Volume 47 - Issue 2

Revisiting “the Time of Abiathar the High Priest”: Interpretation, Methodology and Ways Forward for Understanding Mark 2:26

By William B. Bowes


Mark 2:26 has presented itself as a difficult textual and historical problem for interpreters. Mark narrates Jesus describing an action of David which is said to happen during the priesthood of Abiathar, but in the Old Testament source this detail appears inaccurate and is absent from the Matthean and Lukan versions. This article will first examine three types of problems that arise in interpreting this text and will then evaluate two types of solutions that have been proposed. The aim of this article is to highlight the limitations of previous approaches and to argue for a third type of solution as best option for understanding the text, which is based in a narrative reading of Mark’s Christology.

In the introductory section of his 2005 bestselling book, Misquoting Jesus,1 Bart Ehrman pointed to one verse in the Gospel of Mark as being the reason for him renouncing his belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture and eventually leading to his abandonment of Christianity entirely. The verse was Mark 2:26, a saying of Jesus narrated by the evangelist in the context of one of several episodes of conflict with the religious authorities. In this case, the broader pericope (2:23–28) concerns a dispute over the actions of Jesus’s disciples in picking grain on the Sabbath, which appeared to the Pharisaical interlocutors to be in violation of the Torah. In response, Jesus appeals to the actions of David in 1 Samuel 21:1–9 as both a precedent and justification, concluding with pronouncements on the purpose of the Sabbath and about his own Christological identity and authority. In his reference to David taking the priest’s showbread during his flight from Saul, Mark has Jesus saying that David’s actions took place ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως, or, as is commonly rendered, “in the time of Abiathar the High Priest.” Ehrman noted in this verse what many before him have observed, namely that in the text of 1 Samuel 21, the priest interacting with David was Ahimelech, the father of Abiathar, and not Abiathar himself, who would only later become High Priest. After attempting to develop a solution to this problem, Ehrman came to believe that Mark was in error, and, in his words, “the floodgates opened.”2 Ehrman concluded that the text of the New Testament as a whole was untrustworthy, and has since continued to propagate that message.

While Ehrman’s response to this problem is more extreme than that of the typical interpreter, it is true that the temporal phrase in 2:26 has stymied readers for centuries and continues to be an exegetical incubus for commentators. For example, Darrell Bock is representative of many scholars when, referencing the problem in a recent commentary, he concludes: “no clear resolution exists.”3 Some commentators, while they may acknowledge the problem, do not attempt to explain it.4 For others, the discussion of the issue occupies no more than a sentence,5 or may be relegated to only a short footnote.6 Still others avoid the discussion entirely by not even mentioning the problem and focusing on other aspects of the passage.7 Regardless of the length or detail of the respective analysis, what most interpreters seem to share in common is a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of the answers that have been proposed.

Given the many difficulties that this passage has presented for understanding the relationship between Jesus’s words and Mark’s words, and more broadly of Scripture and historical accuracy, a thorough examination of the problem and its possible solution(s) is warranted. The questions raised by this passage and the interpretive methods used to develop plausible explanations are relevant for any reader of Mark’s Gospel, but they are especially relevant to those reading from a place of conviction regarding the supernatural inspiration of the text. However, in this analysis my goal is not to argue deductively from such a position as an a priori assumption, but rather to present and evaluate the litany of explanations that have been proposed, and then to propose what I see as the best explanation for interpreting the specific phrase ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως and the best explanation for its place in the whole of Mark’s Gospel. In so doing, I intend to advocate for a high view of the text and its author as an a posteriori induction.

This examination will not endeavor to prove that Mark’s Gospel as a whole is without any error, but rather it will advocate for reading Mark 2:26 (and 2:23–28) from a narrative perspective in light of Mark’s broader literary and Christological aims.8 That is, I contend that Mark as a narrator deserves far more credit for his selection and ordering or material than he has been given, and that the solution to this issue does not ultimately lie in a more flexible or general understanding of Mark’s Greek (though that may help), but in understanding Mark’s inclusion of this phrase as intentional.9 That is, I suggest seeing it not as a mistake or later gloss but as a quintessentially Markan highlight not reproduced in the Matthean and Lukan versions, where the same narrative unfolds differently, with different emphases and ends in mind for each author. Prior to proposing my preferred explanation, however, I will begin with an overview of the various ways that interpreters have addressed the problem. Afterward, I will elaborate on the nuances of narrative-critical methodology before suggesting what I see as the best way forward for interpreting the passage.

1. An Evaluation of Various Aspects of the Problem

Despite the fact that “there are almost as many opinions about this story as there are exegetes,”10 a review of the literature reveals that interpreters tend to group the problems associated with this passage into three categories, as outlined below. First, we will examine the possibility that the problem occurred in the transmission of the content of the saying, evaluating evidence and arguments for this position. Second, we will turn to the possibility that the issue is related to how the phrase should be translated from the original language, noting various perspectives on how this could have happened. Third, we will consider the idea that there is a problem in the source text being referenced by Mark, and how this could have influenced the narration of the episode.

1.1. A Problem of Transmission

Conceptualizing the issue as a problem of textual transmission is the most common position among modern interpreters.11 That is, while some express it in stronger language than others, the contention is that this is an error on the part of Mark,12 on the part of Mark’s source,13 on the part of a scribe who copied the text,14 or on the part of the Jesus himself.15 Most frequently, this is explained as a memory lapse by Mark, who simply inherited an oral tradition that he inaccurately reproduced.16 Indeed, if one evaluates each of these possibilities individually, the idea that Mark’s source would have erred in communicating an inaccuracy is unlikely, given the fact that such accounts of Jesus’s words and actions were circulated orally and repeated for decades before Mark’s writing,17 and if a mistake or error was made, it would not have persisted as long.18

That an early copyist corrupted the text is not impossible, but the manuscript evidence is inconclusive on this point.19 It is more commonly argued that since both Matthew and Luke almost certainly used Mark as a source and do not have ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως in their accounts, it is plausible that they were aware that this phrase was original and decided to omit it, rather than that they knew an early copy of Mark that did not have this phrase (thus meaning that a scribe would have added it after the late first century).20 Recently, Haelewyck has mounted perhaps the most detailed argument for the idea that the phrase was unoriginal, and represents scribal corruption.21 While it has been shown that early church fathers like John Chrysostom and Jerome were aware of the problem in their early copies of Mark’s Gospel,22 Haelewyck points out that others such as Ambrosiaster and Augustine appear to have not known it.23 He adds as well that when manuscripts or translations do appear without the phrase, even though they are fewer, they are still historically early and geographically widespread, which leads him to conclude that the phrase was a misguided gloss.24

