Who, Exactly, Asked the Question?
Why does Matthew 9:14 say that the disciples of John asked Jesus about fasting, while Luke 5 indicates that the Pharisees and their scribes asked Jesus this question? Isn’t this a contradiction?
Indeed, Matthew specifically mentioned that “the disciples of John came to Him [Jesus], saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?’” (9:14, emp. added). It also is true that Luke refers to “the Pharisees and their scribes” (5:30,33, NASB, emp. added) as asking the question. But, the fact that two different Bible writers indicated that different groups of people asked Jesus the same question is not proof of biblical errancy.
Consider how often we make similar statements. Suppose that several students in a classroom ask a teacher why she is not married. Later, the teacher may report to Jimmy’s parents that he asked why she is single. On another occasion, the teacher may inform Ricky’s parents that he asked the same question. Has the teacher lied? Not at all. In truth, both Jimmy and Ricky, along with several other students, asked about the teacher’s marital status. Depending on the setting, the teacher may rightfully choose only to mention one who asked the question, or she may decide to name every student who inquired about her private life.
Just as someone would be unjustified in alleging that the aforementioned teacher was a liar because in one setting she stated that Jimmy asked the question, and in another setting she mentioned that it was Ricky, a person would be equally unjustified in accusing Matthew and/or Luke of being mistaken. Did the disciples of John ask Jesus why His disciples were not fasting? Yes. Did the Pharisees and their scribes ask Jesus virtually the same question? Yes. What’s more, when Mark addressed this subject in his gospel account, he mentioned how “the disciples of John and of the Pharisees...came and said to Him, ‘Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’” (Mark 2:18).
Though it may appear at first glance that Matthew and John are in conflict, both accounts are correct. “Each tells the truth, but each tells only a part of what was true, and we get at the whole truth by putting both of their statements together as one. This circumstance furnishes a key to the reconciliation of the different writers in many other places where there is an appearance of discrepancy” (McGarvey, 1875, p. 276; cf. Lyons, 2005).
Lyons, Eric (2005), “Extra, Extra, Read All About It!” [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/2772.
McGarvey, J.W. (1875), Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).