In the Autumn 1994 issue of The Skeptical Review, Farrell Till described a problem he encountered when comparing the three accounts of the meeting between Jairus and Jesus recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He made some statements about inerrancy that could lead a person to a misunderstanding of "inerrancy" and its application to the Bible. A basic understanding of "inerrancy" is necessary if we are to resolve the problem that Till has described. Consequently, we will need to define inerrancy before we can address Till's problem.
We who believe that the Bible is inerrant claim that it provides us with an accurate record of historical events. Consequently, when we read about Jairus in the book of Matthew, we claim that what we read is an accurate or inerrant record of those events. When we read further about Jairus in Mark or Luke, we know that we have additional accurate records of the events surrounding Jairus's meeting with Jesus. When we combine all the information from the three accounts, we will still have an accurate account. If we do not, then we did not have inerrant records to begin with.
In the individual accounts of Jairus's meeting with Jesus, we can have variations among the accounts only if one account provides additional information not contained in the other accounts. However, where two accounts provide the same information, there cannot be variations among the facts presented. If one account says that Jairus's daughter was twelve years old, then the other accounts must agree with this. We would not have an inerrant account if we were told that the daughter was twelve in one place and thirteen in another (unless the daughter's age were being measured by two different and acceptable methods of recording a person's age).
The particular problem that Till identified concerned the actual words that Jairus spoke to Jesus when he first approached him. In Mark, we find Jairus stating that his daughter was at the point of death. In Matthew, he is recorded as saying that she had died. The original Greek words used by the authors to describe the events are different in each case, so we have Mark recording that Jairus said one thing and Matthew recording that Jairus said something similar but clearly and obviously different. Even though both accounts convey the same basic message, each account is unique. What do we do with this?
Till described the problem this way:
Later in the article, Till noted that...
Till is right and then wrong. Because the Bible is inerrant, we can be very certain that both versions of Jairus's meeting with Jesus as recorded in Mark and Matthew are historically accurate. If both Mark and Matthew are recording what Jairus said, then their accounts must agree. On this point, Till is correct. Till errs in concluding that either the account in Mark is accurate or the account in Matthew is accurate but that both cannot be accurate. On that basis, Till says that at least one account is in error. However, if the Bible is inerrant, then we are forced to conclude that both accounts must be true and accurate statements.
If we are correct in our conclusion that both accounts are inerrant, then Jairus must have spoken the words that Matthew recorded, and he must have spoken the words that Mark recorded. Thus, Matthew and Mark could not have been paraphrasing one unique statement made by Jairus, as Till wrongly assumes. Instead, they must have recorded two unique and different statements made by Jairus. In other words, Jairus came to Jesus and, in the course of the conversation that followed, he stated that his daughter was dying as recorded by Mark, and then, elsewhere in the conversation, he also stated that his daughter was dead as recorded by Matthew. There can be no other outcome under the inerrancy doctrine.
One of the problems that we encounter in the Bible is that we are usually given very few details about the events that are described. Much can be and usually is left out. For example, in the account of Jairus's meeting with Jesus, we have no idea how long the conversation between Jairus and Jesus lasted. We are not told whether Jesus said anything to Jairus in that conversation nor are we told how Jesus reacted to Jairus. We can only imagine what tone of voice might have been used and how this might have conveyed additional information. All we know is that Jairus approached Jesus seeking to persuade him to heal his daughter and, in the course of that initial meeting, made two statements that God wanted recorded in the Bible. One of these statements was recorded by Matthew and the other was recorded by Mark. Nothing else was recorded, so we do not even know which statement was made first or the specific context in which the statements were made other than in the broadest terms.
At this point, we can only speculate on what might have happened. Before doing so, however, we must be sure that we have our facts straight. One factor leading to Till's conclusion that a problem exists may be the particular translation of the text that he used. In the KJV, Matthew quotes Jairus as saying, "My daughter is even now dead." The NKJV, quoted by Till, has Jairus saying, "My daughter has just died." The KJV translation suggests that Jairus may have been drawing a conclusion about his daughter's condition. The NKJV translation is more emphatic and suggests that Jairus may have received specific knowledge about his daughter's condition. Obviously, translation is important, and an inaccurate translation can lead us to a false conclusion.
If we combine the three accounts from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we can build the following hypothetical scenario to illustrate how Jairus's initial meeting with Jesus could have played out.
Jairus comes to Jesus, falls at his feet and says, "My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live." Jesus says nothing, even seeming to be indifferent toward Jairus's plea. He may even have turned to talk to those around him. In desperation, Jairus pleads, "My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hands upon her, and she shall live." At this demonstration of faith, Jesus goes with him.
Obviously, we cannot claim that the above occurred. We use it merely to illustrate that it was possible for Jairus to have made what appear to be two inconsistent statements about his daughter's condition and to have done so in a consistent, rational manner. His daughter was at the point of death as he leaves to find Jesus. So critically ill was his daughter that, in the short time since he left her, it is entirely possible that she could have died. So great is his love for his daughter and his faith in Jesus's ability to heal that he is certain that Jesus can heal his daughter even if she were already dead.
To illustrate what could have happened as Jesus and Jairus are walking to Jairus's house, we can propose the following, again hypothetical, scenario incorporating the information given to us by the various accounts.
While Jesus was speaking to the woman, a man came from Jairus's house. He came up to Jairus and said, "Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master." He then turned to go expecting Jairus to follow. Jesus, overhearing what was said, leaned close to Jairus and said, "Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole." Encouraged by this, Jairus continued walking with Jesus to his house. The man from his house, not hearing what Jesus had said, and thinking that Jairus had not understood the import of his message, grabbed Jairus by the arm and said, "Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?" When Jesus heard this, he turned to Jairus and said again, "Be not afraid, only believe."
Again, we know little about what really happened as Jesus and Jairus walked to Jairus's house. All we know is that Mark records certain statements that were made and Luke records others. Because Luke had stated in the beginning of his gospel that he had set out to investigate the life of Jesus, it is possible that he has paraphrased what people described Jesus to say. In other words, Luke talked to several people and based on what he was told, he wrote that such and such was said, but he was only paraphrasing what they said based on what he had been told. For our purposes, however, we are assuming that Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is recording the exact words spoken. From the above scenario, we can again see how the accounts of Mark and Luke can be reconciled.
Continuing on, we can suggest a scenario to illustrate what could have happened at Jairus's house.
They came to Jairus's house and entered. They saw the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. Jesus said to the crowd as he stood in the doorway, "Why make ye this ado, and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth." As Jesus walked into the room, he said to others, "Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth." Some, who had seen the child, said that she was dead. Jesus desiring that all should leave called out so that all can hear, "Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth." And the people laughed him to scorn, because they knew that the child was dead. After the crowd was removed, they went to where the child lay. Jesus took the child by the hand and said, "Talitha cumi," which is, being interpreted, "Damsel, I say unto thee, arise" or "Maid, arise." Then her spirit came again and she arose right away.
The above scenarios serve to illustrate how events could have played out in a manner consistent with the scriptures. Obviously, we do not know what actually happened. However, just because we do not have all the facts of the case does not mean that the facts that we do have must be erroneous. We should not let a lack of information drive us to false conclusions. We do know that we have inerrant or accurate records of certain events that occurred. Our scenarios are consistent with the available facts and demonstrate that there was a reasonable and logical way for all of these events to have happened as they were described.
It is important that we apply the inerrancy doctrine correctly as we seek to explain the events we find recorded in the Bible. If we do this, then we come a long way in our efforts to discover what God is telling us in the Bible.
(Roger W. Hutchinson, 11904 Lafayette Drive, Silver Springs,