Matthew 21:7 How many donkeys did Jesus sit on?
Bible sceptics love to point out what they think is a contradiction in the Bible in Matthew 21:1-11 where we read about the triumphal entry of the Lord Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, and the confusion seen in today’s Bible Babble Buffet versions gives them additional ammunition to cast doubt upon the absolute truth of Scripture.
The Bible Skeptics ask: “How many donkeys were there and on how many of them did Jesus ride?”
We will examine these questions in two parts. First the Textual Issues involved, and secondly, The Explanation of the apparent contradiction.
Part One - The Textual Issues
The accounts of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem are found in all four gospels, but each varies in the details, some adding information that others do not record . The Biblical references are Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-38 and John 12:12-15. Only Matthew contains the complete quote from Zechariah 9:9. Mark and Luke make no reference to it, and John records only part of the prophesy - “behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.” See John 12:15.
In the King James Holy Bible we read: Matthew 21:1-11 - “And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, 2 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. 3 And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. 4 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying 5 Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, they King comet unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. 6 And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, 7 And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, AND THEY SET HIM THEREON. 8 And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.9 And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that comet in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.10 And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? 11 And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.”
First of all, what we see here is a clear reference to the prophetic words of the prophet as found in Zechariah 9:9, where we read of the King coming into Jerusalem “riding upon an ass, AND upon a colt the foal of an ass.”
This is the reading found in Wycliffe 1395, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible (Cranmer) 1540 - “he rydeth vpon an asse, & vpon the foale of an asse.”, Matthew’s Bible 1549, the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1587, 1599 - “beholde, they King commeth vnto thee: he is iust and saued himselfe, poore and riding vpon an asse, AND vpon a colt the foale of an asse.”, Webster’s 1833, the Lesser Bible 1853, Julia Smith Translation 1855, Young’s literal 1898, the KJV 21st Century version 1994, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, the Lexham English Bible 2012.
The Complete Jewish Bible 1998 - And riding a donkey AND a foal, the offspring of [one of] she-donkeys.
The Holy Scriptures - Hebrew Publishing Company 1936 - lowly, and riding upon an ass, AND upon a colt the foal of an ass.
The Jewish Virtual Library Complete Tanach 1998 - lowly, and riding upon an ass, AND upon a colt the foal of an ass.
The Concordant Literal Version 2009 - Humble and riding on an ass, AND on a colt, the foal of a she-ass."
The Hebrew Transliteration Scriptures 2010 - and riding on a donkey, AND on a colt--a son of she-asses.
That there were TWO animals in Zechariah’s prophesy is also shown in Martin Luther’s German Bible 1545, the French Martin 1744, and the French Darby 1865 - “et monté sur un âne, et sur un ânon, poulain d'une ânesse.”, as well as the 1865 Spanish Reina Valera, Angel de Mora translation - “cabalgando sobre un asno, y sobre un pollino hijo de asna.” The so called Greek Septuagint reads the same with: “he is meek and riding on an ass, AND a young foal.” and the Modern Greek text also includes the word “AND the foal of an ass.
However many modern versions have changed the text in Zechariah 9:9 to show only ONE ass (or donkey) as the NKJV, NIV, RSV, ESV and Holman Standard. They do this by omitting that little word AND, or by translating it as EVEN. The RSV, ESV, NIV read like the NKJV saying: “Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.
The NASB, ASV have: “mounted on a donkey, EVEN ON a colt, the foal of a donkey. “
Some like the Complete Jewish bible highlight this meaning of only one donkey by saying: “he's riding on a donkey, yes, on a lowly donkey's colt.” or Rotherham’s 1902 version - “lowly, and riding upon an ass, yea, upon a colt, a young ass.”
