1 Sam. 6:19
By Martin A. Shue
Since becoming involved in the Bible translation issue I have been repeatedly asked by friends why I spend so much time researching and writing on this topic. I have been accused of “going overboard” and have been scoffed at through e-mails for having a website defending our Authorized Version (AV) by individuals who claim that I do not care for other “more important” issues. But is there a “more important” issue facing Christianity today? This is a question we must each ask ourselves. A. W. Pink in his book “The Divine Inspiration of the Bible” had the following words to say,
“Christianity is the religion of a Book. Christianity is based upon the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture. The starting point of all doctrinal discussion must be the Bible. Upon the foundation of the Divine inspiration of the Bible stands or falls the entire edifice of Christian truth. — “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) (Pink, Introduction).”
I highly doubt that many would argue with these words by Pink. But at the same time many could seemly careless about the changes and enormous differences among today’s modern translations. What most Christians are also ignoring is the shift modern scholarship has made over the last hundred years or so. It use to be a sign of doubt and unbelief to question the Scriptures but now it has almost become the fad to raise questions about the Holy Bible. Once upon a time Christendom had only to worry about attacks from atheists, agnostics and other such groups but now professed ‘Christian scholars’ assail us on every side by words of unbelief.

Consider more words from A. W. Pink:

“Surrender the dogma of verbal inspiration and you are left like a rudderless ship on a stormy sea-at the mercy of every wind that blows. Deny that the Bible is, without any qualifications, the very Word of God, and you are left without any ultimate standard of measurement and without any supreme authority. It is useless to discuss any doctrine taught by the Bible until you are prepared to acknowledge, unreservedly, that the Bible is the final court of appeal (Ibid.).”
Again, most would agree with these words (at least in theory). However, I have learned that while many pay lip service to our AV they are not at all fully convinced that it is, as Pink says, “the very Word of God”. Nearly every person I have discussed this matter with readily confesses that our AV is “the word of God”. But these charlatans along with their phony allegiance to God’s words soon reveal their true character as they repeatedly deny its text, question readings and translations. They have little trouble looking you in the eyes and dogmatically stating that our AV has multiple errors. This they say while still purporting to believe that our AV “is the word of God”.

I must admit, dear reader, that I find this type of ‘reasoning’ inconceivable. How can someone claim to believe a Bible to be the ‘word of God’ but yet deny many of its readings insisting that verses have been added and many verses have been inaccurately translated? These same people will flatly reject the New World Translation on these very same grounds but will continue their charade when it comes to our Authorized Version. What is it that makes these people behave in such a manner? If they are fully convinced that our AV has so many errors and/or has followed the wrong text in many verses then why not come out and reject it? Why continue paying lip service to a Bible that you obviously do not believe to be the “the very Word of God”?

If you think my words too harsh or perhaps misleading then this little study should demonstrate once and for all that what I am saying is true. I wish to look at the often-misunderstood verse of 1 Sam. 6:19, which has been the subject of much conversation in time past. Our AV reads, “And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.” Now we will examine the comments of a few scholars and Bible versions.

It may perhaps benefit us to see how several of the more popular modern translations render this verse----

ASV- And he smote of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of Jehovah, he smote of the people seventy men, and fifty thousand men; and the people mourned, because Jehovah had smitten the people with a great slaughter.

NASV- And He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter.

NIV- But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them,

RSV- And he slew some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked into the ark of the Lord; he slew seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had made a great slaughter among the people.

NRSV- The descendants of Jeconiah did not rejoice with the people of Beth-shemesh when they greeted the ark of the LORD; and he killed seventy men of them. The people mourned because the LORD had made a great slaughter among the people.

NLT-But the LORD killed seventy men from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the LORD. And the people mourned greatly because of what the LORD had done.

ESV-And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow.

Young’s Translation- And He smiteth among the men of Beth-Shemesh, for they looked into the ark of Jehovah, yea, He smiteth among the people seventy men -- fifty chief men; and the people mourn, because Jehovah smote among the people -- a great smiting.

NKJV- Then He struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck fifty thousand and seventy men of the people, and the people lamented because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter.

NET- But the Lord struck down some of the people of Beth Shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord; he struck down 50,070 of the men. The people grieved because the Lord had struck the people with a hard blow.

From the above translations one would think that the Hebrew is ambiguous at this verse. However, nothing could be further from the truth! Actually there is very little question as to what the Hebrew says in verse 19. The Hebrew here reads, “seventy men, fifty thousand men”. To my knowledge there are only 3 Hebrew mss. (all of the 12th century) that omit “fifty thousand men” and read only “seventy men”. The LXX also reads, “seventy men, and fifty thousand men”. Likewise, the Vulgate reads, “seventy men, and fifty thousand of the (common) people.” So why the various readings in the modern versions listed above? Let’s look at a few of their footnotes and see what they have to say about their own translation.

