LETTER FROM A DEAD MAN: A RESPONSE
It is a great joy to write a response to Mr. Till's article "Letter From a Dead Man." It is an undeserved
honor to find myself writing in defense of the Bible, but the God of all mercy may help me to do that of which
He deems me to be capable. Before I close in on the alleged contradictions, I want to make some preliminary
remarks that may be useful.
GOD DOES NOT WANT EVERYONE TO UNDERSTAND
No, I am certain that God does not want all who read His word to understand it. He is self-revealing, but
to those with rebellious, wicked hearts He is also self-concealing. He refuses to reveal Himself in the Scriptures
in a way that is psychologically compelling, so that one cannot reject the evidence. He presents His word in a
way where men or women with certain sinful traits will weed themselves out, so that heaven may be filled only
with honest and good hearts (Luke 8:15). For lack of space, I will give only one quotation. We read, "At that
season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these
things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-
pleasing in thy sight" (Matt. 11:25-26). To prove the alarming subtitle I made--"God Does Not Want Everyone
to Understand"--read also Job 23:8-9; Deuteronomy 28:29; Romans 1:21-28; 1 Corinthians 1:18-29; 1 Cor-
inthians 3:19-21; John 7:17; John 8:37; John 8:46-47; John 10:26-28; Daniel 12:10; Matthew 13:11-16; Mark 4:9;
and John 12:40.
THE DEFINITION OF A CONTRADICTION
Before we directly analyze Mr. Till's article, J. W. McGarvey has some words that should be considered:
Two statements are contradictory not when they differ, but when they cannot both be true. If, on any rational hy-
pothesis, we may suppose them both to be true, we cannot rightfully pronounce them contradictory. We are not bound to
show the truth of the given hypothesis; but only that it may be true. If it is at all possible, then it is possible that no con-
tradiction exists; if it is probable, then it is probable that no contradiction exists; and the degree of the latter probability is
measured by that of the former.... It follows, also, that when there is an appearance of contradiction between two writers,
common justice requires that before we pronounce one or both of them false we should exhaust our ingenuity in searching
for some probable supposition on the ground of which they may both be true. The better the general reputation of the
writers, the more imperative is this obligation, lest we condemn as false those who are entitled to respectful consideration
(Evidences of Christianity, 1886, Part 2, p. 32).
Those of you who have read Mr. Till's article "Letter From a Dead Man" will notice right off that Mr. Till
has failed in regard to McGarvey's comments in several respects. He has decided that there is a contradiction
though he has not proved it. By God's help in all things, I will show that there are some possible rational
hypotheses and even some probable ones that make Mr. Till's efforts fall short regarding proving a contradic-
tion in the Bible. It seems to me I can be most clear and concise by distilling from Mr. Till's article certain
questions found there. These, if the Lord will, I will treat one at a time.
"If Elijah ascended to heaven in the reign of Jehoshaphat, how could Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat get
a letter from Elijah after Jehoshaphat was dead?"
There are several sound hypotheses regarding this conundrum, none of which Mr. Till can refute. The
first one seems more likely to me. It is that Elijah was not dead when he wrote the letter to Jehoram. Notice
this quotation from Albert Barnes regarding Elijah's translation:
The events of this chapter are related out of their chronological order. Elijah's translation did not take place till after
the accession of Jehoram in Judah (2 Chr. 21:12), which was not till the fifth year of Jehoram of Israel (8:16). The writer of
Kings, having concluded his notices of the ministry of Elijah in chapter 1, and being about to pass in chapter 3 to the minis-
try of Elisha, thought it best to insert at this point the final scene of Elijah's life, though it did not occur till several years
later (1 Samuel-Esther, p. 228).
Now all this is not only a rational hypothesis, it answers the crux and core of Mr. Till's article. All the rest
is minor and easily answered, and all in all it must be highly frustrating to Mr. Till who after all his effort has
not found a mistake in the Bible.
However, some put forth the hypothesis that there may have been a co-regency, and Jehoram got Elijah's
letter while he ruled along with his father Jehoshaphat. This hypothesis is possible, though not as probable in
my estimation as the other. But 2 Kings 1:17 and 2 Kings 3:1 indicate that there was a co-regency. Barnes says
on the two references, "Jehoram of Judah perhaps received the royal title from his father as early as his father's
sixteenth year, when he was about to join Ahab against the Syrians; the same year might then be called either
the eighteenth of Jehoshaphat or the second of Jehoram" (Barnes, pp. 227-228).
"If Ahaziah of Israel began to reign in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat and reigned two years, how could
Ahaziah's brother then succeed him in only the 18th year of Jehoshaphat? How could Ahaziah serve as king for
two years while only one transpired in Jehoshaphat's reign?"
It is true that Bible writers reckon parts of years in different ways, and we ourselves do parts of years in
various ways. First Kings 22:51 has two years because part of the second year is consumed. The way we might
say it is "a little over a year," but their way is not unsound to them. On 2 Kings 3:1, Barnes, who is good on
chronology, says "in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat. This date agrees exactly with the statements that Je-
hoshaphat began to reign in the fourth of Ahab (1 Kin. 22:41), and Ahaziah in the 17th of Jehoshaphat (1 Kin.
Someone could ask how long I worked in San Marcos, Texas. Various members of the congregation might
answer "four years," or "four and a half," or "four, going on five," or "about five," and by our reckoning all would
be technically correct. But the ancient quite often counted any part of a year, no matter how small, as a whole
year. We call 33 A.D. as the first century, though it is only a small way into that century, and it is not yet a full
one hundred years.
