Dead or Dying?
After healing the men who were possessed with demons on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:28-34), Jesus passed over to the other side and “came into his own city” (probably Capernaum—Matthew 9:1). Soon thereafter, a man by the name of Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue, fell at Jesus’ feet and worshipped Him saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live” (Matthew 9:18). Normally, we would continue telling this wonderful story and rehearse how Jesus raised the twelve-year-old girl from the dead. However, the purpose of this article is to answer the skeptics who claim that a contradiction exists between Matthew’s account of this story and the accounts recorded by Mark and Luke. Whereas Matthew records Jairus telling Jesus, “My daughter has just died” (Matthew 9:18, emp. added), the other two accounts indicate that his daughter was “at the point of death” (Mark 5:23, emp. added) and that “she was dying” (Luke 8:42, emp. added). Critics of the Bible’s inerrancy assert that the difference in these accounts represents a blatant contradiction.
Various Greek scholars and commentators have stated that there is not as much difference between Matthew’s arti eteleutesn (“has just died”; cf. Hebrews 11:22) and eschates echer (“is dying,” NIV) in Mark 5:23 as some would have us to think. According to Craig Blomberg, arti (“even now” or “just”) has some connotations that suggest not always a present reality, but an inevitable reality (cf. Matthew 3:15; 23:39; 1 Corinthians 4:13). Therefore, Blomberg concluded that it is possible Matthew was relating the inevitability and certainty of Jairus’ daughter dying, rather than making a statement about her current condition (1992, p. 160). Adam Clarke mentioned in his commentary on Matthew that 9:18 could be translated, “my daughter was just now dying” (1996). Albert Barnes agreed, saying:
The Greek word, rendered “is even now dead,” does not of necessity mean, as our translation would express, that she had actually expired, but only that she was “dying” or about to die…. The passage [Matthew 9:18—EL] may be expressed thus: “My daughter was so sick that she must be dead by this time” (1997).
Therefore, the alleged contradiction may be a simple misunderstanding of what Matthew actually wrote about the dying child.
A better explanation to this alleged discrepancy is that Jairus uttered both statements: Mark and Luke mention her severe sickness, while Matthew speaks of her death. As in so many other places, each writer reported only a part of what occurred and what was said. Does Matthew’s omission of the coming of the messengers who tell Jairus that his daughter has just died mean that his account contradicts the others (Mark 5:35; Luke 8:49)? Certainly not! Nor do his additional details. R.C. Trench, in his classic work on the miracles of Jesus, made the following observation concerning the differences in the gospel writers’ accounts of what was said when Jairus approached Jesus:
When the father left the child, she was at her last gasp; and he knew not whether to regard her now as dead or alive; and, yet having not received certain knowledge of her death, he was perplexed whether to speak of her as departed or not, expressing himself one moment in one language, and at the next in another. Strange that a circumstance like this, so drawn from life, so testifying of the things recorded, should be urged by some as a contradiction (1949, pp. 107-108, emp. added).
Skeptics who attack God’s Word with unsupported allegations will continue to fail. The Bible is and always has been the inerrant Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). And based upon the evidence we have, it is reasonable to believe that Bible is inspired by God. There is no other book like it on the planet. Evidence to substantiate the Bible’s claims of its own inspiration can be drawn from such external evidence as the historical documentation of biblical people, places, and events, or archaeological artifacts that corroborate biblical statements or circumstances. The internal evidence includes the Bible’s unity, predictive prophecy, and scientific foreknowledge (to list just three examples). The Bible is unparalleled in human history and bears testimony to the fact that the very existence of it cannot be explained in any other way except to acknowledge that it is the result of an overriding, superintending, guiding Mind.
Barnes, Albert (1997), Barnes’ Notes (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Blomberg, Craig L. (1992), Matthew (Nashville, TN: Broadman).
Clarke, Adam (1996), Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Trench, Richard C. (1949), Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).