Sunday, January 10, 2010

127: Satan did what?

1 Chronicles 18-21
Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah." - 2 Samuel 24:1

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. - 1 Chronicles 21:1

The first few chapters list David's victories, his officials, and a few more battles. The bible also recounts one of my favorite stories. David sends his men to the Ammonites to express his sympathy for their king's death. The Ammonites think the men are spies and send them back with half their beards chopped off and their pants converted into assless chaps. This so disgusts David that he goes to war with the Ammonites.

On a more serious note, we have a horribly obvious inconsistency. So far, the bible has been doing fairly well in recounting the stories from 1/2 Samuel. Further research shows that there are minor inconsistencies, mostly in genealogies, but nothing so obvious that I've noticed it. Until now. First quote (also at the top of the page):
Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah." - 2 Samuel 24:1
I remember being quite confused as to why God would be angry at Israel for taking a census that he himself commanded. It's very clear from 2 Samuel 24:1 that God did, in fact, command Israel to take a census. I'm not sure how you can twist that verse to mean anything else. However, 1 Chronicles has a different take on the same census:
Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. - 1 Chronicles 21:1
Satan did it?! What's going on here? I think the inerrancy of the bible is in peril. If Satan did it, the story would make far more sense (God wouldn't be mad because of something he commanded) but that's not what the bible says (the first time). If someone can explain to me how this makes sense I'd love to hear it.

Evangelicals want to be buried, not cremated. Because they want to be zombies?

Apparently cremation had been banned by the catholic church until 1963. I never attached a particularly religious significance to how one's body is disposed of, but I guess there is a stigma attached to being burned. Why? Because when Jesus comes back he's going to make us all into zombies that rise out of the grave (I think?), so the body is necessary. Is a being that created the universe going to have a hard time reconstructing your body?

The article is about cremation losing it's stigma. It seems strange to me that the stigma ever existed.

(via The Tennessean)


  1. Brent - we haven't heard from you in a while. I'm sincerely interested in how the inconsistency Bryan points out can be explained away. I'm not attempting to bait you, I have honestly valued your commentary throughout these posts. It is obviously well thought out and researched and not the least bit demeaning - which is a welcome change of style from the typical apologist. So please... help us understand this from your point of view.

  2. Thanks for the kind words Jack...I've been sick for three days and I am studying for my PhD. Comprehensive Exams. I will try to post an explanation here soon. I thought this passage might be a problem. I have my thoughts on this is certainly a passage of "tension" that may not have a satisfactory answer for everyone. But I will post soon...Also I wasn't planning to post too much on 1-2 Chronicles since it overlaps so much with Samuel-Kings. We will have some fun as we get into the other genres of Scriptures :)

  3. I don't see how inconsistencies such as this should pose a problem, unless you go for a 6-days-creation-global-flood-tower-of-babel-parting-of-the-sea-etc. kind of literalism, which is, frankly, untenable in this day and age (one would hope). Am I right, Brent? o_ó


  4. Here you go...

    First, I want to acknowledge that I have learned over the course of Bible study that most theological or textual inconsistencies are a result of failure to properly understand the text of Scripture. This is not surprising. When it comes to the OT, we are dealing with a piece of literature that is more than 2500 years old. The conventions of an ancient language and historical culture necessary to decipher the meaning of some aspects of these texts are not always clear.

    The Hebrew word “satan” is used in its most basic sense as “adversary.” For example, Numbers 22:22 says that the angel of the Lord functioned as a “satan” against Baalam (an adversary of Baalam). When the definite article is used with "satan" to indicate “THE” Adversary such as in Job 1:7 and Zech 3:1 then the referent of “satan” is the that being we know as the devil, the serpent of old from Gen 3, etc.

    Now, in 1 Chronicles 21:1 the definite article is NOT used. Yet, curiously, every translation I have seen still uses “Satan” as the personal being inciting David. However, please notice some interesting textual elements that might sort this all out. In the problematic 2 Samuel 24:1 passage, the phrase “Then again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” is a very common catch phrase in Judges-Kings. This phrase seems to typically anticipate the Lord acting to bring forth foreign adversary against Israel.

    For example 1 Kings 11:9-14,
    “Now the Lord was angry with Solomon (v. 9)….Then the Lord raised up an adversary (satan in Hebrew) to Solomon, Hadad the Edomite (v. 14)” (The pattern was first established in Judges)

    Now, the average Israelite reading 2 Samuel 24:1 may have understood this catch phrase, “The Lord was angry against Israel” to mean that the Lord was about to bring a foreign enemy against Israel. But instead of highlighting the foreign power, the text highlighted David’s response to the threat of a foreign power—trusting in his own strength and power (census) and not the Lord. Thus the census was emphasized in the text of 2 Samuel as indicative of David’s declining character and trust in response to a growing foreign threat the Lord sent.

