Question: According to 2 Samuel 21:19, Elhanan killed Goliath, yet 1 Chronicles 20:5 states that Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath. Who is Elhanan, how does this relate to David and Goliath, and how is this apparent discrepancy explained?
All right folks, buckle up your Bible Gems seatbelts—this one gets a little technical—but its well worth the ride!
The solution to the problem lies in the translation of the various Hebrew and Greek (LXX) texts available. It is important to remember that when translators talk about the “original text,” they are not referring to one single document that everyone agrees on as being the original. Instead, they are referring to the original language used in the most ancient and authoritative copies of the original document.
The fact is, truly “original” documents from Moses, David, Paul, etc., are called “autographs,” and none of them are in existence (so far as we know) today. What we do have are hundreds, sometimes thousands of copies, and copies of copies made by professional scribes, in varying degrees of completeness and condition. Some of these copies are very ancient, some are much more recent (archeologically speaking). All of this can lead to difficulty in accurately translating what the passage actually says, and therefore in translating what was in the original autograph.
The role of the Jewish scribe was to act as kind of a human copy machine, duplicating the Scriptures from one document to a new document so there would always be fresh copies for future generations. Scribes would occasionally make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes were not caught in the proofreading process and would end up in the new edition of the Scriptures. Such is the case with 2 Samuel 20:19. Accounting for scribal error, a more accurate translation of 2 Samuel 20:19 would be:
“the Bethlehemite [killed] Lahmi the brother of Goliath.”
Today, Bible scholars have the advantage of comparing these ancient texts, finding scribal errors, and determining which reading is closest to the original autograph. Part of determining the accuracy of a copied text also includes comparing that text with similar passages in Scripture. For instance, we already know without dispute that David the son of Jesse from Bethlehem killed the giant Goliath (1 Sam 16:1, 18; 17:58; 1 Sam 17:51, 57; 18:6; 19:5; 21:9).
We also have this parallel account concerning Elhanan:
1 Chr. 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 Word of God is perfect and without error in the original manuscripts. The translation process, however, from ancient times until now, is a human endeavor and subject to error. Fortunately, those errors are miniscule and do not affect doctrine and the Truth of God’s Word. And where there are human errors, God in His grace gives us the tools and talented people to uncover those mistakes and provide correction. So, between the testimony of Scripture and the use of translation skills and resources not available to earlier generations, we are increasingly able to unravel the confusion that arises from a simple human mistake, and God still gets the glory!
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