A Question I Was Asked:

Exactly What Was in the Ark of the Covenant? Does the Book of Hebrews Contradict 1 Kings?

Exactly what was in the Ark of the Covenant? Does the Book of Hebrews contradict 1 Kings?

UK Apologetics Reply:

As many of us are aware, God instructed the Israelites who had left Egypt to make a small wooden box (usually called an 'ark') which was to be overlaid with gold. Translating from cubits, this was about 3.75 x 2.25 x 2.25 feet and later became referred to as the "Ark of the Covenant." This gold-covered box, or container, contained the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written (Exodus 25:16).

According to 1 Kings 8:9, "Nothing was in the ark except the two tablets of stone." 2 Chronicles 5:10 agrees with this:

There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt. (2 Chronicles 5:10).

However, much later, the writer of Hebrews seemed to disagree with this, stating,

...This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. (Hebrews 9:4b).

So there now appear to be three items rather than just the one. Can both of these passages be correct? Or is this a Bible contradiction (as a few insist)?

Some suggest that the writer of Hebrews was simply indicating that the pot of manna, Aaron's rod, and the tablets were in close proximity to the ark, but not necessarily that all three were actually inside the ark. I must say that I find this argument unconvincing. Things were either inside the ark or they were not!

Far more likely, all three items were literally inside of the ark at one time, but not all of the time. In Hebrews 9, the New Testament writer refers to the time of Moses, when "a tabernacle was prepared" (see Exodus 25-40). In contradistinction, the statements in 1 Kings 8:9 and 2 Chronicles 5:10 are from the time of Solomon, when this king of Israel built the Temple, this was something like 500 years after the tabernacle was first constructed. It is therefore entirely possible that the Ark of the Covenant at one time contained the tablets of stone, the pot of manna, and Aaron's rod (the writer of Hebrews referring to a much earlier time), while several centuries later the ark contained only the tablets of stone. Also see 1 Samuel 4-5 in this regard.

A few have also alleged that that Aaron's staff, or rod, could hardly have fit inside the ark anyway, since the box was not long enough but, if one quickly looks back to the first paragraph here it will be noted that the ark was certainly long enough at almost 4 feet long. Today an average walking stick is only about three or three and a half feet long, so it should not be surprising that Aaron's rod could have fit into a box that was nearly four feet long.

There is nothing contradictory between 1 Kings 8:9 and Hebrews 9:4 when one applies just a little common sense. These Scriptures refer to times which were around 500 years apart.

Robin A. Brace. October 21st, 2015.