You may have noticed that some biblical stories are repeated in two or three different books of the Bible. In our Chronological Bible reading, those stories are rearranged to appear one after the other, on the same page of the book. This gives us the opportunity to compare and contrast different versions of the same story.
Take, for instance, the story of King David conquering the Philistines just after his coronation as king over all of Israel. This story is told twice, in (a) 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and (b) 1 Chronicles 14:8-17. And the two renditions of the story are nearly identical, except for a few minor differences: (All quotes are from the NLT unless otherwise noted.)
- When David heard the Philistines were coming after him, (a) “he went into the stronghold,” a place of safety and protection, or (b) “he marched out to meet them” with confidence and power.
- When David defeated the Philistines, he exclaimed (a) that God destroyed his enemies, or (b) that God destroyed his enemies “by my hand” (NIV).
- When the Philistines fled the scene and abandoned their religious artifacts, (a) “David and his men confiscated them,” or (b) “David gave orders to burn them.”
- Throughout the story, the God of Israel is referred to as (a) “the Lord,” a representation of the divine name “Yahweh,” or (b) “God,” a translation of the Hebrew term “Elohim.”
The fourth of these differences is not that noteworthy; it simply reflects a difference in authorship, time of writing, and other cultural changes. Scholars have long recognized a significant distinction in these references to God in the biblical text. (You can see this same distinction in the Bible’s two creation stories: the first, in Genesis 1:1-2:3, uses “Elohim” or “God,” but the second, in Genesis 2:4-3:24, uses “Yahweh Elohim” or “Lord God.”)
By itself, the “Lord” vs. “God” distinction is enough to suggest that 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles were written by different people and at different times. The other differences above suggest that these two stories were written with different agendas in mind.
Wait, “with different agendas”?!
Yep. There is no such thing as an unbiased telling of a story. We always tell stories from our own perspectives, from our own cultures, using our own languages and idioms. And what we intend to communicate through a story influences how we go about telling the story.
Another conclusion of biblical scholarship is that 1 and 2 Chronicles were written by an individual (often called “the Chronicler”) who had a very specific perspective on political history:
The Chronicler was a HUGE fan of King David.
You can see this bias throughout the books of the Chronicles, really. But just as an example, take another look at the first three differences noted above:
- When the Philistines come to attack, 2 Samuel shows David cowering (in fear?) in his stronghold. But the Chronicler shows David marching out (in confidence?) to fight them.
- When the battle is won, 2 Samuel gives God the credit, but the Chronicler makes sure to note that God did it with David’s help.
- When the Israelites deal with the Philistines’ religious artifacts, 2 Samuel says that David and his men kept those items (perhaps as trophies, or for their value in gold or silver?), but the Chronicler says that David ordered their destruction (perhaps to prove his religious purity?).
Every story, every news report, every internet article is slanted in some way. Every storyteller has some kind of objective or intention that drives the telling of the story. And that intention is often just as revealing as the story itself.
Another difference between 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles: one of them tells the story of David and a young woman named Bathsheba. I’ll let you guess which one includes that story and which doesn’t.
So pay attention to the stories that you hear in the Bible, in history books, and in the daily news. And pay attention to how you tell your own stories. It may very well be that how we tell stories is just as important as the stories themselves!