The footnote in the NIV stated, “A few Hebrew manuscripts; most Hebrew manuscripts and Septuagint 50,070 “ Here the NIV admits that “most” Hebrew mss. have 50,070. But since the NIV committee didn’t believe the words of God they have instead followed the opinions of historians and commentators. This I will show by and by!

The RSV and NRSV both have the following footnote, “Heb of the people seventy men fifty thousand men”. Even though they both read “seventy men” they readily admit that they have abandoned the Heb. reading in favor of some other reading. They do not indicate where they got this reading from though.

The NLT contains one of the more remarkable notes that I found, viz. “As in a few Hebrew manuscripts; most Hebrew manuscripts and Greek version read 50,070 men. Perhaps the text should be understood to read the LORD killed 70 men and 50 oxen.” (The NKJV contains a similar footnote) Like those before they confess that the Hebrew is not ambiguous at all and in fact reads “50,070 men”! However, they then hypothesize and say that “perhaps” the text “should be understood” to read “the LORD killed 70 men and 50 oxen”. This is interpretation and not translation! As Dr. Scrivener once stated, such a phrase “can be arrived at only through some process which would make any phrase bear almost any meaning the translator might like to put upon it”.

The ESV emphatically states, “Hebrew of the people seventy men, fifty thousand men”. Despite knowing this fact they have chosen to follow an unnamed source in reading “seventy men of them”.

I have perhaps saved the best footnote for last! The footnote attached to the NET reads, “The number 50,070 is surprisingly large, although it finds almost unanimous textual support in the MT and in the ancient versions. Only a few medieval Hebrew mss lack "50,000," reading simply "70" instead. However, there does not seem to be sufficient external evidence to warrant reading 70 rather than 50,070, although that is done by a number of recent translations (e.g., NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT). The translation reluctantly follows the MT and the ancient versions here.” This long footnote is very revealing in many aspects. Again, they willingly admit that the Hebrew, without question, reads “50,070”. Additionally, they confirm that this reading has “almost unanimous textual support in the MT and in the ancient versions”. However, the last two comments are the most shocking. While again admitting that there is practically no evidence for the reading “70 men” they seem to lament the fact that they are forced (i.e. ‘reluctantly’) by both the text and plain evidence to follow the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT). In spite of knowing the reading is 50,070 they appear to admire “a number of recent translations” that have abandoned the MT. What an astonishing admission by the NET! They once again demonstrate that they are not at all interested in the actual evidence for a reading but are rather interested in what seems ‘right’ in their own minds (cf. “surprisingly large”). We proceed.

The note of the NET brings us to our next point of discussion, viz. “thus saith the historian and Bible commentator”. Just why does Wallace say that the Hebrew reading is “surprisingly large”? We have seen testimony from nearly every modern translation that the Hebrew undeniably reads “50,070” so why does Wallace feel compelled to question the Hebrew and why do so many versions ignore the Hebrew and read “70 men”? These are questions we will seek to answer in this portion of the article.

Much like those individuals I mentioned at the onset of this article we also have that group of people that routinely emphasize how they believe “only the Hebrew and Greek are inspired”. They will categorically deny that any translation can be the perfectly preserved words of God-----let alone “inspired”. Yet in verses just like the one under discussion they will join the scoffers and doubt the “inspired” Hebrew. They will cite such pious reasons as “scribal error”, “scribal embellishment of the text” and “transmissional error”. Then they will no doubt quote some historian and/or Bible commentary in an attempt to explain to you why they doubt the “inspired” Hebrew. Let’s look briefly at what a few famous commentaries have to say regarding this verse.

Commenting on the figure 50,070 Jamieson, Fausset and Brown declare that “Beth-shemesh being only a village, this translation must be erroneous, and should be, “he smote fifty out of a thousand,” being only fourteen hundred in all who indulged this curiosity. God, instead of decimating, according to an ancient usage, slew only a twentieth part; that is, according to JOSEPHUS, seventy out of fourteen hundred (see Numbers 4:18-22).” Here we find the root of this unbelief! Because Bethshemesh was only a village JFB reason that “this translation must be erroneous”. But ‘this translation’ is exactly what the inspired Hebrew says. So JFB are not only condemning those translations that read 50,070 but they are also condemning the Hebrew text. Then they fabricate a reading that has absolutely no textual support whatsoever---------“he smote fifty out of a thousand”. I know of no text (Hebrew or otherwise) that reads this way. Yet we are to abandon the ‘erroneous’ Hebrew text for a reading that exists only in the minds of JFB. We read and marvel!

