The books of Kings and Chronicles cover much of the same history of God’s chosen people. The books of 1 and 2 Kings take the perspective of the northern kingdom of Israel, and the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles focus more on the southern kingdom of Judah. But the same kings are mentioned in both histories. There is some question about King Ahaziah’s age when he started to reign (this is King Ahaziah of Judah, not King Ahaziah of Israel). One record (2 Kings 8:26) says Ahaziah was 22 years old at the start of his reign, but the other record (2 Chronicles 22:2) says he was 42 years old—at least in some translations.
All translations of 2 Kings 8:26 are in agreement that Ahaziah of Judah was 22 years old at the start of his reign. And most translations of 2 Chronicles 22:2 also have his age at 22. However, some versions, such as the KJV, NKJV, ASV, and NRSV, state that Ahaziah acceded to the throne when he was 42 years old, not 22.
There are several theories to explain the discrepancy between 2 Kings 8:26 and 2 Chronicles 22:2. Here are four of them:
1. Second Kings 8:26 records when Ahaziah began co-ruling with his father Joash, while Second Chronicles 22:2 records when Ahaziah began ruling on his own once his father Joash died.
2. The 42-year age is that of Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah. This theory is based on the peculiar wording of the Hebrew in 2 Chronicles 22:2, which literally says that the king was “a son of forty-two years.”
3. The 42 years is a reference not to Ahaziah’s age but where he came in the history of his family’s dynasty. Ahaziah was in the family of King Ahab of Israel, which 2 Chronicles 22:2–3 points out. That dynasty began with his grandfather Omri. The lengths of the reigns of all the kings in this family are as follows:
Since Ahaziah began to reign in Judah in the last year of Joram’s reign in Israel (2 Kings 8:25), Ahaziah would have ascended the throne in the 42nd year of that dynasty in Israel, which explains his being called “a son of forty-two years.” Ahaziah was a “son” of the dynasty of Omri, which was in its 42nd year when he took the throne. If this theory is correct, then 2 Kings 8:26 gives us Ahaziah’s age, and 2 Chronicles 22:2 gives us the age of his family’s rule.
4. Somewhere in the centuries-long copying process, a scribe made an error, changing the “22 years” of 2 Chronicles 22:2 to “42 years.” Not all the Hebrew manuscripts reflect the error, as a couple of ancient translations, the Syriac and the Arabic, each have “22 years,” thus bringing 2 Chronicles 22:2 and 2 Kings 8:26 into perfect agreement.
Adding support to this fourth theory is the biblical historian’s note in 2 Kings 8:17 that Ahaziah’s father, Joram, died at the age of 40. Therefore, Ahaziah could not have been 42 years old when he took over. Joram could not have had children before he himself was born, and so Ahaziah’s age when he began to reign must have been 22.
The original manuscript of each book of the Bible, being directly inspired by God, was free from all error. However, a few copyist errors crept into the Hebrew manuscripts as they were passed down from one generation to the next. In this case, the numerical notations in question varied so slightly that a smudge of ink, a wrinkle, or a tear on one copy could have led a scribe to write “42” rather than “22.”
The Bible today is just as authoritative as it was when originally written. We can completely trust the Bible as being God’s message to us. God’s Word endures forever, despite the occasional scribal mistake. Such errors are readily identified, and the issues they give rise to can be resolved.