Is There a Mistake in Mark 2:26?

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.

31 thoughts on “Is There a Mistake in Mark 2:26?”

  1. M,
    Nothing Ehrman has come up with hasn’t been answered by other scholars. A great resource for answering alleged errors and contradictions in the Bible is the Geisler/Howe book that is linked to in the blog post. I highly recommend buying this book if you are bothered by critical attacks on the Bible.

    God bless,

  2. How do you reconcile in this story that in I Samuel 21 it says that David was alone but yet Matthew, Mark and Luke all say that David gave some of the bread to his companions?

  3. Tommy,
    If you read 1 Sam 21 again, you will see that David went alone to get food for his men. Ahimelech specifically ask David if the men had kept themselves from women (v. 4); otherwise they could not eat the bread he was getting for them. After he got the bread alone, he took it to them.

    God bless,

  4. But did not David just make up all this? I mean, about his men waiting somewhere. Judging from the context of this and the next chapter, he appeared to be alone at that moment.
    To me it is one of the most difficult things in the Bible.

  5. I’ve noticed that Bart Erhman’s name has popped up again on this blog. Erhman claims to be an agnostic but in reality his actions are those of an atheist. He seems to take joyous delight in criticizing everything Christian and is more “liberal” than the most liberal Jesus Seminar “scholar.” He carries no weight with me and shouldn’t carry weight with any Christian. Erhman learned along the way that a great deal of money could be made by writing books critical of the Bible and Christianity. No thinking Christian should pay any attention to Erhman or his ilk.

  6. but David lied when he said that he needs food for his men. David was alone and in 1 Sam. 21:10 it’s clear that David alone went to Achish. David asked for a weapon for himself (but no weapons for his ‘men’?)

  7. I think there are a lot of money in Christian books as well. Just check with Lee Strobel and Rich Warren (just to name a few)

  8. I think Ehrman would have addressed this argument in his original defense of the contradiction. This is a weak, oversimplified argument based on semantics. Instead finding “the truth”, most apologists try to make the passages fit with cursory theological analysis because they want Jesus to be real. But, there are many inconsistencies. Maybe the bible isn’t the word of god. Maybe Mark was wrong.

  9. Jesus was a False Jewish Messiah in the first Cent. History proves it. This is JUST one of MANY errors in the NT. This NT Jesus is not the OT Messiah at all, in fact the NT Jesus is all made up.

    If you want to be honest with YOURSELF than ask one question to yourself… *How many people in a Cult would admit there in a cult*.

  10. I think this one could go either way with equal likelihood.

    I say that because while your point is reasonable that it is possible that Mark or Jesus may have been just trying to express the overall time frame, it does not seem highly likely. Ahimelech is still mentioned plenty of times so I don’t see why Jews would be significantly less aware of him than of Abiathar – at least not to the point of needing to refer to Abiathar instead of the actual high priest just so that people would know when the story happened.

    The argument about “the high priest” being his title and the analogy to Obama is also not very strong in my opinion. At the time of this writing, Obama is still President, so people will of course more commonly refer to him as President in a wider variety of circumstances. But we do not address *past* presidents in that way very often when referring to times they were not in office. Some people do it, but it isn’t very common, at least in my experience (I can’t imagine that anyone has hard data on such usage). If you look up information on Abraham Lincoln for example, he is seldom referred to as “President Lincoln” unless the author is specifically referring to a time he was in office. So the analogy you used doesn’t hold up very well.

    The question we should really be asking is, was that common usage back *then*? Perhaps yes. If so then that’s what we should focus on, not convention in modern times in a different culture. But given even just the first of these problems with Mark 2:26, I think the verse remains quite suspect for being a mistake.

  11. Quote- Instead of throwing your faith away, do some digging. I only wish Ehrman had.

    Where did you get your Masters degree at ? Are you a James D. Gray ? Are you a reliable Scholar ? You do not know what your talking about- quote alone proves it !! You make yourself look like a FOOL.

  12. This reminds me of when Oprah Winfrey told about hearing in church that
    “God is a jealous god” and thought “how could God be jealous of little ol’ me?” and said this caused her to lose her faith. Dear Oprah: please learn the difference between “jealous” and “envious” before (No.1) throwing your faith away, and (No.2) embarrassing yourself.

