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.