Letter From a Dead Man: A Response
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 ([ref001]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" (
). To prove the alarming subtitle I made--"God Does Not
Want Everyone to Understand"--read also [ref003]Job 23:8-9
; [ref004]Deuteronomy 28:29
; [ref005]Romans 1:21-28
; [ref006]1 Corinthians 1:18-29
; [ref007]1 Corinthians 3:19-21
; [ref008]John 7:17
; [ref009]John 8:37
; [ref010]John 8:46-47
; [ref011]John 10:26-28
; [ref012]Daniel 12:10
; [ref013]Matthew 13:11-16
; [ref014]Mark 4:9
; and [ref015]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 hypothesis, 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 contradiction 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 contradiction 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
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 ministry 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,
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
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 [ref016]2 Kings 1:17
and [ref017]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. [ref018]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 [ref019]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 Jehoshaphat began to reign in the fourth of Ahab ([ref020]1 Kin. 22:41
), and Ahaziah in the 17th of Jehoshaphat ([ref021]1 Kin. 22:51
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
All we have said before applies here. As Barnes says, "Those,
however, who regard them [[ref022]1 Kings 22:42,51
; [ref023]2 Kings 3:1
; [ref024]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 information. 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, not twelve."
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
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 occasionally 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 hypothesize.
"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 the difference?"
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
critically ill the last year of his life. See [ref025]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. 217).
"Would Jehoshaphat have cleaned up everything but his own
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 inerrant. 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 handicapped 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