    Now, the Chronicler who desired to make this (ironically) “clearer” to a later generation of Israelites said the following in the tradition of I Kings 11:9-14, “Then AN adversary (satan—small “s”) stood up against Israel and incited David to take a census.” So, a foreign adversary, that the Lord had sent, as we have witnessed so many times before could be the referent of this text and account for David’s seeking security in numbers. There are scholars who make a very compelling case for this interpretation. (John Sailhammer, “1 Chronicles 21:1 A Study in Inter-Biblical Interpretation, Trinity Journal).

    Continued in next post….

  5. …Continued from previous post

    Now, having said this, others believe that 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 can be harmonized into a similar situation as the account of Job where God allowed Satan to test Job. Thus correspondingly, God allowed Satan to test David. However, the Job parallels only go so far. God was not “angry” with Job and Job was indeed innocent. God was “using” Satan to ultimately vindicate his servant, Job, not cause him to sin.

    One more element in all of this: Psalm 18:25-27 states.
    25With the kind You show Yourself kind;
    With the blameless You show Yourself blameless;
    26With the pure You show Yourself pure,
    And with the crooked You show Yourself astute (shrewd).
    27 For You save an afflicted people,
    But haughty eyes You abase.

    IF God allowed or ordained that David be deceived by Satan or the Lord Himself (which I’m not saying David had been) remember that David had been deceptive in his earlier days. God may be allowing David to get a taste of his own medicine. The Scriptures declare that an individual reaps what he/she sows. As an example, the patriarchal stories are full of inter-generational deception—Jacob deceiving his father Isaac; then Jacob is deceived by his son Judah; Judah is deceived by Tamar.

    I know all of this is “bleak.” And I recognize that death and judgment are predominating in these narratives. And as I have mentioned before, the Biblical text do not paint the “heroes” with rose colored glasses. All of them have fallen short of bringing forth a seed or kingdom that would crush the “seed of the serpent” as promised in Genesis 3:15. The predictions of Deut 28 and Lev 26 are being played out in the history of God’s people for a purpose. Where is the righteous king that keeps the covenant? Where is the faithful servant that does not grow weary? David failed. Solomon failed. Elijah failed. Moses failed….etc. ad nauseum. Has God failed in his promise in Gen 3:15? What about the promised Davidic dynasty (2 Sam 7; 1 Chr 17) that would last forever and bring God’s righteousness reign to the earth?

  6. Brent, I'm sorry but I don't understand your explanation.
    in 2 Samuel, the lord is the subject of the sentence i.e. he is directly causing the whole thing. However you want to translate "satan" in chronicles, it's a different entity and not god.
    The idea that god is acting through this entity is nowhere on the text.
    Plus, the version of chronicles does actually make sense, while the one in 2 samuel depicts god as a psycho. (which would be par for the course, actually, but that's another issue).

    Sloppy redaction isn't allowed as an explanation?
    Do you subscribe to the hardcore the-earth-is-younger-than-beer literalism?

  7. Gaga, You don’t know me very well : )

    I first met Bryan at this event…you can see me toward the end of the video

    And you can find me here:

    And here where I wrote the parable in “The Correct” under “anonymous” in the comments section

    And you might find these groups I organized interesting or disheartening : )





  8. oooh... I get it, I saw jen's video.

    diseheartening, anyway...


  9. gaga..sorry to disappoint with my explanations and my disclosure --Two strikes against me :)
    Don't be too disheartened though...2010 could be the year of the atheist. Who knows God could be raising the vocal atheist movement up to strike His people today just He used nations against Israel in the OT. Now isn’t that an encouraging thought? ; )

    This is not an easy textual problem. And you are correct that the subject of each passage is different.

    But, I don't concur that it is necessarily a contradiction to say that the Chronicler may have been making explicit (that an adversary arose against Israel) that which what was implicit in 2 Samuel (If the catch phrase "the Lord's anger" = "another nation rising up"). After Chronicles was written, the Israelites preserved both accounts and either they preserved them with blatant contradictions or in some way it was not a contradiction in their understanding originally.

    I find it difficult to look back at an ancient generation of people and assume that they could not see apparent literary discrepancies that I see or assume that they were sloppy redactors. When one considers how communication and languages work and the conventions necessary to properly decipher intended meaning over time then I am personally humbled at what we do understand.

    And, as I observe the literary artistry present in these texts which do not always come through cleanly in translations, then I have to conclude that shoddy work was not a norm.

  10. Brent, this has nothing to do with atheism, just with the appalling (and sometimes) willful ignorance of history and science, which is scary and dangerous imv. Medieval notions and today's technology don't mix well...

