In 1 Samuel 13:1 (BPT09)

Saul era de meia-idade, quando se tornou rei de Israel e reinou cerca de vinte anos.

which translates to:

Saul was middle-aged when he became king of Israel and reigned for about twenty years.

Clearly this conflicts with Acts 13:21 (BPT09)

Então o povo pediu um rei e Deus deu-lhes Saul, filho de Quis, da tribo de Benjamim, que reinou quarenta anos.

which translates to:

Then the people asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned forty years.

I've checked some English translations and they all have the same in Acts 13:21. Yet in 1 Samuel 13:1, some don't have that exact verse, others say 42 years, and NASB 1977 has 32 years.

Wikipedia quoting from Israel Finkelstein (2006) The Last Labayu: King Saul and the Expansion of the First North Israelite Territorial Entity states:

According to the Hebrew text of the Bible Saul reigned for two years, but scholars generally agree that the text is faulty and that a reign of twenty or twenty-two years is more probable.

  • 1
    Wow- Why do English translations say 42 = שְׁתֵּ֣י Shtei ? [1 Shmuel 13:1] says: "Saul was a year in his reign, and he reigned two years over Israel. ( בֶּן־שָׁנָ֖ה שָׁא֣וּל בְּמָלְכ֑וֹ וּשְׁתֵּ֣י שָׁנִ֔ים מָלַ֖ךְ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל ) Commented Mar 26, 2021 at 19:24

4 Answers 4


1 Sam 13:1 is problematic because the Hebrew text is clearly missing something. Indeed, my ESV has this:

Saul was ... years old when he began to reign, and when he had reigned ... and two years over Israel

Both the Grammar and the text suggest that there are two gaps as shown above. The NIV has the following

Saul was [thirty] years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel [forty-] two years. - with footnote that the supplied words are not in the MT

The BSB has:

Saul was thirty years old(a) when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.(b) - with footnotes (a) A few late LXX manuscripts; MT Saul was a son of a year (b) Or over Israel forty years  (see Acts 13:21); MT over Israel two years

The NRSV has:

Saul was ... years old when he began to reign, and when he had reigned ... and two years over Israel - with footnote, "two" is not the entire number, something > has dropped out

The LXX does not have this verse at all!

Thus, the best we can doo is to attempt reconstruct the text based on the obviously round number reported in Acts 13:21 where Saul is said to have reigned for 40 years. The Cambridge commentary summaries the problem thus:

  1. Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel] The Hebrew cannot be thus translated. It is the common formula for denoting the age of a king at his accession, and the length of his reign. See 2 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 14:21, &c. We must render, “Saul was [ ] years old when he began to reign, and reigned [ ] and two years over Israel.” Either the numbers were wanting in the original document, or they have been accidentally lost. 30 is supplied in the first place by some MSS. of the Sept., and is a plausible conjecture.

One has to do a bit of detective work to figure this conundrum out. Before reading this answer, I would recommend that you read Michael Heiser's short article, from the second subheading "Who Killed Goliath?", because we have a similar manuscript situation on our hands.

The first question we need to ask is:

How did The Apostle Paul know about the length of Saul's reign?

Credit goes to Paul Knauber for spotting this first part. In his paper on Judges Period Chronology he states the following:

“In an attempt to unmuddle these waters, I searched the Scriptures for other clues. The first such clue is provided in 2Sam 2:10a:

Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. Only the house of Judah followed David [NKJV]

Turning back to 1Sa 13:1-2, you can see the further problem this presents. If Saul is 30 or even 40 when he becomes king and reigns only 2 years, Ish-Bosheth could not be 40 when Sauldies. Both 1Sa 9:2 and Josephus, in his Antiquities, describe Saul at the time of his anointing as a “young man,” which expression is somewhat nebulous. Even if the Apostle Paul is right about Saul reigning 40 years, Ish-Bosheth’s age of 40 at Saul’s death is possible, but unlikely, if Saul is crowned as a Truly young man. With every attempt to resolve the chronology of this period, I could not do so with Saul as a young man at his coronation. But as the word “young” is comparative, and relative to some reference: it is not determinant. That is, a man of 40 years might, to some, be considered a young man. Not only do we have Ish-Bosheth at 40 when Saul dies, but we have his son Jonathan joining him in battle against the Philistines (1Sam 13:2) immediately after his confirmation as king (1Sam 11:12-15). Does a man 30 years old have a son old enough to be a soldier? Possible, but unlikely. It is far more likely that Saul was 40 when crowned. Note that as soon as this engagement with the Philistines is complete,1 Sam 14:49 says,

The sons of Saul were: Jonathan, Jishui, and Malchishua. And the names of his twodaughters were these: the name of the firstborn Merab, and the name of the younger Michal. [NKJV]

Ish-Bosheth is not named here, so is presumably yet to be born. If he is born immediately thereafter, then his age of 40 at Saul’s death would coincide directly with Saul’s reign. Thus,the figure of 40 years for both Saul’s age at his coronation, and the term of his reign are virtually inescapable.”

