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The Textual Problem In Mark 2:26


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#1 Evangelion

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Posted 26 June 2005 - 02:02 AM

  • Matthew 12:3-4
    But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;
    How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?
  • Luke 6:3-4
    And Jesus answering them said, Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungred, and they which were with him;
    How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone?
  • Mark 2:25-26
    And [Jesus] said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?
    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?

Matthew and Luke are in harmony, but Mark account specifically mentions that this incident took place "in the days of Abiathar the high priest."

The problem lies not in Mark's variance from Matthew and Luke (since this presents no difficulty) but in the fact that Abiathar is not presented as the high priest in the Old Testament account:

1 Samuel 21:1-3
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?
And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such and such a place.
Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present.
Since Mark is believed to be the earliest gospel, it is often argued that this reference to Abiathar was a mistake (either on the part of Mark or Jesus himself) which the later gospels took care to correct in their respective versions.
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#2 Evangelion

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Posted 26 June 2005 - 02:49 AM

Purely textual solutions have been advanced by several scholars.

Adam Clarke notes that...

The Persic reads Abimelech instead of Abiathar.
B. W. Johnson believes that...

The Revised Version gives the text of the best MSS. by omitting "the high priest."
Coffman likewise:

The alternative reading (English Revised Version (1885)), "in the days of Abiathar" is correct, apparently because Abiathar was not high priest at the time referred to, but later when David was king. His father Ahimelech was high priest when David ate the showbread (1 Samuel 21:1-6).
However, the texts which support this reading are few.

They consist of:

  • Codex Bezae (6th Century; though Peter Kirby argues that the omission is purely accidental in this case.)
  • Greek miniscules 1009 and 1046 (both 12th Century.)
  • The Old Syriac Sinaitic (4th and 5th Centuries.)
  • Greek uncial W (5th Century.)
  • Several Latin texts (most of them dating between the 5th and 12th Centuries.)

Attestation for this gloss is therefore inconsistent and weak - particularly when compared with the standard translation, as a footnote in the New English Translation reminds us:

There are alternate readings in various manuscripts, but these are not likely to be original: D W {271} it sys and a few others omit ejpiV *AbiaqaVr ajrcierevw", no doubt in conformity to the parallels in Matt 12:4 and Luke 6:4; {A C Q P S F 074 Ë13 and many others} add tou' before ajrcierevw", giving the meaning “in the days of Abiathar the high priest,” suggesting a more general time frame.

Neither reading has significant external support and both most likely are motivated by the difficulty of the original reading.
This means that "In the days of Abiathar the high priest" is most likely to be the authoritative rendition - and so the textual problem remains.
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#3 Evangelion

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Posted 26 June 2005 - 02:59 AM

But the solution is easier than it first appears.

Rather than spending more time in the New Testament (which provides little assistance) we must go to the Old, and cross-reference the various appearances of Abiathar against each other.

When we do this, we discover something that we could not have learned from any of the Gospels:
(i) In (1Sa_21:1) he is called Ahimelech and his son is called Abiathar, but by conferring other places it is plain that both of them had two names; see (1Ch_24:6; 2Sa_8:17; 2Sa_15:29; 1Ki_2:26; 2Ki_25:18).
Thus reads a helpful footnote at Mark 2:26 in the Geneva Bible, directing us to the various Old Testament passages which resolve this apparent misnomer.
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#4 Evangelion

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Posted 26 June 2005 - 03:03 AM

John Gill - who considered the possibility of a New Testament explanation, as this article has done - provides additional support for the Geneva Bible's footnote:
it might be observed, that in the Persic version of Mark it is rendered, "under Abimelech the high priest"; and in an ancient copy of Beza's, the whole clause is omitted;

though it must be owned, that so it is read in other Greek copies, and in the ancient versions, the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Arabic, and others:

wherefore let it be further observed, that the fact referred to was done in the days of Abiathar, though it was before he was an high priest; and the particle επι may be so rendered, about, or "before Abiathar was high priest", as it is in Mat_1:11.

