Mark 2:26, Mark Names the Wrong High Priest

How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?

I often find myself discussing apparent contradictions in the Bible with others who see no contradiction at all. I have one friend who simply buries his head and says he has “faith” that there are no contradictions, and I have another friend who thoroughly enjoys working through apparent contradictions as if they are puzzles put there to be solved. In truth, I’m against neither approach, believing that religion should be whatever works best for us, yet both approaches do puzzle me. Both seem to begin with the assumption that the Bible, in order to be the Word of God, must be inerrant.

Let’s take today’s verse as an example. Mark’s Gospel says that Abiathar was the high priest during this incident of David eating the showbread in the Temple. Mark is even quoting Jesus with these words. But if you read the account in 1 Samuel, it isn’t Abiathar, it’s Ahimelech:

Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee? –1 Samuel 21:1

It turns out that with a little wordplay, the contradiction can go away. Mark doesn’t say Ahimelech wasn’t also a high priest; maybe there were two? All Mark says is that this incident occurred during the time Abiathar was high priest. So could there have been two high priests? Technically, no, but if you read Luke 3:2, it gives the opinion that there can be multiple high priests at the same time. Luke was referring to Caiaphas and Ananias, the latter of which was no longer the high priest but once served in that capacity, and Luke called them both high priests. Is this a good enough explanation to solve the Abiathar/Ahimelech conundrum?

Common sense says no. There’s simply no reason at all for Mark to mention Abiathar when the priest that matters in the story is Ahimelech. But, technically, it’s possible that there is no contradiction … there are ways to twist the words around until the Bible remains inerrant.

Which is the proper approach? It boils down to what you must believe, in order to remain a Christian.

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