Atheist Bart Ehrman has pointed to Mark 2:26 as evidence of an error in the Gospel of Mark, an error that led to the ultimate destruction of his faith. But is it an error or simply ignorance of the biblical text as a whole? I will argue that it is not an error on the part of Mark, working as Peter’s scribe to record his testimony, therefore making it eyewitness testimony, but it is also ignorance on the part of the critic.
Let’s look at the text in question,
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28, ESV, emphasis added)
The reference is to an event recorded for us in 1 Samuel 21 that begins,
Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. (v1, ESV)
This verse identifies the particular priest that David interacted with as he was fleeing from King Saul. Critics will immediately assume that Jesus, or Mark in recording Peter’s testimony, was making an error. Not so fast. If one reads the rest of the story we find out that Saul, angered at the priests having aided David in his flight orders their execution. The only one to escape the slaughter is a priest named…wait for it…Abiathar (1 Samuel 22:20ff). Abiathar eventually becomes…wait for it…high priest, a prominent high priest whose service spans until the rule of Solomon. Jesus/Mark/Peter is simply referring to the most well known individual in the life of David as his point of reference. Since what is referred to occurred during the lifetime of that high priest, it makes sense, considering that there were no chapter and verse divisions and “Samuel” wasn’t the official title of the work that was being cited.
So, what we have is not an error on anyone’s part except the part of the critic who is clearly not thinking critically.