Did Jesus Ride into Jerusalem on One Donkey or Two?

13slid1The answer to the title of this blog post is, “Depends on which Gospel you read.” It’s an appropriate question to ask as we cuddle up to Palm Sunday this year, because Matthew’s gospel, unlike the other gospels, has Jesus riding in on two, count ’em two, donkeys.

And it’s one of the bulwark examples of why the Scriptures cannot be inerrant nor infallible.

If your church teaches the infallibility or inerrancy of the Scriptures, send your pastor this blog and ask them to defend the position.  They will come up lacking; there is no defense.

Ready for the in-depth analysis?  Here we go…

Matthew’s “entry into Jerusalem” begins in Matthew 21 and goes through verse 11.  And Matthew, as he’s wont to do, likes to cite the Hebrew scriptures in his writing because he thinks it gives him both credence and authority.

And for his accounting of Jesus’ “triumphant entry” he borrows from a few places: Psalm 118 (this is where the Hosanna’s come from), Isaiah 62 (this is about the entry of salvation coming to Zion), and the prophet Zechariah, chapter 9.

It is Zechariah that Matthew struggles with here, and Zechariah is the one who mentions donkeys.

So, read Zechariah 9:9.  Zechariah has this long poem, and in it he recounts the Messiah’s entrance into the hearts of the people, and he does this thing in his poem that lots of Jewish poets did at the time, something that I think Matthew doesn’t understand…or if he does, he’s ignoring it.

See, in ancient poetry, especially Jewish poetry, you’d offer up one line of poetry, and then follow that first line up with a second line that reinforced that first line, further emphasizing it.  You see this in the Psalms all the time.

And Zechariah does this.  He notes that salvation will “ride in on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.”  Zechariah is talking about one donkey here, with the second line repeating with emphasis that first line.

But Matthew doesn’t get it.

And so, in Matthew’s gospel, the disciples go and untie two donkeys: an adult and a colt.  And they bring them both to Jesus and, the writer says, “Jesus rides them” into Jerusalem.

Now, think about it: this makes no sense.  Riding one donkey is hard enough. Can you imagine riding two?  And not just two donkeys, but two of differing heights and sizes?!

Impossible.

Why does Matthew do this?  Because he really wants to cite Zechariah, and this is what Zechariah writes.  And so he paints this picture of Jesus riding two donkeys.  He says Jesus rode two donkeys.

And listen folks, this isn’t a case of “well, different people have different perspectives of the same event…” which is what literalists usually argue has happened when the Gospels differ.

It’s clearly not that.  It’s clearly wrong!  Matthew doesn’t get what Zechariah is writing, and gets it wrong.

To say the scriptures are inerrant would mean to say that Matthew gets it right…but in doing so, you’d say that Mark, Luke, and John get it wrong, which cannot be.  To say that the scriptures are infallible would be to say that Matthew understands Zechariah, which clearly he does not.

So what can you say?

You can say that Matthew is really dedicated to the Hebrew scriptures, so much so that he really goes to great lengths to use them as proof texts in his accounting of Jesus’ life, and he sometimes misses the mark.

And that’s OK. It doesn’t have to be inerrant or infallible to hold the truth.  Inerrancy and infallibility are brittle things.  Poetry is flexible, and this is more akin to poetry than prose, Beloved.

So, did Jesus ride two donkeys or one when he entered Jerusalem?  Eh…depends who you ask.  The point?

He got there.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Did Jesus Ride into Jerusalem on One Donkey or Two?

  1. Obviously, in the translation there was a mistake, while this in no way makes the Word of God errant, we can put our trust in the Scriptures. Looking for a way to discredit the scriptures will only lead the person doing so to confusion and in many cases to leave their faith. For if there is a falsehood or even an exaggeration in the text then who can trust any of it. Trying to find these kind of errors may seem a good task, but I would warn you that taking out the foundation of what one believes because someone finds a supposed error thus nullifying the whole is a dangerous place to be. Let no man think he is wiser than God and or the Spirit of Christ that inspired the original writers to pen their Gospel accounts. Matthew does use scripture to endorse the perspective of Jesus that he is declaring, he presents Jesus as the King of kings or the Messiah and he is writing to the first century Jew who might have received a miracle or at least seen or heard of them but still refused to see that Jesus is God in the flesh. He uses more old covenant verses than the others because he is validating his claim and that Jesus fulfilled them.
    Looking at a commentator that I like, I found this explanation and it clears up this supposed contradiction. The fact that Matthew refers to two is correct, he is filling in a little more detail, and that the others omit the momma doesn’t conflict with the truth. if there were two, there was one, and the foal was the one that Jesus rode and the momma was of no consequence to the story so the others did not mention her. We have a similar omission of a second blind man in the story with Bartimeus, Mark only mentions Bartimeus because he is the focus of the story.
    Here is Adam Clarke’s explanation to your question.
    Matthew 21:7 [And they set him thereon.] Kai epekathisen epanoo autoon, and he sat upon them; but instead of epanoo autoon, upon THEM, the Codex Bezae, seven copies of the Itala, some copies of the Vulgate, and some others, read ep’ auton, upon him, i.e. the colt. This is most likely to be the true reading; for we can scarcely suppose that he rode upon both by turns,-this would appear childish; or that he rode upon both at once, for this would be absurd.

    • Hi Clint,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s clear we don’t agree and that’s ok.

      I’m glad you found some commentaries that say things you like. The mental and grammatical gymnastics one has to go through to apologize for the text are pretty far fetched to me.

      Scripture isn’t trustworthy because it all agrees or is free of error. It’s trustworthy because it contains Gospel.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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