But when we get to the New Testament where the direct quote is given from Zechariah in Matthew 21:1-11, all the bible versions tell us that there were TWO animals, the ass AND her colt. However there is also a textual variation in the last few words of this verse among the various translations. Those Bibles that use the traditional Greek text or the Textus Receptus tell us “and THEY set him thereon”. The noun/verb combination used in the TR is plural. Versions that follow the UBS, Nestle critical text have a singular verb and end up translating it something like “and HE sat thereon” (ASV).
The King James Bible - “And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and THEY SET HIM THEREON.” This again is the reading found in the older Bible translations like Wycliffe, Tyndale, Coverdale, Bishops’ bible, the Geneva bible - “And brought the asse and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and set him thereon.”, and other modern versions like the KJV 21st Century, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, The Complete Apostles' Bible 2005.
The NASBs keep changing. From 1963 through 7 different editions, the NASB read “and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, ON WHICH HE sat”, but then in 1995 they changed it again and now it says “and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; AND HE sat ON THE COATS.” There is no Greek text that reads “on the coats”. And now once again in the 2020 edition the NASB now reads: "and HE sat ON THE CLOAKS." Then it footnotes that this is Literally "them".
The NIV says: “They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, AND JESUS SAT ON THEM.” There is no word for “Jesus” in any Greek text, but the NIV has added the word “Jesus” 336 times to the New Testament (as they admit in their own NIV concordance) when it is not in their underlying Greek texts, so this is nothing new.
The ESV 2001 says: “They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. “
The NKJV has: “They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.” But then it footnotes telling us that the Nestle, UBS texts read “and HE sat”.
Part 2 - The Explanation
It is clear from all the Bible translations that Matthew mentions TWO animals, both the ass and her colt. The King James Bible is the only one of the five versions mentioned here (KJB, NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV) that quotes the Zechariah 9:9 passage correctly showing that there were TWO animals on which our Lord the King sat during his entry into the city of Zion - the ass AND the colt.
The accounts found in Mark 11:7, Luke 19:35 and John 12:14 only mention the young colt or foal of a colt on which our Lord sat.
Mark 11:7 - “And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him. “
Luke 19:35 - “And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon.”
John 12:14 - 15 “And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion; behold, they King comet, sitting on an ass’s colt.”
First, notice that all versions tell us in Matthew 21 that there were TWO animals present when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Mark, Luke, and John do not say that only one ass or donkey was present. They never deny that another donkey (the mother of the colt) was present. The fact that Mark, Luke, and John mention one young donkey does not mean there were not two.
If you had two friends named Jake and Steve who came to your house on Saturday night, but the next Monday while at work you mention to a fellow employee that Steve was at your house on Saturday night (and you excluded Jake from the conversation for whatever reason), would you be lying? Of course not. You simply stated the fact that Steve was at your house. In the same way, when Mark, Luke, and John stated that a donkey was present, Matthew merely supplemented what the other writers recorded.
Secondly, the verse criticized by the Bible Sceptics is Matthew 21:7 where it says in the King James Bible “And brought the ass and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.”
The verse is merely telling us that the disciples drapped their clothes over BOTH animals, the mother and her colt, and then set Jesus down upon their clothing that made up a comfortable saddle to ride on.
There are at least two ways of explaining what took place here. As Bible commentator John Gill points out: “And brought the ass and the colt…to Jesus, as Mark and Luke add, and who only make mention of the colt: both were undoubtedly brought; the colt being unloosed and taken away, the ass, its dam, followed after:and put on them their clothes; their loose upper garments, to be instead of saddles and trappings, and that Christ might sit thereon with ease and decency...
and they sat him thereon, or "on them": meaning either on the ass and colt, that is, on one of them, or both successively, or on the clothes they put upon them.”
What we see here is that the Lord Jesus sat on both animals, either one at a time during His entry into Jerusalem - the young colt until it got tired of carrying the load and then He switched to the more mature mother ass, or else the disciples made a saddle out of their garments that were drapped over both animals standing side by side and Jesus then sat sideways upon the colt and leaned back upon the mother ass as He rode into the city. There is no contradiction at all.
The King James Bible is always right.
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