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Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning how many children Abraham had, whether he had one or two children. Here are the relevant verses.
- He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
- By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,
- For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.
Genesis is undeniably clear that Abraham had more than one physical son.
And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.
Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.
1 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.
The fact that Abraham had not just two children, but eight children, would have been obvious to all three of these writers. So, these authors must have had a particular reason for writing that Abraham only had one son, or two sons. It is highly unlikely that the situation is that these authors were simply stupid and were not aware of the events of Genesis.
Isaac was Abraham's only son in that he was the only son who was promised by God. God promised this to Abraham in Genesis 15:4
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son[b] shall be your heir.”
So, Isaac was the only one of Abraham's sons who was promised by God. There is something unique about Isaac compared to all of Abraham's other children.
Both Genesis and Hebrews talk about Abraham having only one son in the context of God commanding Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. This is significant because Abraham had no other son like Isaac—Abraham had no other promised son.
Rather, Galatians 4:22
21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;[e] she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”
28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
There is no contradiction because the authors did not intend to say that Abraham only had one son, or only had two sons. The authors said that Abraham had one or two sons for a particular purpose, to convey a particular message.
Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:
I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.
The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.
However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.
When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.
To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.
Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.