Problem: Accounts conflict over who made David take a census
Verses: 2 Samuel 24:1, 1 Chronicles 21:1; Status: Minor

Who made David take a census of the people? Here's 2 Samuel 24:1-2:

Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go, number Israel and Judah." So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, "Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people." (ESV)

And 1 Chronicles 21:1-2:

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, "Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number." (ESV)

It seems that Samuel has God incite David, whereas Chronicles has Satan do it. Inerrantists reply that allowing Satan to act is how God did it. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to work, since God actually speaks and directly tells David what to do. God's words are recorded: "Go, number Israel and Judah."

If there's an escape from this problem, it can only be that the words in quotation marks are actually the words of David. The ESV, NRSV and NIV don't easily permit this reading, though the KJV and the NASB seem to positively require it.

I'd need to be an expert in ancient Hebrew to know if the ESV et al are getting it right. But if it is God who says "Go, number Israel and Judah" then the problem is certainly Serious. Otherwise it's weaker, though the natural reading of Samuel is still that God directly incited David.

The obvious non-inerrantist explanation of the contradiction is that the Chronicler didn't like the idea of God tempting people, and simply changed the story.

Updated: 2009-03-07

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