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Alleged Discrepancies

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Controversial Jericho

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Although the city of Jericho is mentioned only seven times in the New Testament, the passages in which the city is found have been under heavy attack by critics for centuries. Perhaps the most famous alleged geographical discrepancy surrounding Jericho is found in Luke 10 where Jesus told His unforgettable parable about the Good Samaritan. Jesus began the story saying, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (10:30, emp. added). Many through the years have assumed Jesus was implying that Jericho was south of Jerusalem, since the man “went down” to get there. However, a quick look at a map of first-century Palestine (which can be found in the backs of most modern Bibles) shows that Jericho is several miles northeast of Jerusalem. Without looking any further into the geographical surroundings, one might assume that this represents a genuine discrepancy. After all, how can someone go “down” from point A to point B, if point B is north of point A?

As always, once all the facts are established, Jesus’ statement reconciles itself with truth quite easily. Although Jericho may be several miles north of Jerusalem, it is more than 3,500 feet lower in altitude. (Jerusalem is situated at an elevation of 2,550 feet above sea level, whereas Jericho is about 1,200 feet below sea level.) There is no way for a man to journey from Jerusalem to Jericho without going down in elevation. Needless to say, the argument which suggests that Jesus did not know His geography has been expelled from most skeptics’ repertoires in modern times. I only wish such could be said of the accusations surrounding the miracle He worked near the city of Jericho.

The case of the healing of the blind men near Jericho (recorded in Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43) has been highly criticized by skeptics. While both Mark and Luke mention the healing of only one blind man, Matthew records the healing of two men as Christ made His way to Jerusalem for the final Passover. Also, Matthew and Mark indicate that the blind men were healed as Jesus was leaving Jericho whereas Luke suggests that a blind man was healed as the Lord came near to the city. Allegedly, these differences surrounding Jesus’ miracle in the city of Jericho prove the fallacy of Bible writers.

In the first place, the fact that two of the Gospel accounts mention only one blind man, while the other mentions two, need not concern us. Just because Mark and Luke speak of only one blind man does not mean that they have at the same time denied that there were two blind men. Had Mark and Luke stated that Christ healed only one man, while Matthew then affirmed that more than one were healed, a contradiction would be apparent. But such is not the case. If one says, “Tim has a son,” he is not contradicted if someone else says, “Tim has a son and a daughter.” His statement was merely supplemented. [Matthew is the only one who recorded that Jesus performed this healing by a touch (20:34), but he does not give us the spoken words Jesus uttered as do Mark (10:52) and Luke (18:42).] There is no conflict, therefore, regarding the number of men involved. The accounts merely supplement one another. [This same reasoning should be used when dealing with the two demoniacs Matthew mentions (8:28ff.), compared with the one that Mark (5:2ff.) and Luke (8:27ff.) mention.]

Moreover, the fact that Mark mentioned by name one of the blind men (Bartimaeus) and his father (Timaeus, 10:46) might possibly indicate that Mark was centering on the blind man that he knew personally. If you lived during the time of Jesus and witnessed Him healing a number of people (with one of them being someone you knew), it would be understandable that when you returned home and spoke to your family you might speak only of the friend that Jesus healed. In no way is this being deceitful.

But how shall the second difficulty be resolved? Is there any logical reason as to why Matthew and Mark indicate that the blind men were healed as Jesus was leaving Jericho, while Luke mentions that a blind man was healed as the Lord came near to the city? Actually, there are at least two realistic possibilities as to why the accounts are worded differently. First, it is possible that three blind men were healed in the vicinity of Jericho on this occasion. The instance mentioned by Luke as occurring when Jesus approached the city might have represented a different case than that recorded by Matthew and Mark. This explanation is supported by the fact that

Luke refers only to a “multitude” of people being present as Jesus entered the city (18:36), but both Matthew (20:29) and Mark (10:46) make a point to say there was a “ great multitude” of people there by the time Jesus left the city. If the word spread of the miraculous healing on the way into the city, this would account for the swelling of the crowd (Geisler and Howe, 1992, p. 353).

Though this suggestion about there being three blind men is considered by many to be remote, it is at least possible—and that is all that is required to negate an alleged discrepancy.

Another possible way to harmonize these passages is to understand that at the time of Christ there actually were two Jerichos. First, there was the Jericho of Old Testament history (Joshua 6:1ff.; 1 Kings 16:34). In the first century, however, that city existed as a small village lying mostly in ruins, and about two miles south of that site was the new Jericho built by Herod the Great. The Lord, therefore, traveling toward Jerusalem, would first pass through the Old Testament Jericho, and then, some two miles to the southwest, go through Herodian Jericho. Accordingly, the references of Matthew and Mark to Jesus leaving Jericho would allude to old Jericho, whereas Luke’s observation of Jesus drawing near to Jericho would refer to the newer city. Hence, the miracles under consideration may have been performed between the two Jerichos (Robertson, 1930, 1:163).

When a person studies passages such as these that critics allege are contradictory, one important fact should be remembered: If there is any reasonable way of harmonizing these records, no legitimate contradiction can be charged to the accounts. Unless one can show that the same thing is under consideration at the same time in the same sense, then it cannot be considered a legitimate contradiction. A mere difference does not make a contradiction!

REFERENCES

Geisler, Norman L. and Thomas A. Howe (1992), When Critics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books).

Robertson, A.T. (1931), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman).




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