In Mark 2.23-28 we have a narrative wherein Jesus is challenged by some Pharisees for allowing his disciples to pick grain to eat on the Sabbath. The Pharisees accuse them of violating the Sabbath. Jesus responds by reminding them of the story of David in 1 Samuel 21.1-7. David and his men are hungry so he goes into the temple to ask the priest for bread. The priest gives him holy bread. Jesus uses this story as an analogy showing that God does not condemn those in need for seemingly violating what is holy.

Of course, one thing to note is that Jesus says this happened when Abiathar was high priest although 1 Samuel 21.1-7 says that Ahimelech is the priest. There are a few ways to interpret this:

(1) Mark was wrong.

(2) The author of 1 Samuel was wrong.

(3) The phrase ἐπὶ ᾿Αβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως means “in the days of the high priest Abiathar” as suggested by the editors of the NET Bible (n. 52):

A decision about the proper translation of this Greek phrase (ἐπὶ ᾿Αβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέωςejpi Abiaqar ajrcierew”) is very difficult for a number of reasons. The most natural translation of the phrase is “when Abiathar was high priest,” but this is problematic because Abiathar was not the high priest when David entered the temple and ate the sacred bread; Ahimelech is the priest mentioned in 1 Sam 21:1-7. Three main solutions have been suggested to resolve this difficulty. (1) There are alternate readings in various manuscripts, but these are not likely to be original: D W {271} it sys and a few others omit ἐπὶ ᾿Αβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως, no doubt in conformity to the parallels in Matt 12:4and Luke 6:4; {A C Θ Π Σ Φ 074 Ë13 and many others} add τοῦ before ἀρχιερέως, giving the meaning “in the days of Abiathar the high priest,” suggesting a more general time frame. Neither reading has significant external support and both most likely are motivated by the difficulty of the original reading. (2) Many scholars have hypothesized that one of the three individuals who would have been involved in the transmission of the statement (Jesus who uttered it originally, Mark who wrote it down in the Gospel, or Peter who served as Mark’s source) was either wrong about Abiathar or intentionally loose with the biblical data in order to make a point. (3) It is possible that what is currently understood to be the most natural reading of the text is in fact not correct. (a) There are very few biblical parallels to this grammatical construction (ἐπί + genitive proper noun, followed by an anarthrous common noun), so it is possible that an extensive search for this construction in nonbiblical literature would prove that the meaning does involve a wide time frame. If this is so, “in the days of Abiathar the high priest” would be a viable option. (b) It is also possible that this phrasing serves as a loose way to cite a scripture passage. There is a parallel to this construction in Mark 12:26: “Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush?” Here the final phrase is simply ἐπὶ τοῦ βάτου (ejpi tou batou), but the obvious function of the phrase is to point to a specific passage within the larger section of scripture. Deciding upon a translation here is difficult. The translation above has followed the current consensus on the most natural and probable meaning of the phrase ἐπὶ ᾿Αβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως: “when Abiathar was high priest.” It should be recognized, however, that this translation is tentative because the current state of knowledge about the meaning of this grammatical construction is incomplete, and any decision about the meaning of this text is open to future revision.

Something to consider when examining this problem is whether or not Matthew and Luke intentionally removed this statement assuming they used Mark and disagreed. In Matthew 12.1-8 and Luke 6.1-5 we find the same story, except that neither author mentioned Abiathar. Did they read Mark, realize he was wrong, and remove this statement as a corrective? Of course, if you are of the conviction that Matthean priority makes more sense then this does not factor.