Besides, Abiathar was the son of an high priest, and succeeded his father in the office: and might be at this time his deputy, who acted for him, or he by has advice;

and according to a rule the Jews themselves give,

"the son of an high priest, who is deputed by his father in his stead, הרי כהן גדול אמור, lo! he is called an high priest.''


[...]

to which may be added, that the names of the father and the son are sometimes changed; Ahimelech is called Abiathar, and this Abiathar is called Ahimelech, the son of Abiathar, 2Sa_8:17, and Abimelech the son of Abiathar, 1Ch_18:16.

And it seems as if both father and son had two names, and were sometimes called by the one, and sometimes by the other: for as the father is sometimes called Abiathar, the son is called Ahimelech, or Abimelech, as in the places mentioned.

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#5 Evangelion

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Posted 26 June 2005 - 03:04 AM

Charles Spurgeon followed suit:
Mar 2:26 - Abiathar:
It appears from the passage referred to here, that Ahimelech was then high priest at Nob; and from other passages, that Abiathar was his son. Various conjectures have been formed in order to solve this difficulty; and some, instead of untying, have cut the knot, by pronouncing it an interpolation.

The most probable opinion seems to be, that both father and son had two names, the father being also called Abiathar; and this appears almost certain from 2Sa_8:17; 1Ch_18:16, where Ahimelech seems evidently termed Abiathar, while Abiathar is called Ahimelech or Abimelech.

(Compare 1Ki_2:26, 1Ki_2:27.) 1Sa_22:20-22, 1Sa_23:6, 1Sa_23:9; 2Sa_8:17, 2Sa_15:24, 2Sa_15:29, 2Sa_15:35, 2Sa_20:25; 1Ki_1:7; 1Ki_2:22, 1Ki_2:26, 1Ki_2:27, 1Ki_4:4

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#6 Evangelion

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Posted 26 June 2005 - 03:12 AM

These arguments are supported on every point by the Hebrew text:

  • I Samuel 14:3
    And Ahiah [margin: "called Ahimelech", with the relevant passages cited], and Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, were priests; and Seraiah was scribe the son of Ahitub, Ichabod's brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD'S priest in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people knew not that Jonathan was gone.
  • I Samuel 22:20
    And one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped, and fled after David.
  • II Samuel 8:17
    and Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, were priests; and Seraiah was scribe.
  • I Chronicles 18:16
    And Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Abimelech the son of Abiathar, were priests; and Shavsha was scribe;
  • I Chronicles 24:6
    And Shemaiah the son of Nethanel the scribe, who was of the Levites, wrote them in the presence of the king, and the princes, and Zadok the priest, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, and the heads of the fathers' houses of the priests and of the Levites: one father's house being taken for Eleazar, and proportionately for Ithamar.

For the purpose of clarification, this interchange of the two names may be summarised in the following way:

  • Ahitub (I Samuel 14:3) father of Ahimelech (I Samuel 14:3; 22:20), father of Abiathar (I Samuel 22:20.)
  • Ahitub (II Samuel 8:17) father of Abiathar (II Samuel 8:17; I Chronicles 18:16), father of Ahimelech (II Samuel 8:17; I Chronicles 18:16; 24:6.)

It was not unusual for a man to have two names by which he was commonly known, particularly if one of those names was shared by his son.

The textual problem in Mark 2:26, therefore, turns out to be no problem at all.
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#7 John the Bearded

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Posted 30 September 2010 - 10:10 AM

Hi

While the analysis you provide above is very interesting, there may be a trivial solution.

While Abimelech was high priest at the time when David ate the shewbread, Abiathar his son would be alive; the incident therefore happened in the days of Abiathar. Later on Abiathar became high priest, so he could later be referred to as "Abiathar the high priest", even though he was not high priest at the time of the incident.

This simply suggests that Jesus is using the designation of Abiathar more loosely than one might otherwise do.

The trouble is that we tend to assume that the people whose words we have in the Bible use them the way we do. One brother I know occasionally makes the point with the question "how many months have 28 days?" The answer could be "ony February", or it could be "all 12; some have 28 days and more!"

Yours

JtB




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