How many sons did Abraham have?

A Study in Contradictions #2 (refer here for series and reference explanation)

I haven’t forgotten about this challenge, I just haven’t gotten around to typing up my responses in a while. I know there are many of you out there who started following this blog specifically because of this study series, and I hope to be more consistent about this in the future.

The SAB asks the question, “How many songs did Abraham have?” and gives the following options:

A) only one — Heb. 11:17; Gen. 22:2

B) two — Gen. 16:15, 21:2-3; Gal. 4:22

C) eight — Gen. 25:1-2; 1 Chron. 1:32

The biggest part of this question is in the difference between Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham’s two sons. Abram (Abraham’s original name) was promised a son to carry on his line and inherit the promises from God (Gen. 15:4). This promise isn’t fulfilled immediately and, since Abram and Sarai (Sarah’s original name) have free will, they become impatient and take matters into their own hands to make an heir happen.

As was the custom of the day, Sarai, who was unable to have children of her own, provided Abram with an alternative – a selected servant girl who would bear his children and continue the family line. This woman, Hagaar, had a son named Ishmael, but he was not the son God had promised.

We know this because in Gen. 17:15-17 God visits Abraham again and reminds him that he will have a special son. Abraham tries to present Ishmael to God in v. 18, but God says, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him” (v. 19). God clarifies that Ishmael is not the son He had promised before who would inherit Abraham’s covenant with God. (Ishmael did not come directly from God’s power, but was instead the product of man’s own decisions. Isaac came from God’s blessing in allowing Sarah to conceive a child she was otherwise physically unable to have. 21:1)

So Abraham at this point in time has two biological children who are half-brothers to each other, but only one of them is the son promised by God. When God tells Abraham to sacrifice his “only son” in Gen. 22:2, He is referring to this only son of promise, Isaac. Ishmael and Hagaar have also been sent away at this point (21:8-21), so Isaac is also the only son growing up in Abraham’s household at this time to which God could have been referring. (Think about it – if you only have one child in the house and someone says “your son,” do you start looking for other children that may be out in the world or do you look at the one playing in front of you?)

As for the eight sons reference, Abraham went on to have six sons later with his second wife, Keturah, after Sarah has died, making a total of eight sons. Isaac is a grown man and married at this point, so those other sons – and possibly unmentioned daughters – came much later in Abraham’s life.

This supposed contradiction should be easy to understand because if a man today has one son he would say, “I have only one son.” That doesn’t mean he will never have any other sons or other children; it just means he only has one at the time that you asked him. All of the SAB’s offered answers are true – it depends on what time in Abraham’s life you asked him.

How many generations from Abraham to Moses

A Study in Contradictions #1 (refer here for series and reference explanation)

When you sort the SAB contradictions list by name, as I have done, the third item on the list is a question of how many generations there are from Abraham to Moses. I feel like this is a good first topic because it clearly shows the way a lack of context and historical knowledge can make anything conflict.

The SAB quotes Genesis 15:16 as saying, “and they (meaning the descendants of Abraham) will come back here (to Canaan) in the fourth generation.” The SAB claims this means there are four generations between Abraham, to whom God was speaking here, and Moses, who physically brought the Israelites back to Canaan. The “conflict” given is in the genealogies given in Gen. 21:1-3, 25:21-26, 35:23, Exodus 6:16, 18 and 20. 

The genealogy goes like this: Abraham fathered Isaac (Gen. 21:1-3), Isaac fathered Jacob (Gen. 25-21-26), Jacob had 12 sons, including Levi (Gen. 35:23), Levi had three sons, including Kohath (Exo. 6:16), Kohath had four sons, including Amram (Exo. 6:18), and Amram had two sons – Aaron and Moses (Exo. 6:20). 

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses. Seven generations. The SAB is right.

But didn’t God tell Abraham his descendants would return to the land in four generations?

Yes, he did. This is where history comes in. 

Abraham’s descendants – or at least the main family line of inheritors – lived in the land of Canaan for a long time after God gave that promise. They didn’t leave the land until the famine while Jospeh was in Egypt. (This would be the same generation as Levi, who was one of Joseph’s brothers.) It was then, in Genesis 46 and the surrounding chapters, that the remaining descendants of Abraham left the land of Canaan and went to live in Egypt. 

Now, let’s go back to Gen. 15:16 really quick and back up to verse 13 and go through 16. “Then the Lord said to Abram (the name of Abraham, before he changed it), ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs (Egypt) and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years (roughly four generations). But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you dhall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not complete.'” 

Did you see that? “They shall come back here in the fourth generation…”. Not that this will happen IN four generations from when it was spoken, but that they shall return four generations after they left to go to Egypt. 

The Israelites left Canaan and went to Egypt in the generation of Levi, as we saw in Gen. 46. From Levi to Moses is Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses.

Four generations. 

Genesis 15:16 and surrounding verses do not conflict with the given genealogies.

A Study in Contradictions

A friend recently challenged me to prove that the Bible does not contradict itself. This has actually already been done by scholars far more intelligent than myself, but I consider the idea an interesting guide for my own personal studies and hope that having a list of “contradictions” to disprove will help motivate me to study God’s word on a regular basis.

And a list I have. A list of 500, in fact, conveniently provided by Steve Wells, the author and curator of The Skeptics Annotated Bible. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that I’ll write about every single one of them, because that’s a list that will take me years to finish. But I have been working through the first few and thought I might share some of my findings with you occasionally as I go. It will also help keep me going if I need to have something to post for my readers, so this is a good thing in both directions. (This will be a periodic, not necessarily a weekly thing.)

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years as a literature major, it’s that anything, ANYTHING, can be taken out of context and made to mean wheatever you want it to mean. One word or one sentence, disconnected from the sentences around it, is not a support for anything. You have to take the surrounding context, both grammatical and historical, into account before trying to make any argument stand on a single statement. This is not only true of the Bible, but also of Shakespeare, Twain, Darwin, myself and any other writer that ever existed.

So, to that end, I’ve added a complete list of my sources in a “References” section under the “About the Couple” tab at the top for your use. I’ll be using these same sources for all my studies, and if something additional is needed for a particular topic I’ll just add that reference to that particular entry. I’ll reference the Bible by book, chapter and verse; Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Strong’s Concordance by their authors’ names as appropriate; and the reference notes in my English Standard version study bible as Crossways note on whatever. The supplement materials are to help me understand and connect ideas in historical context and are not meant to serve as a replacement for God’d words in any way.

I will also reference The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible from time to time to quote their perceptions on the passages, so that will appear as SAB. The list of points I am studying can be found here: The Skeptics Annotated Bible list of contradictions.

I also plan to create a new tab across the top so that the entire “Lessons in Contradictions” series can be found easily in one place.

I pray this series might be useful to you as well as to me, and that you will chime in with thoughts and further questions when you have them. I don’t by any means claim to know everything, but there is someone out there that can answer your question and we will all work together to try and find answers to better understand what God wants us to know.

I’ll post my first series discussion later today, and I hope you will follow along.


The Missus