How many blind beggars did Jesus heal near Jericho?

Posted on May.22, 2009. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke. Average rating: 5.0 / 10 (Rate It).

The incident where Jesus heals a blind beggar near Jericho is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels. The accounts differ, however, concerning whether there was one beggar or two.

As Mark tells the story, Jesus heals one blind beggar, Bartimaeus:

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his ccloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. [Mark 10:46-52]

Luke also has Jesus heal one blind beggar:

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; you faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God. [Luke 18:35-43]

Matthew, however, adds a second blind man to the incident:

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!’ Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him. [Matthew 20:29-34]

So how many blind beggars did Jesus heal near Jericho, one or two?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    This is a less serious charge than the 2 demoniac problem. Clearly, given the scarcity of demoniacs living in tombs whose demons are cast into swine, all three synoptics are referring to the same event in the case of the demoniacs. But blind men near Jericho are another matter. There are plenty of those. As such, it would not be surprising that Jesus healed three such individuals in three separate encounters, one which occurred while entering the city and two that occurred while leaving.

    You might argue that the similarity of the words used in each case make it likely that the same event is being recounted. The blind man, for example, always cries to the Son of David to have mercy and the crowd initially tries to silence him.

    But a single-healing hypothesis is not the only explanation for the similarity of the accounts. For starters, whatever reasons the crowd had for trying to silence the blind men, be there 1, 2 or 22, apply in each case. I suppose that the most obvious reason the crowd had to silence the blind man was that they were trying to hear Christ speak and the caterwauling blind man was preventing that.

    But what about the similarity of the words of the blind men themselves?

    One might argue thus:

    1. Jesus heals the first blind man, per Luke, on the way in to Jericho.
    2. Word of this miracle gets around.
    3. As a result, by the time Jesus leaves the city a second and later a a third blind man appeals to Jesus for healing.
    4. Just to be sure, the two later blind men use the same words that had ‘worked’ for the first blind man.

    One of these later blind men, Bartimaeus, became well enough known to later believers that Mark tells his story and mentions him by name. But just as he did not mention the the healing on the way into the city, Mark does not mention one of the healings on the way out of the city.

  2. 2

    I find the question of whether the beggar(s) came before or after Jericho the more blatent problem here. I hope it gets its own page here at some point. :)

  3. 3

    For the approaching / leaving problem, see

    I agree with the point that blind beggars by the road are more common than demoniacs among the tombs, and that saying that Matthew is recounting a different incident is therefore more plausible in the blind beggars case than it is in the demoniacs among the tombs case. (N.B. Saying that it’s “more plausible” falls short of saying that it’s “plausible”.)

    However, the fact that elsewhere Matthew seems to have taken an account with one demoniac and added a second makes me think that he may well have done a similar thing here, taking an account with one blind beggar and adding a second. He’s got form.

    For that reason, I’d be most comfortable with a harmonisation that treats all of the accounts as accounts of the same event, if such can be found.

  4. 4

    Well, every reason I’ve seen for the contention that Matthew added a second demoniac seems a stretch. Whatever evidences there may be for overturning Matthean priority in favor of Markan priority, the case of the demoniacs in the tombs is not among them.

    Since I already agree with the earliest church historians and accept Matthean priority, I’m not going to change that view now. As such, my view is that Mark and Luke removed a demoniac for narrative purposes (though that still doesn’t sit well with my inerrantism). They similarly removed a blind man for narrative purposes.

    What are these narrative purposes?

    In all cases, an account with one miracle of a certain type is simpler to relate than an account with two or three of that type, especially if you want to make the story more powerful by elaborating on the details of the subjects of the miracles (the demoniacs and the blind men). These details of individual lives are likely to diverge and complicate the story. For example, perhaps only one of the demoniacs cut himself with stones. Perhaps the other suffered in other ways. Perhaps only one demoniac had ever been put in chains. Clearly, only one of the blind men was named Bartimaeus, etc. One subject is easier to profile than two or three.

    In the case of the demoniac, it may also be that Mark and Luke are only telling the story of the demoniac who wanted to follow Jesus after the exorcism. They both mention the fact that the freed demoniac tried to follow him. The other demoniac did something else and Mark and Luke chose not to tell his story for that reason. Matthew simplified his account in a different way by leaving out how either demonic suffered before or responded after his liberation.

    In the case of the blind men near Jericho, Luke is only telling the story of the first blind man healed. But Mark is only telling the story of the blind man who became known by name to the early believers (or perhaps the story of the only one whose name Peter ever learned). Even Matthew simplifies his account by leaving out at least one blind man: the one healed on the way into the city.

    In any case, this is all a long-winded way of saying that because I don’t accept your premise that Matthew added a demoniac, I don’t feel any particular pressure to assume that he added a blind man near Jericho.

  5. 5

    Fair enough, WL. I agree that both of these apparent errors are less problematic on Matthean priority. That isn’t my view (although my mind is somewhat open on the matter), but I’m not going to argue about it here. I’d rather think about whether each possibility allows for solutions to the problems.

    On Matthean priority, Mark and Luke simplify the narratives. Some errantists would quibble that in doing so they introduce factual errors, suggesting that one person was present rather than two, but I wouldn’t want to press that point too far.

    On Markan priority, Matthew embellishes the narratives. I’m still trying to find a good explanation of why he might do so.

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