Mark 2:23–28 (ESV)
23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 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?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Theme of Mark 2:1-3:6: Rising political and religious opposition toward Jesus.
Supporting Themes: 1)2:7: Blasphemy = Making Himself equal with God, 2) 2:16: Eating with sinners, 3) 2:18: Failure to keep rules, 4) 2:24: Breaking the Sabbath, 5) 3:6: Themes of political and religious opposition coming together in Marks narrative.
Melodic Line of the passage: The Lord of the Sabbath was “breaking” the laws that he made to address the needs of the people (disciples) but the religious “gate keepers” (Pharisees) could not see the forest for the trees.
- The Lord of The Sabbath…
- The Son of Man = (Power, Divine Authority, The King, The Christ, The Messiah, The Lord)
- Sabbath: James R. Edwards says the following in regard to the Sabbath…
“Western indifference toward Sabbath observance puts modern readers at a disadvantage in understanding the importance of Sabbath in Judaism. Two observances above all defined Jews and set them apart from the nations: circumcision and the Sabbath, which extended from sunset Friday until sunset Saturday. The Fourth Commandment, the longest of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5), enjoins Jews to abstain from every kind of labor since God himself had rested on the seventh day of creation (Exod 20:8–11). Included in Sabbath rest were not only observant Jews but also slaves and animals, and even vegetation, which could not be cut, plucked, or uprooted (Philo, Life of Moses 2.22). Alone of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is rooted in the order of creation and attests to the divine order of the universe (Mek. Exod. 20:17). According to Jewish tradition, God chose Israel from all the peoples of the earth and instituted the Sabbath as an eternal sign and blessing of Israel’s unique status (Ezek 20:12; Jub. 2:18–33). Tractates (Shabbat) of both the Mishnah and the Talmud offer prolific guidance on what was deemed permissible on the Sabbath. The Talmud describes the Sabbath as a holy ordinance of God and ordains that whoever observes the Sabbath becomes a partner with God in the creation of the world and brings salvation to the world (b. Shab. 118–99b). The DSS preserve the most rigorous Sabbath regulations in Judaism, forbidding even the carrying of children, giving of help to birthing animals, or the retrieval of an animal fallen into a pit on the Sabbath (CD 10–11). The Pharisaic and rabbinic traditions were only slightly less rigorous in their interpretation. Amplifying Exod 35:1–3, the Mishnah lists thirty-nine classes of work that profane the Sabbath, including those we might expect, such as plowing, hunting, and butchering, and those we would not, such as tying or loosening knots, sewing more than one stitch, or writing more than one letter (m. Shab. 7:2). The general rule of observance was not to begin a work that might extend over to the Sabbath, and not to do any work on the Sabbath that was not absolutely necessary — by “necessary” meaning life endangering (m. Yoma 8:6). Such scrupulousness inevitably resulted in novel rulings. For example, it was forbidden to set a dislocated foot or hand on the Sabbath (m. Shab. 22:6), or to repair a fallen roof (though it might temporarily be propped up; m. Shab. 23:5). The rabbis endeavored to offer a rule, or at least a precedent, for every conceivable Sabbath question. The comprehensiveness of the tradition is revealed in the following ruling: if a building fell down on the Sabbath, enough rubble could be removed to discover if any victims were dead or alive. If alive, they could be rescued, but if dead, the corpses must be left until sunset (m. Yoma 8:7)”
- The Pharisees were “gate keepers”, “sin cops” and “purity police” and they felt it was their job to uphold and honor the Sabbath.
- Jesus is violating (the man made law) that the Pharisees were trying to uphold and honor. Two of the known Pharisaical categories of work that Jesus was violating 1. Traveling during Sabbath and 2. Reaping. The Pharisees were only interested in his reaping during the Sabbath.
2. “Breaking” (the perversion of) Laws that were made to address the needs of the people…
- In 2:22 We see wineskins made for the wine.
- Here (verses 27,28) we see The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath or as one second century Rabbi stated “ Sabbath has been given to you, you have not been given to the Sabbath.”
