1 Samuel 13:1 – Saul’s Regnal Formula


1 Samuel 13:1-15:33


This key text is corrupt or missing at precisely the places we need to establish the chronology of the monarchy.


Throughout the Deuteronomistic History the reigns of kings begin with a stereotyped regnal formula: “Name was X years old when he began to reign, and he reigned X years over Israel” (see, for example, 2 Samuel 2:10; 1 Kings 14:21). Here, the first number has not been preserved, so we do not know how old Saul was when he became king; the second number is “two,” which seems rather short for the length of his reign. Much speculation has tried to solve this vexing problem:

  • Some translations (for example, the New International Version) follow a few Greek manuscripts and read “thirty” for Saul’s age when he became king; however, most Greek versions lack the entire verse.
  • Since Saul has a grandson in 2 Samuel 4:4, some suppose he was 40 at the time of his accession. If this is true, and the information that he ruled 40 years is also accurate (Josephus; Acts 13:21), then Saul was leading his troops in battle at 80 years of age (1 Samuel 31), which is unlikely.
  • In light of these difficulties, others maintain that a reign of two years is plausible.