How Many Baths: 2,000 or 3,000? 1 Kings 7:26, 2 Chronicles 4:5

Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning how many baths could be held, whether it was 2,000 or 3,000 (1 Kings 7:26 vs. 2 Chronicles 4:5).
Bible "contradictions"
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Quick Answer

There two two possible solutions to this problem:

  1. One passage could be stating how many baths could be held for practical use, and the other passage could be stating how many baths could be held if it was completely filled.
  2. The discrepancy is a copyist error. There are two possible copyist errors that would resolve the alleged contradiction. That the Bible is inerrant means that the original manuscripts are without error, not that no errors in copying occurred.

The discrepancy is probably a copyist error. That the Bible is inerrant means that the original manuscripts are without error, not that no errors in copying occurred. This copy error is easily understandable, considering the similarity between the Hebrew characters.

The argument

Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning how many baths could be held in the Bronze Laver in the house that Solomon built for the Lord. Here are the relevant verses:

Two thousand baths

1 Kings 7:26 - And it 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.

Three thousand baths

2 Chronicles 4:5 - And the thickness of it 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.

The solution

The two passages talk about how many baths could be held in different ways

Notice that the verbs used to describe how many baths could be held in the laver are different: 1 Kings 7:26 says that it contained two thousand baths, and 2 Chronicles 4:5 says that it received and held three thousand baths.

So, it is entirely possible that 1 Kings 7:26 is referring to how many baths could be held comfortably in the laver for normal use, and 2 Chronicles 4:5 is referring to how many baths could be held in the laver if it was filled to the brim.

Proponents of this potential solution include Matthew Henry and Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown.

Matthew Henry (emphasis added) - There was the molten sea, a very large brass pan, in which they put water for the priests to wash in, v. 2, 6. It was put just at the entrance into the court of the priests, like the font at the church door. If it were filled to the brim, it would hold 3000 baths (as here, v. 5), but ordinarily there were only 2000 baths in it, 1 Ki. 7:26.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown (emphasis added) - There is a difference in the accounts given of the capacity of this basin, for while in 1 Kings 7:26 it is said that two thousand baths of water could be contained in it, in this passage no less than three thousand are stated. It may be remarked that different words are employed: the one in 1 Kings 7:26 rendered contained; the two here rendered, received and held. There was a difference between receiving and holding. It received and held three thousand baths.

Possible copyist error #1 - A space in a word would resolve the apparent contradiction

One argument is that if a space is inserted into the Hebrew word "shloshet" in 2 Chronicles 4:5, so that the word instead read "shlo shat," both of the verses would then say that the laver could hold 2,000 baths.

You can read more about this potential solution here.

Possible copyist error #2 - The characters for 2,000 and 3,000 are very similar

The Hebrew characters for two thousand and three thousand are very similar, so it is reasonable to believe that a copyist made an error.

  • 2,000 -
  • 3,000 -

"I don't buy that explanation"

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.

Fact vs Opinion

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.

Additional Resources

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.

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