- The Law in Gods eyes is broken when it’s intent is forgotten
3. Religious gate keepers could not see the forest for the trees…
- The Pharisees were seeing a break in the (their) law and missing the needs of the people to whom it was given and addressing.
- They were missing the forest for the trees by seeing the detail (breach) and missing the big picture (hunger of the disciples).
Questions for Discussion:
- How does this story shed light on or correct the false notion that I am the center of the universe?
- Why and where do we have “sin cops”, “purity police”, and “gate keepers” today and what are they trying to achieve?
- Where or In what ways today do you see Christianity keeping theological laws that seem to miss the forest for the trees?
William Hendrickson’s Proposed solutions for the Abiathar and Ahimelech problem:
Much has been made of the fact that Mark represents Jesus as saying that the event in connection with David and his men took place “in the days—or: at the time—of Abiathar the highpriest,” though according to I Sam. 21:1–6 it was Ahimelech, not Abiathar, who gave David the holy bread.
1. The two names, Ahimelech and Abiathar, were borne by both father and son. Cf. I Sam. 22:20; II Sam. 8:17. In the first of these two passages Abiathar is “one of the sons of Ahimelech”; in the second (see also I Chron. 18:16) Ahimelech is “the son of Abiathar.”
Evaluation. Though this may seem to solve the problem, it is doubtful that there would be this interchange of names in writings so closely related that in the Hebrew Canon what we now call I Samuel and II Samuel were one book. Besides, is it not possible that Ahimelech had a son by the name of Abiathar, who in turn had a son named Ahimelech?
2. The Hebrew text is confused (note contrast between I Sam. 22:20 and I Chron. 24:6).The New Testament passage (Mark 2:26) may be a copyist’s gloss.
Evaluation. Although in our attempt to solve the problem room must be left for any solution that does not ascribe error to the original author, confusion in the Hebrew text has not been proved (see 1. Evaluation), and the variants in the text of Mark 2:26 (see textual apparatus) do not solve the difficulty.
3. Mark’s statement may be a primitive error.
Evaluation. If this means that Mark himself originated this error, or accepted it as the truth and repeated it, it must be rejected. In writing their books divinely inspired authors did not commit errors.
4. The father, Ahimelech, and the son, Abiathar, were both present when David came to Nob, and both gave the bread to David. Soon afterward the father was killed; the son became highpriest and recorded the facts.
Evaluation. Though it is impossible to speak with any degree of finality, this proposed solution is the best I have come across. In support of it note the following:
An entire family of priests evidently co-operated at Nob (I Sam. 22:15). When King Saul heard that his enemy David had been given loaves of showbread and the sword of Goliath, his wrath was directed most of all against Ahimelech; not exclusively against him however, also against the entire priesthood in Nob (I Sam. 22:17). Eighty-five priests were slain. Abiathar escaped, fled to David (I Sam. 22:20), and became highpriest, subsequently functioning in that capacity along with Zadok. It is clear therefore that the man who here in Mark 2:26 is called “highpriest” was definitely alive and active when David entered the court of the house of God. The action took place “in his time.”
It is true that at the moment when the bread was given to David and his men and consumed by them, Abiathar was not as yet the highpriest. This, however, does not prove that Mark—really Jesus, for Mark is reporting his words—was in error when he said “in the days of Abiathar the highpriest.” It is not at all unusual to designate a place or a man by a name which did not belong to it or to him until later. Thus Gen. 12:8 mentions “Bethel,” though in the days of Abraham it was still called “Luz” (Gen. 28:19). We do the same thing even today. We say, “It happened in Marne (Michigan),” when we mean, “It happened in Berlin, which today is called Marne.” Or, “The house was sold to Gen. Smith,” though we know very well that at the time when Smith became the owner of the house he was not as yet a general. Scripture contains many examples of abbreviated expression—on which see N.T.C. on John, Vol. I, p. 206—, and so does our everyday conversation.