That Jesus was in error in his citation of Scripture has been rather difficult for most interpreters to accept, given that even highly skeptical scholars would grant that we can know with a good degree of historical certainty that Jesus was a knowledgeable teacher well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures.25 In every other place in the four Gospels where Jesus cites Scripture, he does so with a command of the text that would indicate an intimate knowledge not only of the entire Old Testament narrative but of the details of numerous individual pericopes, which he would have not only been able to read but also recite from memory.26 One of the few scholars to attempt to make the case that Jesus himself erred is Meier, who contends that Jesus embarrasses himself in this exchange, proceeding “in the presence of these scriptural experts to mangle and distort the test of the story.”27 More specifically, Meier suggests that any honest and rigorous historian is required to come to the conclusion that “the historical Jesus was a Scriptural ignoramus,” and “not only an ignoramus but a completely inept debater who foolishly challenges Scripture experts to a public contest,” only to disqualify himself by botching the reference.28

1.2. A Problem of Translation

Also frequent in the discussions of this issue is the suggestion that ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως is an example of a phrase that either has been poorly translated into English (which may not be able to express the varieties of temporal nuance possible when ἐπί is combined with a genitive),29 or has been poorly translated from an original Aramaic form into Greek.30 In Mark 2:26, it is clear that ἐπί has a temporal nuance, and in most cases can this temporal nuance can simply be expressed with the word “when,” indicating that something took place in a very specific period associated with the surrounding words (as it is in Acts 11:28). However, this is certainly not always the case, since in other cases it can be a broad temporal marker, carrying a more general connotation (as it is in Mark 12:26). The ambiguity that can result from using ἐπί temporally is clear from the many ways that Mark 2:26 tends to be rendered in English translations.31 Other temporal uses of ἐπί in the New Testament which are specifically employed for eponymous dating (as in Luke 3:2) have often been noted as comparisons and even contributors to the problem, since there appears to be less ambiguity surrounding how those passages should be translated.

One of the more creative versions of this idea involves issues that could have arisen in the translation of an original Aramaic form of the saying. This view was first raised by Maurice Casey, who argues that since the original historical dialogue would have been in Aramaic, the original Aramaic form of Mark 2:23–28 would have been somewhat different, and thus 2:26 was obtusely (or perhaps wrongly) rendered when it came into Greek and was copied.32 Casey renders ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως as: ביומי אביתר כהן רב, a retroversion which, in Casey’s view, carries in itself both a problem and the solution to that problem, since כהן רב (“great/high priest”) is “an accurate description of what Abiathar was famous as, and does not necessarily carry the implication, clear in Mark’s Greek, that he was כהן רב at the time of the incident.”33 Casey notes as well that the combination of ἐπί with a genitive is a sound translation of the Semitic idea of being “with someone” at the specific time, since LXX Job 38:12 translates מימיך (“since your days”) as ἐπὶ σοῦ (“in your time”).34 Thus, he can argue that the passage (and all of Mark 2:23–28) “is intelligible only if we make assumptions which would have been normal in (Mark’s) environment,” knowing that the evangelist was a first century Jew familiar with Jerusalem.35

A further elaboration on this basic premise has been proposed by Brooks, who contends that the original Aramaic may have had not only “Abiathar” but “the father of Abiathar” or “ab(ba)-Abiathar,” which could possibly have been omitted by a copyist since the first two Aramaic letters would have been the same as the first two letters of Abiathar’s name, as shown here with the hypothetical word in red:36 ביומי אבאביתר כהן רב. Despite the fact that Brooks calls this “perhaps the best explanation,”37 the problem with both his idea and Casey’s, of course, is that there remains no extant copy of an Aramaic written form of Mark’s Gospel, or even any Aramaic source materials. Beyond this, we possess no strong evidence that a written Aramaic Gospel or early Aramaic form of a sayings-source even existed, making this theory largely conjectural.

1.3. A Problem of Textual Referent

A study of the Hebrew manuscripts where either Abiathar or Ahimelech is mentioned shows that there is confusion even in Mark’s sources as to the identity of both men, with variant readings in different books. For example, the Masoretic Text of 2 Samuel 8:17, 1 Chronicles 18:16, and 1 Chronicles 24:6 have name lists which describe Ahimelech as the son of Abiathar, and not the father of Abiathar as he is called in 1 Samuel 22:20; 23:6; and 30:7.38 The Qumran version of 1 Samuel 21 (4QSamb, frags. 6–7 and 14–19) is also different than the Masoretic Text, and actually makes the name of the priest less prominent.39 Moreover, the Septuagint tends to align more closely to 4QSamb than to our Masoretic Text, and the Targums depart from all of these.40 Thus, in Botner’s words, “the textual history of 1 Sam 21:1–10 could be a contributing factor to the presence of the curious phrase ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως in Mark 2:26.”41

In addition to these difficulties in the source texts, in the Markan dialogue Jesus also appears to “Midrashize” the passage in terms of his inclusion or inference of details that are not explicit (but may be implicit) in the source text itself, such as the fact that David “entered” the sanctuary at Nob, that he gave some of the bread to “those with him,” or that the episode with David is assumed by Jesus to have taken place on the Sabbath. It must be granted that none of these details clearly contradicts what is written in 1 Samuel 21:1–9, but none of them would be clear from what is in the text itself. In the first case, for David to have “entered the house of God” would not have been unusual, but almost seems to be a superfluous detail in Jesus’s retelling and requires using one’s imagination in order to elaborate on the little detail that the source text provides. In the second case, some commentators have made much of Jesus’s detail about the men “with” David, presuming that since 1 Samuel 21:1 seems to overemphasize that David was alone with the priest, that this detail constitutes another inaccuracy.42 The point in Mark 2:26 is clearly that David gave the bread to these men later, and not that they came into the sanctuary with him. Since David is asked about the ritual purity of his men relative to the bread in 1 Samuel 21:4 and mentions that they were to meet him in 1 Samuel 21:2, it follows that they were not far from the scene.43 In the third case, that this instance took place on the Sabbath appears to have been a common view in later Rabbinic texts,44 and given the presence of the showbread in the first place, that it was Sabbath can be assumed since the priests made and consumed the showbread on the Sabbath.45

2. An Evaluation of Various Possible Solutions to the Problem

Given this examination of the various categories of problems that interpreters note in analyzing this passage, we now turn to two categories of solutions that have been proposed. This will be followed by a third category, representing my articulation of what I see as the most promising view. The first considers linguistic approaches that allow for a more flexible reading, noting the broadness of the terminology. The second examines historical and cultural aspects that inform the context of the passage and may shed light on the ways in which early audiences may have understood it. Finally, the third considers Mark’s narrative intent and Christological emphases as a way of understanding what he wrote and how he framed it.

