I Kings7:26 compared with II Chronicles 4:5

26 And it (the molten sea) was an hand breadth thick, and the brim thereof was wrought like the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies: it contained two thousand baths. (I Kings 7:26)

5 And the thickness of it (the molten sea) was an handbreadth, and the brim of it like the work of the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies; and it received and held three thousand baths. (II Chronicles 4:5)

Why is it that I Kings 7:26 and II Chronicles 4:5 do not agree? It is obvious that the two verses are dealing with the exact same thing. Yet they differ by 1000 baths. Is this really an example of a scribal error, as some say, which would mean that the Bible does have errors in it? Or is there another reason why the accounts would differ? Also, this is not the only example of such a difference. Why are there a number of other differences between what I and II Kings say and what I and II Chronicles say?

This is not an example of a ‘scribal error’ at all. Instead what is said in each verse is a precise statement of what is true in view of what is being set forth or described in each verse. Hence paying attention to exactly what each verse says is what is needed. For though the two verses are dealing with the exact same subject — the molten sea — their purpose is not exactly the same when it comes to describing it. This is evident by taking note of the exact wording in each verse.

Notice carefully in I Kings 7:26 that the text says, “…: it CONTAINED two thousand baths.” However in II Chronicles 4:5 the text says, “…; and it RECEIVED AND HELD three thousand baths.” “Contained” and “received and held” do not mean the exact same thing. The words are two different expressions in English and they are saying two different things in English. Though we might have a tendency to use words such as “contain” and “hold” in a synonymous way when talking about the volume of some substance in a vessel or container, the concepts are not synonymous by nature and they do differ in meaning.

“Hold,” when referring to the volume capacity of a vessel, refers to its maximum capacity. Hence when we talk about the fact that a vessel has been filled to its maximum, we say, ‘It can’t hold anymore.’ Or when we want to know what the maximum capacity is of some vessel we commonly ask, ‘How much does that hold?’

“Contain,” on the other hand, does not by nature designate the maximum volume capacity of a vessel. Instead, it refers to the amount of actual or useable contents in the vessel, whether or not the vessel is filled to its maximum holding capacity. And with this discrimination of terms there is no ‘problem’ with the two verses.

In I Kings 7:26 the text is stating the useable and functional volume of baths “contained” in the molten sea as it fulfilled its purpose and the priests made use of it. And as such it “contained two thousand baths.” In II Chronicles 4:5, however, the text is stating what the molten sea “received and held,” which is the issue of what it was totally capable of holding. And this, as the verse states, was “three thousand baths.” Hence its total holding capacity was 1000 baths more than its proper functional capacity.

So then there is no ‘scribal error’ here at all, but rather two precise and accurate statements about the molten sea, in view of the fact that the molten sea is being looked at and described in two different ways.

Now this issue of something being looked at and described from two different perspectives, or in two different ways, is what needs to be recognized and taken into account when it comes to dealing with the other differences you mention. For example, the difference in what II Kings 24:8 says about Jehoiachin’s reign when compared with what II Chronicles 36:9 says about it. Moreover there is also the need to pay close attention to exactly what is recorded in the immediate, near, and remote contexts of each statement. For their respective contexts supply pertinent information that has a direct bearing upon why one account will say one thing and the other something else, even when they are dealing with the same subject.

Therefore, (and to put it very simply), what needs to be understood first and foremost is that the Samuel/Kings account and the Chronicles account are deliberately separate and different accounts; and God has designed them to be so. The Samuel/Kings account comes first, with it being more or less purely historical in its rendering and reckoning, as it follows the arrival of, and development of, the contracted Courses of Punishment of the Law in Israel’s history. However the Chronicles account views the history and its events from the Divine viewpoint, and as such provides a particular type of commentary to the history that is significant in a number of ways. In view of this it makes sense for the Chronicles account to differ in some of its recorded details, seeing that God can reckon time, generations, royal lines, and the like, differently than man does; especially if man is either ignoring or unable to reckon things as God does, and is therefore handicapped when it comes to perceiving things properly from God’s perspective.

Furthermore the amount of information and the kind of information that is contained within the context of one account also has a direct bearing upon the kind of statement that the account will make. This is particularly true, for example, when dealing with a king and how long he reigned, or when it was that he began to reign; like Jehoiachin.

Needless to say, therefore, it can require a patient and careful detailed examination of all of the recorded details in each account to begin to come to grips with all that was going on at a particular time in Israel’s history and to realize the effects of it all. Add to this the reasons that God has for having two separate and distinct accounts of the ‘kingdom-time’ in His nation’s history, and it should be clear that differences in the accounts are going to exist. But they are not going to exist because of careless record-keeping, scribal errors, or anything like that. Instead differences are going to exist because the two distinct accounts serve two distinct purposes in God’s testimony, which requires at times differing (not contradictory at all, but actually complimentary) information to be presented, and differing systems of reckoning being used.

The ‘problems’ only exist if (1) someone assumes that the two accounts are supposed to be identical; (2) that the situations in Samaria and Judah at the times in view could not produce reasons for needing to talk about a certain king’s reigning with respect to two different ages or periods of duration; and (3) that God does not have a significant reason for having two distinct accounts of the ‘kingdom-time’ in Israel’s program and history that might make it so that He wants certain rulers to have their periods of reigning looked at from two different perspectives. When these kinds of assumptions are not made, then the very idea of there being contradictions or problems in the two accounts can begin to vanish away. And then real understanding and edification about this time in Israel’s history and program can start taking place.

– K.R. Blades