Ok, says the skeptic, if the gospels are divinely inspired documents, how come in Matthew 20:29-34, Jesus heals two blind men as He leaves Jericho, but in Luke 18:35-43, Jesus is said to have healed one blind man, Bartimeus, and this healing was as He came into Jericho? Further, Mark 10:46-52 says He healed one man, Bartimeus again, as He was leaving Jericho? Couldn’t the gospel writers count? Did they not quite know if they were coming or going?
This is the typical type of “contradiction” that critics bring up, who then come to the conclusion that the passages containing the contradictions, or even the whole book, was invented. But in these type of cases there are good reasons to doubt not the passage, but the critic’s methods.
First, the basic facts, the core elements, on which all of the writers agree. Jesus was in Jericho and while there He healed at least one blind man. If you were a historian, the secondary discrepancies would not make you come to the conclusion that this is a made-up story! The core elements are there in all three. Much more glaring discrepancies, for example, can be found in the accounts of the fire in Rome. There were three authors that wrote about the fire in Rome, and the emperor Nero’s involvement with it.
Dr. Michael Licona comments on this: “There are discrepancies among our primary sources pertaining to the burning of Rome. Did Nero openly send men to torch the city, as Suetonius reports, or did he do it secretly, as Dio Cassius reports, or was he not at all responsible , as Tacitus suggests is possible? Did Nero watch the city burn from the tower of Maecenas, as Suetonius reports, or from his palace roof, as Dio reports, or was he thirty-five miles away in Antium, per Tacitus? (1)
Obviously historians have not let the above discrepancies force them to conclude that the fire of Rome never happened!
Second, there are several plausible solutions to the accounts of Jesus and the blind men. One key factor to note is that Luke often summarizes while Mark gives greater detail, when parallel passages are examined. In Mark 10:46, the sentence has the information that they came to Jericho, and that the healing took place as they were heading out of Jericho, with a large group following. This indicates they could have been in Jericho for a while and a crowd started following them as they finally left. Matthew 20:29 indicates a similar large multitude following them out.
Luke basically tightens up and summarizes Mark’s sentence. However, Luke leaves out the detail that they were actually leaving the city when the healing occurred. There is also no reason we are forced to conclude that there is no time gap between Luke 18:35 and 36, between their coming to Jericho, and passing the blind man with the multitude when the healing took place. This conclusion is in no way disproven by Luke 19:1, since the “and” at the beginning of the verse is not a time indicator in the Greek, but simply, that the events involving Zacchaeus happened while they were in Jericho. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they encountered Zacchaeus after they healed the blind man/men. So it is important to notice what the passages do not say as well as what they do say. (2)
Another proposed solution is even simpler, namely that Jericho was in fact a “twin city”, an old and new area, with about a mile separating them. So one could be leaving the old Jericho and entering the new Jericho, and the healing could have taken place in between them.
As far as the discrepancy between one blind man or two, this gets a little ridiculous, as Mark and Luke could have simply focused on the one man, Bartimaeus, who was the spokesman for the two, where Matthew mentioned the both of them together. And of course, if there were two blind men, then there was at least one! Seems like splitting hairs to have that be the reason you don’t believe this event happened. One wonders if the critics are trying too hard to find a contradiction, or if they think about similar situations that they have witnessed where people disagree on the number of persons. Do they then conclude the event is fiction?
All in all, as with most “contradictions” of this type, easily resolved and not a good reason for doubting the event. Much ado about nothing!
(1) The Resurrection of Jesus-A New Historiographical Approach, Dr. Michael Licona, Intervarsity Press, Downer’s Grove, IL, Apollos, Nottingham, England , 2010, p. 598.
(2) See The Historical Reliability of the Gospels-Dr. Craig Blomberg,Intervarsity Press, Downer’s Grove, IL, Apollos, Nottingham, England 2007, pp. 170-171, for further discussion of this passage.