A Scribal Error in 2 Chronicles 22:2? No!

Robert J Sargent

Texts in Question

2 Kings 8:26—“Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel.”

2 Chronicles 22:2—“Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Athaliah the daughter of Omri.”

Is there a discrepancy between 2 Kings 8:26 and 2 Chronicles 22:2? To the casual reader, there indeed appears to be a contradiction between two parallel accounts of the accession of King Ahaziah over Judah. Was Ahaziah 22 or 42 when he ascended the Judean throne?

The “Scholarly” Solution

There is an easy solution to the problem—if you are a Bible corrector! Obviously this just has to be an error! The “scholarly” statement of this “explanation” is: “The number ‘forty and two’ in 2 Chron 22:2 is evidently the mistake of a copyist.” In other words, since Ahaziah’s father Jehoram died at age 40 (2 Chron 21:20), it would have been impossible for Ahaziah to succeed him at an age of 42! Therefore, somewhere in the history of the transmission of the Hebrew text, a careless scribe committed a transcriptional error.

The problem with this easy solution is: if there is one error in the Bible (albeit an innocent slip of the pen), who is to say there are not other errors in the Bible? How could we be absolutely certain that the precious verses God used to speak to our heart and save our soul are not among those containing errors? Can we really trust our Bible?

For a number of compelling reasons, we believe the Bible is the Perfect Word (Ps 119:140) of a Perfect God (Tit 1:2) and given to man in a Perfect Manner (2 Pet 1:21, 2 Tim 3:16) and preserved in a Perfect Form (Ps 12:6–7). Our Bible is not only infallible in all its teachings but inerrant in all its content. That is why we can say with full assurance: “I know whom I have believed;” that is why we can say with absolute confidence: “there hath not failed one word of all his good promise.”

  1. Some parts of God’s Word are likened to milk (1 Pet 2:2), while other parts are called strong meat (Heb 5:12–14). This conundrum most definitely falls into the strong meat category.
  2. Every Christian is commanded to study the Bible (2 Tim 2:15). This particular question is one which requires much careful and diligent study.
  3. Whenever we encounter a difficult-to-understand Bible passage, it does not mean the Bible is somehow in error. We have to consider two realities:
    1. that we may not be of sufficient spiritual maturity to grasp the deep treasure God has put there in His Word (1 Cor 3:1–2, Luke 24:25), and must therefore keep growing and keep studying; or
    2. that God never intended for us to know everything there is to know (John 21:25), and must therefore be content with the knowledge that He has given us all we need to know until we enter into His glorious presence in heaven (1 Cor 13:12).
  4. The two passages in question are accurate English translations of the Masoretic Hebrew text—all the extant Hebrew manuscripts say the same thing! This is not some supposed “poor translation” by the translators of the Authorised, King James Version. Why, those men would run rings around 20th century scholarship—and do you not think they would have had enough sense to “patch up” such a glaring inconsistency if they really believed it was an error? (This perplexing question is actually a wonderful demonstration of the honesty of the translators of the Authorised, King James Version.)
  5. When interpreting the Bible chronologically (which is part of the solution to these problem texts), it is absolutely necessary to keep in mind some important facts:
    1. Scripture deals only with whole years when it comes to the reign of the kings. A part of a year is counted as a whole year, and when applied to the kings of Israel, that part of one year may actually be counted twice—once for the outgoing king, once for the incoming king. As a matter of fact, at time of the events mentioned in our problem text, the Northern kingdom of Israel had three kings reigning in the same year—Ahab (absent in battle, then killed), his son Ahaziah (co-Rex, then dies of a fall), and his grandson Jehoram.
    2. Sometimes the reign of a king is dated from the beginning of a dynasty instead of the beginning of his own succession to the throne. The classic example of this is found in 2 Chronicles 16:1 where the reign of Asa at the time of Baasha’s invasion has been counted from the division of the united monarchy under Rehoboam. (This explains the apparent contradiction with 1 Kgs 16:8.) Chronicles records the length of the kingdom; Kings records the length of the term of office. We may find this a strange way of reckoning, but that is the way it is sometimes counted in the Biblical record.
    3. Sometimes the beginning of the reign of a king may be given from his anointing or from his accession, or both! The Lord Jesus Christ was born King of the Jews (Matt 2:2), but His reign will not begin until He sits upon David’s throne in the Millennium. Following the deportation of his father, Jehoiachin legally became king of Judah when he was eight years old (2 Chron 36:9), but his mother ruled for him as queen (Jer 13:18) until he was 18 (2 Kgs 24:8). Three months later both king and queen mother were deported (2 Kgs 24:12).
    4. It was not uncommon for there to be more than one king reigning at a given time in either Israel or Judah. Some ruled as pro-Rex (in place of the king), others as co-Rex (together with the king).
  6. The term “son,” as it is used in the Bible, does not always mean the contiguous male offspring of a father. A father may actually be a grandfather (Dan 5:2—Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson), or step-father, or a distant forebear (Matt 1:1).
  7. This particular question is somewhat complicated by the similarity of names of the kings of Israel and Judah during the period of time. There were in fact two Ahaziahs, one in the Northern kingdom of Israel and one in the Southern kingdom of Judah. One way to keep them straight in your mind is to remember the following formula: ISRAEL = A-A-J (Ahab-Ahaziah-Jehoram); JUDAH = J-J-A (Jehoshaphat-Jehoram-Ahaziah). Lastly, Ahaziah has three names in the records: Ahaziah (2 Chron 22:1), Jehoahaz (2 Chron 21:17), and Azariah (2 Chron 22:6).
The Biblical Solution