2.1. The Lexical-Linguistic Solution

Generally speaking, for those who do not assume that the phrase is an error or a gloss, the most frequently cited solution is an emphasis on the flexibility of ἐπί, presuming it to allow for wide range of time that extends beyond the episode narrated in 1 Samuel 21:1–9.46 This is presented in three forms, the first being that ἐπί can mean more than “when” (thus being a very specific timeframe) but “in the lifetime of” or “during the time of” (being a more general period).47 1 Maccabees 13:42 is an example of a similar reference, where an entire calendar year is marked by the high priesthood of Simon Maccabeus. For those who adopt this position, the primary reason why Jesus would mark this time period by the lifetime of Abiathar is because Abiathar was simply the more prominent and memorable high priest, and thus Jesus was calling to mind the general period and not the exact episode.48 As Tan puts it, this could be comparable to the modern equivalent of someone making the statement, “the queen was born this year,” even though the queen was not given this title at her birth.49

The second form of this solution sees this use of ἐπί as corresponding to the usage in Mark 12:26, where ἐπί marks not a time period but a passage of Scripture.50 In this case, it is proposed that Jesus is locating the showbread episode in 1 Samuel by referring to it, so to speak, as “the section of Scripture related to Abiathar the high priest.”51 The third form of this solution understands ἐπί here as being possibly rendered “in the presence of,” which is a locative rather than a temporal sense, assuming that Abiathar was present with Ahimelech.52 This locative sense is possible if one assumes that the point of Jesus’s reference is not at all about the time period or the precise passage itself, but only about the unlawful or transgressive action of David in taking the showbread in the presence of the priest(s), and, indirectly, the unlawful or transgressive action of the priest(s) in providing David and his men with the bread.53

2.2. The Historical-Cultural Solution

There are two variations of this solution, which I have called “historical-cultural” because it involves neither a mistranslation of the text nor a misunderstanding of the intention of the words, but rather assumes that there is another, overlooked historical or cultural reason that allows for a correspondence between Jesus’s saying and the precise details of the account in 1 Samuel 21. The first variation, dating back even to Chrysostom, explains that Mark’s text is accurate because Abiathar actually had two names.54 That is, there is an exact historical correspondence between Ahimelech and Abiathar in 1 Samuel 21 because Abiathar was also called Ahimelech. This would also be a creative way to explain the textual issues that arise in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles as noted above regarding the problematic references to both men, and would not be entirely unnatural in a culture where generations of men often adopted family names.55

The second variation assumes that it would have been acceptable at the time to refer to both Ahimelech and Abiathar as “high priest” because they either could have served in a co-regency or would have taken the title simply as part of being part the same priestly family.56 As the narrative ensues and Saul puts Ahimelech to death, the text (specifically 1 Sam 22:11) does indicate that not only Ahimelech but his “whole family” were priests at Nob, certainly making it likely that Abiathar was present with his father when David took the showbread.57 Those adopting this view are quick to point out that in other places throughout the Gospels, the evangelists frequently refer to the plural “chief priests” to designate eminent men of that order (as in Matt 2:4; 26:3; 27:62; Mark 14:10, 43; John 11:47), even though in Jesus’s time, Caiaphas would have been the one formally holding that specific title.58 Luke 3:1–2 is an oft-cited example of how loose such priestly references can be, since Luke mentions the high priesthood of “Annas and Caiaphas” when Annas had been removed from his priestly position fourteen years prior.59

3. A Third Solution Based on a Narrative Lens for Markan Christology

While these approaches have their strengths, I do not see them as providing a full scope for how to read this text in light of how Mark’s unique Christological portrayal. I propose that to avoid misreading Mark’s text it is necessary to recognize Mark as the author behind his text, and to view him not as a robotic compiler of tradition but as a brilliant narrator and theologian who intentionally organized his material, adapting it based on the way he intended for it to be read and the picture of Jesus that he intended to portray. I see a narrative approach as key not only to hearing Mark’s voice in his Gospel but Jesus’s voice through Mark’s narration, as Mark shapes his work to communicate a particular perspective. In this light we can view the omissions of the phrase from Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts less as a reaction to a discrepancy and more as a way to eliminate confusion and intentionally highlight the aspects of the pericope that they intended to highlight, which, in both cases, may be the more significant Christological identity claim at the end of the dialogue, rather than the point that Jesus was making in the dialogue itself. Before we examine how Markan Christology plays a key role in understanding our passage, first it will be necessary to describe what a narrative approach entails.

3.1. A Narrative Lens as a Methodological Approach

A narrative approach seeks to analyze the narrative form and function of a text, with the narrative “taken to be a self-referential world with its own structures, patterns signals, codes and values,” all of which create meaning and lead to a coherent overall message.60 For Mark, what matters is how he engages in particular strategies of characterization when it comes to Jesus, or the contributing factors of his narrative itself to his Christological portrait. Reading Mark’s account of Jesus with this lens helps us to situate Jesus’s interactions with others in their broader context, and not simply to treat them as isolated episodes. If we see the narrative itself as having a unique capacity to communicate Christological ideas, the narrator’s literary characterization (as well as the sequence) are essential to how the audience is supposed to understand Jesus as a character and ascertain the right meaning of the whole story.61 Considering authorial characterization in an approach to Mark’s Christology is to see Mark as emphasizing Jesus’s assumption of certain roles in relation to other people as important for the communication of an essential theological message.62 Because of the artistry that is assumed in this approach, this requires that we view Mark far more highly as an author, not considering him simply as a receiver and compiler.63 A simple example of his artistry is found in the clear structural divisions within the storyline, and the various intercalations that Mark uses.64

It must be asserted, however, that a focus on the features of Mark’s story and his authorial techniques does not treat “texts as mere stories rather than as records of significant moments in history.”65 For us to say that Mark has written a highly structured text and narrated the various elements so as to produce a particular portrait of Jesus need not mean that he is not communicating accurate information about what Jesus said and did historically. We can still say that Jesus intentionally mentioned Abiathar and meant for his disciples and Pharisaical hearers to understand the Christological implications of his claim, while also saying that Mark intentionally placed this episode at its precise location in his narrative and intended to connect it with sayings and events which unfold later.

