Post Author: Bill Pratt
In Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus, he relays a life-changing event that occurred during his university days at Princeton. He wrote a paper on an alleged historical error made in Mark 2:26, where Jesus refers to David and his companions entering the house of God and eating the consecrated bread. Here is the verse in question:
“In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
The apparent difficulty with this verse is that 1 Samuel 21, which originally recorded the event, states that Abiathar’s father, Ahimelech, was the high priest when David ate the bread, not Abiathar.
According to Ehrman, in his research paper, he developed a “long and complicated argument” to explain away the apparent mistake. But when he received his graded paper his professor had written, “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” When Ehrman read the professor’s note, “the floodgates opened.” If there could be a mistake here, then there could be mistakes in other parts of the Bible. Ehrman’s doubts about the truth of Christianity snowballed and today he is an agnostic, no longer able to believe what the Bible says.
When I read this account of Ehrman’s life, I could only shake my head in disbelief. How could this one little issue be such a strong catalyst toward doubting the entire Bible? Is there no answer to the Mark 2:26 problem? Had nobody ever dealt with this problem before?
I attempted to do a little research and quickly found satisfactory answers to the alleged historical difficulty in Mark 2:26.
According to Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, here is one way of dealing with this problem:
First Samuel is correct in stating that the high priest was Ahimelech. On the other hand neither was Jesus wrong. When we take a closer look at Christ’s words we notice that He used the phrase “in the days of Abiathar” (v. 26) which does not necessarily imply that Abiathar was high priest at the time David ate the bread. After David met Ahimelech and ate the bread, King Saul had Ahimelech killed (1 Sam. 22:17–19). Abiathar escaped and went to David (v. 20) and later took the place of the high priest. So even though Abiathar was made high priest after David ate the bread, it is still correct to speak in this manner. After all, Abiathar was alive when David did this, and soon following he became the high priest after his father’s death. Thus, it was during the time of Abiathar, but not during his tenure in office.
Abiathar was a high priest during David’s reign as king, and he is mentioned some 29 times in the Old Testament in relation to his priestly role. Those familiar with the Hebrew Bible in the 1st century (when The Gospel of Mark was written) would easily connect Abiathar to David, so Mark 2:26 is merely reminding readers of the time frame of David’s eating the consecrated bread.
The words “the high priest,” coming after “Abiathar” are just his title, much like we might say, “When President Obama attended college, he made many friends.” Obama was not president while he was in college, but whenever we mention Obama, we refer to him as President Obama.
This argument is easy to grasp and hardly requires an entire research paper, so one wonders why Ehrman didn’t know about this approach to the challenge of Mark 2:26. It seems to me that there were clearly other, more important factors in Ehrman’s rejection of Christianity.
My challenge to Christians who are intimidated by claims of errors in the Bible is to go do some research for yourself. There are answers to these challenges. Remember, virtually all the Bible difficulties that critics raise have been known for 2,000 years. None of them are new. Instead of throwing your faith away, do some digging. I only wish Ehrman had.