The “key” which unlocks the door to our understanding this matter is found in the New Testament. The royal genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ is recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew. Matthew 1:8 lists the kings in the Davidic line at the time of our particular concern—and there are some notable omissions!

The following chart compares the kings of Judah as given in the Old Testament record to the same kings listed in Matthew 1:8:

Asa Asa
Jehoshaphat Jehoshaphat
Jehoram Jehoram
Uzziah Uzziah

Three kings of Judah are not counted in the lineage of Jesus Christ! Why? The answer to that is found in Exodus 20:5, Numbers 14:18 and Psalm 109:13–15 and is seen in the character of this reign (2 Chron 22:2–4). The fact is, Ahaziah is not counted as a seed of David—his ancestry is traced to the house of Omri. The Bible accentuates both the bloodline and the influence of his mother (Athaliah), who is the daughter of Omri—either literally, or in the sense that she is the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (2 Kgs 8:18), i.e., she is Omri’s grand-daughter.

Two Possible Explanations

This being the case, there are now two possible explanations:

Solution #1

Ahaziah was literally 22 years old (2 Kgs 8:26) when he ascended to the throne of Judah. He was the actual son of Jehoram and Athaliah.

Ahaziah was co-Rex with his ailing father Jehoram (2 Chron 21:18) for one year (2 Kgs 9:29—the 11th year of Jehoram of Israel) and sole king for one year (the 12th year of Jehoram of Israel—2 Kgs 8:25).

Ahaziah ascended to the throne in 894 BC [Ed: 842/1 BC]. If we count backwards 42 years (to 936 BC) we come to the first year of Omri [Ed: 885/4 BC]. In other words, Ahaziah was indeed 22 years old (as stated in Kings), but his reign is counted (in Chronicles) from the beginning of the evil dynasty of Omri. This is the Holy Spirit’s way of highlighting the wicked aberration in the royal Davidic line.

The phrase “Forty and two years” may then be taken as a Hebrew idiom “A son of forty two years”—meaning that it was 42 years from the beginning of the dynasty founded by Omri.

Solution #2

Ahaziah was literally 42 years old (2 Chron 22:2) when he ascended to the throne of Judah. He therefore was not the literal son of Jehoram (who died at age 40), but a son in the sense of being a step-son. His mother was his father’s wife.

