Was Abiathar or Ahimelech the high preist, Mark 2:26 and 1 Samuel 21:1

by Matt Slick
11/21/2019

 

  • 1 Samuel 21:1, "Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, 'Why are you alone and no one with you?'"
  • Mark 2:26, "how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”

Which account is correct? Is Abiathar the high priest or is Ahimelech the high priest?  One possibility is that Jesus is referring to a different person since he says 'high priest' in Mark 2:26, but it does not say "high priest" in 1 Sam. 21:1.  It only says 'priest.'  The term "high priest" occurs 78 times in the Bible, 58 in the NT, 20 in the OT.  Of the books that are relevant to our discussion about Abiathar and Ahimelech as priests, the term "high priest" does not occur in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, or 1 Chronicles.  But it does occur in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. 

Books that mention the terms Ahimelech, Abiathar, Priest, and Hight Priest
  1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Psalm
Ahimelech X       X   X
Abiathar X X X   X    
Priest X X X X X X X
High Priest       X   X  

It is possible that they were not both the high priest and are different in position. I believe it is important that Jesus refers to Abiathar as the high priest in Mark 2:26, but Ahimelech is simply called the priest in 1 Sam. 21:1. 

The son of...

It is interesting to note that Ahimelech is the son of Abiathar, but it is also said that Abiathar is the son of Ahimelech.

  • 2 Samuel 8:17, "Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar were priests, and Seraiah was secretary."
  • 1 Samuel 23:6, "Now it came about, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand."

So, it is possible that there is a copyist error, but I did not find any support for that. Therefore, it appears that both men shared each other's names.  Consider the following quote. 

 "The most probable opinion seems to be, that both father and son had two names, the father being also called Abiathar; and this appears almost certain from 2 Sa. 8:17; 1 Ch. 18:16, where Ahimelech seems evidently termed Abiathar, while Abiathar is called Ahimelech or Abimelech. (Compare 1 Ki. 2:26, 27.) 1 Sa. 22:20–22; 23:6, 9. 2 Sa. 8:17; 15:24, 29, 35; 20:25. 1 Ki. 1:7; 2:22, 26, 27; 4:4. which is not lawful. Ex. 29:32, 33. Le. 24:5–9."
   Blayney, B., Thomas Scott, and R.A. Torrey with Canne, John, Browne. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, n.d.

There are biblical accounts of the same person having different names.  In Exodus 2:18, Moses' father-in-law is named Reuel; in Exodus 3:1, it is Jethro.  In Matthew 1:9 Uzziah is the father of Jotham.  But in 1 Chronicles 3:12 his name is Azariah.  And Jotham's father was known as Azariah in 2 Kings 15:7 and Uzziah in 2 Kings 15:32.1

Conclusion

Since Jesus mentions Abiathar as the "high priest" in Mark 2:26, but Ahimelech is mentioned as the "priest" in 1 Samuel 21:1, it is possible that they were different priests. On the other hand, in second Samuel 8:17 Ahimelech is the son of Abiathar, but in 1 Samuel 23:6, Abiathar is the son of Ahimelech. I did not find any evidence of a copyist error. Therefore, it is possible that both men shared each other's names. In other words, both men had two names as appears to be the case in 2 Sam. 8:17 where Ahimelech is the son of Abiathar, but in 1 Sam. 23:6, Abiathar is the son of Ahimelech.   This is supported by the fact that Moses' father-in-law is called Reuel in Ex. 2:18, yet in Exodus 3:1, it is Jethro.  Uzziah is the father of Jotham in Matt. 1:9.  But in 1 Chronicles 3:12, his name is Azariah.  Also, Jotham's father was known as Azariah in 2 Kings 15:7 and Uzziah in 2 Kings 15:32. 

 

 

 

  • 1. ref. compellingtruth.org/more-than-one-name.html
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.