New Testament Anachronism Part 3

The Anachronistic Tale of Mark 2:26, Part 3

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

The following is a continuation of the addendum in the previous post, New Testament Anachronism Part 2

Addendum

This addendum seeks to reinforce the previous two articles, New Testament Anachronism and New Testament Anachronism Part 2 by furnishing additional notes and references on the anachronistic and erroneous nature of Mark 2:26. In the previous two articles  we have seen that numerous scholars from both liberal and conservative camps concede that Mark 2:26 is problematic, in error and irreconcilable. We have gone through all the major solutions proposed by Christian apologists in their feeble attempts to defend the doctrine of inerrancy and have seen how even the most conservative experts dismiss them as unsatisfactory and unreliable.

Bas van Iersel who was Ordinary Professor of New Testament and Rector Magnificus of the Catholic University, Nijmegen in his footnote to his comments on Mark 2:26 writes:

“Four things do not agree with 1 Sam. 21. Nob had a sanctuary but not a temple, so that term ‘house of God’ is less appropriate (for the contrast between tent and house see 2 Sam. 7. 1-13); no high priest was attached to that sanctuary; the officiating priest was not Abiathar but his father Ahimelech…” [67] (emphasis added)

Thus Iersel agrees that Mark misidentifies the individual who presented the showbread to David. Joseph Cook who is a Christian author does not see that Mark 2:26 poses any significant threat to the Christian faith, but he nevertheless recognises that the text as it stands is erroneous:

“There does appear to be an error made; probably by a copyist when translating the scriptures from Aramaic, to ancient Hebrew to Greek to English and maybe somewhere in between.” [68]

There is no evidence that a copyist made an error in Mark 2:26 in identifying Abiathar and not Ahimelech as the acting high priest at the time. In the absence of any substantial proof we are left with the only probable option that it was in fact the original author’s error and this is the widely accepted position as we have seen and will continue to see.

Previously we supplied scholarly sources that conclude that none of the possible solutions really resolve the problem. Joining the ranks is Robert H. Stein who is senior professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who writes:

“The statement concerning Abiathar being the high priest appears to conflict with the account in 1 Samuel 21, where the less well known Ahimelech, the father of Abiathar, is mentioned as giving the “bread of the Presence” to David. It is not surprising therefore that both Matthew (12:4) and Luke (6:4) omit the reference to “in the time of [ἐπὶ, epi; cf. Luke 3:2; Acts 11:28; also 1 Macc. 13:42] Abiathar, the high priest” and that certain MS of Mark do so as well. There have been several attempts to explain this problem. (1) The preposition ἐπὶ (in the time of) should be translated “in the section of Scripture in 1 Samuel that deals with Abiathar” (see W. Lane 1974: 116n86 for objections). (2) Something such as “father of” has been lost from the original text, which read, “when the father [abba] of Abiathar was the high priest.” This would involve the scribal error of haplography. (3) The present passage should be understood as a mistranslation for “in the lifetime of Abiathar [the later well-known] high priest” (Casey 1998: 151-52). This is reflected in the addition του (tou) before “priest” or “high priest” in A C θ f13 and others. One must acknowledge that no satisfactory solution has come forward that resolves this problem.” [69] (emphasis added)

The proposed solutions are purely conjectural without merit and they all fail upon examination as we have seen previously. In addition to dismissing the suggested excuses or solutions  Stein clearly agrees with Metzger, Evans, Clifton Black, Wallace, Williamson, Davies and Wayne Kannaday who were all cited in the previous continuation that the perceived error in Mark motivated later writers to modify the text. In a footnote on the same page commenting on the biblical scholar Robert Gundry’s view on the verse he writes:

“2. Gundry (1993: 141) argues that Mark knew that the priest David encountered was Ahimelech but intentionally changed the name to Abiathar for theological reasons. This may explain why Mark may have done this, but it does not resolve the historical problem. The fact remains that Abiathar was not the priest who gave David the bread of the Presence.” [70]

It would seem quite apparent that Stein does indeed lean towards recognising Mark 2:26 as an error.

