Jairus's Daughter: Was She Dead or Wasn't She?
All three synoptic gospels relate the story of Jairus's daughter,
whom Jesus allegedly raised from the death. The accounts by Mark
and Luke are in substantial agreement, but Matthew's version differs
in one significant point that cannot be reconciled with the other
two without resorting to typically ridiculous fundamentalist "explanations."
Although the passages are quite long, they all need to be read
to see the problem, so we will look first at the two accounts
that are in basic agreement. An ellipsis will be inserted in each
version to signal omission of the healing of the woman with the
issue of blood, a miracle that allegedly happened while Jesus
was on his way to Jairus's house. All three versions report this
miracle, but it is not relevant to the matter of inconsistency
in the story of Jairus's daughter; hence, it will be omitted in
order to save space and focus attention on inconsistencies about
the raising of Jairus's daughter:
MARK'S VERSION: Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat
to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was
by the sea. And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came,
Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged
him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter lies at the point
of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed,
and she will live." So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude
followed Him and thronged Him.... While He was still speaking,
some came from the ruler of the synagogue's house who said, "Your
daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?"
As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the
ruler of the synagogue, "Do not be afraid; only believe."
And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and
John the brother of James. Then He came to the house of the rule
of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed
loudly. When He came in, He said to them, "Why make this
commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping."And
they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took
the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with
Him, and entered where the child was lying. Then He took the child
by the hand, and said to her, "Talitha, cumi," which
is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." Immediately
the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And
they were overcome with great amazement" (5:21-24, 35-42,
LUKE'S VERSION: So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude
welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him. And behold, there
came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.
And he fell down at Jesus' feet and begged Him to come to his
house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age,
and she was dying....While He was still speaking, someone came
from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him. "Your
daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher."
But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, "Do not
be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well." When
He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter,
James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl. Now all
wept and mourned for her; but He said, "Do not weep; she
is not dead, but sleeping." And they ridiculed Him, knowing
that she was dead.
But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called,
saying, "Little girl, arise." Then her spirit returned,
and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given
something to eat. And her parents were astonished, but He charged
them to tell no one what had happened (8:40-42, 49-56, NKJV).
At this point, the significant thing to notice is that both Mark
and Luke reported that Jairus's daughter was yet alive when her
father came to Jesus to ask for help. This is not the case in
While he spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and
worshiped Him, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come
and lay Your hand on her and she will live." So Jesus arose
and followed him, and so did His disciples....
When Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the flute players
and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, "Make room,
for the girl is not dead, but sleeping." And they ridiculed
Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her
by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out
into all that land (Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26).
The major problem in the story, then, is quite simple: was the
girl dead when her father came to Jesus for help or wasn't she?
Mark said Jairus told Jesus that his daughter was lying _at
the_point_of_death_, and Luke simply said that "she was
dying." Matthew, however, had the girl's father say, "My
daughter _has_just_died_." It couldn't possibly be true
that the girl was both alive and dead at the time Jairus came
to Jesus. She was either dead at the time or she wasn't. If she
was yet alive, then Mark and Luke were right and Matthew was wrong;
if she was dead at the time, then Matthew was right and Mark and
Luke were wrong.
Fundamentalists, of course, will not allow a simple thing like
glaring contradiction to deter them from believing that the Bible
is the inerrant, inspired word of God, so they have an explanation
to offer. Matthew, you see, was writing the story from the point
of view of the girl's death being so certain (if Jesus didn't
intervene) that he had Jairus say, "My daughter has just
died." Inerrantists will usually suggest an analogy like
a basketball team whose star center suffers a serious injury just
before the big game. "We have lost the game," someone
might say under the circumstances, not at all meaning that the
game has already been played and lost but that defeat is certain
without the star player. This, they will argue, is all that Matthew
meant. Jairus's daughter was so ill that death was certain without
divine intervention, so it was appropriate for him to have Jairus
speak figuratively and say, "My daughter has just died."
Mark and Luke, on the other hand, chose to write more literally;
hence, they stated that the girl was in a state of serious illness
but still alive when her father came to Jesus. "So, you see,"
inerrantists will gleefully (and arbitrarily) declare, "there
really is no contradiction here."
Although a how-it-could-have-been explanation like this may satisfy
Bible inerrantists desperately looking for a solution to an embarrassing
problem, it will not satisfy objective minds who can't help noticing
its failure to resolve all problems involved in reconciling the
three accounts of this story. Inconsistency in what Jairus said
to Jesus is just one of several difficulties in the story. Let's
notice, for example, that Mark and Luke both have five elements
in their versions of the story: (1) Jairus came to Jesus to ask
him to help his daughter, (2) Jesus and his disciples then went
with Jairus to his home, (3) on the way there, they were met by
some [Mark] or someone [Luke] coming from Jairus's house who announced
that the daughter had died, (4) Jesus nevertheless continued on
to Jairus's house, and (5) at the house, he raised the girl from
All of these elements are also in Matthew's version _except
number three_. Matthew said nothing about anyone from Jairus's
house meeting Jesus to announce that the girl had died. On this
point, inerrantists will of course argue that omission does not
constitute cotradiction, but I am not citing Matthew's omission
of this detail as proof of contradiction or even inconsistency
but rather to challenge the likeliness of the figurative interpretation
that inerrantists apply to what Matthew's Jairus said to Jesus.
