NTTC Mark 2:26: Maybe the Gospel Writer Mark Was Just Wrong

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 120 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Major Critical Texts of the New Testament

Byz RP: 2005 Byzantine Greek New Testament, Robinson & Pierpont
TR1550: 1550 Stephanus New Testament
Maj: The Majority Text (thousands of minuscules which display a similar text)
Gries: 1774-1775 Johann Jakob Griesbach Greek New Testament
Treg: 1857-1879 Samuel Prideaux Tregelles Greek New Testament
Tisch: 1872 Tischendorf’s Greek New Testament
WH: 1881 Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament
NA28: 2012 Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament
UBS5: 2014 Greek New Testament
NU: Both Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Society
SBLGNT: 2010 Greek New Testament ()
THGNT: 2017 The Greek New Testament by Tyndale House
GENTI: 2020 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

MARK 2:26 2020 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI & TR WH NU TGNT SBLGNT) [BRD]
 26 πῶςHow εἰσῆλθενhe entered εἰςinto τὸνthe οἶκονhouse τοῦof the θεοῦGod ἐπὶinto ᾿ΑβιάθαρAbiathar ἀρχιερέωςchief priest καὶand τοὺςthe ἄρτουςloaves τῆςof the προθέσεωςpresentation ἔφαγεν,he ate, οὓςwhich οὐκnot ἔξεστινit is lawful φαγεῖνto eat εἰif μὴnot τοὺςthe ἱερεῖς,priests, καὶand ἔδωκενhe gave καὶalso τοῖςto the (ones) σὺνtogether with αὐτῷhim οὖσιν;being?

Mark 2:26 King James Version (KJV)
26 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?
Mark 2:26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
26 how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the loaves of presentation, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”
9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

As he settled into the field of textual criticism, Bart D. Ehrman would head on to yet another big named school, but one that was now moving away from his founding conservative principles, to a more liberal progressive stance: Princeton Theological Seminary. It is here that Bart D. Ehrman would study under the renowned textual scholar, Bruce M. Metzger. When writing an initial paper, for a Princeton professor by the name of Cullen Story at the beginning of his stay, Bart tried to give a long, complicated answer to overturn a discrepancy found in the Gospel of Mark. (Mark 2:26; 1 Sam 21:1-6) It was the response of this professor, on Bart’s paper, which sent Ehrman onto the road of Agnosticism: “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” Here is Bart’s established mindset from Misquoting Jesus before he even enters his first chapter,

  1. Page 7: How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words of God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes – sometimes correctly, but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly?
  2. Page 10: It is one thing to say that the originals were inspired, but the reality is that we don’t have the originals – so saying they were inspired doesn’t help me much.
  3. Page 10: Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the originals of the first copies. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals.[1]
  4. Page 11: If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture? In some places, as we will see, we simply cannot be sure that we have constructed the original text accurately. It’s a bit hard to know what the words of the Bible mean if we don’t even know what the words are!
  5. Page 11: The fact that we don’t have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn’t perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.

Bart-d-ehrman-2012-wikipediaIt seems that Ehrman has a mindset that is perpetuated by a blind spot, the fact that we do not have the originals. (See Why Do We Not the Original Bible Manuscripts?) We will start with Ehrman’s obstacle to Mark 2:26. At Mark 2:26 many translations have Jesus saying that David went into the house of God and ate the showbread “when Abiathar was high priest.” Since Abiathar’s father, Ahimelech was the high priest when that event took place, such a translation would seem to result in a historical error.

Comfort informs us that “All three editions (TR WH NU) indicate that David entered into the house of God “during [the time] of Abiathar, high priest” (επι Αβιαθαρ αρχιερεως). ” In fact, Scribes looking to avoid what they perceived to be a historical difficulty, D W al omit ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως, whereby they adjusted the text to be in agreement with Matthew 12:4 and Luke 6:4.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

As Ehrman explains his assignment of having to write a paper dealing with the discrepancy of Mark 2:26: ‘he was overly concerned with the idea of turning in anything that did not keep the validity of inerrancy alive.’ He said he had to do “fancy exegetical foot-work” for that to happen. The context of his recounting of the story was that he had to bend heaven and earth to get something resembling an explanation that avoided a historical error, which was not only a daunting task but time-consuming as well. Ehrman writes,

At the end of my paper, [Professor Story] wrote a simple one-line comment that for some reason went straight through me. He wrote: “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” I started thinking about it, considering all the work I had put into the paper, realizing that I had to do some pretty fancy exegetical foot-work to get around the problem, and that my solution was in fact a bit of a stretch. I finally concluded, “Hmm . . . maybe Mark did make a mistake.”