We get confirmation of this by looking at the end in 1 Samuel 31:2 where we find:

“The Phi·lisʹtines kept in close range of Saul and his sons, and the Phi·lisʹtines struck down Jonʹa·than, A·binʹa·dab, and Malʹchi-shuʹa, Saul’s sons.”

Only Three out of Four sons are mentioned yet again. We have one different name, Abinadab instead of Jishui (or Ishvi according to some translations). Could it be that Ishvi is Ishbosheth? This is unlikely as Ishbosheth already has an alternative name, Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8:33, 9:39). It is unlikely that Ishbosheth had a third name. I find it more likely that Ishvi’s alternative name was Abinadab. Ishvi means “He resembles me”, whereas Abinadab means “my father is noble” or “father of a vow”, which could be a name change to reflect his fathers change in state to a noble king, or it could be related to the events surrounding Saul’s rash vow early in his reign.

The point is, Ishbosheth wasn't born yet, inferring at least a 40 year reign of Saul, corroborating Paul’s 40 years reference in the book of Acts. This is bigger than Paul realizes, as it helps fully explain the 1 Samuel 13:1 conundrum.

The Similarity of 1 Samuel 13:1 and 2 Samuel 2:10

Seeing both 1 Samuel 13:1 and 2 Samuel 2:10 in quick succession, something immediately jumps out at you. Both have references to 2 years, with Saul mentioned in both verses with an age reference at the start of reigning. This prompted me to compare, the Hebrew for 1 Samuel 13:1 and 2 Samuel 2:10 to see if there were any other correlations: Interlinear Of 2 Samuel 2:10 and 1 Samuel 13:1

You’ll notice that every word in 1 Samuel 13:1 is identical to the words that make up 2 Samuel 2:10 with identical spelling. The only difference is that 4 words & 1 Letter have been dropped, and two words have been moved to the end of the sentence. Is it possible that 2 Samuel 2:10 has been interpolated into 1 Samuel 13:1? How could this come about?

Scribal Interpolation Hypothesis

Suppose for a moment that other scribes and teachers also realized you could use 2 Samuel 2:10 to figure out Saul's reign length (just like Paul). They conclude Saul must have reigned for at least forty years. Now the scribes/ teachers see in their scrolls that every single King of Israel except Saul has a reign length associated with them. An example of this can be seen at 2 Kings 18:2:

“He was 25 years old when he became king, and he reigned for 29 years in Jerusalem.”

We find these types of passages at the start of the account of each King, this is the established pattern. The scribe/ teachers then think it would be a good idea (for completeness) to add in a similar verse for Saul, using the information from 2 Samuel 2:10. They task a copyist to add something like "And For Forty Years, Saul Reigned Over Israel" into the text just before 1 Samuel 13:2 (Right after he is confirmed King), using the information from 2 Samuel 2:10.

Now these scrolls take weeks/ months for a copyist to produce, longer if they are doing multiple books. By the time the copyist gets to 1 Samuel 13, he has either forgotten exactly what the task was, or wasn't paying attention properly to understand what the significant/ relevant information from 2 Samuel 2:10 required was. But he remembers at the very least that he needs to go to 2 Samuel 2:10. He takes a stab at the task anyway (sometimes people do this to save the embarrassment of asking again and then having to explain why they forgot to make any notes of the task in the first place, this sort of thing happens frequently in the world of Architecture if you forget a clients requirements). Instead of cherry picking the relevant information like he was tasked with, He ends up copying a large portion of 2 Samuel 2:10 into 1 Samuel 13:1. But instead of reading "Ish-boʹsheth, Saul’s son, was 40 years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned for two years." (2 Samuel 2:10) as it reads in its original place, the interpolation reads "Saul was 40 years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned for two years." The copyist has removed everything about Ishbosheth. That’s only Three less Hebrew Words, like so:

Stage 1 Of Textual Change

We now have this variant finding its way into circulation. We now have two versions of 1 Samuel 13, one containing 13:1, and the other original not containing it. The Dead Sea Scrolls community receives the variant & notices that this verse is near identical to 2 Samuel 2:10, but because Saul is more prominent than Ishbosheth, and because the Saul narrative comes first, they remove 2 Samuel 2:10 from their manuscripts, believing that verse to be the error (this is why the verse is absent from the dead sea Scrolls). I predict that the absence of 2 Samuel 2:10 in the Dead Sea Scrolls would point to 1 Samuel 13:1 being present with a reading of “forty years”. Unfortunately, this chapter is not present in the dead sea scrolls at all to verify.

