This is the fifth in a series of posts about unnecessary repetition in the Bible.
The first chapter of 1 Chronicles repeats a lot of the genealogy lists from Genesis.
In the middle of Exodus 6, it says God told Moses to go tell Pharaoh to let his people go, and Moses objected that Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to him because he wasn’t a good speaker. Then the writer decides to interrupt the story to tell you all about Moses’s genealogy. And when that’s over, the chapter ends by saying that God told Moses to go tell Pharaoh to let his people go, and Moses objected that Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to him because he wasn’t a good speaker.
A later chapter of Exodus says when the Egyptian army tried to cross through the parted sea, God put the water back in place and drowned them all, but the Israelites were able to walk all the way through the sea on dry ground. Then in the next chapter, it says the same thing.
In the book of Numbers, God tells Moses to climb a mountain and look at the promised land from a distance. He tells him he’s going to die on that mountain without getting to actually enter that land, because Moses “disobeyed” God at Meribah. Then the book of Deuteronomy has God tell Moses the same thing. I don’t know if this is supposed to be the same event or if God is just repeating himself, but it seems pretty unnecessary either way.
Joshua tells the people what to tell their children about the monument made from stones taken out of the Jordan river. Then later in the same chapter, he tells them again? Or it tells about him telling them, again, or whatever.
The book of Joshua tells how Othniel married his cousin Aksah after Aksah’s father promised to give her to whoever captured Kiriath Sepher, and how Aksah asked her husband to ask her father for some springs of water, but then she asked him herself instead. Then the book of Judges tells about all that again.
There are passages in Joshua and 1 Chronicles that both list which towns the Levites got from each tribe (though the numbers and names don’t always match very well…).
The last chapter of Joshua tells about Joshua’s death, and then the second chapter of Judges says almost exactly the same thing, but with one sentence moved to a different place.
1 Samuel 31 and 1 Chronicles 10, which are about the death of Saul, are about the same. The Chronicles version adds one more paragraph.
A bunch of stories about David that are told in 2 Samuel are told again in 1 Chronicles, including:
- David’s sons in Hebron
- David becomes king of all Israel
- David conquers Jerusalem
- David fights the Philistines
- David recovers the ark
- Nathan tells David his son will build the temple
- David’s conquests
- David’s officials
- David and the Ammonites fight over a misunderstanding
- David conquers Rabbah
- David’s men fight the Philistines
Both of those books have passages that are mostly the same descriptions of David’s mighty warriors (though there are definitely some contradictions between the two accounts).
The accounts of David’s census in both of those books are mostly the same (including the part where they seem to awkwardly back up without saying that’s what they’re doing and retell the last part quite differently this time), but with different wording, occasional extra parts inserted into one version or the other, and a few contradictions.
David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel 22 is also Psalm 18, so those chapters are mostly the same.
1 Kings tells about Solomon asking for wisdom, and 2 Chronicles tells the same things, just with less detail. Those two books also both spend several chapters telling all about Solomon building the temple and stuff. They both say about the same thing about the Queen of Sheba’s visit. And both books go over all the same details about Solomon’s other achievements.
The passages in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles that tell about the kingdom of Israel splitting in two are about the same. After that, 1 Kings has a passage introducing Rehoboam’s reign, and a little later that chapter ends with a passage that tells about Egypt attacking Jerusalem, and then concludes Rehoboam’s reign. (It says the exact same thing about his mother twice in that chapter.) And 2 Chronicles has a passage about Egypt attacking Jerusalem, and a little later that chapter ends with a passage that introduces and then concludes Rehoboam’s reign.1
Those two books say a lot of the same things about Abijah, and 1 Kings mentions twice in two consecutive verses that there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. Both books say a lot of the same things about Asa as well. They both tell the same story about Micaiah predicting Ahab’s death. And both have a lot of the same details about Jehoshaphat.
A lot of the stories in 2 Kings are also told again in 2 Chronicles, including:
- Jehoram of Judah
- Jehu massacres the royal families of Israel and Judah
- Queen Athaliah
- Joash repairs the temple
Both of those books say the same things about Azariah, though I notice the chronicler attempted to add an explanation for God giving the good king leprosy, which wasn’t in the original story in 2 Kings. Both books tell about Jotham, though in place of the non sequitur 2 Kings inserts before the last verse, 2 Chronicles instead repeats what it already said in the first verse of that chapter. 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 are both about Ahaz, and some parts are copied verbatim, though they’re really pretty different, and even contradictory.
One chapter in 1 Chronicles tells who the sons of Levi were twice. One chapter in 2 Chronicles gives the same chronological details about Jehoram twice. Another chapter in 2 Chronicles gives the same chronological details about Jotham twice.
After Israel’s exile
One chapter of 2 Kings tells all about how and when and why Israel was exiled to Assyria, and then the next chapter briefly goes over all that again. Then when Assyria threatens Judah too, but fails to capture Jerusalem, that story is told in both 2 Kings and Isaiah. 2 Chronicles also has the king of Assyria sending more or less the same message those other books tell about (though it doesn’t have all the same things in the same order), and briefly tells about him failing to capture Jerusalem.
