One skeptic wrote to affirm that he knew the Bible contained contradictions, and
challenged us to unravel the following alleged discrepancy. In 2 Kings 25:8, the Bible reads:
Now in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which was the nineteenth
year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant
of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem. In discussing the same historical event (i.e., the
destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar), Jeremiah wrote: Now in the fifth month, in the
tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of
Babylon, came Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, who stood before the king of Babylon, into
Jerusalem (52:12). The skeptic noted a three-day difference between the two accounts, and
asked: So when did Nebuzaradan arrive to destroy Jerusalemon the seventh day or
the tenth day?
As we respond, let us once again consider the context in which these two passages appear.
Zedekiah, King of Judah, had warred in open rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar. Subsequently, the
King of Babylon sent his army to besiege Jerusalem, where Zedekiah held court. At one point during
the siege, as Nebuchadnezzars soldiers breached the citys walls, Zedekiah and the
troops still loyal to him quietly slipped away and attempted to make good their escape. Their
attempt was thwarted, however, when they were captured and taken to Nebuchadnezzar, who commanded
that Zedekiahs sons be slain before his eyes, and that he then be blinded and imprisoned
until his death. Shortly thereafter, as a result of Zedekiahs rebellion, the Babylonian king
sent the captain of his personal bodyguard, Nebuzaradan, to lead his army against the inhabitants
of Jerusalem and to lay waste the city.
Nebuzaradan is designated within the text of both 2 Kings 25 and Jeremiah 52 as captain
of the guard. Burton Coffman observed that He was one of the great generals in command
of the armies of Babylon (1993, p. 331). His title, captain of the guard,
indicates that apparently he was the chief of King Nebuchadnezzars bodyguards (see Keil and
Delitzsch, 1982, p. 514). But the literal translation of the title actually reveals much more than
that. Miller has noted that Nebuzaradan is literally designated as captain of the
slaughterers, which might indicate that he was the chief executioner, or the captain of the
royal bodyguard (cf. Gen. 37:36; 39:1; 40:3) (1991, p. 466). Spence and Exell designated him
as chief of the executioners (1950, p. 489), as has Barnes (1972a, p. 308).
Did Nebuzaradan come to Jerusalem on the seventh day as the writer of 2 Kings indicated,
or, as Jeremiah wrote, on the tenth day? There are at least two potential explanations for
the seeming discrepancy. First, Keil and Delitzsch allow for the possibility that This
difference might be reconciled, as proposed by earlier commentators, on the assumption that the
burning of the city lasted several days, commencing on the seventh and ending on the tenth
(1982, p. 514). In other words, one writer may be discussing Nebuzaradans activities from
their beginning, while the other writer is discussing those same activities from their
This solution receives support from an in-depth examination of the original language of the
texts. The phrasing of Jeremiah 52:12 and 2 Kings 25:8 is very similar in the Hebrewwith one
important exception. In Jeremiah 52:12, the last part of the verse states literally that
Nebuzaradan came in [to] Jerusalem. The Hebrew preposition in,
which conveys the idea of being inside or within (cf. Judges 1:21,
Zechariah 12:6 [KJV/ASV], 1 Kings 15:4, et al.), is not present in 2
Kings 25:8. It therefore is quite possible that Nebuzaradan came to Jerusalem on the
seventh day, but actually went inside the holy city on the tenth day.
Second, the three-day difference in the two accounts may be a copyists error. This is the
position favored by Keil and Delitzsch (p. 515) as well as Spence and Exell (p. 489). Whenever
duplicates of the Old Testament Scriptures were needed, copies had to be made by handa
painstaking, time-consuming task requiring extreme concentration and special working conditions.
Eventually, an elite group of scribes arose just for this purpose: the Masoretes. Geisler and Nix
The Masoretic period (flourished c. A.D. 500-1000) of Old
Testament manuscript copying indicates a complete review of established rules, a deep reverence
for the Scriptures, and a systematic renovation of transmission techniques.... Copies were made by
an official class of sacred scribes who labored under strict rules (1986, pp. 354, 467; cf. also
Anyone who has studied the exacting conditions under which the Masoretes worked, and the
lengths to which they went to ensure fidelity in their copies of the Scriptures, could attest to
the fact that their goal was to produce accurate copieseven to the point of reproducing
errors already present in the much older copies from which they were working.
They were, nevertheless, still human. And humans are prone to make mistakes, regardless of the
care they take or the strictness of the rules under which they operate. The copyists task
was made all the more difficult by the sheer complexity of the Hebrew language, and by the various
ways in which potential errors could be introduced (even inadvertently) into the copying process.
Geisler and Nix have compiled a list of at least seven important ways in which a copyist might
change the text accidentally, including such actions as: (a) omissions of letters, words, or whole
lines; (b) unwarranted repetitions; (c) transposition (the reversal of two letters or words); (d)
errors of memory; (e) errors of the ear; (f) errors of the eye; and (g) errors of judgment (pp.
Such errors, especially before the Masoretes came on the scene, could account for the alleged
discrepancy in the passages under discussion here. For example, Archer has noted:
Even the earliest and best manuscripts that we possess are not totally free of
transmissional errors. Numbers are occasionally miscopied, the spelling of proper names is
occasionally garbled, and there are examples of the same types of scribal error that appear in
other ancient documents as well (1982, p. 27).
Dr. Archer then provided numerous examples of what he termed misreading similar-appearing
letters, based on the complexity of the Hebrew language and its alphabetic/numeric system
(pp. 37-39). It is at this point that the alleged discrepancies in 2 Kings 25 and Jeremiah 52 may
well enter the picture.
