The second donkey and why it matters

If you believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible 'Word of God' then the second donkey must be a bit of a thorn in your side. I like the second donkey - for a different reason. We will get to the donkey in a moment, but first just a little background to help you understand why it is important.

First some important background

I love the Bible - study it daily - but I do not believe is the inerrant, infallible 'Word of God'. In my article 'Is the Bible the Word of God' we discovered that Jesus and His teachings is the Word of God. We also discovered that the rest of the Bible is invaluable - that it can contain the Word of God - but that not every single verse in the Bible are the 'Words of God'. We looked at verses that shows Jesus did not believe everything in the Old Testament is the 'Word of God'. Read the full article here.

So for the rest of the Bible we really need the Holy Spirit to help us 'discover' the 'Word of God' - we can't just simply quote a verse and say 'This is what God says'. But if Jesus and His Teachings is the Word of God then we can safely say that everything in the four Gospels are the 'Words of God' - right?? - well, no, it is not that simple.

Enter the second donkey

We all know the story of the Jesus on the donkey. Jesus said to His disciples to go and fetch a donkey and He sat on a donkey - fulfilling and Old Testament prophecy.

The story is in all four Gospels. In Mark, Luke and John the story is the same. Let's look at them first:

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples [2] and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. ... [7] Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. - Mark 11:1-7 (NSRV)
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, [30] saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. ... [35] Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. - Luke 19:29-35 (NSRV)
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” - John 12:14-15 (NSRV)
In Matthew however there is a second donkey!!
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. ...[6] The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; [7] they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. - Matthew 21:1-7 (NSRV)
If we look at some more reliable translations it even looks like Jesus sat on the two donkeys - a bit difficult to picture. Some translations change it so that the 'them' that He sat on was the clothes.

I don't think the 'sat on them' is an issue. There could be many explanations - Jesus took turns to ride them, He placed some of His belongings on the other one, we could go with the clothes translation, etc.

There is however another issue with the second donkey.

Why did Matthew mention a second donkey?  

Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience and frequently quoted Old Testament text to proof that Jesus was the Chosen One. In his zeal to proof this, he could have made an embarrassing mistake - he incorrectly translated the Old Testament prophecy of the donkey (well, that is one popular theory). Let's take a look at the prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey
- Zechariah 9:9 (NSRV)
In this prophecy, Zechariah makes use of Hebrew parallelism. Without going into too much depth, parallelism is the practice common among ancient Jewish authors of describing the same thing in two parallel ways. For example: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). "Your word" is described as being "a lamp" parallel to "a light," unto "my feet" parallel to "my path." In the same way, a "donkey" is parallel to "a colt, the foal of a donkey." Only one donkey.

So one theory is that Matthew incorrectly translated the Old Testament prophesy and changed it into two animals.

If this theory is correct the implications are obvious. The author of Matthew couldn't have been the disciple Matthew as Matthew probably witnessed the incident. More importantly - there are mistakes in the Bible and the Bible is not inerrant!

Those that believe the Bible is inerrant defends this difference in the Gospels by saying that Matthew simply went into more detail - mentioning that there were two donkeys while Mark, Luke and John didn't think it was necessary to mention the second donkey.

I think that explanation is possible - but they are missing the point.

It is not about how many donkeys there were ...

There are several discrepancies in the four Gospels in the Bible. Were there one or two angels at the tomb of Jesus - did the fig tree withered instantly or the next day - etc.  Most can be explained saying that the Gospel writers wrote about the same event and simply described it a bit differently - some being more specific than others.

The same is true with how many donkeys there were. But that is not the point - I don't care if there were one or two donkeys. The point is the words of Jesus that were quoted by Matthew, Mark and Luke (John just mentions the donkey and not the instructions of Jesus) were different.

Mark and Luke is quoting Jesus as asking for a single donkey. Matthew is quoting Jesus as specifically asking for a donkey and her colt (two animals).

You can argue about how each gospel writer described and event a bit differently - but only one of the two versions could have been correct on the words of Jesus. Jesus either instructed them to fetch a single donkey or two.

You might think why all this fuss - what does it matter if Jesus asked for one or two animals - why could this possibly be important?

The implications are significant

We already looked at the history of the Bible in 'Is the Bible the Word of God' and discovered that the Bible is not what most Christians think - it is not the inerrant, infallible Word of God. Not everything in the Bible is the Word of God and the Word of God is not limited to the Bible.

We now - thanks to the second donkey - discovered that even the Gospels in the Bible does not always quote Jesus 100% correctly.

The Gospel writers might have been inspired and lead by the Holy Spirit of God - but they were not mind controlled. God did not dictate the Bible. It was written by ordinary people that made mistakes.

If you are by now not rattled enough have a look at the historical reliability of the Gospels.

It is however not a problem that there are mistakes in the Bible!

We were never promised a 'Word of God' in a written document - in fact the opposite was promised in the Old Testament and by Jesus. He would write His Word in our hearts - we will need His Holy Spirit to teach us, remind us, show us. For verses on this read the article 'Is the Bible the Word of God'.

An example why the second donkey matters

How many donkeys Jesus asked for might seem completely irrelevant and of no importance. It however proof to us that the Gospels are not the exact words of Jesus - there were no recording devices. The Gospels were written decades after Jesus actually spoke the words (60-100 AD). 

An example of where this principle does matter is for example the following verse:
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in Moses’ chair [of authority as teachers of the Law]; so practice and observe everything they tell you, but do not do as they do; for they preach [things], but do not practice them. - Matthew 23:1-3
I do not believe this verse is the exact words of Jesus for the following reasons:
  • Jesus could not possible have instructed us to do everything the scribes and Pharisees taught as He taught us not to do what they teach!!! They teach 'eye for an eye' - Jesus teach turn the other cheek (just to mention one).
  • Jesus and His disciples didn't care about a lot of the rituals the scribes and Pharisees taught like washing of hands, fasting, etc.
  • Jesus did not have any time for the scribes and the Pharisees. He called the hypocrites and spawn of vipers.
  • The author of Matthew was originally writing for a Jewish audience and possible gave more weight to Old Testament Jewish law than what Jesus really did. Compare Matthew with the other Gospels. It is very possible that he added his own 'take' on the words of Jesus.
There are very little in the Gospels that I have a problem with (at this stage it is only this one verse). In gospels that are not in the Bible like the Gospel of Thomas there might be a bit more - but to throw away words of Jesus just because one or two verses were possibly added by the writers is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. 

How can we then trust that what we read is really the teachings of Jesus? How do we choose? 

Jesus has the answer:
But the [a]Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you. - John 14:26 (AMP)
It never was about having a written document that is 100% correct, 100% the 'Word of God'.

We have these accounts of what Jesus did and said. Not only in the Bible but other gospels as well. We have letters and documents of people who knew Jesus or knew someone that did (like Paul).

We need to get as much information as we can about Jesus - get a clear picture of who He was and what He taught - and then let the Holy Spirit help us to find the true teachings of Jesus Christ.

It is all good

Having a Bible that is not perfect - is perfect. We can learn about God from the Bible, from other ancient documents, from nature, from science, people, other cultures, the universe. 

We serve an awesome God - a God that can in no way be limited to one - or even a thousand books.


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