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Mark 2:23-28

Lord of the Sabbath

2:23 Jesus 1  was going through the grain fields on a Sabbath, and his disciples began to pick some heads of wheat 2  as they made their way. 2:24 So 3  the Pharisees 4  said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is against the law on the Sabbath?” 2:25 He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry – 2:26 how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest 5  and ate the sacred bread, 6  which is against the law 7  for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to his companions?” 8  2:27 Then 9  he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, 10  not people for the Sabbath. 2:28 For this reason the Son of Man is lord 11  even of the Sabbath.”

1 tn Grk “He”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

2 tn Or “heads of grain.” While the generic term στάχυς (stacus) can refer to the cluster of seeds at the top of grain such as barley or wheat, in the NT the term is restricted to wheat (L&N 3.40; BDAG 941 s.v. 1).

3 tn Grk “And.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “so” to indicate the implied result of previous action(s) in the narrative.

4 sn See the note on Pharisees in 2:16.

5 tn A decision about the proper translation of this Greek phrase (ἐπὶ ᾿Αβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως, ejpi 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 12:4 and 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.

6 tn Grk “the bread of presentation.”

sn The sacred bread refers to the “bread of presentation,” “showbread,” or “bread of the Presence,” twelve loaves prepared weekly for the tabernacle and later, the temple. See Exod 25:30; 35:13; 39:36; Lev 24:5-9. Each loaf was made from 3 quarts (3.5 liters; Heb “two tenths of an ephah”) of fine flour. The loaves were placed on a table in the holy place of the tabernacle, on the north side opposite the lampstand (Exod 26:35). It was the duty of the priest each Sabbath to place fresh bread on the table; the loaves from the previous week were then given to Aaron and his descendants, who ate them in the holy place, because they were considered sacred (Lev 24:9). See also Matt 12:1-8, Luke 6:1-5.

7 sn Jesus’ response to the charge that what his disciples were doing was against the law is one of analogy: “If David did it for his troops in a time of need, then so can I with my disciples.” Jesus is clear that on the surface there was a violation here. What is not as clear is whether he is arguing a “greater need” makes this permissible or that this was within the intention of the law all along.

8 sn See 1 Sam 21:1-6.

9 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “then” to indicate the implied sequence of events within the narrative.

10 tn The Greek term ἄνθρωπος (anqrwpos) is used twice in this verse in a generic sense, referring to both men and women, thus “people.”

11 tn The term “lord” is in emphatic position in the Greek text.

sn A second point in Jesus’ defense of his disciples’ actions was that his authority as Son of Man also allowed it, since as Son of Man he was lord of the Sabbath.

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