Home » Ponderings of the Bible » What’s that about Saul’s Age?

What’s that about Saul’s Age?


1 Samuel 13.1

Translations that leave a blank:

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

(Saul was…years old when he became king and he reigned… (two) years over Israel.) NAB

Saul was … years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel two years. NJPS


Translations that suggest thirty

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

Saul was 30 years  old when he became king, and he reigned 42 years  over Israel.  HCSV

Saul was [thirty] years old when he began to reign; he ruled over Israel for [forty] years. NET


Other Suggestions:

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

Translations using what the Hebrew has:

Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, NKJV (and also KJV)[1]



SAUL was a child of one year when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.


The thirteenth chapter of 1 Samuel opens up with what should be a standard formula, in which the age of the King is given when he becomes king, followed by the length of his reign (cf. 1 Kings 14.24). However, the MT of the passage is extremely corrupt, it reads literally, as “Saul was one year old when he became king and he reigned two years over Israel.”[2] As McCarter writes, “The first part of this statement exercised the ingenuity of the ancient commentators and translators considerably.”[3]

The LXX of this verse is no help, since it is large not found.[4] Though, some Greek fragments do list the age of Saul as thirty, but they are not part of the earlier nor most important manuscripts.[5] Besides being of a later date these fragments appear of no help as they seem to be based on 2 Sam 5.4.[6]

Acts does, however give the length of the reign as 40 years, as does Josephus in once place. Although Josephus will also state in another place as his reign being only 20 years.[7] Josephus gives the length as 18 during the life of Samuel and then for another twenty two years afterwards.

“Saoul ended up in this way in accordance with the prophecy of Samouel because he disobeyed God’s commandments regarding the Amalekites and because he did away with both the family of Abimelech and Abimelech himself, as well as the city of the high priests. He reigned as king eighteen years during the lifetime of Samouel and twenty-two after his death. Thus Saoul ended his life.” Ant. 6.378

Two years would itself seem impossible, although that has not stopped some commentators from trying to fit the events mentioned within that timeframe.[8] A reign of forty years would fit well it should be noted, especially as Saul is seen as beginning his reign as a young man, and it ends when his son, Jonathan is at military age.[9] That Saul appears to be young is based on chapters 9-10, 9.2 records Saul as “a handsome young man.”[10]

Although Saul beginning his reign at forty is equally plausibly since 13.2 Jonathan is already a military leader and he has grandson at the end of his life.[11] As Tsumura notes, we cannot  be sure how old Saul really was when he had died.[12]

Of the missing, the numbers it has been suggested that perhaps the original author of Samuel didn’t know the date themselves’ or that later scribes omitted it because they felt it wasn’t correct.[13] One commentator, sees that even the “two,” is just a corruption of a duplication for years, and so the original would have just had “Saul was … year old… and reigned… years.”[14] One Targum has “Like a one-year-old who has no sins was Saul when he became king.”[15]

Another suggestion is that the original writer only mentioned Saul as reigning two years before Yahweh rejected him, thus although Saul would indeed stay king for upwards to forty years, in the historian’s eyes it was only legitimate for two of those years.[16] A clink in this is the suggestion that two years is too small for the time between Saul’s actions at Gigal (11.15) and his being rejected (13.14).[17] Instead, perhaps the two years are a sort of ironic comment, in away the Historian is saying in Yahweh’s eyes Saul was only king for “a couple of years.”[18] Also suggested that the Historians use of “a year old,” may be his saying Saul was a “certain age” when made king, not that matters since his reign was so short to begin with.[19]

[1] JBC/NIV 169/363

[2] New Catholic 312

[3] AYBC, 222

[4] JBC OT 169

[5] NIV, 363

[6] WBC, 122

[7] JBC NT 193


[9] NIV 363

[10] NICOT Tsumura, 331.

[11] WBC, 122

[12] NICOT, 331.

[13] TOTC, 110

[14] AYBC, 222.

[15] AYBC, 222.

[16] NAC, 147

[17] NICOT, 331.

[18] NICOT, 331.

[19] NICOT, 331. See this commentary for a fuller discussion by Tsumura.


1 Comment

  1. Thank you so much for your writings, Are you on Facebook? God Bless, Susan

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