In the famous narrative of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah recorded in Genesis 19, one discovers that Lot, his wife, and two daughters are led outside of the city in order to avoid death by means of fire and brimstone. Although Lot’s wife was not destroyed in the devastation of these cities, she never made it to the mountains to take refuge with Lot and her daughters, but instead was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back upon the devastated cities after specifically being warned otherwise (cf. 19:17,26). Of the inhabitants of the cities who were destroyed on that day of reckoning, only Lot and his two daughters survived (19:25-26).
A casual reading of this memorable event has lead some to believe (and advocate) that there is a contradiction involving the number of Lot’s daughters. (Whenever one alleges that a contradiction exists in the Bible, a logical answer needs to be offered or a person might become convinced that the Bible is not God’s Word.) In the beginning of Genesis 19, we find where Lot tells a harassing mob outside his house in Sodom that he has “two daughters who have not known a man” (19:8). Later, after two angels warned Lot to leave the city because it was going to be destroyed, the text says that “Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters” (19:14). The next morning the angels urged Lot to hasten their departure saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city” (19:15). While the patriarch lingered, the angels “took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters…and they brought him out and set him outside the city” (19:16).
The question that has been posed about the Bible’s description of Lot’s family is as follows: If Lot had only two daughters who were virgins (“not known a man”—19:8), then how could he have “sons-in-law”? Is this a legitimate contradiction, or is there an adequate explanation?
One possible explanation to this supposed contradiction is that Lot actually had more than two daughters. But how can that be when the text simply speaks of Lot “and his two daughters?” The answer could be found in verse 15, where Lot’s two daughters in the house (19:15) might be contrasted with other daughters who were married to his sons-in-law (19:14), and thus were out of the house. Since the angels who urged Lot to hasten his departure modified “two daughters” with the phrase “who are here,” then it is conceivable that Lot could have had daughters elsewhere who remained in Sodom and were destroyed along with Lot’s sons-in-law.
Another explanation revolves around the modifying phrase “who had married his daughters” (19:14). The words “who had married” are from the Hebrew word laqach , which means in the widest variety of applications “to take” or “to grasp.” In this passage, the word obviously is used in reference to taking a “wife.” According to Hebrew scholar Victor Hamilton, “The Hebrew form used here is a participle (loqcheey), and as such is without a specific tense reference. Even the ancient versions differed on how to render the participle, with the [Latin] Vulgate opting for a future tense, and the LXX [Septuagint—the first Greek translation of the Old Testament] opting for a past tense” (1995, p. 40, bracketed items added). Biblical commentator John T. Willis agreed, saying, “The Hebrew lying behind the phrase who were to marry can be interpreted equally well in either of two ways” (1984, p. 266). Interestingly, most modern translations (including the NAS , RSV, and NIV ) agree with first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in making these men future sons-in-law (1:11:4). This is in contrast to the KJV, ASV, and NKJV, each of which renders these men as already being sons-in-law (“who had married”). No doubt the translators of the more modern versions believed that Lot’s “sons-in-law” were only betrothed, not married, to Lot’s daughters at the time they departed Sodom.
Other information that adds credence to the “future sons-in-law” position revolves around how people in ancient times viewed their future spouses. In the first chapter of the first book in the New Testament, we read where Joseph was called Mary’s “husband” while they were betrothed and before they were married. The text reads:
After His [Jesus’—EL] mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18-20, emp. added).
The wording of this passage is not just a simple use of “prolepsis” (the assignment of a name, description, or event to a time that precedes it). Rather, betrothal was a valid marriage in Jewish law (see Jamieson, et al., 1997). When marriage vows were said at the betrothal, it required a “putting away” or a divorce to end them. Furthermore, according to Josephus’ comments about Hyrcanus II being Herod’s father-in-law four years before Herod married his daughter (Mariamne), espousals of old were a sufficient foundation for kinship (14:13:1).
In light of all this information, one obviously can understand that there is not a contradiction in Genesis 19. Either Lot had more than two daughters (which the text allows), or Lot’s two virgin daughters were betrothed to men who were called Lot’s sons-in-law before the marriage was consummated. It is my judgment that, in view of the evidence, the latter is the more likely explanation. But, regardless of which explanation is correct, we may rest assured that no contradiction exists.
Josephus, Flavius (1987 edition), Antiquities of the Jews, in The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, transl. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Hamilton, Victor P. (1995), The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Faussett, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Willis, John T. (1984), Genesis (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
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