    The point of my comment was that if you are willing to engage in such acrobatics, then you are probably able to explain away everything. If you feel comfortable in injecting extraneous material to the text (aka making stuff up) in order to do away with the contradiction, there's no reason to look at the alternatives. Sloppy redaction doesn't necessarily mean that it was an oversight. Maybe there were different versions of the story floating around and they didn't feel like messing with them. Or maybe they weren't so anal about literalism ;)


  11. Looks like a good discussion got going here.

    As I was reading through the comments above, something I read on another blog came to mind:

    I don't have to make excuses for god any more. [mom23]

    I greatly appreciate the critical analysis going on here for both sides. But there is some dangerous ground covered here, sliding towards, "all you have to do is intrepret it exactly this way". Is that an underlying tenet of critically studying a text? Or should I first ask that it is agreed we are examining a text here?

    The information about the word 'satan' is a real neat eye-opener for me, so want to say thanks for that. I'm going to be more careful about who I call my 'adversary' and who I call "the evil adversary of all things".

  12. Godwillbegod,
    >"all you have to do is intrepret it exactly this way". Is that an underlying tenet of critically studying a text?

    as far as I can tell, there are different ways in which one can examine the text, in the case of the bible (and I should add that I'm not properly equipped for all of them :) I can only say things as I see them)
    One is to treat it like any other similar ancient text and that's what brought us the documentary hypothesis and all that jazz.
    Another one is to start from the premise that it's the inerrant word of the creator of the universe and that's what brought us the acrobatic apologetics of which you have seen a shining example above...
    Most christians, I hope, choose some sort of middle ground.


  13. Come, come now my friends. Who is doing the insisting that it must be interpreted in such and such fashion? I have given two options along with the contextual considerations to support both but I have insistent on neither. And, I have acknowledged the complexity of the issue. It is not me insisting that the meaning must be the “way I see it.” There is only one meaning of each of these texts in question. However, I have not presumed to have arrived at it.

    @Godwillbegod—“critical examination of a text”—yes-- but in its context! 1 Chronicles does indeed have as its antecedent theological and textual context Samuel-Kings (historically, chronologically, culturally, and canonically).

  14. "Who is doing the insisting that it must be interpreted in such and such fashion?"

    Brent has congenially disclosed himself, and in fellowship I will do so in kind(ness): I have no authority over this text and its interpretation. Brent brings up a good point here. Yes, I think we should be wary of the the word, 'interpretation.'

    We are not here to win people over, right? We all want to share what we each bring to the table, right? I would shudder to think one's words would have underlying purposes or intents. As Brent tells us, we are friends after all, regardless of our insistencies, or (in)consistencies. Is it best to say we are coming together to look at the bible with all our own curiosities?

    'Context' may be the more appropriate word for this discussion. Brent does a good job of illustrating the 'catch-phrase' of something that had meaning(s) to an ancient people. Now, it is (possibly) unfortunate that the English version Bryan is using had to start the sentence with "Satan rose up...". Even the English student willing to delve into the context will have to face 'options', or at least have to acknowledge "the complexity of the issue".

    Now I am personally uncomfortable with this statement, "There is only one meaning of each of these texts in question." I don't think I can agree with you, Brent. Or, in an attempt at honesty here, I think I may need a better understanding of what is meant.

    In an earlier comment, Brent wrote, "most theological inconsistencies are a result of failure to properly understand the text of Scripture." I can study the text and learn of its contexts, and maybe even do this in a suitably 'proper' way, with the guidance of friends. But as Brent cautions, I would not presume to have arrived at the (or even a) singular meaning.

    Side note:
    All prayers to Haiti!! (And by 'all prayers', what I mean is action and help. If you can, please donate or extend care in any form.)

  15. Well, my questions, then would be these:
    Would it be possible for it to be, simply, an inconsistency? (no matter what the origin)
    If yes, what do you think the consequences would be? (for your faith, your understanding of the work as a whole and whatnot)

  16. @ Godwillbegod in regard to “one meaning”

    Example: When you wrote, “I may need a better understanding of what is meant,” I assume you had only ONE meaning for your arrangement of the symbols (letters) into units (words) in a particular order (grammar, syntax i.e. the English conventional language). Your statement did not convey both your uncertainty about the matter and that you are eating pizza : ) For communication to take place, the intent of the author as he/she employs a language convention must be grasped. Thus, by “singular meaning,” I mean the author’s intended meaning.

    Now an author can intend more than one meaning (double entendre, irony), or can obscure meaning willingly or ineptly. But again communication only takes place when the author’s intention is deciphered. If communication is not grounded in authorial intent then we lose the ability to communicate with one another. “Linguistic relativity/chaos” ensues.

    With the biblical texts, we engage in a hermeneutical spiral that zeros toward the authorial intent as we gain more and more insight about the historical, cultural, literary theological contexts (i.e. language conventions) employed by the Biblical author. BTW: Human linguistics, language, and communication are another fascinating phenomenom which struggles to have a warrant in an evolutionary worldview.