If we count back 20 years (to when Ahaziah was 22 years old—2 Kings 8:26) we come to the year 914 BC [Ed: 862/1 BC] which is the eighth year of Jehoshaphat. This was about the time that Jehoshaphat “joined affinity with Ahab” (2 Chron 18:1), since we know that in the third year of Jehoshaphat’s reign he instituted a revival in Judah (2 Chron 17:7–9), following which his kingdom prospered (2 Chron 17:12).

We are told in 2 Chronicles 18 that several years after this alliance was forged, Ahab and Jehoshaphat engaged in a joint military venture against Syria (2 Chron 18:2). Both kings went into battle (2 Chron 18:28) and Ahab was killed (2 Chron 18:33–34). Prior to the battle the faithful prophet Micaiah was deported in chains to Amon where (the one-year-old) Joash was residing (1 Kgs 22:26). It is here, in this passage, we have a most revealing statement: Joash—the biological son of Ahaziah (2 Chron 22:11)—is called the “king’s son,” indicating that Ahaziah was already a king! How could this possibly be? If, as part of the affinity Jehoshaphat made with Ahab, Ahaziah was anointed king at this time, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together.

In other words, Ahaziah was anointed king at age 22—he finally sat on the throne of Judah 20 years at age 42.

The Word of God does not give all the details of the affinity between the two monarchs. Evidently, it was far-reaching because in 2 Chronicles 21:2 Jehoshaphat was given the title “king of Israel!” Furthermore, when Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram finally gained sole rule over Judah, he not only murdered his brothers, but “divers also of the princes of Israel” (2 Chron 21:4). Why would he do that if they were not a threat to the Judean throne?

Not only that, but Ahaziah obviously felt “right at home” in the Israeli court (2 Chron 22:6). Perhaps both kings were interested in reuniting the monarchy which had been divided for about 70 years—undoubtedly with different motives. Ahab (or Jezebel!) conspired to install one of his own on the Judean throne following the death of Jehoshaphat—a move which would be accomplished by earmarking Ahaziah (whose mother was Ahab’s own daughter) ahead of time. When Ahab’s scheme to have Jehoshaphat killed in battle backfired (2 Chron 18:29, 31–33), Ahaziah had to wait 20 years to be enthroned.

In this way, Ahaziah was both 22 and 42 when he began to reign—22 when he was anointed, 42 when he was seated.

The only question which remains is: Who was his biological father? The affinity struck between Ahab and Jehoshaphat appears to be somewhat sordid—a tangled web in fact! Consider that Ahaziah is said to be:

  1. The son of Jehoram (2 Chron 22:1). Since Ahaziah was two years older than his “father” Jehoram, he must have been his step-son, brought into that relationship with his mother Athaliah when she married Jehoram.
  2. The son-in-law of the house of Ahab (2 Kgs 8:27). This relationship would have been established by his marriage to Zibiah (2 Chron 24:1) who must have been either a daughter or grand-daughter of Ahab.
  3. The son of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron 22:9). It seems Ahaziah was given a decent burial only out of respect for the fact that he was a son of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron 22:9). Could it be that in earlier times, Jehoshaphat followed the custom of cementing royal ties (1 Kgs 3:1) by going in unto Athaliah, Ahab’s daughter? Perhaps it is at this point that the Biblical record ceases to give sufficient details for anyone to know for certain.

The Almighty God is never pleased with unholy alliances (2 Cor 6:14–17). The Lord never recognised the reigns of Jehoram and Azariah, who both sought to introduce Baal worship into Judea—along with Joash, they are omitted from the genealogy of the Saviour. When Ahaziah died, God Himself cut off the house of Ahab from the royal line (2 Chron 22:7–9).

Robert J Sargent serves as pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Oak Harbor, Washington. The above article is taken from Things Hard to be Understood by David Cloud, Way of Life Literature (http://wayoflife.org), 2001. Used by permission.

Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 10 Number 2 (July 2004)