Who killed Goliath? — David or Elhanan
Some claim that a contradiction exists between 1 Samuel 21:9; 2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Chronicles 20:5, because it appears two different people killed Goliath. The question is, “Who killed Goliath?” Did David or Elhanan kill Goliath, or did both? What follows provides an explanation.
David Killed Goliath — Option 1
The first passage in Scripture that states someone killed Goliath is 1 Samuel 17:48-50. It indicates that David killed Goliath.
Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground. Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David’s hand. 1 Samuel 17:48-50 (NASB)
Now who was David and who was this man called Goliath? First, we know that David was a youth, the son of Jesse (1 Samuel 17:14). 1 Samuel 17:33 states that David was a youth. At that time King Saul was alive, for 1 Samuel 17:31 says David came to Saul.
Who was Goliath? 1 Samuel 17:4 says he was from Gath. He was also a Philistine (1 Samuel 17:4, 23; 21:9-10). In addition, he was champion of one of the armies, and stood nine feet and nine inches tall.
The most important point of the account was that God helped David kill the giant (1 Samuel 17:46). The final passage about this event is found in 1 Samuel 21:9.
And the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod.” 1 Samuel 21:9a (NASB)
Here we learn that the giant Goliath was killed in the Valley of Elah.
Elhanan Killed Goliath — Option 2
The second passage in Scripture that states someone killed Goliath is 2 Samuel 21:19. It says that Elhanan killed Goliath.
There was war with the Philistines again at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. 2 Samuel 21:19 (NASB)
1 Chronicles 20:5 also says Elhanan killed Goliath.
And there was war with the Philistines again, and Elhanan the son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. 1 Chronicles 20:5 (NASB)
If we compare these two verses we discover the first passage says Elhanan was the son of Jaare-oregim, but the second passage says he was the son of Jair. The second passage says that Elhanan killed Goliath’s brother, Lahmi.
The differences between these two verses strongly indicate a copyist error occurred in 2 Samuel 21:19.[1, 2] J. A. Thompson summarizes the issue about 1 Chronicles 20:5 and 2 Samuel 21:19 with this statement.
This verse [1 Chronicles 20:5] presents some textual problems. According to 2 Sam 21:19, Elhanan slew Goliath. The text of 2 Sam 21:19 names the father of Elhanan as Jaareoregim. The word oregim is identical in the Hebrew text to the last word of the verse, “weavers,” in the phrase “like a rod of weavers.” Furthermore, in 2 Sam 21: 19 Elhanan’s father is called a Bethlehemite, written bet hallahmi, which easily could be confused with the name lahmi (“Lahmi”). All this suggests the verse has suffered transcriptional difficulties.
Gleason Archer also agrees when he says,
In other words, the 2 Samuel 21 passage is a perfectly traceable corruption of the original wording, which fortunately has been correctly preserved in 1 Chronicles 30:5.
Who Killed Goliath?
So, who killed Goliath? David or Elhanan? The answer is given in three parts.
First, both 2 Samuel 21 and 1 Chronicles 20 state there were giants in Gath (2 Samuel 21:22; 1 Chronicles 20:8), and there were “descendants of the giants” (2 Samuel 21:18; 1 Chronicles 20:4). One of the giants was Sippai, and he was killed in battle (1 Chronicles 20:4). Lahmi, another giant, was the brother of Goliath the Gittite (1 Chronicles 20:5). There was another giant who had twenty-four fingers and toes, with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot (1 Chronicles 20:6). David’s brother killed him (1 Chronicles 20:7). We are also told that David eventually killed all of the remaining giants (1 Chronicles 20:8). What is the message? In addition to Goliath, there were other giants. One of them was Lahmi, the brother of Goliath.
Second, when were these giants alive? William Day Crockett has created a harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. The harmony put the events in these three books in chronological order. The harmony demonstrates that the events in 1 Samuel 17 and 1 Chronicles 20 (2 Samuel 21) occurred at different times—many years apart. For example, the harmony demonstrates that David killed Goliath while Saul was king, and Elhanan killed Lahmi, the brother of Goliath, when David was king. 1 Samuel 17:31-58 reveals that David killed Goliath while Saul was king. 1 Chronicles 19:17-20:8 indicates David was king when the events it records occurred. Consequently, David killed Goliath when he was a youth in about 1065 B.C., and the event in 1 Chronicles 20 occurred about 44 years later in 1021 B.C.
So, who killed Goliath? David or Elhanan? The third part to the answer is that since events in 1 Samuel 17 and 1 Chronicles 20 occurred about 44 years apart, there is sufficient and necessary reason to conclude that Elhanan killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath, in 1 Chronicles 20. The description of the events are different, the events occurred about 44 years apart, and scripture records there were other giants in the land. Therefore, the answer is that David killed Goliath. Elhanan killed his brother Lahmi.
We have learned an important principle. A careful analysis of what appears to be a contradiction of a Bible passage will reveal that the contradiction is only apparent. The apparent contradiction can always be resolved, or a very reasonable explanation exists to provide confidence in the biblical text.
1. Robert D. Bergen. 1, 2 Samuel. The New American Commentary. B&H Publishing Company. 1996. Vol. 7. pp. 449-450.
2. Ronald F. Youngblood. 1, 2 Samuel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Regency Reference Library. 1988. Vol. 4. pp. 403-404.
3. J. A. Thompson. 1, 2 Chronicles. The New American Commentary. B&H Publishing Company. 1996. Vol. 9. pp. 157-158.
4. Gleason L. Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan Publishing. 1982. p. 179.
5. William Day Crockett. A Harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. Baker Book House. 1982. p. 83, 112-113.
6. Dr. Floyd N. Jones. The Chronology of the Old Testament. Master Books. 2005. pp. 99-100.