    @ gaga
    Yes gaga, there simply could be an unresolved inconsistency in the text that the redactors of the text left in place. The Christian neo-orthodox position of the mid-20th century viewed scriptures (the Bible) as an imperfect (humanly conditioned) witness to the perfect transcendent Word of God. Martin Luther did not have a strict inerrant view of Scriptures. Yet, I do not precisely hold to the neo-orthodox view or Luther's view. Apart from minor textual corruption over time, I believe that the final product of the hand of each author/redactor was the inspired/inerrant Word of God. The whole forms a cohesive and consistent revelation of God’s intended communication (speaking of language) to man about Himself, His world, and His plan for mankind.

    But, consider the following pragmatically without invoking my “inspiration/inerrancy” view. Most of us strive to be consistent and cohesive in our writings. We attempt to correct blatant inconsistencies. Why do we not assume the same about our ancestors and in particular the compilers of Scriptures who took great effort to make and preserve this literary witness? I tend to afford them at least the same benefit of the doubt that I give you. Therefore, first, if I encounter a perceived inconsistency, I assume I am the one who is reading the text wrongly until solid evidence shows otherwise.

    Ditto that about Haiti! Give to reputable organization that will get the supplies there.

  17. Thanks for your time Brent.

    Should I further assume from your explanation that you are therefore not accepting the current understanding of the universe in biology, geology, physics, astronomy, etc.?

    Because the discussion about this part of the text could go either way. Your explanation imho is far-fetched and I don't believe you would accept it if it referred to another literary product of the same period, but it's not completely off the wall. But if you are choosing literalism over reality, further discussions, while amusing, wouldn't be very productive. It's sad :(

    Wrt Haiti, Partners in Health seems to be a reasonably trustwothy organization (at least I hope, they had my money) and they already have personal and structures in place.


  18. Gaga,

    "Reality" is the question isn't it? What is truth? Does the current understanding of science have the corner on truth and reality?

    Strike three for me from your perspective.

  19. Science is a way to get to truth, not necessarily a way to reach it. But some perspectives are wronger than others :)

    for your consideration:

    take care

  20. Brent,

    If you do assume that I only had one meaning, then I will have to concede to the limits of my success at communication. I do have an understanding of some of my own ineptitudes with writing and I try to recognize and embrace them suitably. Strangely though, I do feel like having pizza now.

    Again, it looks like we might disagree. I don't see relativity as equivalent to chaos. And, I don't fear either of those independent words at the present. But at the same time, I do want to thank you for I have a new vista to now explore. I found this gem in a quick search: "Linguistics without anthropology is sterile; anthropology without linguistics is blind." [Hockett]

    Some theories of linguistic thinking have much in common with the more fluid or dynamic concepts found in chaos theory [Putz, Verspoor]. And at this point I have to beg your forgiveness because I am taking this out of context. There is a lot I don't have an understanding of and a fair number of dead (and electronic) trees I have yet to read. Patience is needed while wanderers and ponderers explore the paths available in order to see the forest.

    I admire your pursuit of zeroing in on the "author's intended meaning" and can only trust that you will find a great bounty there. When I read, "Most of us strive to be consistent and cohesive in our writings. We attempt to correct blatant inconsistencies." my first thought was to guess that you have not read some of the emails between my friends. One friend in particular tries very hard to get away from cohesiveness or consistency, in my opinion. So yes, most of us might strive so. But he is still my friend. I do want to assume his good intentions (or at least assume there is good in his intent), but I do also know him well enough to question his personal agenda and perspective.

    Science certainly does not have a corner on truth and reality, depending of course on definitions used I guess. Science does busy itself with words like 'theory' and 'testing' and 'accuracy' and 'precision'. By no stretch am I going to consider even dreaming of swaying you from what you believe. They are yours, and like property, in my opinion. If we are willing to afford this matter the benefit of the doubt, and hold at bay our assumptions, then I would be delighted to keep in mind that the unresolved consistency has contexts that may bear further fruits.

    Now, I do not think your comments should count as strikes against you. Might I offer a rewording? Three stands, instead? And if those stands or beliefs have indeed brought you to an understanding that you will 'love your neighbour as yourself', then I am quite glad and proud to have you as a neighbour (neighbor :-)).

    (I might end up spending more time at gaga's place watching tv, but that's another matter...)

  21. Godwillbegod,
    I am hurt…I bet I have a bigger TV than gaga. And I will offer you pizza in an attempt to make you feel at home—as you have done to me online : )

    I like the quote about linguistics and anthropology. Language is a fascinating phenomenon. I love it when an author understands the art of communication and embeds subtle textual clues of meaning for the insightful. I invite you to explore another vista of language from the perspective of the eternal logos. And I will look forward to future interactions as our corners of the world meet and are enlightened by the differences, the similarities, and the cracks along the seams.



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