"If Jehoshaphat reigned 25 years, how could Jehoram of Israel begin to reign in Jehoshaphat's 18th year
and five years later see Jehoram of Judah succeed Jehoshaphat? That adds up to 23 not 25 years."
All we have said before applies here. As Barnes says, "Those, however, who regard them [1 Kings
22:42,51; 2 Kings 3:1; 1 Chronicles 20:31] and 1:17 as sound, suppose that Jehoshaphat gave his son the royal
title in his sixteenth year, while he advanced him to a real association in the empire seven years later, in his
twenty-third year. Two years afterwards, Jehoshaphat died, and Jehoram became sole king" (Barnes, p. 248).
Another hypothesis is that some later scribe accidentally made the mistake of repeating "Jehoshaphat
being then king of Judah" in this place. To be certain in this type of calculation, we usually need more informa-
tion. Notice Douglas:
Until about a century ago Old Testament dates were calculated almost entirely from the biblical statements.... Two
difficulties beset this approach. Firstly, the Old Testament does not provide all the details needed for this task, and some
sequences of events may be concurrent rather than consecutive. Secondly, the ancient versions, e.g., the LXX, sometimes
offer variant figures. Hence schemes of this kind are subject to much uncertainty (The New Bible Dictionary, p. 212).
So both hypotheses are possible, but we need more information to see which is right.
"How could Jehoram of Israel reign 12 years if Jehoram of Judah began to reign in the fifth year of
Jehoram of Israel and reigned eight years into the reign of Jehoram of Israel? Eight plus five equals thirteen,
Again recall the previous answer. Barnes notes that the "eight years are counted from his association with
his father in the kingdom. They will end in the twelfth year of Jehoram who was in Israel."
However, Mr. Till makes the assumption that the Bible has a continuous line of chronology and that all
Bible writers use the same system of dating. Both assumptions, on which Till bases his contradictions, are
wrong. Notice The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary:
The biblical accounts indicate no absolute, continuous chronology by which all events can be dated, and archaeological
findings generally provide only relative correlations. The process of determining dates of persons and events, and occa-
sionally even of historical sequence, is made even more complex by the use of various systems of dating and by the nature
of the writings themselves, whose interest is primarily theological rather than precisely historical (Edited by Bruce M.
Metzger, p. 213).
So God does not try to equip us with a chronology. Since God's purpose is religious, extraneous and even
necessary chronological details are not deemed by God as essential. Since information is lacking, we must
"Ahaziah of Judah became king in the 12th year of Joram of Israel. Then one chapter later we are told
Jehoram of Judah's son Ahaziah began to reign in the eleventh year of Jehoram of Israel. How do you explain
Recalling all we have said before, notice Barnes says, "The discrepancy may be best explained from two
ways of reckoning the accession of Ahaziah, who is likely to have been the regent for his father during at least
one year" (p. 252). This hypothesis, without better information, is likely because Jehoram was obviously critical-
ly ill the last year of his life. See 2 Chronicles 21:19.
"Is it not easier to accept that they made a mistake rather than that there was a co-regency?"
No. Such a supposition leads to many unanswered, complicated questions. Who made a mistake? In what
source was the date wrong? Did they round off? Did some "sources" count a co-regency and others not? Was
the source copied differently from the original? Did they reckon years and parts of years the same? Were their
numbers specific or rounded off? What books were used as sources? Were they inspired books? If they were
inspired writers, why would they need sources? Were there copyist errors in the "sources"? Were there copyist
errors in the biblical manuscripts after inspired writers penned them? Till's suggestion is too complex.
To PROVE a Bible error Mr. Till must definitely answer each of the above questions. But there is much
information regarding co-regency. It is the simplest solution. Co-regencies were common in Judah. Douglas
says, "It is possible to demonstrate, as he [E. R. Thiele in Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1951] has
done, co-regencies between Asa and Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat and Jehoram, Amaziah and Azariah (Uzziah),
Azariah and Jotham, and Jotham and Ahaz.... This practice of co-regencies in Judah must have contributed
notably to the stability of that kingdom; David and Solomon had thus set a valuable precedent" (Douglas, p.
"Would Jehoshaphat have cleaned up everything but his own co-regency?"
When David was young, his son Absalom almost took the kingdom away from him. When David was old,
Adonijah almost did the same. In the last years of the life of Jehoshaphat, when he was old, feeble, weak, and
maybe even somewhat senile, could not Jehoram have taken control?
True, the Bible claims inerrancy, but, no, we never say there is no contradiction because the Bible is iner-
rant. We believe the Bible is inerrant in great part because no contradiction has been proved. But when it
comes to making an exact chronology, we do not claim to have enough information to do so. The Bible as a
whole does not try. Bible writers used differing systems of datings, did not provide enough details, followed no
perfectly arranged order of periods, years, and dates, and they focused on presenting a religious document
rather than a historical one. The student of chronology goes to the Bible well aware that he is severely handi-
capped by lack of information and tested beyond his reach because of a lack of details and a constant lack of
agreement in the treatment of dates and years. When it comes to chronology, only the skeptic thinks he has
sufficient data to claim infallibility.
(Jerry Moffitt's address is P. O. Box 1275, Portland, TX 78374.)
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