Because the characters within Mark exist within the narrative text, “what we know about them is controlled both as to the extent of the information and the manner of its presentation … they play particular roles within the overall sequence of events, while they themselves are also influenced and shaped by those events.”66 Therefore, we can say that what Mark highlights about Jesus’s identity is part of the storyline itself. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus is built around particular themes and character development which unfold through the narrative to reach a climax, bringing both internal characters and external audience to a decision regarding the identity of Jesus and their response. With this explanation in mind, I propose that the most significant Christological emphases that Mark attempts to highlight in 2:23–28 are Jesus as “son of David” and Jesus as priest.

3.2. Specific Markan Christological Emphases as a Hermeneutical Key

Mark’s characterization of Jesus unfolds throughout the narrative as a “communicative design,” in that Mark is careful to situate the revelation of certain aspects of Jesus’s identity at significant plot points.67 In the context of Mark 2:26, we can see two Christological emphases at play which develop sequentially and contribute to the Markan Christological portrait: Jesus as the messianic “son of David” and Jesus as a priest. In understanding the importance of these narrative characterizations and in observing how they unfold, we will be able to understand why Mark intentionally highlights Jesus’s reference to Abiathar.

3.2.1. Jesus the “Son of David”

The title/figure of the “son of David” as applied to Jesus is present in Mark, but its appearances are enigmatic. It seems important for Mark to show Jesus playing a Davidic role, but in the passages where the title or idea appears, it is met either with reticence, the need for qualification, or little comment at all. Even though passages like Mark 12:35–37 suggest a reservation in how the title is used given popular ideas about a Davidic deliverer-king, the words or idea of the “son of David” still appear without qualification either from Jesus or the evangelist in Mark 10:48 and 11:9–10.68 The difficulty of interpreting what are often seen as veiled or vague references has led some to deny the importance of the idea, exemplified in Boring’s assertion that “Mark’s Christology has no Davidic typology and is extremely cautious about interpreting Jesus in Davidic terms.”69 I see this as incorrect, and suggest rather that understanding Mark’s Davidic emphases is essential for rightly interpreting the Abiathar reference, which is the first explicit mention of David in the narrative and the first comparison between David and Jesus.70

If one examines the occurrences of Davidic language associated with Jesus, Smith is right to say that “it would appear that Mark in no way denies the Davidic messiahship of Jesus,” even when “he is more reticent about its nature.”71 We can see from the appellation given by Bartimaeus, to the symbolic nature of the colt Jesus rides on, and on to the acclamation of the crowd receiving him in Jerusalem that while the evangelist avoids depicting Jesus as a nationalist-political messiah, there is nonetheless a clear message that Jesus is David’s heir (even if in a primarily spiritual sense).72 Beyond these overt references, most scholars accept that there is an allusion to Psalm 2:7 at Jesus’s baptism, which would have had messianic connotations at Mark’s time, as it did in some Jewish pseudepigraphal texts.73 The Davidic idea in Psalm 2:7, which Mark highlights in the very beginning, is that the anointed king of the Psalm would be a future son of David.

As Botner observes, Mark had a “penchant for drawing on royal psalms at pivotal junctures in the narrative,” interspersed throughout the narrative with enough regularity to make the emphasis obvious.74 In the aforementioned royal procession of Jesus to Jerusalem, the crowds cite Psalm 118 without objection from Jesus or qualification by Mark, which, in combination with the reference to Zechariah 9:9, anticipates an anointed Davidic son.75 Not only that, but we see the allusion to Psalm 2:7 appear once more at Jesus’s transfiguration (Mark 9:7), and again in the context of Jesus’s trial in the question from Caiaphas (Mark 14:61), bookending the narrative. Finally, the idea that Jesus claimed to be a Davidic ruler is affirmed in his crucifixion, per the titulus crucis, which hails Jesus as “the king of the Jews,” in the spirit and form of David. As Perrin puts it, “Jesus enters Jerusalem as the true son of David, teaches as the true son of David, and dies as the true son of David.”76

The most enigmatic “son of David” reference is surely Mark 12:35–37, which has been used to suggest that Jesus intended to distance himself from the title.77 However, I contend that it is better to understand this instance as Jesus pointing out how the religious leaders of his time failed to understand what it meant for him to be a Davidic messiah.78 Part of the problem that Jesus was addressing was an idea of the messiah that was too small. In his question to the crowd, he critiques how a messianic “son of David” could come from David in only a physical sense if in Psalm 110, if David calls this messianic figure “Lord.” Rather than Jesus refuting this messianic association, it seems more like that he is suggesting that the religious leaders are wrong to associate their understanding of this title with the messiah, because the messiah is not merely David’s son, but he is David’s Lord who establishes a kingdom far beyond that of David.79 Given that the narrative position of this question to the crowd is after Jesus’s royal procession into the city, it is likely that the crowd would have understood him to be referring to himself. Additionally, the sequentially previous parable of the vineyard tenants can illuminate the ways in which Jesus considers the religious leaders to be misunderstanding his sonship, as the heir destined for death.

Now that we have established the importance of the “son of David” idea to Mark’s narrative, how does it relate to the grain-picking episode of 2:23–28? Of the few explicit mentions of David in Mark’s Gospel, this passage is the first, and as the first, I contend that paves the way for the other references to David that follow in the narrative sequence. It is hardly questionable that in the dialogue with the Pharisees, Jesus is making a comparison between David and himself, but the real question regards the nature of this comparison. At one level, it is David’s authority to override a cultic and legal barrier which Jesus uses as the basis for his approval of “the ‘unorthodox’ actions of his disciples.”80 But from a narrative perspective, the mention of David is not simply a blithe reference as a way to establish a precedent for violating Torah, but is intentionally mentioned in order to establish a connection between the person of David, his authority, and his context in 1 Samuel 21, and the person of Jesus, his authority, and his context at that point in Mark’s narrative.81 To see this in clearer relief, we need to recall the broader narrative details of both Jesus’s early ministry and David’s early ascendancy.

