, therefore has Jehovah done this thing to thee this day...and to-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me; the army of Israel also will Jehovah give into the hand of the Philistines*" (1 Samuel 28:18 & 19 - Darby literal).

*i.e. With Samuel in the World of Spirit, who had already passed over.

The clear reason for Saul's death is given: Saul died because he did not do what God had told him to do, he did not execute God's command against the Amalekites, i.e. because he spared the life of the Amelekite king, Agag, when he should have executed him, and also Saul and his people kept the best spoils when they should have destroyed them: "...But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them" (1 Samuel 15:9); no other reason is given for Saul's death, apart from the actual physical means by which he died (by a sword). The apparent addition to this reason for Saul's demise by the author of 1 Chronicles 10:13 is not simply an addition - it is a contradiction.

There is a further consideration. Saul had already been enquiring diligently of the Lord for guidance and truth but so far had been without an answer. Therefore Saul takes a further course of action and asks his servants to find someone who can help discover the Lord's Will. Using the Hebrew word "darash" indicates that he was seeking the Lord's Will on the matter, as the Pentateuch uses this word for searching out and discerning Divine Will. So this appears to have been a most sincere attempt to discover the Lord's Will after exhausting other means i.e. by dreams, Urim, prophets (1 Sam 28:6), and indeed he seems to have found his answer.

The Literalist needs to honestly ask himself or herself this question: Why, if visiting the seer at Endor was so wrong in God's sight, did Saul get a correct answer to his question concerning his present predicament and future fate - which was according to God's plan for him? However, the Levite author seems to have erroneously decided (perhaps by general agreement with other priests), that as their own tribe could not provide the answer to Saul's enquiry (which they should have been able to provide), then going to the woman at Endor was against God's Will and so that can be given as a reason why he died. Again, even assuming the Levite(s) had the best intentions, it is opinion only, and moreover an opinion from a somewhat biased viewpoint. Furthermore, as stories were handed on from generation to generation before being written down, we can easily see a possible case of "Chinese whispers".

"But", the Fundamentalist might say, "the Bible is without error and is infallible, if it is written then it is true and you just have to accept it". However, just because the Bible relates an incident or that someone said something, it does not mean that it is true.

It is not unknown for scribes to write contradictory statements in the Bible. Extremely relevant to this matter, let us take a classic example from this very context which lends itself to prove conclusively that not every account or opinion in the Bible can be accepted as a literal fact, nor indeed, should be regarded as literal fact:

Two different and contrary versions are given of Saul's death, one in 1 Samuel 31:4-6 and another in 2 Samuel 1:8-10. The first version of Saul's death has Saul taking his own sword by himself and willingly falling on it because his armour bearer would not run him through (suicide): "Saul took his own sword and fell on it" (1 Samuel 31:4). The second Biblical version has Saul run through and killed by a sword held in the hand of an Amalekite: "... 'So I killed him,' the Amalekite told David..." (2 Samuel 1:10). Which version is true is a matter for discussion. There is no further mention of the Amalekite's claim in the Bible, no denial of its authenticity or otherwise, and it has equal credence as that written in the first version in 1 Samuel 31:4-6.

Perhaps the Literalist, attempting to justify this obvious discrepancy, will claim that the Amalekite's story was made up; but that would just be wishful thinking on the part of the Literalist because there is simply no Biblical hint of this - another reason why the Literalist must take this statement literally - he or she must not be guilty of twisting the truth in the Bible to suit a preferred theological opinion! There is just as strong a case that the first version is incorrect - both versions are reported in identical fashion with no reference to point to which is correct or incorrect.

Furthermore, why should it be assumed by the Literalist that the second version of Saul's death, the Amalekite's version (2 Samuel 1:10) is the one that is erroneous? Surely the original narrator or scribe of the first version (1 Samuel 31:4) could just as easily have been inventing his version of Saul's death for his own reasons, perhaps to save the morale of the Israelite nation as a whole. However, if we are going to be even moderately honest with ourselves, we have to admit that if an Amalekite could lie, so could an Israelite!

