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Prophecy Part 4: Triumphal Entry

To continue our study of prophecies in the Bible (begun here), I’d like to look at a very interesting prophecy fulfillment recorded in the synoptic gospels. By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, the synoptic gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They’re called “synoptic” because they follow the same basic outline of events. The Gospel of John is not included because it follows a very different outline. Sorry for the tangent.

When Jesus has his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, Mark 11:1-10 and Luke 19:28-40 record that he sent his disciples into a village to bring back a colt that he could ride into Jerusalem. There’s no reference to a prophecy fulfillment in these passages.

But Matthew 21:1-11 tells it slightly differently. In Matthew’s account, Jesus sends his disciples to get a donkey and the colt that is with her. Now, some people will make a big deal here and say that there’s a discrepancy since Mark and Luke only talk about one animal and Matthew talks about two. This is not a big deal to me. I agree with apologists that it could simply be that Mark and Luke didn’t mention the donkey, even though she was present. But Matthew’s account does create an interesting issue when you consider why he references the donkey and not just the colt.

Verse 5 of Matthew 21 says that this event fulfilled a prophecy that can be found in Zechariah 9:9. Matthew’s quote of the prophecy says this:

“Say to the daughter of Zion,’Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”

Matthew mirrors this prophecy exactly when he describes the scene like this (verses 6-7):

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.

Read that passage carefully. Is Matthew saying that Jesus rode both animals? I know it seems ridiculous, but is that what he’s saying? If so, it seems that he would be claiming that so it would match his reading of Zechariah 9:9. Even if he’s not indicating that Jesus rode both animals, I think he only includes both animals in his account so he can draw the parallel to Zechariah’s prophecy. Let me explain why.

Zechariah 9:9 is not talking about two animals, it’s just talking about one. Let’s look at some different versions of the end of this passage:

lowly, and riding upon an ass,
and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

lowly, and riding upon an ass,
even upon a colt the foal of an ass.

humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

You can see why someone might read this passage and think it’s talking about two animals. The KJV is a good example of a translation that would give that indication. But in fact, this is an example of parallelism, which is simply a way to add emphasis to a passage. You can see what I mean by looking at the ASV and ESV translations of the passage. The last line of the passage just adds emphasis and clarity to the line before. It even does that in the KJV version, but it can easily be misread into assuming that two animals are being spoken about. The Old Testament has many examples of parallelism. Genesis 4:23 is a good example:

Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.

Other examples can be found in passages like Psalm 51:2-3, Jeremiah 17:10, and Zech 12:6. Most of these passages are written as poetry, and they use parallelism to emphasize their statements and provide balance to their verses. It appears that’s what Zechariah was doing in his prophecy. But Matthew misunderstood and took the parallel passage to be talking about a second animal, and his account of the triumphal entry reflects that.

So what does this mean? At the very least, it calls Matthew’s version into question. It seems that he inserted this extra donkey just to match his incorrect reading of Zechariah. So what else might he have changed? Is it possible that the triumphal entry never happened? Are all three writers inventing this event? I don’t know, that might be too much of an assertion to make just because of Matthew’s account. But it certainly causes issues for the Gospel of Matthew, and that brings the whole concept of the Bible’s divine inspiration into doubt.

We’ll continue with our examination of prophecies in the next post. Thanks for reading.

10 thoughts on “Prophecy Part 4: Triumphal Entry”

  1. Taking my time and going through your posts on prophecy since I have enjoyed the part on Tyre so much. I agree at this point the gospel of Matthew is looking a bit suspect, however find this point the weaker of those presented so far.


  2. Hi Nate,

    The point about Matthew 21:1-11 and the donkey & colt, that’s very interesting indeed.
    Are you able to check the original hebrew text of Zechariah 9:9 to verify that it really is just a case of parallelism, and that it doesn’t specifically mean a donkey AND a colt?

    The other Old Testament examples you give seem like good evidence, but it would be ideal to check with the original hebrew. Because if this is what you suspect, I’d say this is a very big thing and very strong and convincing evidence against the Bible being inspired.

    Or if you’re unable to check, if you know anyone with any level of hebrew knowledge, I’d urge you to get them to check it and report back if you can.

    Anyway, this has been very interesting to read.


  3. Your point about Matthew 21:1-11 is very interesting. Do you have any knowledge of hebrew, or do you know anyone who does? I’m thinking it’d be good to check the original hebrew of Zechariah 9:9 to see if it really is merely parallelism, and that it only refers to one animal.

    Sorry if this seems like nitpicking. The OT passages you give as examples are compelling, but I want a cast iron guarantee that this is likely to be a mistake by the author of Matthew.

    Sorry if I had already posted this comment. I thought I had posted it, but it didn’t seem to show up as ‘pending moderation’ so I’m just posting it again.


  4. Hey John (or Denis),

    Thanks for the comment (and sorry about the moderation — shouldn’t happen again).

    I think you raise a great question, and I don’t view it as nitpicking at all. I completely understand wanting to be certain about this kind of thing. Unfortunately, I don’t know Hebrew, nor do I know anyone who does. However, I did run across a few resources that I found interesting:

    1) The Wiki page on this passage gives a nice summary of the issue, which is a great place to start.

    2) The BibleHub entry for this passage shows all the different translations, which shows how the OT scholars that put them together view this passage. There are also some commentaries at the bottom that reference this as an example of parallelism, but I didn’t see them go into much detail about why they view it that way.

    3) I found this article. which covers some details about how this passage is translated. I found it pretty interesting. Here’s a bio on the author.

    4) Finally, this paper was quoted in the article above. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but it seems interesting. One thing this author mentions in his introduction is that the rabbis of the first century didn’t believe in parallelism. I’m investigating that claim right now. Of course, whether rabbis of that time would have considered Zech 9:9 an example of parallelism or not has no bearing on whether or not it actually was.

    I’ll comment some more once I’ve had a chance to do some more research. Thanks again for the great comment!


  5. Ok, so your problem here is that an educated Jew, who would have grown up being taught Jewish poetical writings, did not understand Jewish writing style? I mean really, Nate? I’ll give you a do-over on this one.


  6. Haha! Thanks 😉

    I don’t actually hold to this one as a definite problem. I just view it as an interesting possibility.


  7. yeah, all the other gospel accounts say there was one donkey. Zechariah is clearly speaking of one donkey, yet Mathew says two. It is interesting and nate seems to have made a good explanation for the difference.

    Humblesmith, if nate’s explanation is rubbish, what’s a better one?


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