King David's Census

Joseph Francis Alward
May 8, 1998

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King David ordered his captains to take a census, but the biblical accounts of the results are controversial, differing by hundreds of thousands from one Old Testament book to the other. This brief essay will describe this problems in more detail.
"And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people." (2 Samuel 24:1-2)

"And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it."(1 Chronicles 21:1-2)

Samuel and Chronicles Report Different Numbers

"And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword ; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men." (2 Samuel 24:9)

"And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword : and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword. But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king's word was abominable to Joab." (1 Chronicles 21:5-6)

Thus, somebody told the authors of Samuel that there were 800,000 valiant men that drew sword in Israel, while the authors of Chronicles heard that there were 1,100,000 men who drew sword, a difference of 300,000.

Possible Harmonization

Samuel qualifies "men who drew sword" with the word "valiant", which some inerrantists claim doesn't mean "brave" at all; it means "professional". Thus, Israel numbered 800,000 professional swordsmen, plus 300,000 ordinary men with swords, which Chronicles includes within the group of all swordsmen. Samuel, the inerrantists claim, simply chose not to tell us about the extra 300,000 swordsmen because they were in a separate category of swordsmen. All of this, of course, just exists in the imagination of the biblical apologist; there is zero evidence to support such a conjecture, unless one counts as evidence the inerrantists' faith that an explanation exists for every conceivable allegation of biblical contradiction.


The serious discrepancies between the two different stories of the census taken by King David makes one suspect that the authors of the two different Old Testament books were not using the same sources when they wrote their stories. Thus, at least one of the accounts was not inspired, perhaps both.