Errors of the ear also might have played a part. If a scribe was writing the text as it was
being read to him, the reader actually may have said one thing but the scribe heard
another. Or, the difference between 2 Kings 25 and Jeremiah 52 may have been an error of memory. A
scribe may have looked at an entire line, memorized it, and copied it from memory without looking
at it a second time during the copying process. When he went to write one of the numbers in the
two passages, however, his memory failed him; what he thought he remembered the original
text having said was not what it actually said. When one stops to consider the extremely
poor conditions under which most copyists worked (poor lighting, crude writing instruments,
imperfect writing surfaces, etc.), it is not difficult to understand how inadvertent errors such
as these might occur from time to time.
The Masoretes had a policy of making notes in the margins of their copies in order to indicate
obvious differences among the manuscripts from which they were copying. Further, they were not
averse to calling attention to possible mistakes by their less meticulous forerunners. But the
Masoretes made no such note of any alleged discrepancy between 2 Kings 25:8 and Jeremiah 52:12. In
this case, they may not have thought that a comment was warranted, considering the type of
resolution I discussed earlier (i.e., that the two passages in question actually refer to the
activities of two different days).
But why can we not possess infallible copies of the infallible originals of the Bible books?
Archer has observed that it is
because the production of even one perfect copy of one book is so far beyond the
capacity of a human scribe as to render it necessary for God to perform a miracle in order to
produce it. No reasonable person can expect even the most conscientious copyist to achieve
technical infallibility in transcribing his original document into a fresh copy.... But the
important fact remains that accurate communication is possible despite technical mistakes in
copying (p. 29).
Indeed, accurate communication is possible despite technical mistakes in copying.
In the more than twenty years that I have edited Reason and Revelation (the monthly journal
on Christian evidences published by Apologetics Press), I never have had someone suggest that as a
result of an inadvertent mistake they were unable to comprehend the meaning, or detect the intent,
of an article. Cannot the same be said of the Bible? Surely it can! Archer concluded:
Well-trained textual critics operating on the basis of sound methodology are able
to rectify almost all misunderstandings that might result from manuscript error.... Is there
objective proof from the surviving manuscripts of Scripture that these sixty-six books have been
transmitted to us with such a high degree of accuracy as to assure us that the information
contained in the originals has been perfectly preserved? The answer is an unqualified yes (pp.
In every case when the Bibles defenders refer to that Grand Book as being
inspired, they are by necessity referring to inspiration as it pertained to the
original manuscripts (routinely referred to as autographs), since there is no such
thing as an inspired copy. Aha!, the skeptic might say, since you no
longer possess those autographs, but only slightly flawed copies made by imperfect humans, that
makes it impossible to know the truth of the message behind the text.
Try applying such a conceptthat no longer being in personal possession of a perfect
original makes knowing truth impossibleto matters of everyday life. Archer has done just
that, using something as simple as a yardstick.
It is wrong to affirm that the existence of a perfect original is a matter of no
importance if that original is no longer available for examination. To take an example from the
realm of engineering or of commerce, it makes a very great difference whether there is such a
thing as a perfect measure for the meter, the foot, or the pound. It is questionable whether the
yardsticks or scales used in business transactions or construction projects can be described as
absolutely perfect. They may be almost completely conformable to the standard weights and measures
preserved at the Bureau of Standards in our nations capital but they are subject to
errorhowever small. But how foolish it would be for any citizen to shrug his shoulders and
say, Neither you nor I have ever actually seen those standard measures in Washington;
therefore we may as well disregard themnot be concerned about them at alland simply
settle realistically for the imperfect yardsticks and pound weights that we have available to us
in everyday life. On the contrary, the existence of those measures in the Bureau of
Standards is vital to the proper functioning of our entire economy. To the 222,000,000 Americans
who have never seen them they are absolutely essential for the trustworthiness of all the
standards of measurement that they resort to throughout their lifetime (p. 28).
The fact that we do not possess the original autographs of the Bible in no way diminishes the
usefulness, or authority, of the copies, any more than a construction superintendent not being in
possession of the original measures from the Bureau of Standards diminishes the usefulness or
authority of the devices he employs to erect a building. This point is made all the more evident
when one considers the inconsequential nature of the vast majority of alleged discrepancies
offered by skeptics as proof of the Bibles non-divine origin. Does not the
quality of the discrepancies submitted to us by skeptics (like the one
under review here) reveal just how desperate skepticism is to try to find some
discrepancyany discrepancywithin the Sacred Text? But to what end? As Archer
In fact, it has long been recognized by the foremost specialists in textual
criticism that if any decently attested variant were taken up from the apparatus at the bottom of
the page and were substituted for the accepted reading of the standard text, there would in no
case be a single, significant alteration in doctrine or message (p. 30).
The axe of infidelity has not felled the tree of inspiration. The skeptic may hack away to his
hearts content. But in the end, it will be the axe, and he who wields it, that will
fallnot the mighty timber that is Gods Word. Or, as the Bible itself concludes:
As I live, saith the Lord, to me every knee shall bow, And every tongue shall confess to
God. (Romans 14:11).
Archer, Gleason L. (1982), Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI:
Barnes, Albert (1972a reprint), Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testaments: Samuel-
Esther (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Barnes, Albert (1972b reprint), Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testaments: Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Coffman, Burton (1993), Commentary on II Kings (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix (1986), A General Introduction to the Bible
(Chicago, IL: Moody), revised edition.
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1982 reprint), Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Spence, H.D.M. and J.S. Exell (1950), The Pulpit CommentaryI & II Kings (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
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