For the background to this see Ian Paul’s very interesting post “What do we do when the Bible is ‘wrong’?” Ian starts by discussing Peter LaRuffa’s (on the face of it) ludicrous statement:
If, somewhere within the Bible, I were to find a passage that said 2+2=5, I would believe it, accept it as true and then do my best to work it out and understand it.
He ends with a recent online spat over a particular instance of supposed biblical inaccuracy—Jesus’ asssertion that David entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread “in the days of Abiathar the high priest” (Mk. 2:26). The problem is that the high priest in question was Ahimelech not Abiathar (1 Samuel 21:1-6). The discrepancy was mentioned in a contribution made by John Byron to Peter Enns’ series of scholarly “aha” moments.
In response Craig Blomberg has argued that epi Abiathar in Mark 2:26 does not mean “in the days of Abiathar” but “in the passage about Abiathar”. He points to Mark 12:26, where Jesus says:
And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush (epi tou batou), how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? (Mark 12:26)
Here the preposition must mean something like “in the passage about”. Blomberg then notes John Wenham’s proposal that it was synagogue practice to label sections of the scriptures using a prominent name from the passage. So in Mark 2:26 Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Have you not read what David did… in the Abiathar passage?” Abiathar was the son of Ahimelech and appears in the next chapter.
There are, however, some weighty objections to this argument. William Lane, for example, notes that epi Abiathar is some distance from “have you not read”; that Abiathar is not a central figure in this section of 1 Samuel; and that the evidence from Tannaitic documents is that the section of scripture was named from a term that came early rather than late in the passage.1 With regard to the first point, I would add that epi Abiathar most naturally qualifies not “Have you never read…” but “he entered the house of God”.
Guelich is also unpersuaded:
Though the better known of the two, Abiathar does not appear until 1 Sam 22:20 and then not as “high priest.” Furthermore, to function as a heading ἐπί would need to follow ἀνέγνωτε more closely rather than several clauses later…. Therefore, with no strong MSS evidence of this being a later gloss, we must assume that the name “Abiathar,” a high priest during David’s reign, was exchanged here with his father’s name, “Ahimelech.”2
There are also some overlooked New Testament passages that have a bearing:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas (epi archiereōs Hanna kai Caiapha), the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3:1–2)
But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah (en tais hēmerais Ēliou)…. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha (epi Elisaiou), and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:25–27)
And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius (epi Klaudiou)). (Acts 11:28)
Blomberg does not mention these texts, but they seem to demonstrate clearly enough the use of epi with the name of a person—including the high priests Annas and Caiaphas—to designate the period when they were active or in office. So it’s difficult to agree with him that “the wording of Mark 2:26 in the Greek is very unusual”, requiring such a translation as “in the passage about Abiathar”. BDAG has “marker of temporal associations, in the time of, at, on, for” as a meaning for epi with the genitive (“time within which an event or condition takes place”).
The parallels, moreover, do not really permit the “well attested but vaguer translation”, which Blomberg keeps in reserve: “in the time of Abiathar” or “in the days of Abiathar”. “In the days of Claudius” means “when Claudius was emperor”, not when Caligula was emperor.
So it seems to me that we are stuck with the discrepancy, unless anyone has a better solution.