Is There a Mathematical Error in the Bible?

Posted on April 21, 2011

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How many times have you heard someone say that the Bible contains mathematical errors? Skeptics love to use this argument, because so few people are able to answer it. They will point to the following two verses in the Bible (which record the same event) in order to support their claim:

1 Kings 7:23 KJV
And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

2 Chronicles 4:2 KJV
Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

The claim is this: if the molten sea is 10 cubits in diameter, then its circumference could not be 30 cubits. In order to find the circumference, you take the diameter and multiply it by the value of Pi (3.141). 10 times Pi would yeild a circumference of 31.41 cubits. However; this argument, like most, is based on two isolated pieces of Scripture. It is a common practice of those who claim contradictions and errors in the Bible. Without fail, you will find that the skeptics take single verses of Scripture out of context, in order to claim some type of error. A careful reading of an entire passage will almost always clear up any confusion, and eliminate any supposed errors. So, let’s look at these passages in their entirety.

1 Kings 7:23-26 KJV
And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about. And under the brim of it round about there were knops compassing it, ten in a cubit, compassing the sea round about: the knops were cast in two rows, when it was cast. It stood upon twelve oxen, three looking toward the north, and three looking toward the west, and three looking toward the south, and three looking toward the east: and the sea was set above upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward. 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.

2 Chronicles 4:2-5 KJV
Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about. And under it was the similitude of oxen, which did compass it round about: ten in a cubit, compassing the sea round about. Two rows of oxen were cast, when it was cast. It stood upon twelve oxen, three looking toward the north, and three looking toward the west, and three looking toward the south, and three looking toward the east: and the sea was set above upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward. 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 key here, is in the last sentence of each passage. Its there that we are told how thick this “molten sea” is, which would include the brim. It is a handbreadth thick, that is the width of a hand. So, let’s break down the math, and we’ll see that the Bible is absolutely correct.

First, we have to consider the thickness of the brim that was being measured, a handbreadth. Obviously, a handbreadth varies from one person to another. My handbreadth; however, is just slightly over 4″. If it is 10 cubits from one edge to the other, using an 18″ cubit, that is 180″. One would assume that this measurement is from outside to outside edges. So, if we multiply 10 x 3.141 we get 31.41 cubits. So. . . How do we come up with 30 cubits? Let’s consider that since this will be holding water, its internal volume would be important. In that case, the circumference would be measured around the inside of the rim, which equals 30 cubits. If we divide 30 by 3.141, we come up with an inside diameter of 9.55 cubits. That works out to 171.9″, as opposed to an outside diameter of 180″, a difference of 8.1″. This would require the brim to be 4.05″ thick (8.1 divided by 2). As you measure accross from outside to outside, you cross the rim twice, giving you a total of 8.1″.

In conclusion, my handbreadth, which is just over 4″, works almost perfectly with these measurements. I gave the example using a generic 18″ cubit, but everyone’s cubit and handbreadth are different. In fact, if you use your own cubit and handbreadth, it will always work perfectly. Your own handbreadth to cubit ratio is always such that these measurements work. It is therefore safe to say that there is no error here!

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