Does the Bible contain a contradiction about Solomon’s molten sea?


by Shawn Brasseaux

The Bible says the following:

  • 1 Kings 7:23: “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: “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.”

Kings and Chronicles agree that the molten sea, a gigantic pool made of metal (brass?), was 10 cubits in diameter—15 feet (4.6 meters) across. It was five cubits or 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) high. Its distance around (circumference) was 30 cubits or 45 feet (13.7 meters). However, when we come to the volume, Bible critics have complained that there is an discrepancy.

What was its capacity?

  • 1 Kings 7:26: “And it was an hand breadth [4 inches, or 10 centimeters] thick, and the brim thereof was wrought like the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies: it contained two thousand baths.”
  • 2 Chronicles 4:5: “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.”

Kings says 2,000 baths… but Chronicles reports 3,000 baths. This is quite a significant disparity. However, we do not have to assume a mistake. Remember, measurements can be complicated because various factors are involved.

For example, a skyscraper may have its highest inhabitable floor at 1,000 feet. If it features a 100-foot-tall spire or antenna, its height is increased to 1,100 feet. Therefore, if I said, “The building is 1,000 feet high,” I would be telling the truth. But, I would also be right in saying, “The building is 1,100 feet high.” There is no dishonesty on my part. The absolute maximum height is 1,100 feet; its highest occupied floor is 1,000 feet. Depending on what architectural features you want to include or exclude, the precise height can vary drastically (as in setting world records). We give people the benefit of the doubt, so why do we not treat the Bible the same way? (Is it that we are really not interested in the truth, but are rather merely seeking to unfairly nitpick at the Scriptures to discredit them?!)

Now, let us think in terms of volume (as in the case with the molten sea). Imagine a water tank with a maximum capacity of 500 gallons. However, the container can also hold 450 gallons, 100 gallons, or even one gallon. That is the easiest way to address the controversy surrounding the volume of Solomon’s molten sea. The maximum capacity was 3,000 baths (2 Chronicles 4:5) but it was only two-thirds full in 1 Kings 7:26. If we are going to be objective, we will see that there is no mistake in the Bible text here.

By the way, a bath was a unit of volume equal to approximately 8 gallons (30 liters). At 66 percent capacity, Solomon’s molten sea held 16,000 gallons (60,000 liters). Completely filled, it contained 24,000 gallons (90,000 liters)! It was massive reservoir for water in the Temple. What was its purpose? Second Chronicles 4:6 says, “the sea was for the priests to wash in.”

Also see:
» Was the Law of Moses given by the LORD, or by angels?
» How is Joshua a high priest in Zechariah 3:8?
» Is the King James word “borrow” a “mistranslation” in Exodus 3:22?