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How did David kill Goliath?

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

The god of contradictions 002

King David is one of the most talked about characters of the entire bible. He became the benchmark every king of Judah was compared to. Being his descendant became a requirement for legitimacy of rule. No wonder two gospel authors jumped to more than a hoop or two to make Jesus into his descendant. David and Jesus not only share the honor of being written about extensively in the bible or their fabricated blood line: they both are subject to more than a few contradictions.

David's victory over the giant Goliath is what he is most famous for. Compared to all who are familiar with the story however, few have ever noticed how the description of Goliath’s demise creates a contradiction between two consecutive verses within one chapter of one book of the canonical Old Testament recognized as the word of god by millions of people. The contradiction figures as number 187 in our list of '999 Bible contradictions … and counting'. The verses are:

“So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand.” (1 Sam 17: 50) “Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it.” (1 Sam 17: 51)

It may seem pedantic to point out what the contradiction created by these two verses is, but some people really don’t see the problem within them. David cannot have KILLED Goliath in verse 50 and then KILL Goliath in verse 51. Goliath was either dead as a result of verse 50, or he wasn’t. Both verses cannot be true at the same time. There have been many attempts to biblesplain this contradiction away and the fact a lot of apologists devote time to just that, indicates they recognize there is a problem.

The easiest way is to just use a different word of god than the different words of god containing the contradiction. But this “easy” refutation of the contradiction just creates … more contradictions. If you would bring twenty-eight versions to bear that have different words of god in either of above verses, then you have just pointed out twenty-eight new contradictions in the word of god without resolving the contradiction in the above version. The source we reference as example refutation points at 4 bible versions that do exactly that. Answers in Genesis, arguably the most notorious group of biblical inerrancy claimants are without a doubt the champions of verbal gymnastics, but even their comment agrees that these versions are not a good way to refute the contradiction.

For instance, the Easy-to-Read version (ERV) changes the word of god into this:

“So David defeated the Philistine with only a sling and one stone! He hit the Philistine and killed him. David didn’t have a sword,” (1 Sam 17: 50) “so he ran and stood beside the Philistine. Then David took Goliath’s own sword out of its sheath and used it to cut off his head. That is how David killed the Philistine.” (1 Sam 17: 51)

The ERV takes quite some liberty with god's word and inserts no less than an entire sentence in verse 51. Granted, in doing so it does resolve the contradiction of most other bible versions; but now we have a new contradiction between 1 Samuel 17: 51 ERV and 1 Samuel 17: 51 NRSVUE. In a similar attempt, the Darby version murders the narrative of Goliath's death even more:

“So David overcame the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and smote the Philistine and killed him; and there was no sword in the hand of David.” (1 Samuel 17: 50) “And David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of its sheath, and killed him completely, and cut off his head with it.” (1 Samuel 17: 51)

In this version, David made Goliath dead with his sling and stone, but used Goliath’s own sword to make him a bit more deader immediately after. Another possible way to have made it “clearer” could have been by inserting the word ‘incompletely’ after ‘him’ in 1 Samuel 17: 50. Since different translators add and subtract to and from god’s word at will and in defiance of god’s command (Deuteronomy 4: 2), no objection to a few more additions can be justified. So far we have the admission of Answers in Genesis itself, that some bibles are wrong.

But Answers in Genesis would not be AiG if it did not add more words to god’s word in order to correct god’s inerrant word and make it inerrant. Troy Lacey offers two hypotheses of his own, once again, in full admission there is a discrepancy

In the first hypothesis, Troy confirms that Goliath was killed as per 1 Samuel 17: 50. He follows up by saying that “the Spirit quite probably lets us in on David’s thoughts at the time. David would likely be unable to tell if Goliath was dead or just rendered unconscious, so to make sure he was dead, he cut off Goliath’s head, “finishing him off,” so to speak.” Of course, if this was the case, there is no reason that the Holy Spirit could not have made that perfectly clear in a variety of ways, without having to resort to some speculation 3,000 years after the alleged facts. All 1 Samuel 17: 51 would have had to say is something along the lines of “but David wasn’t sure if Goliath was dead. So he ran, stood upon the Philistine and so forth. Alas, the text does not say that. Perhaps the Holy Spirit wasn’t so clear on the matter itself and needed a few millennia to finally clear that up through the mouths of … more humans who were probably not present at the event.

Troy's second hypothesis is not even worth summarizing. He doesn't even bother drawing a conclusion upon the latter himself. Instead, he bases the conclusion upon the first hypothesis, while simultaneously pulling some new rabbits out of his hat: if the former hypothesis is correct, then the Spirit is relaying the absolute truth as well as communicating the lack of knowledge and difficulty that David and the people of that time had in determining the cause of death in the case of blunt-force trauma to the head.

Aside from the hypothetical IF, how difficult would it have been for seasoned warriors at any age in time to determine whether someone was dead or not? Now, if the Holy Spirit is able to communicate with us about an event some 3,000 years ago and relay information to Troy Lacey, then why could it not have told David in real time whether Goliath was dead or not right then and there? Per same Holy Spirited word after all, Goliath WAS dead at the moment he fell facedown due to David’s sling shot stone. David could have walked away in the Holy Spirit’s reassurance that he was dead. How long would it have taken the Philistines and Israelites to conclude Goliath was dead if David would not have cut off his head? A year? Three weeks?

  • Why did the Holy Spirit fail to clarify this to the authors who wrote the story?

  • Why did it let humans then make thousands of copies of the erroneous story?

  • Why did it then wait until Troy Lacey came along to relay the correct story?

  • Why didn't the Holy Spirit simply not write it out in plain, simple terms as suggested by Troy Lacey?

  • Is Troy suggesting that not only the people back then were too stupid to distinguish between the living and dead, but that god himself was not bright enough to get the story written without the contradiction?

  • With the text being as it is, is Troy right? Was god erring during his inspiring-the-authors of 1 Samuel 17? But wasn't it Troy's aim to precisely defend god's inerrancy?

Troy's hypotheses are just wild speculation creating yet another bible with a whole lot of words that are simply not there. In this case the conclusion that “there really isn’t a contradiction” rests on the assumption that people back then were unable to distinguish a dead person from a living one. But where are the verses in Samuel, or any other part of the bible that confirm that? Where would Troy prefer to insert those words in god's word?

It will always circle back to our first post of the “God of Contradictions”-series: who decides what god says? According to Answers in Genesis, that’s Answers in Genesis. Rarely do we see a bible literalist argue that the bible simply says what it says and that god makes mistakes. For some reason, they explain us how not to read the bible literally but insert their interpretation into it – and their interpretation only of course. By offering human interpretations to explain contradictions in god’s word, apologists are confirming that god’s word failed to be sufficiently clear. In other words, they confirm god’s failure and are quite literally showing us how they can do a better job than god. About that last, I happen to fully agree with them.

Darryl P. Arnaiz, 16 August 2023

Notes, references:

First citation from NRSVUE. Concurring with NRSVUE are among others: King James Version, Orthodox Jewish Bible, New American Standard Bible 1995, Mechon-Mamre's Hebrew-English Tanakh…

Attempted refutation referenced: Troy Lacey, “How Did David Kill Goliath?”, Answers in Genesis, November 15, 2022

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