In both the cases of David in 1 Samuel 21 and Jesus in Mark 2, we have a ruler and his band of men who represent a new, unrecognized kingdom, with this ruler and his followers wandering through the countryside, currently embroiled in conflict with the regnant religious and political authorities, and in both cases the leadership is considered illegitimate and unfavored by God.82 In David’s case, as the true anointed king he comes to the priest at Nob and violates otherwise sacral prohibitions, but the narrative in 1 Samuel indicates that “the divine appointment of David justified his action,” leading Jesus’s interlocutors (and Mark’s audience) to the question what identity Jesus has that could justify his similar actions.83 Jesus’s specific choice of wording in Mark 2:26 is also important, as he adds the (seemingly unnecessary) detail that David gave the showbread to those who were “with him,” and later in Mark 3:14, the narrator adds that Jesus gave authority to the Twelve, that they might be “with him.” While on the surface this seems innocuous, it is possible that Mark intended this connection to be clear to his readers in order to establish yet another comparison between David and his men and Jesus and his disciples.84 As Perrin puts it, Mark thus “prepares us to surmise that Jesus’s gathering of the Twelve is modeled on David’s gathering of his movement.”85

If indeed Mark’s phraseology was so careful and his narrative connections so intentional regarding these Davidic connections, I suggest that his inclusion of Jesus’s mention of Abiathar over Ahimelech was also careful and intentional. In David’s context, Ahimelech would be killed by King Saul’s order shortly after the episode at Nob, and Abiathar would serve in a more significant capacity as priest under David’s kingship. However, Abiathar is not only mentioned because he is more memorable,86 but rather because of what he represents. In David’s context, Abiathar started well, and served for a long period, but ended badly due to his participation in the revolt of Adonijah against Solomon, David’s anointed son. As a result of his participation in and association with the plot against the son of David, Abiathar was the only high priest to ever be deposed in the Old Testament.87 In Mark’s context, Jesus is highlighting Abiathar to insinuate that the Pharisees represent Abiathar, who was present during David’s taking of the showbread and participated in his transgression, and would eventually be shown to be illegitimate, because of the Pharisees’ participation in rebelling against Jesus as the true “son of David,” who is far greater than David and is establishing a greater kingdom. Additionally, just as Abiathar was deposed for his participation in the rebellion, Caiaphas would later be deposed as high priest.88

As Perrin puts it, Jesus intends to communicate what Mark expands, namely that Abiathar is “an emblem of a rebellious and therefore failed priesthood,” which explains Jesus’s present scenario and anticipates his own enthronement as the greater “son of David.”89 From this, we can infer that Jesus is associating the resistance of the Pharisees to his ascendancy in light of Abiathar’s failed rebellion and resistance to Solomon, thereby declaring them to be illegitimate. This all takes places in the context of the early parts of Jesus’s ministry, where Mark highlights his annunciation and establishment of God’s Kingdom, and his ushering in of a new age where he is the messianic “son of David.”90 This reading shows that the passage is just as polemical as it is Christological, in that it seeks not only to associate Jesus with David, but the religious leaders with Abiathar. Therefore, as Botner concludes, the wording encourages Mark’s audience “to engage the events of 1 Sam 21:2–10 within their wider narrative framework, and thus to grapple with the impending conflict between claims to authority by those who are currently in power, and by a new figure claiming to be God’s messiah.”91

3.2.2. Jesus the Priest

While the idea of Jesus as a priest, and as one establishing a new priesthood, is often overlooked in treatments of Mark’s Gospel, I argue that it is essential to Mark’s larger narrative and especially to understanding the significance of Jesus’s statements in Mark 2:26. As Broadhead observes, “the priestly image, though briefly developed, has been woven into the larger tapestry of the Gospel of Mark and contributes to its wider Christological portrait. More importantly, the image of Jesus as priest probably plays a decisive role in the ongoing life of the church which lives by this gospel.”92 There are five passages where this Christological emphasis is most clearly developed: Mark 1:21–45; 2:1–12; 2:23–28; 3:13–17; and 7:14–23.93 The first of these passages establishes Jesus’s priestly exorcistic authority in his domination of the spiritual realm, and in his didactic authority, as one teaching differently than the current authorities. The second establishes his remissive authority in priestly fashion as one who is able to forgive the sins of the paralytic. This is then followed by our passage, which precedes Jesus giving of his own spiritual and didactic authority as priest to his disciples in 3:13–17. Lastly, in 7:14–23, Jesus acts as priest in displaying a ritual or cultic authority to make pronouncements over what is clean and unclean. From a narrative perspective, the proximity and sequence of these stories is important for interpreting their development, a development which involves establishing Jesus as a priest who is increasingly opposed by the regnant priestly authorities.

Regarding Jesus as a priest in 2:23–28, in placing himself within the role of the one justifying or allowing his disciples to pick the grain, Jesus “allows his followers to do on the Sabbath what was by law reserved for the priest of Israel,” since in David’s context, only the priests could eat the showbread.94 To be high priest in Jesus’s first century context meant to be “Yahweh’s duly appointed, duly installed divine representative to Israel—and by extension to the world.”95 Jesus’s actions in this priestly capacity, especially as related to his message of the inauguration of a new kingdom, a new order, and a new era of history, meant that he intended to change the entire ritual-cultic economy, and to establish a new priesthood from his own followers.96 These followers, as those endowed with priestly rights by association with Jesus, can be justified in picking the grain on the Sabbath because they are part of this new order with its new king and partake in its privileges.

This establishment of a new order obviously meant resistance from the regnant system and, in turn, Jesus’s denunciation or rejection of that system, exemplified in his association of the religious leaders with Abiathar. Of course, this also involved Jesus’s indictment and judgment of the Temple, with which the priesthood of Jesus’s time had long been associated.97 While only in nascent form here, we see this become fully developed in the dramatic events around the Temple grounds in Mark 11–13, culminating in Jesus’s judgment of the Temple and his prediction of its destruction. When understood in light of Mark’s broader narrative goals, the mention of “Abiathar the high priest” can be understood as integral to his message, a message that sees the followers of Jesus and not the first century priestly order as the true future temple and priestly order.98

3.3. A Narrative-Christological Solution to Mark 2:26 as an Incorporative, Holistic Paradigm

Given all the strands that come together if we consider Mark 2:26 in light of narrative Christology, we are provided with a solution that allows for us to consider Mark’s inclusion of the saying as intentional, and indeed as key to understanding his portrait of Jesus and the disciples. That is, considering the narrative threads that come together in Mark’s understanding of Jesus as priest and “son of David,” we can understand how Mark 2:23–28 represents not only a series of significant Christological points, but also the beginning of Jesus’s polemic against the religious leaders, who, as the narrative unfolds, increasingly oppose him and his disciples. This paradigm allows for us to view Mark highly as a narrator, and can help us begin to understand why Matthew and Luke, with their distinct narrative aims, omitted the saying. This narrative framework can be considered incorporative and holistic in that it can both supplement and inform the strengths of other proposed solutions. For example, while I do not find the lexical-linguistic solution ultimately necessary, I do find aspects of the historical-cultural solution helpful. Specifically, if we can understand Abiathar to have been present with Ahimelech when David arrived at Nob, and if we can understand the flexibility with which many first century Jews used the title of high priest, then we can understand both how Jesus’s mention of “Abiathar the high priest” is both a historically accurate claim for him to make and a useful detail for Mark to highlight in his own narrative development.

