Monday, December 28, 2015
Search and Known # 4: Ahimelech and Abiathar: Reconciling 1 Samuel 22:20; 2 Samuel 8:17; 1 Kings 4:4; etc.
Ethan McG. has posted another edition (# 4) of Searched and Known to sermonaudio.com. In this episode he and I discuss the challenge of a supposed contradiction posed in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible between 1 Samuel 22:20 (which notes that Ahimelech had a son named Abiathar) and 2 Samuel 8:17 (which notes that Abiathar had a son named Ahimelech).
I pointed out that the SAB referenced the commentary for this verse in the Oxford Annotated Bible suggesting that the names possibly "should be reversed," and that even the Macarthur's Study Bible note on 2 Samuel 8:17 says the text "is best accounted for by a scribal copying error." I suggested that these textual explanations do not confirm a sense of the text's authority and preservation for the reader and are unnecessary when reasonable and faithful interpretations of the traditional text are at hand.
Once we got into the discussion of this apparent contradiction I noted that it is actually more complex than it appears on the surface since it involves a number of related issues, especially regarding the role of Abiathar in the later Biblical narrative (1 Kgs chapters 1-4). Still, the best explanation of 2 Samuel 8:17 is simply that Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, also had a son whom he named Ahimelech.
Here are some more extensive notes that I took on these and related texts, including a critique of an alternative explanation by C. J. E. Johnson.
When Ethan first told me our subject was going to be Ahimelech/Abiathar I thought we would be discussing Mark 2:26 and Jesus' reference to Abiathar (rather than Ahimelech), an often cited supposed "error." This reminded me of a perfectly awful (imho) article by Andrew Wilson on this topic that appeared in Christianity Today back in September 2015. The article has the dreadful title, "When Jesus Got the Bible Wrong: the Messiah made a 'mistake' for a good reason," and offers the fanciful explanation that Jesus intentionally made an errant reference to Abiathar (rather than Ahimelech) to make a theological point. This would be another example of an explanation that causes more mischief than help. Geisler and Howe's explanation of Mark 2:26 makes more sense than Wilson's when they point out that Jesus' statement simply is not an error since these things did happen "in the days of Abiathar the high priest" [i.e., during his lifetime, even if he was not yet high priest at the time when his father, Ahimelech, gave David the shewbread] (When Critics Ask, p. 370).