1 Chron 21:1-2, "Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.” (NASB)
First we need to be clear about what these passages are not:
- This is not the result of a scribal error, haplography or mispelling, the Hebrew text makes that clear.
- This is not the recording of two different events, the context makes it clear that both passages are talking about the same event.
Let's be clear on what these passages are:
- These passages clearly differ on the origination of the census. Samuel originates it in the anger of YHWH, and Chronicles originates it with Satan himself.
- These passages are clear on exactly what the motivation is, they don't speak in uncertain terms or hold back for the reader's judgment.
Some of my theories (I have a limited amount of resources at my disposal so I am going about this task terribly under armed. I am working with no commentaries that would help my thought process.), as to how to incorporate this passage:
1. The theory of inerrancy is clearly contradicted by these problematic passages and thus I should abandon all pretenses to this belief. This approach assumes the worst about the text. Simply stopping here doesn't begin to delve into why in the world these two passages would come to different conclusions. This is a lazy approach to the issue at hand, so I reject it.
2. Inerrancy still applies here, but not to the details of the text. Inerrancy goes so far as to the explication of the Biblical redemptive story, but not all the way down to the details of the author's analysis of the internal motivations of David. An anology may go something like this. A new and expensive jewelery box (the overall theme of redemption) is taken out of its packaging. At this point it is flawless, and can easily be considered thus. However, if you were to zoom down to the molecule level or to the tiny details that make up the box (The historical details) there are imperfections. But Just as you cannot say the brand new Jewelery box is flawed the Bible is without error also. Again, I don't like this interpretation because you are having to bend and twist the Bible a little too much to make it work in my opinion.
3. These passages are actually in harmony even though they don't seem so. If we read the God-Satan relationship from Job into this passage, we can see how at the behest of God and his anger Satan is dispatched (or released) to coerce David into sin. This interpretation harmonizes the passages in question, which I like, but fails to find extensive support elsewhere in the Bible.
These three theories are all unsatisfactory to me. I haven't presented a satisfactory solution because honestly I don't have one. All three of these approaches are variations on arguments for and against inerrancy that I have heard in my life, just adapted for this context.
The one thing that has been confirmed to me while blogging through the significance of Scripture is that interpretation (good interpretation at least) is a messy affair. One that is not nearly cut and dry at all. If you have any thoughts on these passages, please don't hesitate to leave a comment below.