Who was Abijah’s Grandfather?
Less than two decades following the split of the United Kingdom of Israel, Abijah (also called Abijam) began his reign as the second king of Judah—the Southern Kingdom. Following the death of his father, Rehoboam, Abijah reigned for about three years, and typically is remembered more for his God-given victory over Jeroboam and the Northern Kingdom than anything else (see 2 Chronicles 13). Some believe, however, that Abijah’s name is better served as a reminder of one of the most obvious contradictions in the Bible (see McKinsey, 1998, pp. 1,3; Wells, 2001).
According to 1 Kings 15:1-2, “In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom” (1 Kings 15:1-2, NAS, emp. added).” Second Chronicles 13:1-2 indicates something different about Abijah’s mother, Maacah (also called Micaiah). The chronicler recorded: “In the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, Abijah became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah” (13:1-2, NAS, emp. added). Although initially some might be disturbed by the three variant names listed in these verses (Abijam for Abijah, Maacah for Micaiah, and Abishalom for Absalom), skeptics generally focus their criticism upon the genealogy of Abijah. Was his mother the daughter of Absalom, son of David, or was she the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah?
If the term “daughter” was used only in one sense in the Bible—to mean strictly the direct, physical, female offspring of a parent—then Christians might have a legitimate problem on their hands. In this specific sense, Abijah’s mother, Micaiah, could not be both the “daughter” of Absalom and the “daughter” of Uriel. The truth is, however, like the word “son,” the term “daughter” is used in the Bible in a variety of ways. [NOTE: Aside from using the term “son” to signify son by actual birth, Bible writers used it to mean (1) son-in-law (1 Samuel 24:16; cf. 18:27), (2) grandson (Genesis 29:5; cf. 24:24,29), (3) descendant (Matthew 1:1), (4) son by creation, as in the case of Adam (Luke 3:38), (5) son by education (i.e., disciple—1 Samuel 3:6), etc.] The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia lists several different ways that the term “daughter” is used in Scripture (in addition to the ordinary usage of the word), including: (1) daughter-in-law (Ruth 2:2); (2) female descendant (Luke 1:5; 13:16); (3) the women of a particular place taken collectively (Luke 23:28); (4) women in general (Proverbs 31:29); etc. Since the term “daughter(s)” is used in such a wide variety of ways in Scripture, a genuine contradiction cannot be shown to exist (in this case or in any other) unless it is proven that the same sense of the word is being used. Skeptics have no evidence that the term “daughter” can only be used in the strictest sense in 1 Kings 15:2, therefore the “contradiction” really is just an “allegation.”
There simply is no way of knowing how many times in the Bible the terms “son(s)” and “daughter(s)” are used to mean grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or some other descendant. After reading Genesis 29:5, one might think that Laban was the son of Nahor, but Genesis 24 explains that he actually was Nahor’s grandson (24:24,29; cf. 22:20-24). Consider also Mephibosheth. He is called the “son of Saul” in 2 Samuel 19:24, when actually he was “the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul” (2 Samuel 9:6; 4:4). He literally was Saul’s grandson, though Scripture refers to him once simply as “son of Saul.” These are only two examples where the Bible conveys to the reader that the term “son” was used to mean grandson. One can only wonder how many times the terms “son” and “daughter” are used this way throughout Scripture, and yet unlike the two aforementioned examples, were not fully explained as such.
Regarding Micaiah, most likely she was the granddaughter of Absalom and the daughter of Uriel. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus supports this understanding, saying that Micaiah “was a daughter of Absalom by Tamar” (Antiquities, 8:10:1, emp. added). Tamar was not Absalom’s wife, but his daughter (2 Samuel 14:27), who was named for Absalom’s beloved sister (2 Samuel 13:1). This would mean that Micaiah is actually the daughter of Tamar and Uriel, and the granddaughter of Absalom.
Unbelievers of all sorts are doing whatever they can to find “errors” within the Bible. The particular alleged contradiction regarding the identity of Abijah’s grandfather (whether it is Absalom and Uriel) is merely one example where skeptics have pronounced guilt without sufficient evidence for such a verdict. It seems they could care less about how the Scriptures (and history) use and define biblical words, phrases, idioms, etc. If many skeptics exerted even a small amount of effort to understand the Bible, they would see their “contradictions” for what they really are—unsubstantiated accusations. As an example of the lack of effort exerted by some skeptics to understand the Bible, notice the following comment by Steve Wells, author of the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. He asked: “Who was Abijah’s maternal grandmother? Uriel or Abishalom?” (2001, emp. added). At least four times on Wells’ Web site the question regarding Abijah’s maternal grandmother is asked. The problem is, neither Uriel nor Abishalom were his grandmother. These were his male ancestors, not female.
If non-Americans interpreted American English words and phrases like skeptics interpret the Bible, can you imagine how frustrated Americans would get with them? Would a foreigner unaware of how many different ways the term “coke” is used in America be justified in calling a southerner a liar for saying that Dr. Pepper is a coke? People in the southeastern United States frequently refer to all sodas as cokes. When someone in Georgia says he wants a coke, it may mean that he wants a specific kind of coke—perhaps a Dr. Pepper. Consider also the non-American who hears three different people at a basketball game say, “That’s my girl.” If, based upon the fact that only one of the three people who made this comment could have been the girl’s father, the foreigner concluded that one or more of those who used this phrase must have lied, would her accusation be foolproof? No. The reason: the phrase “That’s my girl,” has more than one meaning in American culture. A mother or father may use the phrase to mean, “That is my daughter.” But, the expression might also be used by a young man to mean, “That’s my girlfriend,” or by a girl to mean, “That’s my good friend.” Until one can know for sure exactly how the phrase is used in a particular setting, a person is unjustified in his or her accusation of dishonesty.
If skeptics would only give the Bible writers some of the same consideration that they want people today to give them in their discussions and writings, we would not have to write articles such as this one in vindicating the Bible against unproven allegations.
Josephus, Flavius (1987 edition), Antiquities of the Jews, in The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, transl. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
McKinsey, Dennis (1998), “Commentary,” Biblical Errancy, November.
Pollard, Edward Bagby (1996), “Daughter,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Electronic Database Biblesoft).
Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, [On-line], URL: http://www.Skepticsannotatedbible.com.