2 Kings and 2 Chronicles give a lot of the same details when introducing Hezekiah. 2 Kings tells the story of Hezekiah’s illness, Isaiah tells a shorter version, and there’s also a very short version in 2 Chronicles. 2 Kings and Isaiah both tell about Hezekiah showing the Babylonians all his stuff.
2 Chronicles continues to repeat 2 Kings, telling about Menasseh and Amon. Both books tell about Josiah rediscovering the law, re-implementing the law, de-paganizing his kingdom, celebrating the Passover, and getting killed.
What 2 Kings says about the reign of Jehoahaz is repeated in less detail in 2 Chronicles. They both say some of the same things about Jehoiakim. What 2 Kings says about the reign of Jehoiachin is repeated in much less detail in 2 Chronicles. And 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Jeremiah all tell about Zedekiah and the fall of Jerusalem. (Jeremiah tells it twice.)
There are almost identical consecutive passages at the end of 2 Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra. Nehemiah 7 tries to list the same returning exiles that were listed in Ezra 2, but there are a lot of discrepancies. And these passages in Isaiah and Micah are about the same.
Then we have the four gospels, which attempt to tell the same story four times. The first three (known as the synoptic gospels) have a lot of very similar passages, often including pretty much all the same details, but John’s version is quite different.
Why do we need the same story told four times? Well, if four different people reported the story of Jesus independently and their stories were consistent, that would be evidence that the story was true, so then there would be a point to the repetition… That’s not the case, though. The gospels were not actually written independently of each other, and despite that fact, they’re not all that consistent, either.
John the Baptist
Matthew introduces John the Baptist, telling about the prophecy he was supposed to be fulfilling, what he wore and ate, what he taught and did, how he insulted the people who came to him, and what he said about his successor. Then Mark and Luke tell all those details again. And those synoptic gospels all tell about the baptism of Jesus, and the dove and voice from heaven. (The gospel of John tells about John the Baptist too, but pretty differently.)
In both Matthew and Luke, John’s disciples ask if Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus answers, and then he tells people what he thinks about John, and then he says what he thinks about his generation using a poorly thought-out analogy about children. These passages are mostly about the same (except for that one paragraph in each that’s completely different).
Matthew and Mark both tell the same story of Herod trapping himself into having to have John the Baptist beheaded. (Mark’s version is longer and doesn’t include Matthew’s inconsistent statement that Herod already wanted to kill John.)
Shenanigans of Jesus
Matthew and Luke both say pretty much the same things about the devil tempting Jesus to worship him, eat bread, and jump off a building, and how Jesus responded with misinterpreted scriptures. Mark also mentions this very briefly.
Each of the synoptic gospels has a passage that tells about two occasions where Jesus made lame excuses for breaking the sabbath law (though they vary a bit regarding what excuses he used). And they each have passages where Jesus attempts to refute an accusation that he’s in league with the devil, but then he admits that he’s ultimately only making people’s demonic possession worse. The synoptics all tell about Jesus evading a question about his authority.
Matthew and Luke have nearly identical passages where Jesus condemns several cities where people apparently didn’t think his miracles were very impressive. And then they both have nearly identical passages where Jesus says how happy he is about God making people ignorant. Matthew 23 has Jesus criticize the proud teachers of the law in a passage very similar to one in a different context in Mark, and then express his mixed feelings about Jerusalem in a passage identical to one in a different context in Luke.
The synoptics all tell about Jesus snubbing his family (when they come to take him away because they think he’s crazy), and announcing that he has a new family now. Matthew and Mark both later have him visit his hometown, where everyone knows him too well to be very impressed. Mark and Luke both tell about Jesus avoiding a crowd of eager people who wanted to see him.
Matthew and Mark both tell about two pairs of brothers who were fishing spontaneously going to follow Jesus so they could start fishing for people. And Luke tells a more detailed story about Jesus recruiting Peter and the other brothers while they were fishing. (John’s version of the calling of Peter and his brother is completely different, and doesn’t even involve fishing at all.)
Matthew and Luke both tell about Jesus responding contrarily to potential followers no matter what they said. Matthew tells about the calling of Matthew, and then Mark and Luke tell the exact same story about the calling of somebody named Levi, who people tend to assume is supposed to be the same person.
Those three synoptic gospels all tell about Jesus instructing and sending out the twelve apostles to preach and heal people. Matthew and Luke both have Jesus tell his disciples how lucky they are to be with him, but in different contexts. Mark and Luke both have Jesus claiming that everyone has to be either for him or against him.
Matthew and Mark both tell about Jesus confusing his disciples by warning them about “the yeast of the Pharisees”. The three synoptic gospels all have Jesus asking his disciples who people think he is, and later questioning his own ancestry. And they all tell about Jesus taking a few of them to see Moses and Elijah.
The synoptic gospels all tell about Jesus grabbing a child so he could tell his disciples to be greater by being lesser, and later telling them not to stop more children from coming to him so he could put his hands on them. Matthew and Mark both tell the same story where the sons of Zebedee ask to rule alongside Jesus, except Matthew says it was their mother who brought it up.
