Nana Yaw Aidoo
One of the numerous sins that Israel committed on the way to the Promised Land was fornication. According to Numbers 25, whiles in Shittim, the people committed physical fornication with the women of Moab and spiritual fornication with Baalpeor. This aroused the Lord’s anger leading to the deaths of many of the Jews via a plague. Moses recorded that: “And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand” (Num. 25:9).
However, in an apparent reference to this same incident, Paul wrote: “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand” (1 Cor. 10:8). To students of the Sacred Writings, this seems like a discrepancy. Bible skeptics have been known to feast on this and other such seeming discrepancies in order to cast doubt on the integrity of the Bible as being “…in truth, the word of God…” (1 Thess. 2:13). Those who like this writer are sticklers for the inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of its autographs in fact can be confident that there is no real problem as far as these texts are concerned and that this seeming discrepancy can be solved in either of two ways.
The first is by noting that while Moses tells us the number that died in the plague, Paul tells us the number that died in one day. Moses in his record does not say that all the deaths happened in one day, rather telling us the number of all who died in the plague. This makes Paul’s record supplementary. By combining both texts, we learn that of the twenty four thousand that died, twenty three thousand died in one day. It is possible that the remaining one thousand died the day after, making the number of casualties sum up to 24,000.
The second solution is that Moses added the number of leaders or rulers who were hanged in the sun (Num. 25:4-5), to the number of those who were directly killed by the plague, whereas Paul focused only on those who were directly killed by the plague, excluding the leaders or the rulers who were hanged in the sun. If this were the case, then we can surmise that the number of rulers who were hanged in the sun, totaled one thousand.
The honest, sincere and careful Bible student who pays a little more attention to these seeming discrepancies would come to realize that they aren’t really discrepancies at all and that the Bible is indeed what it claims to be.