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How Many Donkeys? How Many Angels?
by Daryl E. Witmer
Critics of the Bible often allege that Scripture contains internal contradictions. Over the years we have responded to many of those allegations in this paper. This month we tackle two more, both of which relate to Holy Week events.
The Bible contradicts itself about how many donkeys were involved in the Palm Sunday event. Matthew 21:1-9 says that Jesus sent for, and rode into Jerusalem on, two donkeys. But Mark 11:1-10 and Luke 19:29-40 say that only one donkey was involved. Since all three Gospels can’t be right, the Bible clearly contradicts itself here and must therefore be unreliable.
Not so fast. Upon close examination, it seems that it is actually your version of the story that is unreliable. No where does either the Gospel of Mark or Luke say that only one donkey was involved. The word “only” is your term, not the Bible’s. Just because Matthew refers to two donkeys doesn’t mean that Mark and Luke contradict that by mentioning only one. The younger donkey (po_los = colt) was the obvious focus of the Mark and Luke accounts because it was the one on which Jesus sat as He rode into Jerusalem. Perhaps the other donkey (onos) was brought along to keep the young colt placid, since it had never before been ridden and the enthusiastic crowd was quite noisy.
Note also that Matthew says that Jesus sat on the garments which the disciples placed on the donkeys. It never says, as you allege, that Jesus rode on two donkeys, separately or simultaneously, during His triumphal entry into the city. This event was an historic Messianic attestation, not a wild rodeo.
In general Matthew’s Gospel relates this entire occasion in greater detail than do the other two Gospels, referring also directly to the words of the prophet Zechariah (9:9) which had been recorded over five centuries earlier and were now being fulfilled in amazing detail:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” -Zechariah 9:9, NASB
The fact that Matthew is specific in mentioning two donkeys, and Mark and Luke render a more general version implies no disparity.
Therefore, the Bible does not contradict itself in its account of this Palm Sunday event, and there is no ground for concluding that Scripture is unreliable.
The Bible contradicts itself about how many angels appeared at Jesus’ tomb following what His followers claim to have been his resurrection. Matthew 28:5 says that it was one angel. John 20:12 says that it was two angels. Obviously both can’t be correct, so the Bible is clearly in error and therefore flawed.
Your conclusion would be valid if Matthew’s Gospel said that only one angel was present at the tomb. But it doesn’t say that. It mentions only one angel, but it never says that only one angel was present.
Where there are two angels, there is certainly one angel (as well as another angel).
But why would Matthew have focused on one angel to the extent of not even mentioning the other? Perhaps it was because the angel that he mentioned was the angel who verbally conveyed (Matthew 28:5) the message that had such great significance. In other words, Matthew was apparently intent on referring to the angel who spoke, while John was giving attention to the angels that they had seen (John 20:12).
PRINCIPLES OF ALLEGATION REFUTATION
“Assuming that Divergent Accounts Are False Ones. Just because two or more accounts of the same event differ doesn’t mean that they are mutually exclusive.”
For the other 16 categories, see:
WHEN CRITICS ASK: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (©1992 Victor, 604 pages), Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe.