Saul Began To Reign
1 Samuel 13:1
1 Samuel 13:1 literally reads “Saul was years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years.” It is one of the more fascinating verses to see how various versions deal with it. There is a hole in the manuscript (the technical word is “lacuna”), and a word is missing. Most translators postulate a second lacuna before the “two” at the end of the verse. But there is no manuscript with a second lacuna to support that speculation. We cannot retrieve the word. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) might have clued us in, but the entirety of 1 Kings 13:1 (the Septuagint names Samuel and Kings as 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 3 Kings and 4 Kings) is missing in the Septuagint1.
Thankfully, the only thing at stake is the age of King Saul. We can read in Acts 13:21 that Saul reigned forty years. Or perhaps that is 42, rounded to 40, depending on how you deal with the rest of 1 Samuel 13:1.
What we have for sure in the verse is that Saul was some unspecified age when he became King, and something happened at the two-year mark. Beyond that, you have three camps:
The one-hole camp: Many versions deal with Saul’s age in some editorial fashion, and assign verse 2 to the event at the two-year mark of his reign.
The two-hole camp: Also many close the sentence at verse 1, and postulate that it was a statement of the length of his total reign, and that the length of his reign was some number of years that ended in a 2 (22, 32, 42, etc.), and that the length of Saul’s reign was 42 years, in deference to Acts 13:21.
The no-hole camp: An over-literal reading would supply a one when the number is absent, and he reigned for two years. But not many people really believe Saul was one year old when he began to reign.
Translators are not supposed to write commentaries. And as much as I pound on that, there are times they really have no choice. For instance, were you to write, “The English language has three ways to spell the word ‘too,’” you must select one of those ways – even if arbitrarily. And even the way I structured that quote forced me to select either a comma or a period – even if arbitrarily. Some translators use footnotes, but who bothers with footnotes when reading from the pulpit! The word of God is true, and the reader shouldn’t be bogged down with choices regarding what is true. (Of course if you catch me in a different mood, I’ll tell you that the reader shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to comprehend a verse from any of all valid possibilities.)
Before I go version to version, there is a Septuagint manuscript that states that Saul was 30 years old when he began to reign. The evidence is so faint that it would be laughable to present an alternative reading were that all the evidence I had to present. But in the context that the translator either accepts the maverick reading or leaves a blank, that maverick reading starts to look awfully good. But I get suspicious that the 30 is derived from 2 Samuel 5:4, where the exact same chronology is applied to David – without dispute.
Some versions say Saul was forty years old. I have no suggestion where the forty comes from.
My own preference is the one-hole camp, leave it as a hole, and assign verse 2 to the event of the two-year mark of his reign; and to leave it to Acts 13:21 as the sole source of the length of Saul’s reign. (That said, I am aware I have written about Saul’s 42-year reign at some point, even if somewhere other than this series). And if I don’t know Saul’s age, there is plenty else I do not know either.
Saul was a young man when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years. – Contemporary English
Saul was a child of one year when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel. – Douay-Rheims 18992.
Saul lived for one year and then became king, and when he had reigned for two years over Israel, - ESV 2008
A son of a year [is] Saul in his reigning, yea, two years he hath reigned over Israel, - Young
Saul was forty years old when he began to reign; and when he had reigned two years over Israel – ASV
SAUL WAS [forty] years old when he began to reign; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, - Amplified
Saul was ... years old when he became king; and he reigned two years over Israel. – Darby
Saul was … years old when he began to reign; and when he had reigned two years over Israel – Me. I get a complex when I drag out all these versions, and precisely zero of them say what I think is right.
Saul was 30 years old when he became king, and he ruled over Israel forty-two years. – Common English
Saul was 30 years old when he became king. He ruled over Israel 42 years. – Easy to Read
Saul was… years old when he began to reign, and he reigned… and two years over Israel. – ESV 2001
Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he was king of Israel forty-two years. – God’s Word
Saul was 30 years old when he became king, and he reigned 42 years over Israel. – Holman
Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty two years over Israel. – NASB
Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he was king over Israel forty-two years. – New Century
Saul was 30 years old when he became king. He ruled over Israel for 42 years. – New International Readers
Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years. – NIV
Saul was forty years old when he began to rule. He ruled over Israel thirty-two years. – New Life. I have no idea where they got these numbers.
Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty-two years. – New Living
Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, - 21st Century King James
[deleted] – Good News Translation. The 1 is followed by a blank and then a 2. The Septuagint advances verse 2 to verse 1, verse 3 to verse 2, etc.
Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel – KJV
Saul was a young man when he began as king. He was king over Israel for many years. – The Message
Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel – NKJV
Saul was a son of one year, that is, as innocent and clean of sin as a child of one year, when he began to reign; and he reigned upon Israel two (and twenty) years. (Saul was fifty years old when he began to reign; and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years.) - Wycliffe
Some Non-English that I find interesting:
Saul was. ... year by its felicitations, and he was in .... years of Israel – Danish
Saul was of legal age when began to reign in Israel; and when already some years reigning – Dios Habla Hoy
Saul had certain age when began to reign and reigned in Israel for forty-two years. – God’s Word for Everyone. I could go along with the way this starts.
Cuando Saúl tenía ... años y había reinado ya dos años sobre Israel, - Reina Valera Contemporánea. Finally, one that I agree with.
1The verses in the Septuagint have been renumbered such that 13:2 is renumbered to 13:1, and all the other verse numbers in the chapter have been reduced by 1. What they had available for verse 1 is not clear to me.
The Good News Translation likewise deletes the verse, but does not renumber the remaining verses. Rather, they print the “1”, footnote it, and then proceed to print the 2. The footnote reads: “One ancient translation [ed note: the Septuagint] does not have verse 1; Hebrew has as verse 1 Saul was..years old when he became king, and he was king of Israel for two years [ed note: stated fairly, even if simplistically]. The Hebrew text is defective at two points in this verse [ed note: I find this comment sufficiently obnoxious so as to disqualify the whole version. See comments below.].”
Background on the Good News Translation: The Good News Translation is the old 1966 Good News For Modern Man – widely read at the time, with the understanding between publisher and reader that it was a paraphrase. The Old Testament was added in 1976, and the Apocrypha in 1992. Also in 1992, the Old and New Testaments were edited to remove all gender references, and Good News For Modern Man was remarketed as Today’s English Version. Then, in 2001, it was remarketed again as the Good News Translation in an attempt to redefine the 1966 paraphrase marketing, and to re-sell the version not as a paraphrase, but as a translation.
When I see the words, “The Hebrew text is defective…,” I really don’t care how the statement ends. The Hebrew text is not defective – PERIOD. Man may have inserted his corruptions, and the text may have suffered for inadequate care. But when you tell me that the Hebrew text is defective, I will assign no import to anything else you have to say on the topic.
And the footnote was no mere gaffe. It goes to the heart of whether Good News is a paraphrase or a translation. When one of the translators states publically, "Only willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty can account for the claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. No truth-loving, God-respecting, Christ-honoring believer should be guilty of such heresy. To invest the Bible with the qualities of inerrancy and infallibility is to idolatrize it, to transform it into a false god." - Transcript from the 1981 Southern Baptist Convention. Anyone who agrees with this statement would not be able to tell the difference between a paraphrase and a translation.
2The idiom for disclosing age is “A son of [age] years.” More smoothly, “Saul had been a son for [age] years.” But idioms require care during the translation process. I can’t prove it, but when Genesis 41:46 says that Joseph had been a son for thirty years when he began to serve the King of Egypt, I comprehend that to mean that Joseph was 47 years old. At age 17, when Joseph was sold as a slave (Genesis 37:2), and imported to Egypt, he entered into a new sonship. When Genesis 41:46 says he had been a son for thirty years, it means that he had been engaged in his present sonship relationship for thirty years. It’s not a whole lot different than when a modern-day Christian bifurcates his age to disclose how long since his birth, and also how long since his new birth.
Or…. I could be wrong.
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