Was David the youngest of seven sons, or the youngest of eight?

Posted on Feb.21, 2009. Filed in 1 Samuel, 1 Chronicles. Average rating: 5.8 / 10 (Rate It).

Both 1 Samuel and 1 Chronicles describe David’s family. Both agree that David was the youngest son of Jesse, but they disagree as to how many brothers he had.

According to 1 Samuel, David was the youngest of eight brothers. We see this first in 1 Samuel 16, where God has told Samuel that he has chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be king, and Samuel inspects them to find out which one it is:

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look upon his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’ Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the prsence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. [1 Samuel 16:6-13a (NRSV)]

Having been shown seven of Jesse’s sons, Samuel is told that there is one more, the youngest. This last son is David.

David is also described as the youngest of eight sons in 1 Samuel 17:

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three eldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle; the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest; the three eldest followed Saul. [1 Samuel 17:12-14 (NRSV)]

According to 1 Chronicles, however, David was the youngest of seven brothers:

Jesse became the father of Eliab his firstborn, Abinadab the second, Shimea the third, Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth, Ozem the sixth, David the seventh; and their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. [1 Chronicles 2:13-16a (NRSV)]

So was David the youngest of seven sons, or the youngest of eight?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    1 Samuel 16:10-11 also makes David the eighth.

    It looks like the author of Chronicles has altered things in order to make David seventh, a traditionally “special” number. The NIV Study Bible basically says as much.

    On the other hand, I’ve heard the suggestion that one of David’s brothers died some time after the events of 1 Samuel 16:10-11, and so David could thereafter be considered the seventh. I suppose this is possible.

  2. 2

    The death of one of David’s brothers does seem like the most obvious way to defend inerrancy here. Against that, you have the fact that the Chronicles passage mentions David and his brothers along with their place in the birth order. Still, probably not a strong enough detail to overthrow this defense of inerrancy.

    Another possible defense is that Jesse might have disowned one of his sons between the Samuel and Chronicles passage. This might do better at explaining the positions in the birth order that you find in Chronicles.

    Either way, I think the charge of error can be handled here.

  3. 3

    Thanks for the comments. I’ve added 1 Samuel 16 as evidence that David was the youngest of eight.

    I’m not convinced that we can harmonise the passages by saying that one of the brothers died between the accounts. The list in 1 Chronicles seems to be intended to be an exhaustive list, rather than tied to a particular point in time. Even if one of the brothers had died, I’d expect him to be included there.

  4. 4

    TRUE ANSWER (nobody died):

    The “missing” 8th son is Elihu:

    1Chr 27:18 Of Judah, Elihu, one of the brethren of David: of Issachar, Omri the son of Michael:

    Since Elihu is a “ruler” he would not be listed under Jesse/David’s lineage in 1 Chr 2:13; he would have his own (which is not listed in 1 or 2 Chronicles because these deal specifically with the dynasty of David).

    A video of the answer is here (where I learned it):

    Martin Richling is the teacher:

  5. 5

    Elihu and Eliab are probably the same person.

    The names “Elihu”, “Eliab” and “Eliel” are all used to refer to the same ancestor of Samuel in 1 Chronicles 6 and 1 Samuel 1. So the names seem to be interchangeable.

    That means that the missing son is either dead or disowned.

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