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A-bi’-a-thar meaning father of super-excellence, or, the super-excellent one is father].
With changed phraseology, these are the explanations commonly given, though “a father remains” would be more in accord with the ordinary use of the stem yathar. The pious Abiathar was still conscious that he had a Father, even after the butchery of his human relatives.
The Biblical Account
The Scriptures represent that Abiathar was descended from Phineas the son of Eli, and through him from Ithamar the son of Aaron. He was the son of Ahimelech the head priest at Nob, who, with his associates, was put to death by King Saul for alleged conspiracy with David. He had two sons, Ahimelech and Jonathan, the former of whom was, in Abiathar’s lifetime, prominent in the priestly service.―1 Sam 21:1-9; 22:7 ff; 2 Sam 8:17; 15:27 ff; 1 Ch 18:16; 24:3,6,31.
Abiathar escaped from the massacre of the priests at Nob, and fled to David, carrying the ephod with him. This was a great accession to David’s strength. Public feeling in Israel was outraged by the slaughter of the priests and turned strongly against Saul. The heir of the priesthood, and in his care the holy ephod, was now with David, and the fact gave to his cause prestige, and a certain character of legitimacy. David also felt bitterly his having been the unwilling cause of the death of Abiathar’s relatives, and this made his heart warm toward his friend. Presumably, also, there was a deep religious sympathy between them.
Abiathar seems to have been at once recognized as David’s priest, the medium of consultation with Jehovah through the ephod (1 Samuel 22:20-23; 23:6,9; 30:7-8). He was at the head of the priesthood, along with Zadok (1 Ch. 15:11), when David, after his conquests (1 Ch 13:5; compare 2 Sam. 6), brought the ark to Jerusalem. The two men are mentioned together as high priests eight times in the narrative of the rebellion of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:24 ff), and are so mentioned in the last list of David’s heads of departments (2 Sam 20:25). Abiathar joined with Adonijah in his attempt to seize the throne (1 Ki 1:7-42), and was for this deposed from the priesthood, though he was treated with consideration because of his early comradeship with David (1 Ki 2:26-27). Possibly, he remained high priest emeritus, as Zadok and Abiathar still appear as priests in the lists of the heads of departments for Solomon’s reign (1 Ki 4:4). Particularly apt is the passage in Ps. 55:12-14, if one regards it as referring to the relations of David and Abiathar in the time of Adonijah.
There are two additional facts, which, considering the close relations between David and Abiathar, must be regarded as significant. One is that Zadok, Abiathar’s junior, is uniformly mentioned first, in all the many passages in which the two are mentioned together, and is treated as the one who is especially responsible. Turn to the narrative, and see how marked this is. The other similarly significant fact is that in certain especially responsible matters (1 Ch 24; 18:16; 2 Sam 8:17) the interests of the line of Ithamar are represented, not by Abiathar, but by his son Ahimelech. There must have been something in the character of Abiathar to account for these facts, as well as for his deserting David for Adonijah. To sketch his character might be a work for the imagination rather than for critical inference; but it seems clear that though he was a man worthy of the friendship of David, he yet had weaknesses or misfortunes that partially deprive him of effectiveness.
Solomon thus expresses the characteristic priestly function of Abiathar: “because you carried the ark of the Lord Jehovah before David, my father” (1 Kings 2:26). By its tense, the verb denotes not a habitual act, but the function of ark bearing, taken as a whole. Zadok and Abiathar, as high priests, had charge of the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:11). We are not told whether it was again moved during the reign of David. Necessarily the priestly superintendence of the ark implies that of the sacrifices and services that were connected with the ark. The details in Kings indicate the existence of much of the ceremonial described in the Pentateuch, while numerous additional Pentateuchal details are mentioned in Chronicles.
A priestly function much emphasized is that of obtaining answers from God through the ephod (1 Sam 23:6,9; 30:7). The word ephod (see 1 Sam 2:18; 2 Sam 6:14) does not necessarily denote the priestly vestment with the Urim and Thummim (e.g. Lev. 8:7-8), but if anyone denies that this was the ephod of the priest Abiathar, the burden of proof rests upon him. This is not the place for inquiring as to the method of obtaining divine revelations through the ephod.
Apart from the men who are expressly said to be descendants of Aaron, this part of the narrative mentions priests three times. David’s sons were priests (2 Sam 8:18). This is of a piece with David’s carrying the ark on a new cart (2 Sam 6), before he had been taught by the death of Uzza. “And Ira the Jairite was also David’s priest.” (2 Sam 20:26). “Zabud the son of Nathan was priest and king’s friend” (1 Kings 4:5). These instances seem to indicate that David and Solomon had each a private chaplain. As to the descent and function of these two “priests”, we have not a word of information, and it is illegitimate to imagine details concerning them which bring them into conflict with the rest of the record.
Critical Opinions Concerning Abiathar
Mark 2:26 Was Abiathar high priest, or was Jesus or the Mark mistaken?
At Mark 2:26 some 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.
As atheist Bible scholar, Dr. Bart D. Ehrman explains his assignment, while a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, 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 [very little importance] 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.
Before looking at Ehrman’s “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.
26 πῶς εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ ᾿Αβιάθαρ ἀρχιερέως
Mark 2:26 (NET): “he [being David] entered the house of God when Abiather was high priest.” This rendering is certainly a historical error if taken outside of the way we normally talk about people in history.
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?”
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 historical 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 L. Geisler or the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason L. Archer could have found a reasonable answer the moment they opened the book. It is true that these books did not exist in the days Ehrman was at Princeton, but he did study under one the greatest Greek and textual scholars of the 20th century, Dr. 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. See MISREPRESENTING JESUS: Debunking Bart D. Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” by Edward D. Andrews
Mark 12:26 (USB4): epi tou batou pos
upon the thorn bush how
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 (HCSB): “in the time of Abiathar”
Mark 2:26 (UASV) “in the time of Abiathar”
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: epoiesen tous aionas [“in the time of the last days.”]
Actually, if you 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 . . .” 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.
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 you look at page 9, the very page of his complaint, you 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 of 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 you 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.
 The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1939).
 Hebrew priests’ apron: an embroidered garment, believed to be like an apron with shoulder straps, worn by Hebrew priests in ancient Israel
 Ehrman, Bart D.: Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperCollins, 2005, pp. 9-10.
 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