If the Literalist is going to remain consistent in his or her proclamation: "If it says it in the Bible then it is true", then he or she cannot justifiably claim that the Amalekite was lying out of vanity or for whatever reason - this would be contrary to the way the Literalist reads the Bible. If the Literalist now wishes to decide that statements spoken by people in the Bible are lies - without any reference at all to the fact that they are lies - then surely every statement made by someone in the Bible must have the same criteria applied?

The Literalist cannot have it both ways: he or she cannot twist something to suit the Dogma, he or she cannot justifiably apply an unquestioning literalism to some things and then dismiss other things as error to suit a whim, and perhaps claim it as Divinely inspired enlightenment! Furthermore, this type of arbitrary "interpretation" must also be expanded to all statements in the Bible.

In this context, there are only certain possibilities that could exist. Either:

a) The first version of Saul's death (1 Samuel 31:4) was true and:
(i) The Amalekite had fabricated his version of Saul's death (2 Samuel 1:10) for his own reasons;
(ii) Or the scribe who wrote about the Amalekite's version (2 Samuel 1:10) was writing about something that was invented either by himself or by his colleagues for their own reasons;
(iii) Or it was an account which had become changed from the original event through word-of-mouth corruption;

b) The first version of Saul's death (1 Samuel 31:4) was fabricated and:
(i) It was invented either by someone in the Israelite army or by the Levite priesthood because they did not like the fact that Saul was killed by an Amalekite, or it was fabricated for some other reason(s);
(ii) Or it was an account which had become changed from the original event through word-of-mouth corruption;

c) Both stories were held as fact by different factions within the Israelite nation and:
(i) There was never agreement on which version was true and so both were recorded;
(ii) One scribe did not know what the other had written;

d) Neither account was true.

However, among this uncertainty one thing is definitely irrefutable and rigidly incontrovertible: both accounts cannot be true because Saul of the Old Testament could only die once and by only one method!

Note: Opens in a new page leaving this page open...

See a further analysis of the two versions of Saul's death given in the Bible
Objections to the claim that the Amalekite in 2 Samuel 1 was lying about killing Saul

One version must be false. Yet the Bible does not even remotely declare that either passage contains an untruth; we are expected by the Fundamentalist to somehow accept both contradictory versions as fact, perhaps saying: "It is God's inspired word, the people who wrote it were inspired by God, don't you think that God could make the Bible perfect?" But the literalistic religionist has not accounted for man's mind and his freewill which God never interferes with. Realising this, certainly adds credence to the fact that the writer of 1 Chronicles 10:13: "Saul died for asking counsel of a medium" was in error when he wrote what he did, whether he wrote it because it was an assumption, or because it strengthened the role of the Levites in the Israelites' minds because they, as God's chosen priests, should have been able to provide Saul's answers and not a medium!

It is also worth remembering the method of recording anything which happened in those days of old. While some things could be written down, more often than not events were passed on by word of mouth, through generation to generation, and while the tribes of Israel may have been most excellent at preserving their history through memory, it is not unreasonable to assume that some things might either be lost, changed or exaggerated, especially if there happened to be a difference of opinion among those people as to what actually did happen. If one takes into account the passing of time between the event of Saul's passing and the writing of Chronicles, one simply cannot rule out the possibility of human interference or error.

The overriding conclusion is that everything written in the Bible should be tested with the mind of the spirit and not simply taken in a literalistic way by the mind of the body as so many Fundamentalists do.

The irony of all this is apparent: The Literalist states that everything written in the Bible is without error and that everything is there because the authors were Divinely inspired, thus nothing should be questioned and must be accepted as fact; and yet when challenged concerning such blatant scriptural errancy (fallibility), the Literalist, in the same breath, may say that such things are mere details and those who question them are just doing so to avoid accepting God's truth. In reality, it is the Literalist who is not questioning anything and therefore avoiding God's truth in order to maintain the belief with which he or she is comfortable.

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