Who is it that David really went to talk to when he wanted some showbread because he was hungry? Who was it really? Dr. Ehrman says “Ah, ha! A contradiction is here between the Gospels and the Old Testament. So we have got a major problem here.” Dr. Ehrman, however, is not operating with the full historical picture, which is this: in the priesthood – whether talking about the tabernacle or the temple, or even the Herodian temple at the time of Jesus – there was a genealogical and generational priesthood. That is the way it worked.
In the time of Jesus, we have both Annas and Caiaphas. Even when Caiaphas is the high priest, Annas is looking over his shoulder at all times. Since this is a highly patriarchal society, you never really retire from the priesthood. As far as David and the high priest, we know that there was one high priest who was very famous in his age, and there were his successors. There were two ways to refer to that whole historical situation. One way is to mention the most famous high priest of the age, i.e. “This was the time when David was doing this; and this certain high priest was famous.” The other way is to simply say “This other priest, who you do not really know much about, he was actually doing the job on the day that David came to take the showbread.” So if you want literalism, you say who that particular high priest was, but you would not be able to figure out when it happened from his name, because he is otherwise an unknown.
If you take into account, the inner-generational way the priesthood works, it is perfectly acceptable to identify this particular historical event as something that happened on the watch of “priest X‟ – who is less famous – or during the time of the more famous “priest Y‟. That is how I explain this apparent contradiction. It is perfectly acceptable. In addition, there are other examples evidencing that is how it worked.
You can actually see this in the Gospel of John. You have this very weird line about Caiaphas, “And this was the year that Caiaphas was high priest.” All the while, you are wondering about the annual elections of the time? What is this all about? Well, what it is all about is that at any given moment, you could have the senior high priest take over in a crisis situation, or you could have the high priest of the year doing the job. If you do not take into account the inner-generational nature of the priesthood, you are not being fair to the evidence.