Several years ago, the Kerrville, Texas Daily Times on-line newspaper published two stories on their front page about the same basic event—the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors’ meeting in Galveston, Texas. The headline for the first story was “Times Wins 17 Awards in Statewide Contest” (emp. added). The second story was titled, “Times Gets 16 Awards in First Day” (emp. added). One story clearly indicated that the newspaper had won 16 awards, while the other used the number 17. Apparently, however, none of the Kerrville Daily Times staff believed that their stories were contradictory. (The stories remained on the Daily Times homepage for a few days.) What’s more, there was no indication that others were accusing the newspaper of being inconsistent or dishonest in their reporting. Why? Because most anyone who read the two titles quickly understood that the newspaper won 17 awards in all—16 of which they collected on the meeting’s “first day.”
If most anyone can easily understand and accept such differences as were found on the Kerrville Daily Times Web site, one wonders why similar logical differences cannot easily be acknowledged in Scripture. For example, when Moses wrote about the sexual immorality and idolatry that the Israelites committed in Moab, he noted that “those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand” (Numbers 25:9, emp., added). When the apostle Paul alluded to the number of Israelites who committed sexual immorality (apparently referring to the events in Numbers 25:1-9), he wrote: “in one day twenty-three thousand fell” (1 Corinthians 10:8, emp. added). Skeptics and certain others (e.g., Davids, et al, 1996, pp. 598-599) would have us believe that Paul erred in writing 23,000, rather than 24,000. But notice that Paul included the phrase “in one day twenty-three thousand fell” (emp. added). Though Moses would later write about what happened “in the day of the plague” (Numbers 25:18; cf. Genesis 2:17; 1 Kings 2:37,42; Lyons, 2002), he did not use a numerical adjective to delineate clearly a set period of one day as Paul did. Thus, the difference in the two numbers can easily (and logically) be resolved by taking into account that Paul’s number included what happened within a literal 24-hour period, while Moses’ number included everyone who died “when the plague came” (Numbers 25:18, NIV), however long it lasted.
Of course, as with many alleged Bible discrepancies, oftentimes more than one possible explanation exists for differences between two or more Bible passages. Regarding 1 Corinthians 10:8, some believe that Paul was referring to a different time in Israelite history (cf. Archer, 1982, p. 401; Geisler and Howe, 1992, pp. 458-459). Others believe that Numbers 25:9 is, indeed, the actual “sister” passage to 1 Corinthians 10:8, but that the additional 1,000 in the book of Numbers also included those whom the judges executed (Numbers 25:4-5; see Jamieson, et al., 1997). Still, it may be that Paul’s number only included the portion of those who were actually guilty of “sexual immorality,” while Moses included both harlots and idolaters (Numbers 25:1-3).
The fact is, several plausible explanations exist for the differences between Numbers 25:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:8. Exactly what the explanation for the difference is, we may never know. But, we can know that the skeptic has not proven these passages to be discrepant. Furthermore, it is the skeptic who should be questioned as to why he readily accepts the understandable, non-discrepant differences in many modern-day writings (e.g., the Kerrville Daily Times), yet loudly protests against similar logical, explainable differences in Scripture. Undoubtedly, this kind of “inconsistent” allegation should be under scrutiny.
Archer, Gleason L. (1982), An Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
Davids, Peter H., Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., F.F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch (1996), Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).
Geisler, Norman L. and Thomas A. Howe (1992), When Critics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books).
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Lyons, Eric (2002), “Why Didn’t Adam Die Immediately?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/AllegedDiscrepancies.aspx?article=797.