A Question I Was Asked:

How Many Sons Did Jesse Have?

The Question:

According to 1 Samuel 16:10-11, Jesse, the father of Israel's King David, had at least eight sons, of which David was the eighth and youngest. But 1 Chronicles 2:13-15 seems to state that Jesse had seven sons only, and that David was the youngest. This is a bit confusing. How many sons did Jesse really have? Some would say this is a Bible contradiction; I don't say that, but how can this be explained?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, let us look at this:

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, "The Lord has not chosen this one either." Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, "Nor has the Lord chosen this one." Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, "The Lord has not chosen these." So he asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse answered. "He is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives." (1 Samuel 16:6-11).

Jesse was the father of Eliab his firstborn; the second son was Abinadab, the third Shimea, the fourth Nethanel, the fifth Raddai, the sixth Ozem and the seventh David. (1 Chronicles 2:13-15).

Okay, the first point here is that the names of the sons which are mentioned (not every single one is mentioned in 1 Samuel 16:6-8), agree, moreover it is agreed that David is the youngest, so immediately we can gather confidence that this portion of Scripture is accurate. So what is the explanation?

Almost certainly the explanation is simple:

Both texts are probably correct. It seems likely that one of Jesse's sons had died before making any significant impact during David's reign, thus of little interest to the chronicler. 1 Chronicles 2:13-15 never states that Jesse only ever had seven sons. It simply names seven of his sons (including David) and also lists two of his daughters (verse 16). So it seems that one of Jesse's sons had died before being married, or without having had any children of his own. 1 Chronicles states the main points but not necessarily every single detail.

The Chronicler was almost certainly Ezra, so there could have been circa 600 years before Ezra, acting as a historian, again looked at 1 Samuel, around 450-425BC. At that future point he decides not to include the name of one of the sons almost certainly because Ezra knew that that son had died before making any impact.

Robin A. Brace. July 24th, 2012.