Who was the high priest who helped David: Ahimelech or Abiathar? Did Saint Mark make a mistake in his Gospel?4 min read

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The story about David (before he was king) fleeing King Saul is found in the book of 1 Samuel in the Old Testament. Here the author recorded that David went to Ahimelech, the priest, asking for bread for himself and his companions. However, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is reported saying that in the days of Abiathar, the high priest, David went asking for bread. Did Mark make a mistake by misquoting Jesus? And who was actually the high priest at that time when David fled from Saul? 

To lay some context using a current-day example 

“The constitutional law subject in Chicago Law School was taught by US President Barak Obama.” Many lawyers who studied at Chicago University say this statement with pride, since the one who taught them that subject was the US President himself. 

But was Obama the US President at the time he was teaching at Chicago Law School? Of course not! Obama taught at Chicago University between 1992 and 2004, which is five full years before he became president. And now comes the question: Do those boastful lawyers lie when they make this statement? Or are they mistaken? 

Simply put, whoever hears those lawyers’ claims will guess that those lawyers just mention Obama by the highest position he reached, which is the position that everyone knows, the president of the United States. 

Going back to the Holy Bible 

We find that whoever is sceptical about the authenticity of the Holy Bible is oblivious to the same explanation as in the case of the Chicago lawyers taught by President Obama.  

Let’s examine the Scriptures: 

But He [Jesus] said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” (Mark 2:25-26)    

Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one is with you?” (1 Samuel 21:1)  

What the sceptics picked up on: 

And here comes the sceptical question. Why did Jesus say that David went in the days of Abiathar even though the Old Testament mentions David going to Abimelech? 

Did Jesus make a mistake? Or did Mark make that mistake while documenting the story and forget to double-check his historical information? 

Our Response: 

Actually, there’s no mistake at all. Abiathar is the son of Abimelech, and he indeed became the high priest after the murder of his father by the hand of King Saul in the very next chapter. Also, Abiathar was indeed present in the temple (as he was a priest and his father was the high priest) during this story. And Jesus mentions the highest position Abiathar had reached, which was the position known to everyone at that time: the high priest (going back to the point about ex-President Obama’s story). 

Also, if we go back to the most recent script of the original text of the Gospel of Mark, we will find the translation of this sentence as follows: “In the days of Abiathar, who became a high priest”, and that means that neither Jesus nor Mark made a mistake. 

Further Contemplations: 

The cognizant reader of the Holy Bible would know why Jesus mentioned Abiathar in particular in this situation.  

  • The Pharisees used to bother Jesus and His disciples, asking why they were doing this. Abiathar was the last high priest of his ancestral line, and he sustained Adonia against Solomon (the legitimate heir to King David). Because of this betrayal, Solomon had him expelled from the priesthood.  
  • It is as if Jesus is warning the Pharisees that just as Abiathar had a bad reputation in Old Testament history and had been exiled from Jerusalem and the priesthood for his opposition against Solomon, they too were opposing the rightful Heir (1 Kings 2:26–27). 
  • Thus, Abiathar represents the end of an old regime that vanishes with the coming of David’s ultimate successor. 

Jesus is also comparing Himself and His disciples to David and his men, as He describes the Pharisees in like manner in the story by illustrating them as figures like Abiathar. 

In conclusion: 

Mark did not make a mistake in his account of the Gospels; Jesus was very precise when He used those specific words. Not only were they inerrant, but they also served a purpose in His response to His opposition. 

Are you interested in reading more about supposed “mistakes” within the Bible?  Click this link to find them:  https://copticapologetics.com/category/bible-difficulties/

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