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By Shari Abbott, Reasons for Hope* Jesus

The 2 Samuel 21:19 verse seems to contradict the account in 1 Samuel 17 that tells it was David who killed Goliath.  However, there are explanations that help to clarify this.

First, we begin with an understanding that the Bible is the innerrant Word of God.  Therefore, whenever we find something that appears to be a contradiction, we must look for information that helps in better understanding what God is saying to us.  

We also know that we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us (John 16:13) and to teach us (John 14:6);  so we start with believing God, knowing that He has preserved His Word without error, and trusting that He will reveal answers to our difficult questions. 

Let’s  take a look at possible explanations that explain 2 Samuel 21:19 by beginning with what we know for certain.

We know that in 1 Samuel 17 the Bible tells us that David slew Goliath. 

1 Samuel 17:4 And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.

1 Samuel 17:23  And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words: and David heard them.

1 Samuel 17:49-50  And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.  So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. But there was no sword in the hand of David.

In 2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Chronicles 20:5 we read of another war with the Philistines.  In this account the Bible names Elhanen as one who fought the Philistines and slew Goliath.  We see variations in this verse in English Bible translations.  In the Bible translations that are based on the manuscripts that originated around Atioch, Syria (the KJV and NKJV only), the words “the brother of” have been added in 2 Samuel 21:19.   

2 Samuel 21:19  (KJV and NKJV) And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of  Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.

The words are italicized indicating they were not present in the original language manuscripts.  They were added by the translators of the KJV and NKJV.  In recent years some of the Bibles translated from the Alexandrian line of manuscripts (those that originated around Alexandria, Egypt) have also added “the brother of” — however, most do not contain the addition.  Translators support the inclusion of these words with a verse in 1 Chronicles that tells of Elhanan and provides the additional information:

1 Chronicles 20:5  And there was war again with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose spear staff was like a weaver’s beam.

Note that the words “the brother of” are not italicized, indicating they are recorded in the original language manuscripts.  

Most biblical scholars, who have studied the history, biblical accounts and archaeological evidence, believe that it was the brother of Goliath whom Elhanen slew, so this is a widely accepted explanation.

However, there are also some other explanations.  

Another possible explanation comes from the Jewish Targum and suggests that Elhanan, which means “God is gracious,”  is another name for David, and, Jair refers to Jesse. This explanation suggests that Elhanan was David’s original name and the name David was given to him when he became king.  

Still others suggest that “Goliath” could be a title and not a name.  In that case there could have been two fighters from Gath named Goliath.  

Of the three possible explanations, the last one is most unlikely and the second is questionable.  The first explanation is most widely accepted with the understanding that the account in 1 Chronicles provides additional information to the 2 Samuel account.  This is similarly seen in the New Testament, when one gospel account will provide additional detail that is omitted from another. 

You can decide for yourself which explanation best answers this question.  Just remember that, as Christians, we are not expected to fully understand all things in the Bible…but we are expected to believe God.  Because we know that we have an inspired, inerrant Bible — preserved, as promised by God– we can believe those things which we might not fully understand, trusting in our God who is sovereign over all things.  

Seek the Lord as you read and study His word and believe and trust that He will reveal truth to you.

Psalm 119:18  Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.

James 1:5-6  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…

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