How Old Were Ahaziah and Jehoiachin When They Began Their Respective Reigns?
In 2 Kings 8:26 we read that Ahaziah, the sixth king of Judah, was twenty-two years old when he began his reign. However, in the book of 2 Chronicles, the Bible indicates that he was forty-two years old when he became king (22:2). Furthermore, in 2 Kings 24:8 we read where Jehoiachin succeeded his father as the nineteenth king of Judah at the age of eighteen, yet 2 Chronicles 36:9 informs us that he was “eight years old when he became king.” How is it that both of these kings are said to have begun their respective reigns at different times in their lives? Was Ahaziah twenty-two or forty-two when he became king? And was Jehoiachin merely eight years old when he began his rule over Judah, or was he eighteen as 2 Kings 24:8 indicates? How do we know which numbers are correct? And more important, how does the believer, who regards the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, explain these differences?
Fortunately, there is enough additional information in the biblical text to prove the correct age of both men when they began their particular reigns over Judah. (Ahaziah ruled Judah around 841 B.C., and Jehoiachin almost 250 years later in 598 B.C.) Earlier, in 2 Kings 8:17-18, the author mentions that Ahaziah’s father (Jehoram) was 32 when he became king, and died eight years later at the age of 40 (2 Chronicles 21:5, 20). Obviously, Ahaziah could not have been 42 at the time of his father’s death at age 40, since that would make the son (Ahaziah) two years older than his father (Jehoram). Thus, the correct reading of Ahaziah’s age is “twenty-two,” not “forty-two.” There also is little doubt that Jehoiachin began his reign at eighteen, not eight years of age. This conclusion is established by Ezekiel 19:5-9, where Jehoiachin appears as going up and down among the lions, catching the prey, devouring men, and knowing the widows of the men he devoured and the cities he wasted. As Keil and Delitzsch observed when commenting on this passage: “The knowing of widows cannot apply to a boy of eight, but might well be said of a young man of eighteen” (1996). Furthermore, it is doubtful that an eight-year-old child would be described as one having done “evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 24:9).
Even though it is possible to know the ages of Ahaziah and Jehoiachin when they began their respective reigns in Judah, the ages of these two kings in Chronicles are incorrect. Are these legitimate mistakes? Are we to conclude, based upon these two verses in 2 Chronicles, that the Bible is not from God? What shall we say to such questions?
The simple answer to these queries is that a copyist, not an inspired writer, made these mistakes. In the case of Ahaziah, a copyist simply wrote twenty instead of forty, and in Jehoiachin’s situation (2 Chronicles 36:9), the scribe just omitted a ten, which made Jehoiachin eight instead of eighteen. This does not mean the Bible had errors in the original manuscripts, but it does indicate that minor scribal errors have slipped into some copies of the Bible. [If you have ever seen the Hebrew alphabet, you will notice that the Hebrew letters (which were used for numbers) could be confused quite easily.] Supporting this answer to the “number problems” in Chronicles are various ancient manuscripts such as the Syriac, the Arabic, at least one Hebrew manuscript, and a few of the Septuagint manuscripts—all of which contain the correct ages for these kings in 2 Chronicles (22 and 18 rather than 42 and 8). Based upon this evidence, and from the fact that the ages of Ahaziah and Jehoiachin given in the Masoretic text of Chronicles are incorrect, the translators of the NIV decided to translate 2 Chronicles 22:2 and 36:9 as “twenty-two” and “eighteen” rather than the way most other English versions of the Bible read (“forty-two” and “eight”).
Although history records that copyists were meticulously honest in handling the text of the Bible, they, like all humans, made mistakes from time to time. Yet, even though technical mistakes in copying the text were made by these scribes of old, three important facts remain: (1) accurate communication still is possible; (2) many times one can find the correct reading by investigating ancient manuscripts such as those listed above; and (3) errors in copies of the Bible do not mean that those errors were in the original manuscripts written by inspired men.
*For a general background of this article, see our foundational essay on copyists’ errors.
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1996), Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Electronic Database: Biblesoft), new updated edition.