Thursday, March 10, 2011

Biblical "Contradictions" - Saul, David, and the Javelin

Skeptics love to find inconsistencies among the accounts in the synoptic gospels. If two accounts look similar, but have different details, it is alleged that they are inconsistent and that this is proof that they are contradictory - at least one of them being in error.

In this post, I'll examine a particular situation that -- if one found the accounts in different books -- might easily mistaken for a single situation that has been reported inconsistently. However, since all the accounts are in the same book, we can be sure that it is not simply a difference of opinion amongst competing evangelists.

The situation I have in mind is the account of Saul trying to skewer David with a javelin.

Account 1 - Shortly After the Defeat of Goliath

1 Samuel 18:6-11
And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. And the women answered one another as they played, and said, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands." And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, "They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?"
And Saul eyed David from that day and forward. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul's hand. And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice.
As an aside, I think it is very interesting that the evil spirit from the Lord gave Saul the gift of prophecy. Nevertheless, in this case, David played for Saul on the harp to drive away the evil spirit. However, Saul threw a javelin at David, twice!

Account 2 - After Reconciliation with Saul

1 Samuel 19:8-10
And there was war again: and David went out, and fought with the Philistines, and slew them with a great slaughter; and they fled from him. And the evil spirit from the LORD was upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand: and David played with his hand. And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the javelin; but he slipped away out of Saul's presence, and he smote the javelin into the wall: and David fled, and escaped that night.
Notice the similarities. The context is fairly similar (David comes back from fighting the Philistines), and even many of the details are similar (there is an evil spirit from the Lord on Saul, and David is playing to relieve him). And again, Saul tries to spear him with the javelin.

There are also differences. There is only one javelin thrown this time, and there is a detail that the javelin stuck into the wall. If these were in two different books, and the two books didn't give both accounts, we might be tempted by the skeptics argument that there is an inconsistency over when Saul attempted to skewer David.

Account 3 - Jonathan as the Target

1 Samuel 20:27-34
And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, "Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?"
And Jonathan answered Saul, "David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem: and he said, 'Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren.' Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table."
Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, "Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die."
And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, "Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?"
And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David. So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.
In this third account, we have Saul yet again hurling his javelin - this time at his own son! This is not very similar to the first two accounts, but it involves Saul engaged in a domestic dispute in which he throws a javelin at someone. We would probably be confident in telling the skeptic that this account is separate from the first two, but surely a radical skeptic would say that the three accounts should be seen as progression of anti-Saul or pro-David prejudice (placing them in the order of Account 2, Account 1, and finally Account 3).

In fact, however, these are just three different, yet similar (in some details), situations. Saul had a propensity to hurl a javelin. Even so, Jesus had a propensity to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead. We should be careful when reading the synoptic gospels not to assume that two accounts are the same, simply because there is some similarities in the details.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was on the second floor of an office complex and while looking out the window I saw a crash between two cars at an intersection with controlling lights, green, yellow and red.

I was watching the one car and noticed that the controlled light system light had changed from green to yellow while this car was aways back from the intersection. I also then noticed the car was not slowing down and thought to myself there might be a crash. Sure enough there was so I left the building and ran to render assistance.

When I got there the two drivers were out of their vehicles and each one was protesting their innocence and the other their guilt.

The police showed up and I gave them my witness statement. There was another person standing there waiting to give theirs. I stayed around and drew close to the other person listening to them while they were giving their witness statement. Of course, that person saw the "same" accident at the "same" time I did but from an entirely different point of view while walking towards the intersection on the other street. The corner building blocked my view of the other street and this person so I could not see that person nor could I see what the other driver was doing driving towards the intersection. What that other person said seemed strange to me and contradicted my statement.

I said I felt the driver of the car I saw heading to the intersection disregarding the light change to be at fault, while the other witness felt that the other driver of the car I could not see was at fault.

It's odd that we see things the way we see things; and when we are allowed to share our objective experience of the things we saw without any influencing contribution from others, the same things others saw by experience don't always add up to be the same things each other experienced but a contradiction to those things.

Because God has nothing to hide and He is Light and in Him is no darkness at all, His message is kept intact and the Holy Spirit Himself oversees what and how each understands what He has chronicled for our liberty in the Spirit and for our salvation because we are "kept" by His power until the day of our salvation!

Until then, I suppose we are going to have to keep publishing articles like this one continually lifting up the Truth knowing there is an enemy out there sowing seeds of discord and confusion and contradiction to kill, steal and destroy the Gospel that will destroy them.

Psa 143:12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.

We ought to remain, as best we can, blessed in the assistance of His Grace, Mercy and Peace in the humility we are called to remain in through Christ and put the best construction on every experience we experience, knowing, hopefully, full well this:

1Pe 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
1Pe 5:11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.