Jericho’s blind beggar: Responding to the Bible’s critics
Critics of the Scriptures want to have it both ways.
If they find an inconsistency in Scripture – the numbers seem not to agree – or a story is told in two or more different ways – it proves the Bible is man-made, filled with errors, and not to be trusted. If however, they could find no inconsistencies this would prove the church authorities in the distant past conspired to remove all the troublesome aspects of the Bible in order to claim it to be inspired by God.
Either it is or it is not.
When one is determined not to believe a thing, nothing gets in his way. He can always find a reason not to believe.
Take the matter of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho. His account is told in three of the gospels, but he is named in only one (Mark 10:46).
Readers unfamiliar with the story will want to pause here and read the account. The three versions can be found in Matthew 20:29-34, in Mark 10:46-52, and in Luke 18:35-43. I want you to see the differences in how the story is related.
This may be my favorite story in all the Bible.
I love the image of this blind beggar knowing more than everyone around him, refusing to be silenced by the smart-alecks, and determining to get to Jesus. I can’t wait to meet him in heaven.
My favorite version is the one given in Luke’s gospel.
Even though Bartimaeus is a blind beggar clothed in rags, in need of a bath as much as anyone ever, and who could have used a haircut a couple of years back, I like to think of him as the smartest man in town.
What I find so impressive about the man is what he did while sitting on the roadside asking for alms: he kept his mouth shut, his ears open, listened to what was going on around him, thought about what he heard, reasoned it out thoroughly, and came to some profound conclusions.
Here’s the story…
Bartimaeus kept hearing reports about a man of Nazareth named Jesus. For three years stories about Jesus had flowed in from every direction. You and I would say the news about Jesus had gone “viral.” People arriving in Jericho from various communities talked nonstop about Jesus –what He did and said, what they saw and heard, and what they thought it meant.
No one had not heard of Jesus. Not even the beggars.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing Bartimaeus learned about Jesus was that He had been through Jericho several times before, on His travels to and from Jerusalem. But for some reason, they had not connected. Bart was determined not to let that happen again.
So, the blind beggar of Jericho came to three critical decisions about Jesus:
- I know who He is: He is the Son of David, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God sent by the Father to save the world from sin;
- I need Him in my life. The next time Jesus comes to Jericho, I’m going to meet Him and give Him the opportunity to change my life; and
- I am determined to get to Him. Whatever I have to do, whatever price I have to pay, I’m willing to do it in order to meet Jesus. Nothing is more important than this.
That’s why, when he heard all those trampling feet going by heading into Jericho, Bart spoke up. “Who is this? Who’s coming this way?”
Something big was afoot.
Eventually, someone paused to answer the smelly beggar’s question.
“Jesus of Nazareth is coming this way, old man. Now keep out of the way and be quiet!”
A chill ran over Bartimaeus. This is the moment he had been waiting for. He is here!
That’s why he wasted no time but began to call out, “Jesus! Son of David! Over here! Have mercy on me!”
When you’re blind with no one to assist you, you have no way of knowing whether the Lord is standing nearby or a mile off. He could not take a chance on missing Him.
The more they tried to shush him, the louder he called. He would not be deterred.
I admire so much about this man.
As smart as he was, it turns out that Bartimaeus was wiser than he knew. What he had no way of knowing was that this was the Lord’s last trip through Jericho. He was on His final visit to this city. He had a date with destiny, an appointment with a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem.
Jesus would never be back this way again.
This would be Bart’s last chance.
Had Bartimaeus been like some of us, he might have said, “One of these days I’m going to call on Jesus. On some future trip through our city, I’m going to give Him the opportunity to touch my life. But not today.”
There’s plenty of time.
“After all,” he could have reasoned, “Jesus is a young man, barely thirty years old. He has been through Jericho many times before and I’m sure He’ll be back. One day, I must get to Him.”
He would have sat there in his misery and would have missed Jesus.
Today, Scripture says, “if you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” “Now is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation.” (See Hebrews 3:7,14 and 4:7, and Second Corinthians 6:2)
It was all that for Bartimaeus. We do love this story.
But there is a problem with it.
In Luke’s narrative (Luke 18:35-43), the beggar sits by the roadside on the north side of Jericho where he can catch people entering from the Galilee/Capernaum region.
As Mark tells the story (Mark 10:46-52), Bartimaeus sits on the west side of the city where he encounters the Lord as He is leaving the city on the way to Jerusalem.
And Matthew complicates it even more. In Matthew 20:29-34, there are two beggars! And they are sitting where Mark placed them, catching our Lord as He is leaving the city.
What are we to make of this?
Short answer: nothing. It doesn’t bother me in the least. Sorry if my non-concern bothers readers.
The Bible commentaries in my library simply say, “There is no way to account for the discrepancies,” and go on to other matters. That suits me just fine. This, for most of us, is a non-issue.
However. A few things may be said of this…
- Let’s say there are three witnesses to a traffic accident. The police know not to expect their accounts to jive on every tiny detail, otherwise they will assume someone has coached them and the stories are fiction. The accounts differing in tiny details speaks to their authenticity and adds to their believability.
- There is nothing here of major significance. Matthew puts two beggars there. We respond, “There could have been a dozen!” At no point does either Luke or Mark say there were no other beggars in the area. In fact, it would have seemed unlikely for one to have held the territory to himself.
- Matthew and Mark put the beggar at the exit of the city while Luke has him at the entrance. Who is right? There is no way to know. Here are two possibilities –
- Sometimes he sat on one side of the city and sometimes the other. And since this story is being written many years later, no one was certain.
- Bartimaeus used to sit on the west side where he caught people coming from Jerusalem toward his city and leaving his city for Jerusalem. However, that’s how he had missed Jesus on His previous visits. So this time he has positioned himself on the north side of Jericho to catch the Lord as He enters. Then, if it should happen that he misses Jesus, he can always move over to the west side and catch Him on His way out.
I admit to having done this at least once in my life: lying in wait for a celebrity, trying to figure which entrance they would use, where would be the best place to catch them. I did this in the late 1970s in Richmond, Virginia. Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist Jeff MacNelly worked for the Richmond News-Leader and I wanted to meet him. I talked to a security guard who told me where to wait, I stood there, saw him enter the building, walked over, and introduced myself. Alas, he had no time for a groupie, so the conversation was embarrassingly brief and I left.
Anyone who thinks no one would go to so much trouble to meet Jesus a) was not there, b) has never been blind, c) has never noticed what the tax collector Zaccheus did when Jesus actually did enter the city (Luke 19:1ff), and d) is ignoring the faith of the blind beggar, which is the outstanding feature of the man.
But here’s the thing…
If, as critics of Scripture say, the early church leaders colluded to put together this collection of gospels and epistles to form our Bible–that is, if they did it to run a con on humanity–wouldn’t they have whittled off the embarrassing little discrepancies?
But they didn’t. There they are. Left intact. Just as Matthew and Mark and Luke recorded them, no doubt.
And we love it.
Far from undermining the authenticity and dependability of Scripture, it verifies it and strengthens our faith.
We leave this with the exclamation of Moses to Israel found in Deuteronomy 4:7-8, a favorite text of so many of God’s children for thousands of years…
For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
There is no God like Jehovah. And no Word like this Scripture.
How blessed we are.
(Editor's Note: This blog was posted first on Dr. McKeever's blog site HERE)