One of the reasons cited by famed New Testament scholar and best-selling author Bart Ehrman for his transition from fundamentalist Christian to fundamentalist agnostic is that the gospel of Mark is riddled with factual and historical errors. A prominent example is that David and his men ate the showbread “when Abiathar was the high priest.” In reality, argues Ehrman, Ahimelech (Abiathar’s father) was high priest at the time. Did Mark make a mistake, or is it Ehrman who is dead wrong?
First, it should be noted that it is Ehrman, not Mark, who makes a crucial blunder. A quick reading of the text in question reveals that far from saying that Abiathar was high priest, Mark states that David and his men ate the showbread “in the days of Abiathar the high priest” (Mark 2:26, emphasis added). Put another way, there is no direct indication that Abiathar was serving in the office of high priest at the time, only that he was alive. Had Jesus erred, the Jewish leaders who were intimately acquainted with their history would have jumped all over him.
Furthermore, the reason Jesus references Abiathar rather than his father Ahimelech should be self-evident—particularly to a New Testament scholar. Namely, while David has little interaction with Ahimelech in biblical history, he is inextricably linked to Abiathar. In fact, after Saul killed Ahimelech (1 Samuel 22:1–19), Abiathar found protection under David (1 Samuel 22:23), became priest to David (1 Samuel 23:6, 9; 2 Samuel 8:17), and eventually was exalted to the highest priestly office under David (1 Chronicles 15:11; 1 Kings 2:35). Put another way, Abiathar was the star— Ahimelech was but a footnote.
Finally, one thousand years from now people may well say that Desert Storm occurred in the days of President George W. Bush, though he was not president at the time—his dad was. Indeed, the entire Iraq crisis from 9/11 to the toppling and trial of Saddam, including all the attendant circumstances leading up to those events (e.g., the challenges of the U.N. weapon’s inspections prior to 9/11), are associated with George W. Bush’s Iraq war, not with George Herbert Walker Bush. In much the same way, Jesus is justified in speaking of David eating the showbread “in the days of Abiathar the high priest.”
Through a fair and balanced application of interpretive principles, this and a host of apparent contradictions are easily resolved.
For further study, see “Do the gospel accounts contradict one another?” [on p. 180] and Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code: Find Out What the Bible Really Says about the End Times…and Why It Matters Today (Nashville:Thomas Nelson,2007).
“The first to present his case seems right,
till another comes forward and questions him.”