(1 Sam. 31 & 2 Sam. 1) How did Saul die?

CLAIM: 1 Samuel 31 says that Saul died by suicide, but 2 Samuel 1 says an Amalekite killed him. Which account is true?

RESPONSE: In the original manuscript, there was no division between 1 and 2 Samuel. These were all one book. Therefore, if this is actually contradictory, then the author contradicted his own story one chapter later! This seems to be too difficult to believe.

To answer this difficulty, 1 Samuel 31 is the accurate account of Saul’s death, while 2 Samuel 1 is an accurate account of the Amalekite’s false story. While the inerrant narrator explains Saul’s death in 1 Samuel 31, a lying Amalekite gives an account in 2 Samuel 1. This Amalekite, no doubt, believed that he would receive a reward from David and the new administration by telling him this story of killing Saul (i.e. taking credit for Saul’s death). However, this backfired, and David slew him (v.15). Later in 1 Chronicles 10, the author reaffirms the account in 1 Samuel 31—not the Amalekite’s story.

Bergen[1] thinks that the Amalekite does give personal eyewitness details. For example, he mentions Saul “leaning on his spear” (2 Sam. 1:6). Furthermore, his presence explains how the Philistines didn’t get the crown. He thinks that the Amalekite hastened Saul’s death after Saul fell on his sword.

[1] Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 289.