4. Conclusion

Rather than the typical assertion (formulated in Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus) that Mark’s mention of ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως was an error, I have argued in this article that Mark (and Jesus before him) intentionally included it. There is no ambiguous language to blame, but rather, through the utilization of a narrative approach, I have shown that Mark purposefully highlighted these words and placed this pericope at its place in his narrative sequence in order to make a point about the relationship between the person and message of Jesus and that of the religious authorities. Both Jesus and Mark understood that David met Ahimelech, but they understood that the presence of Abiathar with Ahimelech could be easily inferred, and that as the more significant high priest associated with David who was eventually proved illegitimate by his actions toward David’s son, Abiathar was uniquely representative of the priestly authorities standing in opposition to Jesus, the true “son of David,” and greater high priest.

Presuming that Mark highlighted this episode as part of his unfolding narrative Christological portrait allows us to leave behind the idea of a Markan “slip” and to view the text more highly, given Mark’s complex and detailed structuring of his Gospel. Viewing Mark 2:26 through a narrative lens helps us to understand it as part of a deftly crafted, coherent, and connected storyline with a clear purpose, arranged by a narrator who intended for certain ideas, words and events to be presented as they are, and who carefully developed those over the course of his work. This approach and the conclusions that can be rendered from it are important for the establishment of the integrity of the text and its correspondence to historical events, and serves to defend, in a posteriori fashion, the strength of what we have in the text, reminding us not to forget the author who stands behind the text. This level of insight would be impossible had Mark simply wrote that David went to the sanctuary at Nob “in the time of Ahimelech the high priest.”

[1] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperCollins, 2005).

[2] Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 9.

[3] Darrell L. Bock, Mark, NCBC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 155. cf. James A. Brooks, Mark: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, NAC 23 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1991), 66: “no explanation is completely satisfactory”; Robert Stein, Mark, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 146: “no satisfactory solution has come forward”; Kim Huat Tan, Mark, NCCS (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), 42: “the jury is still out on this question.”

[4] As in Mary Ann Beavis, Mark, Paideia (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 63.

[5] As in Lamar Williamson, Mark, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 73.

[6] As in Warren Carter, Mark, Wisdom Commentary 42 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2019), 59 n. 35.

[7] As in Charles Bobertz, The Gospel of Mark: A Liturgical Reading (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 30–31; Larry Hurtado, Mark, Understanding the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989), 48–49.

[8] I will elaborate on what a narrative approach entails below. It is distinct from a form-critical approach which examines pericopae in order to identify subdivisions and units, analyzing their compilation from oral sources, or a redaction-critical approach, which focuses on the ways in which the text’s author edited the source materials.

[9] When I say that Mark intentionally included the phrase, I do not mean that Mark invented the phrase or the dialogue. Rather, I do believe that Mark preserves and relays what Jesus actually said in an historical encounter. I assert as much because of the obviously Semitic nature of the pericope (which are not likely to fit later contexts), its unusual features (such as the fact that the dialogue has no connection with Jesus’s miracles and the controversy is not related to what Jesus himself does, but only his disciples), and the offense that would have been created by various aspects of the text (such as Jesus’s series of controversial statements in vv. 27–28, or the fact that he does not appear to adhere to an acceptable form of Rabbinic debate in vv. 25–26), all of which are unlikely to have been invented later. This is in contrast with E. P. Sanders, Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah: Five Studies (London: SCM, 1990), 20–21; Arland Hultgren, “The Formation of the Sabbath Pericope in Mark 2:23–28,” JBL 91 (1972): 43; or Lewis Hay, “The Son of Man in Mark 2:10 and 2:28,” JBL 89 (1970): 72, who represent the view that this is an ahistorical exchange invented by the early church to justify their departure from Jewish Sabbath practice.

[10] John Meier, “The Historical Jesus and the Plucking of the Grain on the Sabbath,” CBQ 66 (2004): 563.

[11] Cf. Francis Maloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 69; Morna Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, BNTC (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 103; C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St. Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, CGTC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 116; Carter, Mark, 59 n. 35; C. Clifton Black, Mark, ANTC (Nashville: Abingdon, 2011), 97; Donald English, The Message of Mark: The Mystery of Faith, Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 74; Hugh Anderson, The Gospel of Mark, NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 110.

[12] This is the view, as discussed above, of Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus, 9); recently reasserted by Matthew Thiessen, Jesus and the Forces of Death (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020), 157.

[13] For a recent discussion on Peter as a source for Mark, see Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 129–50.

[14] This is suggested by Sherman Johnson, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark (London: A&C Black, 1960), 68; Brooks, Mark, 66.

[15] This is suggested by Meier, “The Historical Jesus and the Plucking of the Grain on the Sabbath,” 573–79.

[16] In the words of Lamar Williamson, Mark, 73: “a lapse of memory or slip of the tongue”; Also Eduard Schweitzer, The Good News According to Mark, trans. Donald H. Madvig (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1970), 72; D. E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark, PNTC (London: Penguin Books, 1964), 107; Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Mark’s Jesus: Characterization as Narrative Christology (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009), 166; Joel Marcus, Mark 18: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AYB 27 (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2002), 241.

[17] I concur with the majority of commentators who place the date of composition sometime in the range of AD 60–75. Even if one places Mark’s writing at AD 60, this exchange would have been repeatedly circulated orally for nearly three decades.

[18] The conundrum then becomes, in the words of John Wenham, “Mark 2:26,” JTS 1 (1950): 156: “how to account for the retention of the phrase for so long in the oral tradition when the error was so readily recognized.”

[19] The phrase is attested most strongly in Western manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel. Other manuscript traditions appear to omit the phrase (D W it sys). Still others (A C Q 1 F) introduce τοῦ before ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως, which achieves a more general temporal meaning.