Pierson Parker who was professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary regards Mark 2:26 as an error, putting it as one of the “Mistakes about Scripture” whereby he writes, “Mark 2:26, “Abiathar” should be Ahimelech.” [71]

The late scholar Anthony J. Saldarini who was a professor at Boston University writes:

“1 Sam 21:1-6 [Heb 21:2-7]. Matthew follows Mark here but omits Mark’s misidentification of the priest Ahimelech as Abiathar (Mark 2:26).” [72]

Floyd V. Filson who was professor of New Testament and Faculty Dean at McCormick Theological Seminary writes the following:

“Textual criticism makes it clear that before the books of the New Testament were collected into the Canon, variant readings had already crept into the text. Thus a letter perfect Bible has never existed. Other data also refute the claim of verbal inerrancy. For example, the reference in Mark 2:26 to Abiathar as high priest cases with the evidence of 1 Samuel 21:1-6 that Ahimelech was high priest when David asked for bread at Nob. Both free study and faith must deal frankly with such relevant facts, and build upon them.” [73] (emphasis added)

In the above Filson clearly regards Mark 2:26 as an error that contradicts the data in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.

The following is an excerpt from the entry on Abiathar in The Protestant Theological and Ecclesiastical Encycopledia Being a Condensed Translation of Herzog’s Real Encyclopedia which was put together by Reverend J. H. A. Bomberger together with other distinguished theologians from different Protestant denominations:

He is called Abiathar in Mark 2:26, through an error in memory and transcribing, like that found in 2 Sam. 8:17; 1 Chron. 18:16; 24;6, where Abiathar is called Ahimelech, the son of Abiathar. This error was copied by the evangelist, and thus perpetuated in the N.T.” [74]

The above relegates the initial error to the Old Testament, but that in no way exonerates Mark 2:26. In fact, it affirms our position that the text as it stands today is in error and the error in the view of the above was copied by the author of Mark which means he did not know any better. So much for divine inspiration!

Reverend Dr. Christopher Bryan who is C. K. Benedict Professor of New Testament at the University of the South writes:

“Augustine Stock attempts to explain the wrong citation at 1:2 as an example of Markan “bracketing” (see Call to Discipleship, 33). This cannot, I think, be accepted. Bracketing (inclusio) means surrounding one literary element with another for a particular effect; it does not mean saying that you are going to do one thing, and then doing something else. In any case, this is not Mark’s only erroneous reference to Scripture. At 2:26 he has Jesus claim that David ate the bread of the presence “when Abiathar was high priest”; according to 1 Samuel 21:1-6, 22:20, the high priest who helped David was Ahimelech, who was the father of Abiathar.” [75] (emphasis added)

Dr. Bryan recognises Mark 1:2 as one of the errors by the author of Mark—a topic which we have discussed in Mark 1:2 is Still in Error. And of course it is quite clear that he sees Mark 2:26 as erroneous as well. Likewise, theologian Dr. Aubrey William Argyle  of Regent’s Park College, Oxford writes:

“When Luke begins to use Mark as well as Matthew, he follows Matthew in omitting the quotation from Mal 3:1 which Mark wrongly ascribed to Isaiah, just as later he follows Matthew in omitting the erroneous words “when Abiathar was high priest” at Mark 2:26. [76] (emphasis added)

Dr. Argyle agrees with Dr. Bryan and a host of other scholars on Mark 1:2 that we have cited in the said article Mark 1:2 is till in Error. In the above it is also quite clear that he subscribes to the view that Matthew and Luke took it upon themselves to correct Mark’s error in their own writings. Thus he joins Metzger, Stein, Evans, Clifton Black, Wallace, Williamson, Davies and Wayne Kannaday  who all hold the position that later writers were motivated by Mark’s error and corrected the erroneous citation by either amending it or completely omitting it altogether.

The biblical scholar Thomas Francis Glasson equally agrees with Dr. Argyle and the rest as he writes:

“(c) Mark 2:26. Matt 12:4 and Luke 6:4 agree in omitting “when Abiathar was high priest.” The same words are missing from Mark D W 271 a b e ff i r1 t and the Sinaitic Syriac.” [77] (emphasis added)

Professor of New Testament exegesis at Yale Divinity School Benjamin Wisner Bacon approves that Mark 2:26 is in error as he writes:

“The first of the two Sabbath controversies merely transcribes Jesus’ defense of his disciples plucking the ears of grain as described in Mk. 2:23-28, omitting the mistaken dating “under Abiathar,”…” [78] (emphasis added)

The biblical scholar Eugene Boring affirming his understanding in The People’s New Testament Commentary that we have previously referred to states in his recent work the following:

“Mark 2:26. Abiathar is high priest, but in 1 Samuel 21 the high priest is Ahimelech. This mistake is omitted by Matthew and Luke.” [79] (emphasis added)

Christian author Wick Allison recognises the verse as an error as he writes:

(Mark 2: 26). Mark, in recounting Jesus’ reply, got one detail wrong, though: it was Ahimelech, Abiathar’s father, who was high Matthew and Luke recounted the same story but left out the name of the high priest, thereby avoiding the error” [80]

Professor of Exegesis of the New Testament at King’s College, London, Rev. Dr. E. H. Plumptre identifies the verse as a difficulty:

“(26) In the days of Abiathar the high priest. — St. Mark’s is the only record that gives the name of the high priest, and in so doing it creates an historical difficulty. In 1 Sam. xxi. 1. Ahimelech is named as exercising the high priest’s office in the Tabernacle at Nob. He is slain by Doeg, at the command of Saul, and his son Abiathar joins David at the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. xxii. 20), and continues to act as high priest till his deposition by Solomon (1 Kings ii. 26). Two conjectural explanations suggest themselves as probable:…” [81]

We need not read the whole commentary on the verse along with the “explanations” as they have already been discussed and dissected earlier in the article and in any case, the good doctor says that these explanations are “conjectural explanations” and so they are nothing but assumptions that have no basis in fact. The verse remains “an historical difficulty”.

Biblical scholar Dr. W. N. Clarke also says that this text is a difficulty and explanations that are given to resolve it are conjectural.

“The reference is to 1 Sam. 21: 1-6: “In the days of Abiathar the high priest;” the mention of the name is peculiar to Mark, and is not without difficulty. The high priest who is mentioned in the original narrative is not Abiathar, but Ahimelech, his father. Abiathar succeeded his father in office not long after, and was high priest during David’s reign: so that his name is constantly associated with that of David in the history. Various attempts have been made to reconcile the difference, some supposing that Abiathar was already assistant to his father at the time of David’s visit and was present when he came, although this can be nothing but conjecture; others, that our Lord or Mark was content with mentioning the name of the chief priest of David’s time, and the one that one that was chiefly associated with David’s name, which is the same as to say that absolute accuracy was not aimed at; others, that the name of Abiathar stands in the text of Mark as the result of a copyist’s error.[82] (emphasis added)

Clarke offers three solutions. The first is forthrightly rejected as “nothing but conjecture”. Even though he does not explicit dismiss option number two, we may logically deduce that had the explanation been sufficiently persuasive, he would not have retained the mainstream view that the text has a difficulty and would have instead treated the text as normal without any problems. The very fact that he counts the very as “not without difficulty” is proof positive that he does not accept the second excuse. The third option is the most damning of the three: if the text as it stands, naming Abiathar as the priest in charge at the time of David, were really the result of a copyist error then this completely shatters the doctrine of inerrancy and what it basically says is that the original message or information was lost to posterity and what remains is an error that God has preserved. So instead of preserving the accurate datum, He has chosen to preserve an error as part of His word for His believers to believe. This would be a conundrum without an escape. In the end, we may conclude that Clarke illustrates that this is a standing problem in the Bible with no way out in sight.

Professor of Apologetics, Free Church College, Glasgow, Dr. Alexander Balmain Bruce writes:

Abiathar ar.: under A., a note of time, also implying his sanction: the sanction of a distinguished sacerdotal character = of Abiathar as priest. But Ahimelech was the priest then (I Sam. xxi. 2 f.). Either a natural error arising from the close connection of David with Abiathar, the well-known high priest, or we must adopt one or other of the solutions proposed: father and sone, Ahimelech and Abiathar, both bore both names ( I Sam. xxii. 20, 2 Sam. viii. 17, I Chron. xviii. 16) — so the Fathers; Abiathar, the son, Ahimelech’s assistant at the time, and mentioned as the more notable as approving of the conduct of his own father and of David (Grotius); taken in the sense it bears in Mk. xii. 26 — in the passage about Abiathar — is not a satisfactory suggestion.[83] (emphasis added)

Bruce dismisses the reconciliatory excuse as unsatisfactory and so we must agree with him that the verse is a “natural error”.

