Was Ahimelech or Abiathar the High Priest?

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Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether Ahimelech or Abiathar was the high priest. The argument is that 1 Samuel 21:1 says that Ahimelech was the high priest, but Mark 2:26 says that Abiathar was the high priest. However, there are at least two reasonable explanations that solve this alleged contradiction in the Bible.

Scriptures – Was Ahimelech or Abiathar the High Priest?

Ahimelech Was the High Priest (1 Samuel 21:1)

Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?”

1 Samuel 21:1

Abiathar Was the High Priest (Mark 2:26)

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?”

Mark 2:26

The Answer

There are at least two reasonable explanations that solve this alleged contradiction:

  1. Ahimelech was a regular priest, while Abiathar was the high priest
  2. Ahimelech and Abiathar are two different names for one person

Ahimelech Was a Regular Priest, While Abiathar Was the High Priest

It may be significant that 1 Samuel 21:1 says, “Ahimelech the priest” and Mark 2:26 says, “Abiathar the high priest.” It is very possible that Abiathar was ”’high”’ priest at the time, and Ahimelech was a priest, but not the ”’high”’ priest.

Ahimelech and Abiathar Are Two Different Names for One Person

There is evidence to suggest that Ahimelech and Abiathar were two different names for one person. Here is a comparison of 1 Samuel 23:6 and 2 Samuel 8:17.

When ”’Abiathar the son of Ahimelech”’ had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand.

1 Samuel 23:6

and Zadok the son of Ahitub and ”’Ahimelech the son of Abiathar”’ were priests, and Seraiah was secretary,

2 Samuel 8:17

1 Samuel 23:6 says that Abiathar was the son of Ahimelech, and 2 Samuel 8:17 says that Ahimelech was the son of Abiathar. Although this could be the result of a copyist error, the most probable explanation is that the two names were interchangeable.

The authors of ”The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge” say this:

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).

Here are other examples in Scripture of one person having two different names:

Reuel and Jethro – Exodus 2:18, 3:1

Moses’s father-in-law is called both Reuel and Jethro.

When they came home to their father ”’Reuel”’, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?”

Exodus 2:18

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, ”’Jethro”’, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Exodus 3:1

Azariah and Uzziah

Jotham’s father is called both Azariah and Uzziah.

And ”’Azariah”’ slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David, and Jotham his son reigned in his place.

2 Kings 15:7

In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, Jotham the son of ”’Uzziah”’, king of Judah, began to reign.

2 Kings 15:32

Amaziah his son, ”’Azariah”’ his son, Jotham his son,

1 Chronicles 3:12

and ”’Uzziah”’ the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

Matthew 1:9

More Answers to “Contradictions” in the Bible

To read more answers to alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible, see “Contradictions” in the Bible Answered.

These books are also excellent resources:

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