Once I made the admission, the floodgates opened. For if there could be one little, picayune mistake in Mark 2, maybe there could be mistakes in other places as well…. This kind of realization coincided with the problems I was encountering the more closely I studied the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. It is one thing to say that the original were inspired, but the reality is that we do not have the originals―so saying they were inspired doesn’t help much, unless I can reconstruct the originals.[2]

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

Before looking at Ehrman’s so-called “fancy exegetical footwork” that he says, ‘took much work,’ let us say that this Bible difficulty is solved with simple reasoning. Is it not true that if we referred to the Roman Emperor Tiberius, before the time of his becoming emperor, we would say Roman Emperor Tiberius? Why? Because it is a title and position that he is known for throughout history. This would hold true with Abiathar as well. Therefore, Mark’s reference to Abiathar as high priest is simply a reference to the position he had in history.

Mark 2:26 (NET): “he [being David] entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest.” This rendering is certainly a historical error if taken outside of the way we normally talk about people in history. Let us start with looking at an interlinear, to get an understanding of the Greek words involved.[3]

 26 πῶςHow εἰσῆλθενhe entered εἰςinto τὸνthe οἶκονhouse τοῦof the θεοῦGod ἐπὶinto ᾿ΑβιάθαρAbiathar ἀρχιερέωςchief priest 

  • how he entered  into the house of the God
  • ἐπὶ ᾿Αβιάθαρ
  • into Abiathar chief priest

The Greek structure of Mark 2:26 is similar to that of Mark 12:26 and has been used by the translations below in their rendering of 2:26. This is perfectly acceptable, and there was no need for any “fancy exegetical footwork.” The only exegetical footwork that I see is Ehrman’s attempt at exaggerating a small Bible difficulty and not giving the complete picture. One has to keep in mind that original readers did not need to go to the length that we do today. It was written to them, in their language and their historic setting. We are 2,000 years removed and in a modern era that can hardly relate to them. Therefore, in translation and exegesis, there is work to be done. Yet, any beginning Bible student with the reference works could have resolved this Bible difficulty in a matter of minutes. In fact, any churchgoer with the Big Book of Bible Difficulties by Norman Geisler or the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason L. Archer could have found a reasonable answer the moment they opened the book. Of course, these books were not available to Ehrman when he was at Princeton. But he was at the Ph.D. level of his education and had access to Bruce M. Metzger. Why Ehrman struggled so when he had three years at Moody Bible Institute and two years at Wheaton College is beyond this writer.

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II
Mark 12:26 (USB5): epi tou batou pos

upon the thorn bush how

 26 περὶabout δὲbut τῶνthe νεκρῶνdead (ones) ὅτιthat ἐγείρονταιthey are being raised up οὐκnot ἀνέγνωτεdid you read ἐνin τῇthe βίβλῳbook Μωυσέωςof Moses ἐπὶupon τοῦthe βάτουthornbush πῶςhow εἶπενsaid αὐτῷto him the θεὸςGod λέγωνsaying ᾿ΕγὼI the θεὸςGod ᾿Αβραὰμof Abraham καὶand θεὸςGod Ἰσαὰκof Isaac καὶand θεὸςGod Ἰακώβ;of Jacob? 

Mark 12:26: epi tou batou [“in the time of the burning bush”]

  • Mark 2:26 (NASB): “in the time of Abiathar”
  • Mark 2:26 (ESV):  “in the time of Abiathar”
  • Mark 2:26 (CSB):  “in the time of Abiathar”
  • Mark 2:26 (UASV):  “in the time of Abiathar”

Luke 20:37
37 ὅτιThat δὲbut ἐγείρονταιare being raised up οἱthe νεκροὶdead (ones) καὶalso ΜωυσῆςMoses ἐμήνυσενdisclosed ἐπὶon τῆςthe βάτου,thornbush, ὡςas λέγειhe is saying ΚύριονLord τὸνthe θεὸνGod ᾿Αβραὰμof Abraham καὶand θεὸνGod Ἰσαὰκof Isaac καὶand θεὸνGod Ἰακώβ·of Jacob; 

Acts 11:28
 28 ἀναστὰςhaving stood up δὲbut εἷςone ἐξout of αὐτῶνthem ὀνόματιto name ἌγαβοςAgabus ἐσήμαινενwas signifying διὰthrough τοῦthe πνεύματοςspirit λιμὸνfamine μεγάληνgreat μέλλεινto be about ἔσεσθαιto go to be ἐφ’upon ὅληνwhole τὴνthe οἰκουμένην·being inhabited [earth]; ἥτιςwhich ἐγένετοoccurred ἐπὶin Κλαυδίου.Claudius. 

