Who killed Goliath?

Question
Who killed Goliath? Is 2 Samuel 21:19 an error?
Answer

In, 1 Samuel 17:50-51, we see that David slew Goliath:

So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

Yet in, 2 Samuel 21:19, we read that Elhanan was the person who slew Goliath:

In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver's rod.

2 Samuel 21:19 appears to credit someone other than David with the death of Goliath, but the corresponding verse in 1 Chronicles 20:5 reads:

1 Chronicles 20:5 In another battle with the Philistines, Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver's rod.

The Samuel text is held suspect by a majority of commentators. Here is how Dr. Gleason L. Archer answers this:

First Samuel 17:50 states that David cut off Goliath's head with the giant's own sword, after he had first felled him with a sling and a stone. Because of this amazing victory over the Philistine, David became the foremost battle-champion among the Israelite troops, even though he was still a mere teenager. But 2 Samuel 21:19 in the Hebrew Masoretic text states that "Elhanan the son of Yaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam." As this verse stands in the Masoretic text, it certainly contradicts 1 Samuel 17. But fortunately we have a parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20:5, which words the episode this way: "And Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite." It is quite apparent that this was the true reading, not only for the Chronicles passage but also for 2 Samuel 21:19.

The earlier manuscript from which the copyist was reading must have been blurred or damaged at this particular verse, and hence he made two or three mistakes. What apparently happened was the following:

1. The sign of the direct object, which at Chronicles comes just before "Lahmi," was '-t; the copyist mistook it for b-t or b-y-t ("Beth") and thus got Bet hal-Lahmi ("the Bethlehemite) out of it.

2. He misread the word for "brother" ('-h) as the sign of the direct object ('t) right before g-l-y-t ("Goliath"). Thus he made "Goliath" the object of "killed" (wayyak), instead of the "brother" of Goliath (as the Chron. passage does).

3. The copyist misplaced the word for "weavers" ('-r-g-ym) so as to put it right after "Elhanan" as his patronymic (ben Y-'r-y'-r--g-ym, or ben ya'arey 'or'e-gim - "the son of the forest of the weavers" - a most unlikely name for anyone's father!). In Chronicles the 'oregim ("weavers") comes right after ("a beam of") - thus making perfectly good sense.

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 20:5.

So, we can understand the following: (1) 2 Samuel 21:19 had a copyist error, (2) 1 Chronicles 20:5 is the correct version, and (3) the fact that scribes carefully transmitted the error found in 2 Samuel 21:19 is a testimony to their integrity in trying to accurately transmit the text.

Please see:

God's Flawless Word
Inspiration and Accuracy
Inerrancy and Canonicity
Errors in the Bible

Reference

Archer,G.L., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, 1982, pp. 178-179.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).