Q&A: Did Paul's Abacus Break? Numbers 25:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:7-10

Did Paul's Abacus Break? Numbers 25:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:7-10

Question

Numbers 25:9 states that 24,000 people died, but Paul states that 23,000 people died. Please explain.

Answer

Numbers 25:9 But those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

1 Corinthians 10:7-10 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did - and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did - and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did - and were killed by the destroying angel.

There is no contradiction. Paul qualifies his number by saying "in one day," and Numbers simply gives the "total" number that died. In both cases, the number is, of course, an approximation. We speak in such truthful general ways today as well. Someone may say they owe $85,000 on their home, when in actuality they owe $85,237.68.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).