Second Textual Change

In another community that has received the variant, a copyist comes along to this corrupted text. Not knowing precisely what mistake the first copyist has made, this copyist tries to "fix" this error and makes the problem worse (like with the Michael Heiser Goliath’s brother case). Firstly, the copyist notices that "there is no way Saul reigned for only 2 years, (1 Samuel 27:7 David spends 1 year and 4 months in Philistine territory), there is no way 1 Samuel 13-27 occur in an 8 month period." Then he thinks he knows what mistake was made, but just makes it worse as follows:

He imagines that the error is that the text wasn't originally a regnal length text (like 2 Kings 18:8), and that it was actually just a time skip text. He has already made it a few letters into the verse before he notices this error, and he doesn't want to have to start a new scroll from scratch because that is weeks of work down the drain. So, he removes the word for "Forty" (trying to remove association with King Reign texts).

Stage 2 Of Textual Change Next, he wants to change the way the "two years" are applied. In order to do this, he will need to rearrange the order of the sentence and alter the "and two" into "and when two years". He removes a single letter from the end of "two years", turning it from a complete regnal length statement into a passive "when 2 years"; a time skip statement. Then he moves 2 words from the middle of the sentence to the back of the sentence for grammatical correctness. This text now resembles how the modern corrupted 1 Samuel 13:1 text appears. Stage 3

Continuity Coherence.

How do we know that it was 2 Samuel 2:10 copied into 1 Samuel 13:1 and not the other way around? If we were to assume that 1 Samuel 13:1 was the original, we then have the many variations we see today, each one presenting narrative problems (Either Saul being Thirty or a Two-year reign creates continuity errors. There would also be no clear motive to fabricate information about Ishbosheth, copying it from Saul). If on the other hand, 2 Samuel 2:10 was the original, the narrative of 1 Samuel 8-15 makes more sense with 1 Samuel 13:1 absent. The Garrison/ oppression of the Philstines mentioned in 1 Samuel 9:16, 10:5, 13:3 is dealt with more immediately, and the 330,000 Israelites originally gathered (1 Samuel 11:8) most of which are sent back to their tents (1 Samuel 13:2) and are then called back into the battle after the 3,000 succeed (1 Samuel 13:4) aren’t sat around doing nothing for two whole years (if this was indeed a time skip verse). So assuming that 1 Samuel 13:1 was the original, either a 2 year time skip, or a 2 year total reign for Saul creates problems. With the other way around as I am proposing, there are no continuity errors. No Time skip for Saul works better, and a 2 year regnal length for Ishbosheth is problem free in its own narrative.

You can turn 2 Samuel 2:10 into 1 Samuel 13:1 by removing 4 Hebrew words and 1 letter, and by moving two words from the middle to the end of the sentence. The textual variance family tree for all of the above would look as follows:

Text Family Tree


In the original Hebrew, every single word present in 1 Samuel 13:1 is present also in 2 Samuel 2:10. The spellings are identical. It is highly unlikely that two verses dealing with the same/ similar subject matter would use all the exact same words in a near identical order with no variation in spelling (Just compare 1 Samuel 14:49 and 1 Samuel 31:2 and you’ll see what I mean). The evidence would indicate that the words from 2 Samuel 2:10 were copied into 1 Samuel 13:1.

I think it is now safe to conclude that 1 Samuel 13:1 is an interpolation into the text from 2 Samuel 2:10 made by well-meaning scribes and a mistaken execution of their idea. This means then that the Greek Septuagint version where this verse is omitted preserves the original reading of the text.

It also shows that we already possessed all of information needed to resolve this issue, but simply nobody made the connection. The answers were there all along.

