Mr. Dough specifically pointed out that not all of the alleged contradictions in the gospels can be addressed through the possibility of multiple events. Mr. Dough pointed to the issue of two passages in the gospels in which Jesus curses a fig tree and it dies.
Here are the two passages.
And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, "No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever." And his disciples heard it.Account 2
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, "Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves." And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city.
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, "Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away."
And Jesus answering saith unto them, "Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses."
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, "It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.There are some undeniable similarities between the accounts. In both cases, Jesus is coming out of Bethany, he curses a fig tree and it dies. The disciples notice the dead fig tree and marvel. Jesus uses the occasion to teach them a lesson that includes reference to the idea that whatever you pray for in faith you will receive.
And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David;" they were sore displeased,
And said unto him, "Hearest thou what these say?"
And Jesus saith unto them, "Yea; have ye never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise'?"
And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there. Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever." And presently the fig tree withered away.
And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, "How soon is the fig tree withered away!"
Jesus answered and said unto them, "Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
How about the alleged contradictions?
Mr. Dough kindly provides us with a table of alleged contradictions or, as he expresses it, "salient differences." The following is based on his table:
|(1) Chronological Order|
|(2) Time the tree withered||Immediately after Jesus cursed it||Unspecified but within a day|
|(3) When the disciples heard the cursing||On the morning after the temple cleansing||On the morning before the temple cleansing|
|(4) Who commented on the withering||disciples||Peter|
|(5) When the disciples saw the withered tree for the first time||By implication of their comment, immediately after Jesus cursed it.||About a day after Jesus cursed it.|
|(6) Comment on disciples' frame of mind||They were amazed||Peter remembered|
|(7) What they said about it||"How did the fig tree wither immediately?"||"Look, the fig tree you cursed has withered."|
There are really two categories of differences between the events: those unrelated to the timing of the event and those related to the timing of the event. Those unrelated to the timing (4, 6, and 7) are relatively easily resolved. Peter can remember and say one thing while the other disciples are amazed and say something similar. In fact, Peter (speaking for the rest) could say both things. These are differences, yes, but relatively trivial and easily resolved.
The remaining items relate to the timing of events. In dealing with that, perhaps it makes sense to point out here that the area "outside Jerusalem" mentioned in Mark's account could be Bethany. Bethany is an area outside but near Jerusalem, about "fifteen furlongs" from the city (John 11:18), home to Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3) as well as Lazarus (John 11:1; 12:1).
With that in mind, the following harmony is one possibility:
|1. Temple cleansing|
|2. Overnight in Bethany||1. Overnight in Bethany|
|3. Cursing of fig tree||2. Cursing of fig tree|
|3. Temple cleansing|
|4. Overnight in outside of Jerusalem|
|4. Disciples comment on the withered fig tree||5. Disciples comment on the withered fig tree|
If we follow this resolution, there is a single cursing of a single fig tree and a single time that the disciples comment on it. There are two overnight stays near Jerusalem (as explicitly indicated in Mark). The only thing not explicitly stated in the texts that would be necessary for this harmonization to work would be that Jesus would have to cast the money changers out of the temple twice. Of course, it is entirely possible that Jesus twice (or more - see Luke 19:45-46 and John 2:13-15) cleansed the temple of the money changers. After all, are the money changers going to leave and never come back because someone drove them out one day?
And moreover while it did not make it into Mr. Dough's chronology, Mark does indicate that Jesus was in the temple on the previous day:
Mark 11:11 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.
That passage mentions him observing what was happening there, but (we must admit) it does not mention him disrupting the moneychangers. Still, there is certainly nothing in the text that would render it impossible that Matthew's account refers to a first day, particularly since the Mark 11:11 mention of Jesus in the temple appears to come right after Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem (as also does Matthew's account).
There are still two or three remaining objections to this harmony. The first objection (item 2 in Mr. Dough's list of seven) is that Mark says that the fig tree withered immediately. Of course, the fig tree withering by the next day is "immediately" in horticultural terms. Is the Greek word "παραχρῆμα" capable of such a meaning? It seems to be.
The second objection (item 3 in Mr. Dough's list of seven) is the relation between the temple cleansing and when the disciples heard the cursing. However, this objection is resolved if there are two temple cleansings.
The third objection (item 5 in Mr. Dough's list of seven) is the relation of the cursing and the disciples hearing it. Mr. Dough alleges that it is implied in Matthew's account that they saw it immediately. However, Matthew merely says "And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!" without specifying whether the disciples saw it immediately or the next day.
Hopefully this illustrates how a relatively simple explanation (namely that Christ twice - at least - cleansed the temple of moneychangers) can resolve the apparent contradiction with respect to the chronological order.
As Mr. Dough pointed out there are other ways in which the two accounts can be harmonized. For example, these could be entirely separate events a year apart or Jesus could have cursed the fig tree once and then again, with the fig tree withering immediately the second time. The two years solution is easy, but Jesus' triumphal entry seems like a one-time event. It's not intuitively pleasing to us to think it happened twice. Likewise, two cursings would make Peter's reaction of "remembering" an odd result, as also it would make Jesus' seeking fruit on the already-cursed tree an odd action.
Incidentally, for what it's worth, while I carefully examined the Scripture to come to the conclusions I present above, after doing so I sought out the counsel of one of the greatest Scriptural commentators, John Gill (died 1771). Had I done so in the first place I would have arrived at the same conclusion (see Gill's commentary on these passages). It is remarkable that Gill's 200 year old solution to the problem was unknown to Mr. Dough, but I blame the modern skeptics who are promoting these alleged contradictions, not my friend Mr. Dough (who could expect him to exhaustively survey all the Reformed scholarship on the subject?).