The Mystery of Jesus Riding Donkey(s) [Who is Right?]

Reading the parral accounts of Jesus’ Triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, you will notice a difference.

We have four sources, but they differ in how many donkeys were involved with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

They all agree that Jesus rode a colt into Jerusalem.

But one adds an additional detail.

Confusion of Number of Donkey(s)

Matthew is the outlier.

They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.

Matthew 21:7

Yep, where all the other 3 stories, Mark, Luke and John Jesus, ride the colt. And the colt only.

Matthew has him bring along the colt’s mother, who Jesus also rides.

Bart Ehrman loves joking about this story. He points out the silliness of such a scene and how the writer of the Gospel didn’t understand the Hebrew wordplay. In one line, a donkey is used, and in the next, a colt adds variety to the lines with parallelism.

Jacob uses a similar wordplay while blessing his son Judah.

He will tether his donkey to a vine,
    his colt to the choicest branch;

Genesis 49:11

Jacob is not giving his son two different blessings but expressing it in a different yet equivalent manner.

So, in Matthew, he has the donkey with its colt instead of simply having “a” donkey.

It’s probably safe to assume that the other three versions are more probable and more accurate representations of what happened.

Jesus rode a colt into Jerusalem as a prophetic sign of who he was.

Or to provoke the authorities to react.

Maybe Matthew should have thought a little harder about what happened and less about the prophecy’s words.

But I have made the same mistake before. Thinking the “official” narrative is right, not what actually happened.

Or it’s possible that Matthew did remember the extra detail about the colt’s mother also being there. He included it in his story but confused his wording about Jesus riding the donkey.

No biggie until some “scholars” get a hold of it and parse every word. Leaving Matthew kicking himself that he didn’t download Grammarly.

Another idea I came across at Third Mill is also a grammar solution. That is, the “them” is not referring to the donkeys but the cloaks that the disciples put on the donkey that Jesus rode.

Greek scholar A.T. Robertson supports this interpretation. That “them” (Greek αυτων) does refer to the cloaks, not the donkeys.

It does sound like a plausible solution.

But really.

We have three clear sources.

Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, announcing that he was the gentle king long ago prophecied.

Does it really matter if Matthew misphrased it while including the extra donkey or tried too hard to match the event, to the prophecy? The main thrust of the story does not change.

This is the challenge of history.

If something happens, people’s recollections are going to differ.

How you resolve this or determine which one is more plausible is what makes the study of history. The study of history.

All accounts have a colt, which seems to be a significant part of the event.

Donkey Colt

How Old is a Donkey Colt?

I was surprised to learn this.

A colt is a male donkey less than 4 years old.

I imagined a colt being much younger, as John simply calls it a”young donkey.” But a colt being less than 4 years old makes the size difference from the mother irrelevant.

Most of the donkey’s growing happens in the first year. The next 3 years only adding to the donkey’s strength.

If we consider Jesus an average size male, anything over a year old will work.

But with Bethphage less than 2 miles (3.2 km) from Jerusalem, it would have been a short ride.

Remember that the gospel writers probably did not have our “scientific” definitions. John’s “young” is perhaps as accurate as it gets.

Why Did Jesus Ride a Colt?

Mark is very clear, that this was the first time ride of the colt.

“find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden.”

Mk.11:2

Luke also includes this detail.

A detail that would have been lost to the crowd.

But to the disciples, I imagine it added to their awe. The first ride can be a bumpy ride if not done right. The ability of Jesus to mount the never-before-ridden colt shows his horsemanship skill.

Or even his power as an individual.

As in the story of Alexander the Great riding Bucephalus, which no one else could.

There is also a sense of honour being the first.

The colt had never been ridden or used by no one else.

Acquiring the Donkey

Jesus, being a poor man, did not have a donkey to ride into Jerusalem for his desired entrance.

Like the feeding of the 5 000 (Jn.6:9), Jesus resorts to “borrowing” to accomplish his task.

Mark and Luke have Jesus sending 2 disciples to the village ahead to find the donkey. But they include two villages, Bethany and Bethphage, as the villages they are approaching.

Matthew tells us it was Bethphage.

All three have Jesus knowing of a colt tied up in the village that the 2 disciples are to borrow. With a simple response to anyone who questions, “the lord needs them (it).”

Mark includes a promise to return the donkey after. Which I am sure helped reassure the owners of the donkey a little.

Did Jesus prearrange this “borrowing”? We are not told.

It is interesting to see the level of cooperation of the donkey’s owners.

Jesus knowing the location of the donkey(s) and how to address those who were watching over them does make it sound like a prearranged event.

John has Jesus spending the night before in Bethany. Matthew and Mark that Jesus goes to Bethany for the night after riding into Jerusalem.

With the closeness of the two villages, it would have been easy enough for Jesus to have made arrangements the night before for a colt to be available the next day.

Or call it a miracle.

Either way, Jesus rode a borrowed colt into Jerusalem.

Who Did It

Who Did Jesus Send to Get the Colt?

Our sources are vague on this one.

Only that Jesus “sent two of his disciples.”

Leaving it very open of who.

This could be one of the “Twelve,” the “Seventy,” or any of the numerous men following Jesus.

Later in Luke, Jesus has Peter and John (Lk.22:9) making arrangements for the Passover meal if this was their standard role among the group. Then, they would be excellent candidates as the “two disciples” who fetched the colt for Jesus.

But it is equally possible that Jesus rotated through his disciples, delegating different tasks to each one.

What did Jesus Do With the Donkey and the Colt After?

We are never told what happens to the colt after Jesus rides into Jerusalem.

In Matthew, Jesus hangs out in Jerusalem for a while, healing.

Mark has Jesus crunched for time. He goes to the temple and looks around but, as it is getting late, needs to leave for Bethany.

But we can assume that Jesus was a man of his word.

He promised to return the donkey after. That is probably what happened.

After Jesus had finished his short ride into Jerusalem, the disciples returned the donkey and went on their way to Bethany for the night.

Resources

  • https://thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/49070
  • https://ehrmanblog.org/did-jesus-really-have-a-triumphal-entry-into-jerusalem/
  • https://www.troymessenger.com/2015/04/04/thy-cross-ill-carry-the-legend-of-the-jerusalem-donkey/
  • https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/all-about-donkeys/donkey-facts
  • https://apologeticspress.org/a-donkey-and-her-colt-773/
  • https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/193175.pdf

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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