Did Jesus “Find” a Donkey on Which to Ride?
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all indicate that prior to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem during the final week of His life, He instructed two of His disciples, saying, “Go...find a colt...and bring it here” (Luke 19:30; Matthew 21:2; Mark 11:2). The disciples then “brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it” (11:7; cf. Matthew 21:7; Luke 19:35). Some wonder how these details (as recorded by synoptic gospel writers) match up with John’s gospel account. According to John, “Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it” (12:14, emp. added). The question is, did Jesus or His disciples find the donkey? [NOTE: For a discussion regarding the disciples bringing back two donkeys, see Lyons, 2004).]
First, one must consider the fact that John’s account of these events (as with other events—cf. John 20:30-31; 12:25) is abbreviated. He does not mention the details that the synoptic writers include regarding how the colt was procured. Whereas Matthew, Mark, and Luke record more specific details [(1) sending two disciples, (2) where to find the colt, (3) what to do if someone questions them, etc.], John simply says that Jesus “found a young donkey” (12:14). [NOTE: John later mentions how the disciples, following Jesus’ resurrection, “remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him” (12:16, emp. added). What exactly had the disciples done to (or for) Jesus? Although John did not elaborate, given the context in which this statement is found, it is reasonable to conclude that he was referring in a general way to what the other gospel writers wrote specifically: two of Jesus’ disciples obtained a colt for Him.]
Second, many times in Scripture the Bible writers represent a man as doing a thing when, in fact, he merely gives the command or supplies the means for doing it. For example, Joseph spoke of his brothers as selling him into Egypt (Genesis 45:4-5; cf. Acts 7:9), when actually they sold him to the Ishmaelites (who then sold him into Egypt). Earlier in John’s gospel account, he mentions that “the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)” (John 4:1-3, emp. added). When Luke mentions that Judas “purchased a field with the wages of iniquity” (Acts 1:18), he means that the chief priests used Judas’ 30 pieces of silver to buy the potter’s field (Matthew 27:7). And, when John writes that “Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him” (John 19:1), most people understand that he simply ordered Jesus to be scourged, not that he actually did the scourging himself. Since Jesus was scourged at the order of Pilate, one can truthfully say that “Pilate...scourged Him.” The same principle is recognized in law in the well-known Latin maxim, “Qui facit per alium, facit per se” (“he who acts through another is deemed in law to do it himself”) (cf. “Agency Law and Legal Definition,” 2008). Thus, when John writes that Jesus, the Master of the disciples, “found a young donkey,” the apostle could easily mean that Jesus obtained the donkey “by the agency of others” (Morris, 1995, p. 521).
Finally, it could also be said that Jesus “found” the colt in another sense. That is, He knew of the whereabouts of the donkey even before His disciples acquired it. Considering that when sending His disciples to get the colt, Jesus told them exactly where to go and what to say, knowing already the circumstances under which the donkey was available, it seems clear that Jesus prearranged for the use of the animal.
In truth, there is no contradiction between John and the synoptic writers in regard to the procurement of the colt on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The disciples obtained the colt by the authority of Christ (cf. John 12:16), Who knew precisely where to send them for the animal (Matthew 21:2-3). He “found” the donkey in one sense before sending His disciples after it, and then actually obtained it “by the agency” of His disciples.
“Agency Law and Legal Definition” (2008), USLegal, [On-line], URL:http://definitions.uslegal.com/a/agency/.
Lyons, Eric (2004), “A Donkey and Her Colt,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/595.
Morris, Leon (1995), The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition.