2 Samuel 15:7 forty years or four years?
King James Bible (Revised Version 1885, ASV 1901, NASB 1995 edition) - "And it came to pass AFTER FORTY YEARS, that Absalom said unto the king..."
ESV, NIV, NET, NASB 2020 edition, Holman Standard, Catholic St. Joseph NAB, Catholic New Jerusalem, Jehovah Witness NWT 2013 revision - "And at THE END OF FOUR YEARS Absolom said to the king..."
The Bible Critics tell us the following -
“2 Samuel 15:17 – Most Bible scholars and commentators believe that “40” is most likely a scribal error, considering that Kind David only reigned 42+ years and it would be impossible for Absalom to wait for 40 years. (Considering further that Absalom’s rebellion happened during the last years of his reign) The most appropriate translation of this is most likely “4” As Albert Barnes notes “Forty years An obvious clerical error, though a very ancient one for four years” [End of Bible critic's comments]
Has the Hebrew text been corrupted by “scribal error” and is the King James Bible therefore wrong or defective? I do not believe so for a moment and here is why I believe both the Hebrew text and the KJB are correct.
In 2 Samuel we read of Absalom's rebellion against his father, king David. Verses 7-8 say: "And it came to pass after FORTY years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go a pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the LORD, in Hebron. For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, If the LORD shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the LORD."
Here ALL Hebrew texts read FORTY years.
The versions that agree with the King James Bible reading of "after FORTY years" are Coverdale 1535, The Great Bible (Cranmer) 1540, Matthew's Bible 1549, Bishops' Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1599, the Douay-Rheims 1610, Webster's Bible 1833, Brenton Translation 1851, Lesser Bible 1853, The Jewish Family Bible 1864, The Smith Bible 1876, The Sharpe Bible 1883, Darby's translation 1890, Young's literal 1898, the Revised Version of 1885, the ASV of 1901, Rotherham's Emphasized Bible 1902, the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation, and 1936 Hebrew-English versions, Douay 1950, the NKJV 1982, The New Jewish Version 1985, The Word of Yah 1993, the Complete Jewish Bible 1998, the Hebrew Complete Tanach 2004 by A.T. Rosenberg, the NASB 1972 - 1995, Green's Literal Translation 1993, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, God's First Truth Translation 1999, Sacred Scriptures Family of Yah 2001, The Apostolic Polyglot Bible 2003, Green's Literal 2005, A Conservative Version 2005, The Mebust Bible 2007, Ancient Roots Translinear Bible 2008, The New European Version 2010, the Jubilee Bible 2010, the Holy Scriptures VW Edition 2010, Online Interlinear 2010 (André de Mol), the Hebraic Transliteration Bible 2010, Bond Slave Version 2012, the Biblos Bible 2013, The Work of God's Children Illustrated Bible 2011, the International Standard Version 2014, the World English Bible 2012, The New Brenton Translation 2012, the 2012 Natural Israelite Bible - "Now it came to pass AFTER FORTY YEARS that Absalom said to the king, "Please, let me go to Hebron and pay the vow which I made to Yahweh.", The Far Above All Translation 2014, The Hebrew Names Version 2014.
The JPS (Jewish Publication Society Old Testament) 1917 - "And it came to pass at the end OF FORTY YEARS"
This online Hebrew Interlinear - "after FORTY years"
The Complete Jewish Bible - "and it came to pass at the end OF FORTY YEARS"
And The Jewish Virtual Library Complete Tanach 1994 - "and it came to pass at the end of FORTY years..."
The Hebrew Transliteration Bible 2010 - "And it came to pass after FORTY years, that Avishalom (אבישׁלום) said unto the king"
The English Translation of the Greek Septuagint Version by Brenton 1851 - "and it came to pass after FORTY years"
The NEW ENGLISH SEPTUAGINT TRANSLATION 2014, by Oxford University Press.
The so called Greek Septuagint has actually been updated, and it also follows the Hebrew reading of "after FORTY YEARS". - "And it happened at the end of FORTY YEARS, that Abessalom said to his father, I will go now and pay my vows that I vowed to the Lord, in Chevron."
You can see it for yourself here - http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/10-2reigns-nets.pdf
Foreign Language Bibles
Among foreign language translations, those that follow the Hebrew texts and read "after FORTY years" are:
the Modern Greek Bible - "Και εις το τελος τεσσαρακοντα ετων ειπεν ο Αβεσσαλωμ προς τον βασιλεα"
Luther's German bible 1545 and the German Schlachter bible of 2000 " Und es geschah am Ende von 40 Jahren, da sprach Absalom", the French Martin 1744, La Bible du Rabbinat 1906, the French Louis Segond 1910, the French Ostervald 1996 - " Au bout de quarante ans", the Italian Diodati 1649 " in capo di quarant’anni", the Portuguese La Biblia Sagrada and Almeida Corregida - "ao cabo de quarenta anos", the Spanish Sagradas Escrituras 1569, Cipriano de Valera 1602, the Spanish Reina Valera of 1909 (though the 1960, 1995 have been corrupted and now read "four" (cuatro), the 2010 Reina Valera Gomez bible " Y al cabo de cuarenta años aconteció que Absalom",
and the Modern Hebrew Bible - ויהי מקץ ארבעים שנה ויאמר אבשלום אל המלך
Also reading "after FORTY years" are the Dutch Staten Vertaling Bible - "Ten einde nu van veertig jaren is het geschied, dat Absalom", the Romanian Cornilescu Bible and the 2009 Romanian Fidela Bible - "După trecere de patruzeci de ani, Absalom", the Hungarian Karoli Bible - "Lõn pedig negyven esztendõ mulván, monda Absolon" and the Russian Synodal Bible - "По прошествии сорока лет, Авессалом".
However, now the NASB 2020 edition, the NIV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NET, Holman Standard, The Message, the Jehovah Witness New World Translation 2013 revision and most modern Catholic bible versions all read "after FOUR years Absalom..."
The footnote in the RSV, NRSV says the number 4 comes from the Greek and Syriac, while the Hebrew says 40. The Catholic New Jerusalem 1985 also reads "after FOUR years", along with the St. Joseph NAB 1970 and the Jerusalem bible of 1968, and then footnotes that "four" comes from the Greek but the Hebrew reads "forty years".
This is a FALSE footnote. The Greek Septuagint reads "AFTER FORTY YEARS", NOT "after four years"
The NIV footnote says SOME LXX, Syriac and Josephus say 4, while the Hebrew says 40. My copy of the LXX says 40. The NKJV also includes a sitting on the fence footnote which says: "Septuagint manuscript, Syriac and Josehpus have 4".
This again is a misleading footnote because the most widely publicized Septuagint in print today, the Brenton Translation of 1851, clearly says 40 and not 4 and so too does the 2012 NEW English Septuagint Translation.
The Catholic Versions
The older Catholic bibles like the Douay-Rheims 1610 and the Douay of 1950 followed the Hebrew reading of "after FORTY years".
Then the newer Catholic versions like St. Joseph New American Bible 1970 and the New Jerusalem 1968 and 1985 New Jerusalem went with the Greek reading found in SOME LXX copies of "after FOUR year". But wait. Now the latest Catholic Public Domain Version has come out in 2009 and it goes back to the Hebrew reading of "after FORTY years".
The Jehovah Witness Connection
As most Christians know, the so called Jehovah Witnesses are a cult that denies Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh and denies the reality of hell and is a works based religion. They also have their own bible version that is based on the same UBS/Nestle-Aland/Vatican critical text.
The previous New World Translation of 1961 followed the Hebrew reading in 2 Samuel 15:7 and said "And it came about AT THE END OF FORTY YEARS that Absalom proceeded to say to the king..."
However now the 2013 New World Translation Revision has come out and it now reads just like these other Vatican Versions with: "AT THE END OF FOUR YEARS Absalom said to the king..."
The brand new ISV 2014 (International Standard Version) goes with the Hebrew reading of 40 but it ADDS words to the text to supply what they think is the correct meaning. The ISV says: "And so it was that forty years after Israel had demanded a king, Absalom asked the king, "Please let me go to Hebron so I can pay my vow that I made to the LORD".
This is interpretation, not translation, and it is clearly wrong! Saul himself had reigned for 40 years (See Acts 13:21) and had been dead for several years already. David was well into his 40 year reign by at least 20 years when his son Absalom rebelled against him. So there is no way this event happened a mere 40 years after Israel demanded a king.