Each of the synoptics has a chapter consisting of Jesus making mostly the same predictions of persecution and disasters (though they get a bit different from each other toward the end, and there’s a passage that Matthew leaves out here and instead has Jesus say it 14 chapters earlier).
Some of the things Matthew says Jesus said during the sermon on the mount are also included when Luke tells about the sermon on the mount. (And other parts of it are included later in Luke, after the sermon on the mount is over.)
All the synoptic gospels tell about the analogy Jesus used to explain why his disciples didn’t fast, and the non-sequitur analogy he followed that with, which explained nothing. (But they don’t agree on who asked him the question in the first place.) Those three gospels also all tell about Jesus giving his opinions on taxes, marriage in the afterlife, and which of God’s commands is the most important. And Mark and Luke both tell about Jesus giving his opinion on donations.
Matthew and Mark both tell about Jesus giving his opinions on what can or can’t make you unclean and whether it’s okay to get divorced. And the synoptics all tell the same story where Jesus tells a rich man what he needs to do to get eternal life, but then when the man says he’s already done that, Jesus changes his mind and says he has to do more.
The synoptic gospels all tell the same stories about Jesus healing a leper, a paralyzed man, a blind man or two near Jericho, Peter’s mother-in-law, and others. Matthew and Luke both tell about him healing the centurion’s servant (though they disagree on where the centurion was at the time). Matthew tells a shorter version of the story of Jesus healing a chronically bleeding woman on the way to wake up a dead girl who he says wasn’t actually dead, which is also told in Mark and Luke (with a few details that are incompatible with Matthew’s version).
Mark and Luke both tell the same story about an exorcism. Then the synoptics all tell the same story of Jesus moving a legion of demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs (except Matthew says it was two men). Matthew and Mark both tell about Jesus reluctantly helping a foreign woman with her demon-possessed daughter. All the synoptic gospels tell about Jesus healing a possessed boy after his disciples failed to do so. (Matthew and Mark have him give different explanations for why the disciples couldn’t do it, and Luke doesn’t even try to explain that.)
The synoptic gospels all tell the same story of Jesus calming the storm. Matthew and Luke both have Jesus refuse to give a sign and then talk about the sign he’s going to give. All four gospels tell about Jesus feeding 5000 men, and Matthew and Mark both have him later feed another 4000. Matthew, Mark, and John all include the story of Jesus walking on water, though only Matthew has Peter join him. Matthew and Mark both have the same story of Jesus killing a fig tree, except Mark doesn’t have it wither immediately.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus tells the Parable of the Sloppy Farmer, then “explains” why he’s speaking in parables, and then explains the parable to his disciples. He also tells the Parable of the Violent Tenants in all three synoptic gospels (though what the tenants did to each servant varies between these three versions). Matthew and Luke both have Jesus tell the nonsensical parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast back to back, and Mark has him tell the mustard seed one as well.
Matthew and Luke both have Jesus tell the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Jesus tells the Parable of the Impulsive King in Matthew, and he also tells a shorter version of that in Luke. In Matthew, Jesus tells the Parable of the Greedy Master, and then in Luke, he tells another version of it that makes the character representing God look even more evil.
All four gospels tell about Jesus riding into Jerusalem, in varying levels of detail. They all include Jesus then making a mess of the temple, which makes people want to kill him. And the synoptics all tell about the Jewish leaders plotting to kill Jesus, and Judas agreeing to help.
All four gospels have versions of the story where a woman pours perfume on Jesus and he defends her when people object (though Luke gives a different reason for the objection). The last supper is described in all four gospels, as well as briefly in 1 Corinthians. (Luke leaves out the part where Jesus says he knows someone’s going to betray him, and John leaves out the part where Jesus tells his disciples to eat him.)
The synoptics all have the disciples falling asleep while Jesus negotiates with God, though Luke fails to mention that it happened three times. All four gospels tell about Judas betraying Jesus and another disciple cutting off someone’s ear. And they all have Peter deny that he knows Jesus, as Jesus predicted he would, though the details vary.
All the synoptics say more or less the same thing about the high priest Caiaphas questioning Jesus. (Luke doesn’t mention Caiaphas by name, though. John instead has a different, confused story where a different high priest questions Jesus, and then sends him to be questioned by Caiaphas who is also the high priest, but then it doesn’t say anything about what happened there.) All four gospels tell about Pilate being pressured into having Jesus killed, though John’s version is quite a bit longer.
Matthew, Mark, and John say mostly the same things about the soldiers tormenting Jesus (though John has that happen before Pilate agrees to crucify him, instead of after). All four gospels tell most of the same details about the crucifixion (though John neglects to mention anyone mocking Jesus on the cross, and instead goes into more detail about what happened to his clothes).
The synoptics all mention a lot of the same events surrounding his death, and John mentions him being offered wine vinegar before he died too, but there are a lot of inconsistencies between these four accounts. All four gospels also say most of the same things about his burial. And all four gospels attempt to tell about the discovery of the empty tomb, but at this point they can’t manage to get a single detail consistent across the four versions of this story.
For more repetitive repetition, see part 6.