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The Triumphal Entry

Jimmy Akin

DAY 327

CHALLENGE

“Matthew contradicts the other Gospels when he says that Jesus used two animals during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It also, absurdly, says he rode both at once.”

DEFENSE

There is no contradiction, and he didn’t ride both at once.

When two things are involved in an encounter, the evangelists frequently simplify their recounting of the event by mentioning only one (see Day 37). This is within the level of descriptive approximation one expects (see Day 258).

Here Matthew gives the fuller account by mentioning both animals (Matt. 21:2), while the others simplify by mentioning only one (Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30; John 12:14).

Jesus undertook the triumphal entry to fulfill the prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! . . . Lo, your king comes to you . . . humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech. 9:9; cf. Matt. 21:5).

At the time, some understood this prophecy as involving two animals and some as involving one. Because of the first interpretation, it would be reasonable for Jesus to use two animals, even if only one were need- ed. Matthew wants to make sure those who understood the prophecy in the first sense realize Jesus fulfilled it, so he mentions both animals.

By contrast, John is less concerned about the two-animal interpretation, and he mentions only one. However, to prevent confusion, he further abbreviates the prophecy to remove the part some interpreted as referring to the colt’s mother (see John 12:15).

Regarding Matthew’s statement, “they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon” (Matt. 21:7), it may just mean he sat on the garments. Even if not, the ancient audience would not have understood this as meaning that Jesus rode both simultaneously.

They were more used to riding animals than we and fully knew this was not possible for a person to do, particularly if the animals have no special riding equipment but only some clothing put on them as makeshift saddles.

They would have understood the statement in the natural sense that Jesus rode one animal and then the other to fulfill the prophecy. (Alternately, some have proposed the disciples put the garments on the colt and Jesus rode it, but Matthew uses the plural pronoun “them” because the previously unridden colt was tied to its mother, which was being used to calm and guide it.)

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