The Bible seems to present two different lineages for the first king of Israel. Saul’s father was named Kish, but when we try to figure out the name of Kish’s father, we run into a complication.
1 Samuel 9:1 states, “
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power.” Later in the same book, we are told, “
Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.” So 1 Samuel presents Saul and Abner as cousins whose fathers (Kish and Ner, respectively) were sons of a man named Abiel.
When we turn to 1 Chronicles 8:33, we find an apparent contradiction. It states, “
Ner begot Kish [and]
Kish begot Saul.” This same wording is repeated in 1 Chronicles 9:39.
So was Saul’s grandfather named Abiel or Ner? Furthermore, was Ner Saul’s uncle as 1 Samuel implies or was he Saul’s grandfather? Is there any way to resolve these difficulties?
There are several possible solutions to properly identify Saul’s grandfather. However, the Bible does not provide us with a definitive answer, so we should not dogmatically hold to any of these plausible explanations. Yet, since we only need to show why this is not a contradiction, any of these resolutions will suffice.
One possibility is that in the genealogies provided, some of the generations were skipped. In this case, Abiel could have been Saul’s grandfather and Ner could have been several generations earlier or vice versa. While this is plausible, it seems unlikely given that 1 Samuel 9:1 provides us with the names of three ancestors prior to Abiel and Ner is not one of them. Perhaps he was four generations earlier or more.
Often one’s personality would lead to the receiving of a second name, sort of like a nickname.
Another possible solution is the one I think makes the most sense. It is very possible that Abiel and Ner were simply two names for the same person. Several men in Scripture are called by different names (Abram/Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Reuel/Jethro, Gideon/Jerubbaal, Solomon/Jedidiah, Simon/Peter, etc.). In modern times we often go by first and last names, and sometimes even a middle name, to distinguish us from others who might share our name. In a culture where people were given one name at birth another convention seems to have arisen to make distinctions between people of the same name. Often one’s personality would lead to the receiving of a second name, sort of like a nickname.
If Abiel and Ner were just two names for the same man then this would solve both of the difficulties mentioned above. 1 Samuel 14:50 clearly states that Saul’s uncle was named Ner and 1 Chronicles asserts that his grandfather’s name was also Ner. According to this scenario, Saul’s grandfather (Ner, also known as Abiel) named his son Ner.
Further support for this is found in the fact that this son named Ner (who was Saul’s Uncle Ner) passed his name to his son Abner (“my father is Ner”). In Hebrew, the name Ner means a “lamp”1 and Abner means “my father is a lamp.”2 So perhaps Saul’s grandfather was originally named Ner, but, perhaps due to godly character, came to be known as Abiel, which means “God is my father.”3
Since there are so many names of which to keep track, it may be easier to understand this proposed solution by seeing it diagrammed as a family tree.
Although we cannot be certain this is the actual solution to the problem, the second option seems to be the most likely scenario. It fits with the common practice of a person going by two names. It also solves the alleged contradiction that one person named Ner was both Saul’s uncle and his grandfather. Instead, both his uncle and grandfather shared the same name, just like many people today who are named after their fathers. For example, in my own family, my grandfather, father, brother, and nephew all have the same name. So there are multiple plausible solutions to this alleged contradiction.