[20] As argued by Shannon Morgan, “When Abiathar was High Priest (Mark 2:26),” JBL 98 (1979): 410; and Robert Guelich, Mark 18:26, WBC 34A (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), 122. Why Matthew and Luke omitted the phrase cannot be known with certainty. Scholars who insist that they intentionally did so, in the words of R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 142: “to remove the embarrassment of a historical error,” are begging the question. Matthew and Luke had different narrative intentions in what they included and highlighted, and in various places they both and add on to Mark’s accounts for their own reasons.

[21] Jean-Claude Haelewyck, “Réflexion sur la Méthode en Critique Textuelle à Partir de L’épisode des Épis Arrachés en Mc 2,23–28,” RB 126 (2019): 401–14.

[22] Craig Evans, “Patristic Interpretation of Mark 2:26,” VigChr 40 (1986): 184–85.

[23] Haelewyck, “Reflexion,” 404.

[24] Haelewyck, “Reflexion,” 414. “Early” refers to before the fifth century.

[25] For example, this is conceded as the consensus even by Meier (“The Historical Jesus and the Plucking of Grain on the Sabbath,” 579).

[26] Luke 4:17 indicates that Jesus could read. In the Gospels, he directly quotes from or extensively alludes to the entire Pentateuch, Hosea, Isaiah, the Psalms, Malachi, Jonah, 1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles, and Daniel.

[27] Meier, “The Historical Jesus and the Plucking of Grain on the Sabbath,” 574.

[28] Meier, “The Historical Jesus and the Plucking of Grain on the Sabbath,” 579.

[29] ἐπί is a flexible term with a wide semantic range. BDAG 363–67 lists eighteen uses and meanings of it.

[30] It is almost certain that in the historical dialogue, Jesus would have spoken Aramaic with the religious leaders. We can probably conclude that Mark is translating in his reproduction of the episode. For more on Jesus’s use of Aramaic, see P. M. Casey, “In Which Language Did Jesus Teach?” ExpTim 108 (1997): 326–28.

[31] A comparison of five English translations captures how elliptic ἐπί can be: “In the days of Abiathar the high priest” (NIV); “when Abiathar was high priest” (RSV); “in the time of Abiathar the high priest” (NASB); “during the days when Abiathar was high priest” (NLT); “under Abiathar the high priest” (Douay-Rheims).

[32] See Casey, “Culture and Historicity,” 1–23.

[33] Casey, “Culture and Historicity,” 8.

[34] Casey, “Culture and Historicity,” 8.

[35] Casey, “Culture and Historicity,” 8.

[36] Brooks, Mark, 66.

[37] Brooks, Mark, 66.

[38] Some have suggested that Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, may have in turn named his own son Ahimelech after the name of his father. For more on this possibility, which was not uncommon in antiquity, see James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 95. Others even suggest that the text may be confused on the precise identity of Ahimelech. For example, David Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 529: “(Ahimelech) could be the same person as Ahijah, the son of Ahitub (1 Sam 14:3) since melech may be a divine element like yah.”

[39] Max Botner, “Has Jesus Read What David Did? Probing Problems in Mark 2:25–26,” JTS 69.2 (2018): 14.

[40] Meier, “The Historical Jesus and the Plucking of Grain on the Sabbath,” 571. See also David Firth, 1 and 2 Samuel, AOTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 213–14.

[41] Botner, “Has Jesus Read What David Did?,” 14–15.

[42] Cf. France, Mark, 146; John Donahue and Daniel Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, SP 2 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002), 111 n. 25.

[43] Botner notes that that the Qumran text 11QTa (“Statutes of the King”) describes how a group of men typically would travel with Israel’s king at all times, and even in special instances like 1 Samuel 21:1, these men would have been close by and immediately rejoined David after a brief separation (“Has Jesus Read What David Did?,” 10). Ahimelech’s fear in 1 Samuel 21:1 shows that the absence of the men would have been considered highly unusual.

[44] For texts that infer the showbread episode to be on the Sabbath, see b. Menahot 95b; Yalqut Shim’oni 2.130.

[45] See Leviticus 24:5–9.

[46] This solution seems to be preferred by more conservative commentators. Those preferring this option include Eckhard Schnabel, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC 2 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 77; Mark Strauss, Mark, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 145–46; Brooks, Mark, 66; Tan, Mark, 41–42; Heikki Sariola, Markus und das Gesetz: Eine Redaktionskritische Untersuchung (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1990), 100.

[47] Argued by Strauss, Mark, 146.

[48] Articulated by William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 115.

[49] Tan, Mark, 42. See also John Wenham, Christ and the Bible, 3rd ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 83. This suggestion has its detractors, with examples being Ezra Gould, St. Mark, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 49; France, Mark, 146 n. 52.

[50] The part in question reads: ἐν τῇ βίβλῳ Μωυσέως ἐπὶ τοῦ βάτου, translated, “in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush.”

[51] For scholars who consider this a viable solution, cf. Bock, Mark, 155; Stein, Mark, 146; Brooks, Mark, 66. This explanation has provoked criticism from scholars such as Evans, “Patristic Interpretation of Mark 2:26,” 183; Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary, NTL (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006): 88; France, Mark, 146 n. 52. The problem with this assertion is that when a section of Scripture is designated by a person (or term), it is typically when that person or term occurs earlier in the section referenced, not later as with Abiathar (as noted in Lane, Mark, 116 n. 86).

[52] Articulated clearly by Sariota, “Markus und das Gesetz,” 100. cf. Casey, who says that “(Abiathar’s) presence may reasonably be deduced from the narrative in 1 Samuel” (“Culture and Historicity,” 8).

[53] Sariota, “Markus und das Gesetz,” 100. For another defense of this view, see J. D. M. Derrett, “Judaica in St. Mark,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1 (1975): 92.

[54] Craig Evans, “Patristic Interpretation of Mark 2:26,” 184. This view is argued by J. C. Ryle, Mark, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993), 27.

[55] For a brief treatment of this practice, see Zvonko Rode, “The Origin of Jewish Family Names,” Names 24.3 (1976): 165–79.

[56] Also presented as a possible solution by Ryle, Mark, 27; and most recently by Nicholas Perrin, “The Temple, A Davidic Messiah, and a Case of Mistaken Priestly Identity (Mark 2:26),” in From Creation to New Creation: Biblical Theology and Exegesis, ed. Daniel Gurtner and Benjamin Gladd (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2013), 166.

[57] This solution is proposed by Marie-Joseph Lagrange, Evangile Selon Saint Marc (Paris: Librairie Lecoffre, 1929), 53.