Interlinear Of 2 Samuel 2:10

Interlinear Of 1 Samuel 13:1

Information On 1 Samuel 13:1 Variants

  • I want to thank you for this answer, and particularly for your explanation as to why Saul likely reigned for about forty years. If this is indeed the case, then an unlikely Biblical moral problem relating to 2 Samuel 21 is potentially resolved. In 2 Samuel 21, as I'm sure you are aware, two of Saul's sons and five of his grandsons are killed as punishment for Saul's having killed the Gibeonites years before. It is commonly assumed by commentators that these men had nothing to do with the killing, and that they were killed for Saul's sin. But this is morally evil according to the Bible itself.
    – CMK
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 0:58
  • Most commentators simply assert that God can do whatever He wants to, and ignore the moral problems associated with the passage; however, this idea is, in my view, incorrect. God is holy specifically because He does not do certain things; and according to His law and His will revealed by Ezekiel, it is morally wrong to punish a child for their father's sin. The only potential solution to this moral problem is that the men that were killed actually had something to do with the slaughter of the Gibeonites. If Saul reigned for forty years and this took place at the end of his reign, then
    – CMK
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 1:01
  • Saul's grandsons were probably old enough to have, and did participate in, that slaughter, making them as guilty as Saul was. This would also explain why God said that Saul and his house was bloody, rather than just Saul. Of course, it is nearly impossible that Saul could have killed all those Gibeonites himself, and it is not hard to imagine that his family would have been his primary helpers. But the question becomes when these men were born. The text says that the grandsons of Saul were the children of Michal (likely Merab), that she bore to Adriel. We know from 1 Samuel 18:19 that Merab
    – CMK
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 1:05
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    Thankyou for the kind words. I'm glad it has proved useful for you in your studies making sense of elements in the surrounding passages. Useful for me as well because i hadn't considered the implications of the data with the Gibeonites. Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 10:48
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    Regarding the moral problem: Deuteronomy 32:39 says "See now that I—I am he, And there are no gods apart from me. I put to death, and I make alive. I wound, and I will heal". Its not discussing birth and death, but death and resurrection. Just because God puts people to death, doesn't mean its permanent e.g Enoch, Moses, Abijah, Canaanites (+Children) etc. Since he can restore life, he can take it, with no lasting damage (Isaiah 65:17). He made use of this right to produce warning examples for the people living at the most crucial judgement time in history (1 Corinthians 10:11, Jude 7). Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 11:08

New American Standard Bible 1 Samuel 13:1

Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty-two years over Israel.

The words "thirty" and "forty" are not in the original Hebrew.

Berean Literal Bible Acts 13:21

Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.

King James Bible is not as definite about the 40 years:

And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.

Gills explains them this way:

The Jews are very much divided about the years of Saul's reign, some allow him but two years (x), and others three, one year that he reigned with Samuel, and two by himself (y), which they conclude from 1 Samuel 13:1 but others (z) think this too short a time for the things done by him, the wars he fought with many nations, and his persecution of David from place to place; wherefore others (a) allow him, some seventeen, and others twenty years; but our apostle ascribes forty years to him, which must be understood both of him and Samuel; with which Josephus (b) agrees, who says that he reigned eighteen years, during Samuel's life, and twenty two years after his death, ...

That explains the 40 years in Acts.

from the beginning of Saul's kingdom, or from the time that he was anointed by Samuel the prophet, until the kingdom was renewed to him by all Israel, was one year, and then Saul chose three thousand men out of Israel after that he reigned two years by the consent of all Israel, until he sinned in the business of the Amalekites, and then he was accounted as a dead man, and the years of his reign were not numbered; at which time David was anointed

That explains the 2 years in 1 Samuel 13:1.

(x) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 13. p. 37. Juchasin, fol. 11. 1. Kabbala, R. Abraham, &c.
(y) T. Bab. Temura, fol. 15. 1.
(z) R. Levi ben Gersom & R. Isaiah in 1 Samuel 13.1.
(a) Shalsheleth Hakabala, fol. 8. 1.
(b) Antiqu. l. 6. c. 14. sect. 9.

How long did Saul reign for?

This is a messy one depending on how one interprets "reign". By our modern standard, a reign of twenty to twenty-two years is reasonable.


Twenty years would seem to fit better for two reasons:

  1. The Ark was in the home Abinadab for 20 years (1 Sam 7:2) before David brought the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6).

  2. If Saul became king at 40 and reigned for 40 years, he would have been 80 when he died in battle; very unlikely that an 80-year-old would have been in battle.

  • 1
    Hey! Welcome to the Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. We are glad you are here. Please take a moment to take the site tour and check out what we are looking for in answers and the FAQs. We tend to look for answers that show effort, research, and references. Consider an edit to add citations and reliable sources that support the assertions made here.
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