Hebrews 1:2
 2 ἐπ’in ἐσχάτουlast [part] τῶνof the ἡμερῶνdays τούτωνthese ἐλάλησενhe spoke ἡμῖνto us ἐνin υἱῷ,Son, ὃνwhom ἔθηκενhe put κληρονόμονheir πάντων,of all (things), δι’through οὗwhom καὶalso ἐποίησενhe made τοὺςthe αἰῶνας·ages; 

  • Mark 2:26:       epi abiathar [“in the time of Abiathar”]
  • Mark 12:26: epi tou batou [“in the time of the burning bush”]
  • Luke 20:37:  epi tes batou [“in the time of the burning bush”]
  • Acts 11:28:        epi klaudiou [“in the time of Claudius”]
  • Hebrews 1:2: ep eschatou ton hemeron [“in the time of the last days.”]

Actually, if we look at Jesus’ words: “He [David] entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence;” Jesus did not state that Abiathar was high priest at the time of this incident, only “in the time of . . .”[5] Contextually, Abiathar is actually present when the event took place. And in the story just after the murder of his father and would be high priest, a position, and title of which one would refer to him as thereafter, even in discussing events before his receiving that position. This is just a loose citation of Scripture. Today, we do it all the time. Therefore, it was in the time of Abiathar, but not during the time, he occupied the chief priest position. 1 Sam 22:9-12, 18; 23:6; 1 Sam 21:1-6; 22:18-19.

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

This is actually the argument that Ehrman had given to his professor, Cullen Story, which is a reasonable argument. Here are Ehrman’s own words,

In my paper for Professor Story, I developed a long and complicated argument to the effect that even though Mark indicates this happened “when Abiathar was the high priest,” it doesn’t really mean that Abiathar was the high priest, but that the event took place in the part of the scriptural text that has Abiathar as one of the main characters. My argument was based on the meaning of the Greek words involved and was a bit convoluted. Misquoting Jesus (p. 9)

Ehrman believes that his argument to Professor Story was “long and complicated argument.” Ehrman says that his argument was also “convoluted,” which means that it was extremely intricate: too complex or intricate to understand easily. Really, I made the same argument in one page of typed text and wrote on a level that could be easily understood. I do not personally see mine as “long and complicated,” nor “convoluted.” Sadly, it gets even worse for Ehrman and his case, because he actually expresses himself in the same way that Jesus did, which is a common way of expressing things. If we look at page 9, the very page of his complaint, we will find Ehrman saying:

Jesus wants to show the Pharisees that “Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath” and so reminds them of what the great King David had done when he and his men were hungry, how they went into the Temple “when Abiathar was the high priest” and ate the show bread, which was only for the priests to eat. Misquoting Jesus (p. 9)

First, David was not king at the time of Ehrman’s reference. Second, there was no Temple at the time it was the Tabernacle. This is just a loose reference to Scripture by Ehrman as he refers to the person and place involved. We know David as King David, so we are not befuddled by his loose reference and recognize this is a way of referencing things. He also knows we think of it as a Temple, not the Tabernacle; we generally think of the Tabernacle being associated with Moses. Moreover, it was David’s son, Solomon, who would eventually build the Temple. Here we have a world-renowned Bible scholar, who uses a loose reference in his book, and expects that his audience will understand what he means by his way of wording things. Was Ehrman technically chronologically wrong? Yes, in the strictest sense of things, if one wishes to be unreasonable. However, if we recognize this is an acceptable way of human expression; then, no really, he is not wrong because he knows his audience will understand his loose reference, and so it goes with Jesus as well. If only, Ehrman was as reasonable with Mark, who was recording Jesus’ words.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

[1] This may very well be an exaggeration because we do have some very early papyri.
[2] Ehrman, Bart D.: Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperCollins, 2005, pp. 9-10.
[3] Throughout we will be doing transliteration because the conversion tools do not convert the Hebrew and Greek fonts.
[4] WHNU stands for the master critical Westcott and Hort Greek text of 1881, the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek text of 1993 and the fourth edition of the United Bible Societies Greek text of 1993. Of course, WH alone would refer to Westcott and Hort, while NA27 alone would stand for the Nestle-Aland text and UBS4 alone would stand for the United Bible Societies Greek text.
[5] Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως under, in the time of, Abiathar the high priest Mk 2:26. ἐ. ἀρχιερέως Ἅννα καὶ Καιάφα Lk 3:2. ἐ. Κλαυδίου Ac 11:28

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