[58] Noted clearly by Ryle, Mark, 28.

[59] Noted by Perrin, “The Temple, A Davidic Messiah, and a Case of Mistaken Priestly Identity,” 168.

[60] Edwin Broadhead, “Christology as Polemic and Apologetic: The Priestly Portrait of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark,” JSNT 15 (1992): 22 n. 4. Another way of saying this is that the what of a narrative (the content) and the how of the narrative (the rhetoric and structure) are analyzed as a complete whole. For more, see James Resseguie, “A Glossary of New Testament Narrative Criticism with Illustrations,” Religions 10.3 (2019): 1. The focus is on the text itself, attending to its constitutive features in a way intentionally distinct from traditional historical-critical methods.

[61] Michal Dinkler, “A New Formalist Approach to Narrative Christology: Returning to the Structure of the Synoptic Gospels,” HTS 73 (2017): 2. By “sequence,” I mean that the narrative develops meaningfully, and that order is key to interpretation of the whole. For more on the complexity with which Mark does this, see Richard Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press (2016), 17.

[62] This assumes that Mark’s Christology is advanced by considering the relationships between Jesus and others. Jesus’s identity is understood by the reader when the reader can comprehend the relationships between different characters, and how those characters respond to Jesus.

[63] As Michal Dinkler (Literary Theory and the New Testament [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020]: 19) puts it, narrative critical approaches are often adopted as a rejection of “the endless stream of seemingly unanswerable questions posited by historical criticism, or the lack of regard for the text in its final form except as it points to its earlier stages of production.”

[64] An example is the bracketing of the Jairus narrative with the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, which increases the pace and suspense of the text and the meaning of what follows. As observed by Ciliers Breytenbach, The Gospel of Mark as Episodic Narrative (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 16: “there can hardly be any doubt that the Gospel of Mark is a carefully structured text.” This contrasts with form critics and even with the second century commentator Papias, who is famously quoted as saying that Mark just recorded what he remembered, and his work had no order (per Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.15).

[65] Mark Alan Powell, “Narrative Criticism,” in Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation, ed. Joel Green (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 253.

[66] Joel Williams, “The Characterization of Jesus as Lord in Mark’s Gospel,” in Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark, ed. Christopher Skinner and Matthew Hauge, LNTS 483 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2014), 116–17.

[67] Williams, “The Characterization of Jesus as Lord in Mark’s Gospel,” 118.

[68] For more on the paradoxical reticence we find in some of these references and how this relates to Mark 2:23–28, see Marcus, Mark 18, 245.

[69] Boring, Mark, 91. For a discussion of developments in the rejection of Davidic elements in Mark’s Christology, see Botner, Jesus Christ as the Son of David in the Gospel of Mark, 1–38 (especially pp. 15 and 19). Other scholars do not even mention the idea of the “son of David” in their treatments of Markan Christology at all. For example, it is not mentioned by Sigurd Grindheim, Christology in the Synoptic Gospels: God or God’s Servant (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2012), 35–80.

[70] Interestingly, most scholars who assume that Mark intended Davidic typology in his Christological paradigm do not mention Mark 2:23–28 in their discussion of passages relevant to the “son of David” idea (for example, it is absent in Stephen Smith, “The Function of the Son of David Tradition in Mark’s Gospel,” NTS 42 [1996]: 523–39).

[71] Smith, “The Function of the Son of David Tradition in Mark’s Gospel,” 532.

[72] Smith, “The Function of the Son of David Tradition in Mark’s Gospel,” 532.

[73] Botner, Jesus Christ as the Son of David in the Gospel of Mark, 52; cf. Psalms of Solomon 17 or 1 Enoch 37–41.

[74] Botner, Jesus Christ as the Son of David in the Gospel of Mark, 60.

[75] For a fuller discussion, see Botner, Jesus Christ as the Son of David in the Gospel of Mark, 146–53. For Mark’s audience, Jesus’s entry would have drawn to mind 1 Kings 1:38 and Solomon’s route to his coronation.

[76] Perrin, “The Temple, A Davidic Messiah, and a Case of Mistaken Priestly Identity,” 171.

[77] As suggested by Boring, Mark, 348.

[78] Noted by Perrin, “The Temple, A Davidic Messiah, and a Case of Mistaken Priestly Identity,” 171.

[79] See the discussion in France, Mark, 483–85.

[80] France, Mark, 144.

[81] As Guelich says, the point of the passage is not even about providing “an OT precedent for the disciples’ conduct,” but rather is about “typology between David and Jesus” (Mark, 123).

[82] For more on these connections, see Hurtado, Mark, 48. Joel Marcus also notes that Mark “accentuates Jesus’s kingly role…by the way in which he describes the disciples’ plucking of grain, since it creates the impression that a path is being cleared…as would be done in preparation for a royal visit” (Mark 18, 245).

[83] Hurtado, Mark, 49.

[84] As noted by Botner, “Has Jesus Read What David Did?,” 495.

[85] Perrin, “The Temple, A Davidic Messiah, and a Case of Mistaken Priestly Identity,” 174.

[86] This is often a reason given by commentators to explain his appearance in Mark 2:26, but for no reason other than he was more prominent than Abiathar. For an example, see Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 203 n. 130.

[87] Nicholas Perrin, Jesus the Priest (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 198. Abiathar’s deposition would also fulfill the Old Testament word regarding his ancestor Eli, who had his descendants cursed in 1 Kings 2:26–27.

[88] As reported by Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.95–97.

[89] Perrin, “The Temple, A Davidic Messiah, and a Case of Mistaken Priestly Identity,” 175.

[90] As noted by Strauss, Mark, 145.

[91] Botner, “Has Jesus Read What David Did?,” 496.

[92] Broadhead, Christology as Polemic and Apologetic, 22.

[93] Articulated first by Broadhead, Christology as Polemic and Apologetic, 23.

[94] Broadhead, Christology as Polemic and Apologetic, 28–29. Broadhead helpfully notes that the same thing happens in 7:14–23, where Jesus applies the standard of clean and unclean for his followers as only a priest would.

[95] Perrin, Jesus the Priest, 143.

[96] Perrin, Jesus the Priest, 54.

[97] Nicholas Perrin describes this at length in Jesus the Temple (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010).

[98] Perrin, “The Temple, a Davidic Messiah, and a Case of Mistaken Priestly Identity,” 166.

William B. Bowes

William B. Bowes is a PhD candidate in New Testament and Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh.

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