  13. I think the author of this article is missing the point of bart ehrman’s doubt. Whether or not the gospel author or Jesus was in error, the discrepancy between Mark and 1 Samuel allowed Bart to entertain the thought that the bible is a manmade document and liable to error. This opened the door to bart doubting the rest of the bible as being divinely inspired.

    Besides, there are more explicit contradictions in the bible,

    “Between II Samuel and I Chronicles, the number of horsemen David takes changes tenfold.
    And David took from him a thousand chariots, and seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen: and David houghed all the chariot horses, but reserved of them for an hundred chariots.[22]
    And David took from him a thousand chariots, and seven thousand horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen: David also houghed all the chariot horses, but reserved of them an hundred chariots.”

    read for full list of contradictions

  14. I think you are missing the point of what Oprah is saying.
    What Oprah is asking is, why would an omnipotent omniscient creator be ‘envious’ of a person’s loyalty or attention. That doesn’t seem odd to you? It would be like being angry that a pet gerbil you have doesn’t greet you with a squeal when you get home from work. Though relative to god’s infinite intelligence our intelligence does not even compare to a gerbil. It is more like an ant.

    by the way, caging gerbils is unethical , they should live freely in the wild . it was used only to illustrate my point.

  15. Those are merely copyist errors ….no big deal….as more manuscripts come to the fore, those can be corrected…your list of ‘contradiction’ have been answered over and over again for centuries…nothing new under the sun…but of course, you will not listen will you!

  16. Why doesn’t God weigh in himself? Surely he can defend himself Can’t he?

    Why did not God preserve one Complete original copy Of the New Testament or the Old Testament?

    How do you know Bart’s heart and what his reasons for abandoning his Faith are?

    What evidence can you provide to back up your judgments that you know Bart’s heart?

    Mark 16:17-18

    And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

    They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

    Since you can’t do any of the things listed in Mark does that mean you’re not a believer?

  17. I think it’s pretty sad that Evangelicals have to buy a book to defend their faith. Isn’t the Bible Goodenough? Isn’t it good enough to just love your neighbor as yourself as Jesus said?

  18. Prove it. Have you ever seen an original New Testament in the Greek? So why would a perfect God allow copy is to make errors anyway? A perfect God would not do such a thing that makes no sense.

  19. I know you will not approve my post Or my comments because the things I say will put doubts in the heads of you people. If you have to censor comments that shows me that your Faith is pretty weak and you have some serious doubts about it.

  20. And actually I have seen three or four Greek manuscripts and translated them for myself and the Bible does in fact contain errors and there is no 100% consensus about which of them is supposed to be the correct translation.

  21. Doesn’t make any sense to me, there is no proof that Jesus said any of the things he said, the eyewitnesses did not write the Bible, if they did show me some proof that they did. Mark probably just made a mistake just like the thousands of other mistakes in the Bible that the copyists made. Men wrote the Bible and men are not perfect, Men make mistakes. God is perfectly capable of writing his own Bible and Sending It down to earth like It is with the 10 Commandments, a perfect God would not do such a thing as allow men to make all these mistakes in writing his words. It makes no sense it makes no logical sense and if God is the inventor of logic and he would be illogical.

    We expect the following behaviors from anyone who comments on blog posts:

    No personal attacks

    You’re breaking the comments policy but I guess any comment that serves bills agenda will be approved even if it’s against his rules. Is very Christlike of you bill! But again Christians are Unfair in the way they conduct themselves because here you have an example of a blatant violation of the rules yet because it fits with what you guys want you allowed to break it. Is that not hypocrisy?

  23. Moody Bible Institute is not a liberal institution, I think the majority of Barts conclusions came from what he learned at Moody.

  24. 7 years ago, I’m sure you’ve moved on. You’ll notice these forums all attack Ehrman before supplying a convoluted and head scratching response. As a former fundamentalist minister, I used to read and force myself to believe all these supposed amswers.. a slack I never gave Mormons or witnesses when I would evaluate their answers to theological problems. Just use your common sense and trust the basic rules of logic we were all born with.

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