How Did Goliath Die?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Even individuals with only a nodding acquaintance of the Bible are aware of how Goliath died: “David killed the giant with a sling and a stone, of course.” Indeed, that is what 1 Samuel 17:48-50 indicates:
David hurried and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him.
Skeptics, however, are quick to point out that the above verses contradict what is stated in the very next verse: “Therefore David ran and stood over the Philistine, took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it” (17:51). How could David have killed Goliath with a rock and then have killed him with a sword? According to atheist Rayan Zehn, the question of how David killed Goliath is a “favorite,” because “it contradicts itself in a single breath”—in back-to-back verses (“Bible Contradictions”). “So Bible believer tell me, exactly how did Goliath die?”
We first need to make the observation that few, if any, sane individuals are going to contradict themselves in the very next sentence of what they are speaking or writing. Even liars rarely contradict themselves in the very next breath. Are we really to believe that the ancient individual who was intelligent enough to pen the book of Samuel was so ignorant that he actually thought at one moment David literally killed Goliath with a rock and the very next moment that David killed the giant with a sword? Such an allegation seems suspect at best.
Second, we need to keep in mind that there are many specific questions that Bible students cannot answer about things mentioned in Scripture. For example, God created light without the Sun on day one of Creation, but we are uninformed about the nature of that light (see Miller, 2014). Consider also how Luke mentioned that “one of the criminals” hanged with Jesus blasphemed Him (Luke 23:39), while Matthew mentioned that the “robbers” (plural) reviled Jesus (Matthew 27:44). Why the difference? The truth is, we can’t know for sure without more information. (One thing we can know is that the accounts have not proven to be contradictory; i.e., there are logical possibilities for the differences; see Lyons, 2013.) Likewise, we do not know exactly why 1 Samuel 17 refers to David killing Goliath after sinking a stone into his forehead and again after using a sword to cut off his head. The writer does not elaborate further. However, at least one perfectly legitimate possibility exists for the difference.
The inspired writer of 1 Samuel could easily be indicating that David struck Goliath with an initial, unrecoverable blow to the forehead, and then quickly finished him off via decapitation. How many individuals have we truthfully spoken of as “dying” in an accident, yet they actually “died” in an ambulance or a hospital minutes, hours, or days later? How many murderers have been convicted of “killing” someone who actually survived for several hours or days before being removed from life support? Is it fair or logical to conclude that the murderer didn’t actually kill the person, but the doctor did when he removed the still-living patient from the ventilator a week later? Would a just judge and jury accept this argument as valid? Certainly not.
It seems equally unjust to accuse the Bible of a contradiction for using words and phrases in ways not all that different from how we truthfully, understandably, and defensibly use them in 21st-century America. Why can’t we be as fair with Scripture as we are with each other? David dealt a crushing blow to Goliath with a sling and a stone, and then finished him off with the giant’s own sword.
Lyons, Eric (2013), “Dealing Fairly with Alleged Bible Contradictions,” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=6&article=4742.
Miller, Jeff (2014), “How Could There Be Light Before the Sun?” Apologetics Press, https://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=13&article=5001&topic=82.
Zehn, Rayan (no date), “Bible Contradictions #6: How Did David Kill Goliath?” The Atheist Papers, http://atheistpapers.com/2014/01/07/bible-contradictions-6-how-did-david-kill-goliath/.