On the surface, the Old Testament books of First and Second Kings and First and Second Chronicles seem very alike. In fact, after reading Kings, Chronicles may appear to be simply a retelling of much of the same material.
This feeling is heightened by fifteen statements in Kings that say “Now the rest of the acts of [king X], and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?” (1 Kings 14:29, etc.). But this Chronicles of the Kings of Judah is not the biblical Book of Chronicles; it is a different account that was not preserved in the Bible and has not survived. There was another book, the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, mentioned nineteen times in the Bible (1 Kings 14:19, etc.), that also has not survived.
But returning to the books we do have – the biblical books of First and Second Kings and First and Second Chronicles – are these really just overlapping accounts with no significant differences? The answer is not at all! In reality, Kings and Chronicles have entirely different underlying themes and often carry very different lessons – as we can see by considering the following facts.
The material in the two books of Kings was composed relatively soon after the events they describe and completed soon after the beginning of Judah’s captivity in Babylon. The material in the two books of Chronicles was brought together later, a good many years after the events it describes, shortly after the return from captivity. So it is clear that Chronicles was written when Kings was already in existence, and so it must have been felt that it gave additional valuable information or perspectives.
There are, in fact, a number of important differences in the types of material included in these works. At the broader level, Kings deals with the history of both Israel and Judah while Chronicles focuses on the history of the southern kingdom of Judah. In Chronicles, the northern kings of Israel are usually only mentioned when they had some effect on the kings of Judah.
While Kings provides an overview of all the royal lines, Chronicles focuses on the Davidic line. So Kings does not include the reigns of Saul or David and begins with Solomon. Chronicles begins with Adam and includes the reigns of Saul and David. The different focus is clear in the details each account gives. For example, while Kings gives a detailed description of Solomon building his palace (1 Kings 7:1-12), the construction of Solomon’s palace is only mentioned in passing in Chronicles (1 Chronicles 8:1). Kings details the shortcomings of Solomon at the end of his life, but Chronicles does not mention them.
Kings is concerned with Judah’s failure to maintain covenant relationship with God, whereas Chronicles is more concerned with its restoration. For example, Kings gives a detailed account of King Josiah's purging of the land from idolatry (2 Kings 23:4-20). On the other hand, Chronicles gives a detailed treatment of Josiah's reinstitution of the Passover (2 Chronicles 35:1-9).
But the outlook of both books is also very different. Jewish tradition states that the prophet Jeremiah wrote Kings and that the priest Ezra wrote Chronicles, but in any event, the prophetic versus priestly perspectives of the two works is clear. Consider the fact that the careers of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha are detailed in Kings but not at all in Chronicles. In Kings the priestly Levites only appear twice, whereas they are mentioned about a hundred times in Chronicles. More importantly, the different perspectives influence what stories are included in the two accounts. We see this, for example, in the fact that Hezekiah’s sickness and the prophet Isaiah’s prediction regarding it are mentioned only in Kings (1 Kings 19:14-34), whereas the same king’s purification of the temple and his actions regarding it are found only in Chronicles (1 Chronicles 29:1-36; 30:1-31:1; 31:2-21).
Because Kings is written more from the perspective of the prophets who warned Israel and Judah of their sins, its message is primarily one of responsibility and judgment. Chronicles, on the other hand, is written from the perspective of the priests who reinstituted Judah’s religion after the captivity, and its message is one looking at reconciliation and hope – man’s faithlessness on the one hand and God’s faithfulness on the other. Kings may thus often seem a more negative account, and Chronicles a more positive one. This is reflected in various ways. For example, in Kings the sins of many kings are often highlighted, whereas in Chronicles, the good traits of each king are usually given first (except for those kings who apparently had no good traits!). Both books show the relationship between God and his people, but Kings stresses the political and prophetic aspects of that relationship while Chronicles looks more at the religious and priestly interactions.
So the differences between Kings and Chronicles are similar to the differences we find among the Four Gospels (see our free e-book Inside the Four Gospels) in the New Testament. Although we may find several versions of the same story in Kings and Chronicles, the differences are important as each book gives different details and has its own unique viewpoint and lessons. In fact, about half of the material in Chronicles is unique in the Bible – so resist the temptation to skip over that work if you have just read Kings. What at first may seem like a similar account has a great deal more to offer!