Next we examine some of the comments by Adam Clarke. Clarke, while admitting that the Hebrew reads 50,070, makes the following observation, “From the manner in which the text stands, and from the great improbability of the thing, it is most likely that there is a corruption in this text, or that some explanatory word is lost, or that the number fifty thousand has been added by ignorance or design;.” Again we are informed that this is a “great improbability” and that there is “a corruption in this text” (i.e. the Hebrew). Clarke further displays his doubt and unbelief regarding the inspired Hebrew with his remarks “most likely…..some explanatory word is lost, or that the number fifty thousand has been added by ignorance or design”. It is a strange phenomenon indeed when learned men will reject the clear reading of the Hebrew in favor of such ridiculous ideas as “most likely”, “word is lost” and/or “added by ignorance or design”. As we’ve seen above there is not one shred of evidence to substantiate these claims by Clarke. Unlike the apostle Paul it appears that much learning has indeed made Clarke mad. Rational thinking men would not reject the obvious Hebrew reading for mere guesswork as Mr. Clarke tries to convince us to do. And what is the extraordinary reason Clarke gives that should persuade us to cast aside the inspired Hebrew? Much like JFB Clarke makes the mistake of looking at this through a strictly humanistic point of view. Clarke states, “it being very improbable that such a small village as Beth-shemesh should contain or be capable of employing fifty thousand and seventy men in the fields at wheat harvest, much less that they could all peep into the ark on the stone of Abel, in the corn-field of Joshua”. Again we see the “small village” tactic employed in hopes of swaying our allegiance from the Hebrew to the camp of unbelief. So what about this argument? Is it valid? We will examine it now.

Both JFB and Adam Clarke appealed to the fact that Bethshemesh was a small village as the basis of their doubting the clear Hebrew text. But is this reason enough to abandon our trust in the Hebrew? God forbid! Even though Bethshemesh was a small village it would be no miraculous event for well over 50,000 people to turn out to see the “ark of the LORD”. Such things are common place in human history. As I’m writing this article our city is hosting a very large automobile-racing event. This entire event is spread out over a two week period and will culminate on Sunday when more than 200,000 race fans from all over the U.S and Canada converge on the speedway to watch a grueling 600 mile race. The track itself lies on the border of two counties with three neighboring towns butted up against the track. Our local paper reported just days ago that one of the small towns that adjoins the speedway has a population of 15,912 people. The paper quoted the Fire and Rescue Chief as saying that well over 20,000 people were camping in his district alone. So this small town of roughly 16,000 people swells to over 36,000 people in a two-week span just for a car race.

This is minute when compared to some of the events of many false religions around the world. Last year in the month of February approximately 3 million Muslims descended on the small city of Mecca to make the 15-mile trek to Mount Arafat. A small rural farm in Rockdale County, some 35 miles east of Atlanta, drew nearly 150,000 people who came to hear Nancy Fowler give a 30-minute message she supposed received from “The Virgin Mary”. And in Mexico a small town of roughly 20,000 people grows to over 650,000 to gaze at what they believed to be a miraculous “Virgin Mary”. Considering these things why should JFB, Clarke and many others find it unfathomable that 50,000 plus would turn out for the opportunity of a lifetime, viz. to look upon the ark of the LORD?

Clarke continues, “Some solve the difficulty by translating, “He slew SEVENTY men OUT OF fifty thousand men.” There are various other methods invented by learned men to remove this difficulty, which I shall not stop to examine; all, however, issue in this point, that only SEVENTY MEN were slain; and this is, without doubt the most probable. The FIFTY THOUSAND, therefore, must be an interpolation, or be understood in some such way as that mentioned above.” What a candid admission by Mr. Clarke! Of the versions I consulted not one rendered the passage as Clarke suggests above. However, Mr. Clarke’s statement that “there are various other methods invented by learned men to remove this difficulty” is very enlightening. As I’ve insisted from the beginning most modern versions were not concerned with what the Hebrew said but were interested only in ‘inventing’ a different reading to ‘remove’ a difficulty that exists only in their mind. There is nothing difficult about the Hebrew in this verse. We have seen testimony from many different translations and they all testify to the fact that the Hebrew reads “50,070”.

Matthew Henry only adds to the present confusion with the note in his commentary that “The number smitten is expressed in an unusual manner in the original, and it is probable that it means 1170.” 1170?? Where did he come up with that figure? As I said above, such a number could only be arrived at through some process which would make any phrase bear almost any meaning the translator might like to put upon it. Henry is in even worse shape than JFB and Clarke. There are no Hebrew mss. that read this way and no ancient versions either.

I hope you have been able to see the utter confusion that arises when we desert the obvious reading of the Hebrew original. When we set up own mind or those of some self-professed ‘scholar’ we are in grave danger. If we are to say that we believe the Authorized Version then let’s start believing EVERY word of it. Let’s not be guilty of professing our love for our Bible only to approach such passages as discussed in this essay with doubt and unbelief. If we profess to believe the Hebrew Old Testament is the inspired words of God let’s not seek to correct the Hebrew with the words of historians or commentators. If we will consistently approach the words of God by faith and with a humble spirit I can assure you that God will increase your understanding and the passages that scoffers label as “problem passages” will be easily answered. We must first start with our own approach to the Bible! Selah!