Warden of Woodbrooke Settlement and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, Herbert Wood emphatically identifies the verse as an error:

26. The reference to Abiathar is a mistake, probably due to the evangelist, possibly to a glossator. But the act of David is descrubed with some traditional embellishments. David’s entry into the sanctuary and the presence of his companions are suppositions not necessarily involved in 1 S. 21:1-7 (Lousy, p. 101).” [84] (emphasis added)

We reaffirm our stance that Mark 2:26 is completely anachronistic and Christian apologists are desperately grasping at straws with their conjectural and mutually contradictory excuses. It is plainly clear that the biblical Jesus and the author of Mark made a mistake and that mistake fundamentally demolishes the doctrine of inerrancy.

References:

[67] Iersel, B. M. F. V. (2004). Mark : A Reader Response Commentary (W. H. Bisscheroux, trans.). London: T&T Clark International. p. 158

[68] Cook, J. (2004). Biblical Consistency: A Simple Christian Looks at Alleged Conflict in the Word of God. Indiana, Bloomington: AuthorHouse. p. 115

[69] Steing, R. H. (2008). Mark: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic. pp. 146-147

[70] Ibid. n. 2

[71] Parker, P. (September, 1981). A Second Look at the Gospel before Mark. Journal of Biblical Literature, 100(2). 389-413.

[72] Saldarini, A. J. (1997). Comparing the Traditions: New Testament and Rabbinic Literature. Institute for Biblical Research, 195-204. Retrieved from http://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1997_12_Saldarini_NT_Rabbinic.pdf

[73] Filson, F. V. (March, 1950). Method in Studying Biblical History. The Society of Biblical Literature, 69(1). 1-18.

[74] Herzog, J. J. (1860). The Protestant Theological and Ecclesiastical Encycopledia Being a Condensed Translation of Herzog’s Real Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 (J. H. A. Bomberger, trans.). Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston. p. 76

[75] Bryan, C. (1993). A Preface to Mark: Notes on the Gospel in its Literary and Cultural Settings. Madison Avenue, New York: Oxford University Press. p. 138

[76] Argyle, A. W. (December, 1984). Evidence for the View That St. Luke Used St. Matthew’s Gospel. Journal of Biblical Literature, 83(4). 390-396.

[77] Glasson, T. F. (June, 1966). An Early Revision of the Gospel of Mark. Journal of Biblical Literature, 85(2). 231-233.

[78] Bacon, B. W. (1927). The Redaction of Matthew 12. Journal of Biblical Literature, 46(1/2). 20-49.

[79] Boring, M. E. (2012). An Introduction to the New Testament: History, Literature, Theology. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster john Knox Press. p. 488

[80] Allison, W. (1994). That’s in the Bible? The Ultimate Learn-As-You-Play Bible Quiz Book. New York: Dell Publishing. p. 193

[81] Plumptre, E. H. (1878). The Gospel According to St. Mark. In Charles John Ellicott (Ed.), A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Volume 1. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. p. 196

[82] Clarke, W. N. (1881). Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. In Alvah Hovey (Ed.), An American Commentary on the New Testament. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society. pp. 41-42

[83] Bruce, A. B. (1902). The Synoptic Gospels. In W. Robertson Nicoll (Ed.), The Expositor’s Greek Testament. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 356

[84] Wood, H. (1920). Mark. In Arthur S. Peake & A. J. Grieve (Eds.), A Commentary on the Bible. London: T. C. & E. C. Jack, Ltd. p. 684

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4 Responses to “New Testament Anachronism Part 3”

  1. Alms says:

    Assalamu alaikum. Brother, you have quite conclusively proved the errancy of the Bible and the natural failure of the ‘excuses’ (harmonizations, solutions, reconciliations) concocted by inerrantists. Thus, it cannot be helped, the Bible is not truly God’s Word, which is a tragedy to Christians as well as Jews!

    • Ibn Anwar says:

      Wa’alaikumsalam warahmatullah,
      Jazakumullah for your feed back akhi. No amount of Keiths in the world can save the Bible from being in error. Alhamdulillah.

    • Ibn Anwar says:

      By the way akhi, what do you think of the earlier post, ‘Did God die on the cross?’? Share with us your thoughts on the article there ;).

  2. John the Baptist says:

    Salam,
    I totally agree with Alms. Ibn Anwar has done it again. Excellent academic article. You’ve covered the topic extensively with so many scholarly citations. Thank you for this. It will help me a lot when I argue with Christrians

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