Why I Re-Read the Bible

triumphal-entryHow many donkeys did the disciples procure for Jesus to use in his Triumphal entry?  Sounds like an easy question right?  But my little Sunday school image of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, walking over palm fronds, didn’t include the mother donkey, tagging alongside beside the colt.  The disciples got two donkeys for Jesus.  Not one.

You’ll only find that account in one of the gospels. Matthew mentions it briefly.  And I stumbled across this interesting little detail in my morning Bible reading, where I’m currently going through Matthew’s gospel a chapter at a time.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her…They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them.  (Matthew 21:1-7).

A few interesting points to note about this passage.  If one of my students handed this in to me, I’d tell them that they needed to rework their pronoun and antecedent agreement. You can’t tell what Jesus is sitting on. “Them” could refer to the cloaks, the donkeys, or the disciples.  You can deduce that it’s probably not the disciples, but it’s harder to tell if he’s straddling two donkeys. But Jesus wasn’t performing circus acts. Most likely, he’s sitting on the colt, atop the cloaks.

A mother donkey was a calming influence for a young colt, or so says my ESV Study Bible notes.  Matthew recognizes the importance of this little detail, while the other gospel writers didn’t think it was necessary to include.  It says that Jesus not only planned ahead to have a colt available, but he took the colt’s emotional needs into account in his plans.  If Jesus can plan for a donkey colt’s future needs, well, he certainly can take care of an ass like me (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

Am I the only one that misses these key details?

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Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 9:00 am  Comments (4)  
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  1. Having a Dakes version at hand when I read generally assures me that I don’t miss details like that. The problem is if I use Dakes in church and turn to the sermon’s reference passage I tend to miss the rest of the sermon because Dake just drills deep into each sentence. I wind up comparing the Hebrew or Greek, the cultural implications, number of times that word was used before and after, and insightful explorations of the scene. That being said, Dake also make forays into questionable or tenuous conclusions and opinions. I mention that to assure that I understand that no one should allows Dakes comments (or any other commenter) to override personal interface with the unannotated Scriptures.

    On the flip side of detail rich reading, I find a current VERY popular author who takes Biblical scenes and adds all kinds of heart tugging scenery to the passage annoying. Especially since he tends to state everything three ways: It was hot, it was very hot, it was a day which was felt as a burden kind of writing. Nice to have what I call a triptic passages occasionally for emphasis and flow, but enough already after one or two each paragraph.

    AL: I’m a huge fan of study bibles, but you’re right, it’s really easy to allow the commenter to “override personal interface with the unannotated Scriptures.” I always struggle with that balance. I sometimes read and entire chapter, digest it, then do I let myself look at notes after awhile, after I’ve formed my impressions and mediated on it.

    My personal favorite study bibles are the brand new ESV Study Bible, which continues to WOW me. Also, I’m liking Reformation Study Bible. I’ve used the NIV Life Application Study Bible for a very long time, and I’ve found a lot of valuable insight in there.

    I admit that I’ve not read the Dake’s version, but I’ve read some commentary on its theology that gives me a little pause in recommending it. There are certain statements in there about the incarnation that are theologically problematic. One of my primary sources on this is Hank Hanegraff, the Bible Answer Man, who doesn’t seem very fond of that version either. http://www.oneplace.com/Ministries/Bible_Answer_Man/Article.asp?article_id=169 He also recommends a couple other reference Bibles that sound interesting.

  2. My Greek is not great, but I believe the literal meaning is that Jesus did in fact ride on both donkeys. The first ‘them’ is obviously the donkeys, and in the Greek this word is masculine in gender, whereas the coats are neuter. Greek technically has three words for ‘them,’ a masculine, feminine, and neuter form. The second ‘them’ is masculine, meaning it can only refer to the donkeys, not the coats (because the coats are neuter).

    Perhaps someone with a better understanding of Greek could explain why this is wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

    Now what to do with a Jesus that can ride on two donkeys? That is above my pay scale.

    AL: I appreciate the Greek reading! Unfortunately, it doesn’t clear much up for me. How in the world would he ride two donkeys? Then again…I don’t know Greek one bit. Here’s hoping we’ll get some more Greek scholars to chime in here. If anybody knows some, feel free to invite them over here. =) Thanks for sharing your insight!

  3. Oh yes, and then when they hit me in the face during a new reading I wonder…how did I miss that? How much of my Bible reading is colored by preconceptions and misconceptions and just plain carelessness…..and I’m glad you cleared up “and he sat on them” because I just ran across that verse a couple of weeks ago and puzzled about what it could possibly mean. How could he sit on a donkey and her colt at the same time…that has to be impossible! Or at least uncomfortable. “them” of course, would have to be the cloaks… I wonder how it reads in the Greek? Is it any clearer? Interesting.

    AL: I’m glad somebody else has a hard time with the 2 donkeys at one time riding business. See the comment above for one Greek interpretation.

  4. My guess is that Matthew wasn’t too concerned with how they were ridden or which one was ridden; the point is that there were two donkeys.

    It may have something to do with Zech 9:9, the text being quoted: “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Maybe Matthew was looking at Mark’s version and going, “Hey, there are supposed to be two donkeys! A donkey and a donkey colt. It says right here in Zechariah…” So he made the necessary changes, not concerned with the logistics: those are Zechariah’s problem.

    AL: Thanks for bringing up that messianic prophecy! I’m sure Matthew was aware of Zechariah, as every Good Jewish man was, who was looking forward to the Messiah. However, as an eyewitness to Jesus’ triumphal entry (as one of the 12 disciples), he didn’t need to make conjectures. He just had to remember what his own eyes told him. The fact that the other gospels don’t include the other donkey doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there. It just means that they didn’t include that detail because they didn’t think it was significant enough. Personally, I think it makes sense that Matthew, the one who is most interested in appealing to the Jewish audience with messianic expectations, would try to bring in all the details that would relate to the Zechariah prophecy.


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