Daniel Wallace's NET bible version has: "After FOUR (10) years Absalom said to the king, “Let me go and repay my vow that I made to the Lord while I was in Hebron." Then in a footnote Dr. Wallace says: " The MT (Hebrew Masorretic Text) has here “forty,” but this is presumably a scribal error for “four.” THE CONTEXT WILL NOT TOLERATE A PERIOD OF FORTY YEARS PRIOR TO THE REBELLION OF ABSALOM."
The scholars like to help one another out in sowing disbelief and doubt, don't they?
NOTE: Though he is too dull to figure out why the Hebrew reading is correct, at least Dan Wallace he did not lie and tell us that the Septuagint or even Some LXX read "four".
Rather than believing God knew what He was doing when He said "after 40 years", and trying to figure out what the inspired Scripture means, the NIV, ESV, NET, Holman, Jehovah Witness 2013 revision and Catholic "Bible Correctors" adopt the liberal viewpoint that the Hebrew texts were corrupted and rely instead on their own intellects. They reject the clear Hebrew reading of "after 40 years", and instead follow the uninspired Syriac text.
Many commentators also hop on the No Bible is Inerrant Bandwagon, and confidently affirm that "after 40 years" is wrong. Among these are John Gill, Adam Clarke and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. To his credit, Matthew Henry affirms the Hebrew reading to be correct, and so does John Wesley.
There are three possible ways I know of to explain the number "after 40 years".
#1. One possibility is the number refers to 40 years after his father David was originally anointed to be king, before he actually took the throne. See 2 Samuel 2:4 and 3:1
John Wesley held this view saying: "After forty years - From the change of the government, into a monarchy, which was about ten years before David began to reign. So this fell out about the thirtieth year of his reign."
Matthew Henry also held this view stating: "from his first anointing by Samuel seven years before, or rather (I think) from the people's desiring a king, and the first change of the government into a monarchy, which might be about ten years before David began to reign."
This King James Bible believer's site also holds this basic view -
Note: This is a distinct possibility and may very well be the correct explanation. However I personally lean toward explanation Number 3 since this seems to provide the motive for Absalom's rebellion. We will discuss it in a moment.
#2. A second possibility is 40 years refers to the age of Absalom himself.
#3. A third possibility, AND THE ONE I BELIEVE IS THE CORRECT ONE, is that "after 40 years" refers back to the time when his father David invaded the Geshurites and slaughtered the men, women and children of that place. This event took place before David was anointed to be king over Judah or over both Judah and Israel. At the time, Saul was still king. Absalom's mother was the daughter of the king of the Geshurites (See 2 Samuel 3:3 where it lists the sons of David born to him in Hebron - "and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur.") and it could well be that Absalom was taking revenge upon David on behalf of his mother.
In the context of "and it came to pass after FORTY YEARS, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow", in the very next verse Absalom mentions his vow that he had taken while he abode at GESHUR in Syria.
The fact that he specifically mentions the town of Geshur in Syria, and his own mother was the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur (2 Samuel 3:3) should cause us to look back in history to what happened years before. - perhaps 40 years before. Long before Absalom rebelled against his father and before David became king, David "and his men went up and invaded the GESHURITES...and David smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive, and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel, and returned, and came to Achish."
See 1 Samuel 27:8-9. At the time of this event of the slaughtering of the Geshurites, David was not yet king over Judah nor over Israel. Saul was king and David's 40 year reign as king had not yet begun.
When Absalom had first slain his brother Amnon because he raped his sister Tamar, Absalom fled and went to Talmai, his grandfather, who was king of Geshur. "So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years." See 2 Samuel 13:37-38. Then after Joab's intervention, he returned to Jerusalem, but king David, his own father, refused to see him for two years.
Absalom's revenge on behalf of his mother for David slaughtering the people of Geshur, may well be a motivating factor in Absalom's rebellion some 40 years later.
The Hebrew reading of "after 40 years" as found in the King James Bible is correct. There are several ways to explain what it refers to, and there is no need to reject it as do the NIV, ESV, NET, most modern Catholic versions and Holman Standard versions do. Always give the benefit of the doubt to the Holy Bible, never to the Bible critics, no matter how many letters they have listed after their names.
The King James Holy Bible is always right. Accept no substitutes.
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