Thursday, July 23, 2009

1000 b/w Friends?

1 Corinthians 10:8 carries with it a numbers problem. Paul says 23,000 ancient Israelites died b/c of sexual immorality, but the OT text(s) he seems to be referring to record the number differently (Numbers 25 has 24,000 dying). So we have what we call an apparent contradiction. Certainly this is not a very significant in and of itself (though, as was pointed out to me last night, it would have been significant to the 1000 extra Israelites!), but it does raise the issue of inerrancy. What are the possible explanations for why Paul records a number that isn't recorded in the OT? Here are 6 theories I've come across. Which one do you think is the most likely?

1. Paul was speaking from memory and made a mistake.
2. Paul was quoting correctly, but the manuscript was mistaken.
3. The exact number was provided in oral tradition and fell somewhere between 23k and 24k. Paul rounded down whereas the OT author rounded up.
4. He's referring to Exodus 32:28 where 3,000 died by the sword and combining it with Exodus 32:35 where an unspecified amount died by plague. Paul must have known through some tradition (oral?) that the unspecified amount was about 20,000.
5. He's referring to Numbers 25 where 24,000 died. But that is a total of how many died for the sin of sexual immorality in that episode. Paul tells us that he's only giving us how many died in 1 single day (notice the wording in 1 Cor. 10:8).
6. He's combining the 24,000 in Numbers with the 3,000 in Exodus into a new number (23,000) so as to keep both texts in the readers mind.

The first option I'd eliminate is #6, as it seems to be playing too fast and loose with numbers (and I'm not aware of other examples of Paul doing something quite like this). I don't like #4 either as the reference certainly seems to be Numbers and not Exodus (Exodus was the reference quoted for the previous sin of idolatry).

That leaves us with #'s 1, 2, 3 & 5, all of which raise the issue of inerrancy in one way or another. #1 is perhaps the most severe solution, as many would be very uncomfortable with the possibility that Paul could have been mistaken about anything while writing God's word. #2 is less severe in that it is only suggesting that a scribe made an error (not an error in the original manuscript). But we don't have any variations on the 24,000 number in Numbers. #3 may be surprising if true, because it reveals that, for Paul, the oral tradition was referenced here in priority over the written Torah. #5 is what I like to call the 'easy out,' but it too assumes an oral tradition was present. One wonders why Paul rounded differently than the Torah, Philo & Josephus.


shallowfrozenwater said...

well ... i have little objection to option 1 actually. there are "factual" errors in the Bible and oral tradition or books ascribed to people who weren't there to see it happen would just create a breeding ground for inaccuracy. if there are errors of fact in scripture does that take away from the spiritual principle otherwise put down in scripture? not for me it doesn't.
if we added up all the years listed in the genealogies would we not end up with the creation of the world in 6000 BCE? science and common sense tells us differently though.
i'm sorry if i'm bursting bubbles but i'm just saying that Paul certainly could've just "misremembered" on his stats and if he did ... it makes no difference whatsoever.

matthew said...

Hey man :)

I personally don't take any issue with #1 (re-reading the post, it sounds like I do, but I was trying to speak for the general evangelical public!).

We know from other Scriptures that Paul's memory was sometimes mistaken while writing Scripture (1 Corinthians 1:16).

As for the date of creation, I actually am a believer that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Popular science certainly tells us differently, but what do you mean in saying that common sense also does so?

shallowfrozenwater said...

sorry, i have no desire to get into a creation debate and don't want to stir things up for myself or anyone.
i just don't see how so much archaeological "information" could be discounted to say that the earth is as young as 10000 years old.
don't get me wrong, i'm not saying that i'm not a creationist. i just don't try to read my bible like it were a science textbook and i'm searching for ways to allow for a God story in my life.
i once saw this debate where NT Wright came right out and said that science tells us the earth is closer to 50 million years old and then he proceeded to bridge the gap between creationism and history etc. i can't do Wright justice but the statements pleased me.
after i put my first statements down i was worried that i was offending someone and that is not my intent. that is the reason that i don't wish to get into a debate over it. i enjoy my blog-surfing and am not interested in being the source of burnt bridges.

matthew said...

Oh, I wasn't offended :) I certainly think it is a non-essential area. I'm a young earth creationist for mostly scientific reasons (as I believe the worldwide flood was responsible for what some call the appearance of age in geology). I'm a catastrophist moreso than a uniformitarianist whereas modern science is uniformitarian moreso than catastrophist.

As for biology, I think the evidence speaks against Darwin.

But, like you, I don't really care to debate the subject here. In this post I'm more interested in differing views of inerrancy. And I think we're in pretty basic agreement on that point.