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“Brother of Goliath” or “Goliath” in 2 Samuel 21:19?

We all know that David killed Goliath.  1 Chronicles 20:5 in all translations says Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath.  The problem is with 2 Samuel 21:19.  The KJV correctly says Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath, but many translations, such as the NASB, ESV and NIV 1984, say Elhanan killed Goliath:

  • KJV: "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."
  • NASB: "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."
  • ESV: "And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam."
  • NIV 1984: "In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod."

Critics of the KJV rendering claim that the Hebrew text does not have the word for "the brother of" in 2 Samuel 21:19.  These critics claim that the KJV has supplied words without any textual basis.  This is not true.

The Hebrew in 2 Samuel 21:19 says:
ויך אלחנן בן־יערי ארגים בית הלחמי את גלית

The Hebrew in 1 Chronicles 20:5 says:
ויך אלחנן בן־יעיר את־לחמי אחי גלית

Compare the underlined portions:

את גלית (Second Samuel 21:19)
אחי גלית (First Chronicles 20:5)

The second word of the underlined portions in both verses is גלית (Galeyat), which is “Goliath.” The word preceding גלית (Galeyat) in 1 Chronicles 20:5 is אחי (achi), which is translated “the brother of.” The word preceding גלית (Galeyat) in 2 Samuel 21:19 is את (“et” with the Masoretic vowel markings). This word generally serves as the untranslatable particle which marks the accusative case (Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions). However, את could serve a dual purpose of pointing to the direct object as well as meaning "with" or "among" (
Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions).  Judges 1:16 is a good example verse that has two instances of "את" serving the dual role of pointing to the direct object as well as meaning "with" or "among":

  • Hebrew: "ובני קיני חתן משה עלו מעיר התמרים את־בני יהודה מדבר יהודה אשר בנגב ערד וילך וישב את־העם׃"
  • KJV: "And the children of the Kenite, Moses' father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people."
  • NASB: "The descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up from the city of palms with the sons of Judah, to the wilderness of Judah which is in the south of Arad; and they went and lived with the people."
  • ESV: "And the descendants of the Kenite, Moses' father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near Arad, and they went and settled with the people."
  • NIV 1984: "The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the men of Judah to live among the people of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad."

Thus את גלית could be translated as "among Goliath", meaning a kinsman of Goliath.  The KJV translators understood this "among Goliath" (kinsman) to refer to the brother of Goliath as this is consistent with 1 Chronicles 20:5. The KJV with Strong’s numbers indicates that the translators translated את as “the brother of.” As the rendering of " את" as "the brother of" is an interpretation, albeit the correct one, the KJV translators italicized those words. The KJV, NKJV, TNIV, NIV 2011 and a few other translations treat Samuel 21:19 properly by interpreting " את" as "the brother of". Other translations that do not have “the brother of” create a glaring contradiction with 1 Chronicles 20:5.

The reason the author of 2 Samuel did not explicitly write "the brother of" may be because the immediate readers of 2 Samuel would have been aware that
Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath.  2 Samuel was written during the time of the events, so readers knew the exact details of the accounts from oral retellings.  1 Chronicles, however, was written much later, close to the time of Ezra the priest.  The Chronicler had to be clear that Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath, not Goliath himself.  That is why 1 Chronicles 20:5 no longer uses the elliptical language.

Those who defend the reading that Elhanan killed Goliath assert that the Goliath in 2 Samuel 21:19 is supposedly a son of the Goliath whom David slew. These critics say that Goliath (Sr.) had four sons: Ishbibenob, Saph, Goliath (Jr.), and a six-fingered man (2 Samuel 21:16-20). This idea is based on a misconception. Ishbibenob, Saph, and the six-fingured man are said to be “of the sons of the giant.” Many readers presumptuously think that this “giant” is that Goliath whom David slew, and assume that these men are the children of that Goliath. Since another Goliath appears together with these other men, many readers assume that this Goliath was also a son of the Goliath whom David slew. So these readers imagine a Goliath Sr. and a Goliath Jr. However, there is a problem with the idea that these men were the sons of the Goliath whom David slew.

The “giant” referred to through 2 Samuel 21:16-20 is רפה (raphah) or Rephaim. This is not a reference to a particular person of large stature but an ethnicity that is mentioned earlier in the Bible. In Genesis 15:20 we read of God promising to give to Abraham the lands of various ethnic groups, one of which is the Rephaim. The Rephaim were apparently a race of giants. Thus when 2 Samuel 21:16-20 says that Ishbibenob, Saph, and the six-fingured man were “of the sons of the giant,” it is saying that these men were of the race of the giant Rephaim. They seemed to have become assimilated by the Philistines. 2 Samuel 5:18 says “The Philistines also came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim.” Thus Ishbibenob, Saph, Goliath (the one whom David slew), and the six-fingered man were Rephaimic-Philistines.

Thus there was no Goliath Sr. or Goliath Jr. This idea of a Sr. and Jr. Goliath is a far-fetched attempt to try to justify a glaring contradiction in some translations. Goliath was slain by David, and Goliath’s brother Lahmi was slain by Elhanan.