They insist that the statement could have had the figurative meaning
mentioned above, i.e., the death of the girl was certain and imminent
enough to warrant Jairus's saying, "My daughter is dead."
However, Matthew's omission of the message brought by some[one]
from Jairus's house gives sufficient reason to reject their explanation.
Mark and Luke, who began their versions of the story with the
premise that the girl was still alive, stated that Jesus and Jairus
were met by some[one] who announced that the girl had died. Matthew,
on the other hand, who began the story with Jairus saying that
his daughter had just died, said nothing about anyone coming to
announce that the girl was now dead. Why? The answer is simple:
Matthew was telling a story about Jesus going to raise a girl
who was already dead, so it would have made no sense at all to
have some[one] meet him to announce that the girl was dead. He
would have already known that, because it was exactly what Jairus
had said to him: "My daughter has just died." Hence,
Matthew's omission of this detail is sufficient reason to reject
the premise that he wanted readers to understand that Jairus was
speaking figuratively in this version of the story.
Another serious fallacy in this figurative "explanation"
is the obvious fact that Matthew and Mark both purported to tell
what Jairus said to Jesus, as opposed to Luke's indirect method,
which simply stated that the girl "was dying," without
attempting to relate what Jairus had said to express the facts
of her condition. Had all three writers used Luke's method, then
perhaps there would be some merit to the inerrantist attempt to
resolve the problem in the manner stated above; however, the fact
that two of the writers (Mark and Matthew) wrote their accounts
as if to convey what Jairus said to Jesus makes the figurative
"explanation" entirely unsatisfactory. What a person
says is what he says, and two accounts of what someone said can't
both be inerrant accounts unless both use the exact words to convey
what was said.
Let's imagine that someone named Jones should say, "The
sun set yesterday at six-thirty P. M." That being the case,
which of the following statements would be inerrant accounts of
what Jones said?
Yesterday, the sun set at six-thirty P. M.
The sun went down yesterday at six-thirty P. M.
Yesterday, the sun went down at six-thirty P. M.
The sun set yesterday at eighteen hundred thirty hours.
Yesterday, the sun set at eighteen hundred thirty hours.
At six-thirty P. M. yesterday, the sun set.
The sun set yesterday at six-thirty P. M.
Although one could correctly argue that all seven statements accurately
convey the meaning of what Jones said, number seven is obviously
the only statement that could be considered an inerrant account
of what Jones said. This is true because of the fact previously
stated: what a person says is what he says and not something else.
If Jones said, "The sun set yesterday at six-thirty P.M.,"
then he said, "The sun set yesterday at six-thirty P. M."
He didn't say, "Yesterday, the sun set at six-thirty P. M."
or anything else that may accurately state the meaning of what
Fundamentalists will protest that such a position as this demands
more than is necessary in order to have biblical inerrancy. They
insist that inspiration could have been verbal without being dictational,
so to "explain" variations in the way that different
writers recorded the same stories, inerrantists will talk about
personal choices that the writers exercised. To explain, for example,
variations in the gospel narratives concerning the number of people
who went to the tomb on resurrection morning, inerrancy defenders
will say that John chose to tell only about Mary Magdalene, whereas
Matthew chose to give more details about who went to the tomb,
so he informed us that "the other Mary" was with Mary
Magdalene. Mark wanted to give even more information, so he mentioned
Salome too, and Luke, the most detailed writer of them all, added
that Joanna and "other women" were also in the company.
"However, there is no contradiction," inerrantists will
rhapsodize, "just variations in details that resulted from
the writers exercising personal judgments about which details
to include and which to exclude." They apply this reasoning
to various parallel accounts in which details vary from writer
What this argument fails to consider is that, no matter what
vague lines inerrantists may try to draw between "verbal"
and "dictational" inspiration, the doctrine of verbal
inspiration, which is believed by practically all Bible fundamentalists,
virtually eliminates all elements of individual choices. "No
prophecy ever came by the will of man," inerrantists delight
in reminding us, "but men spake from God, being moved by
the Holy Spirit" ([ref001]2 Peter 1:21
). What would the "will of man" be except personal
choices, and that is precisely what the writer of this statement
said had not been involved in prophesying. Rather than speaking
by their own will, those men spoke "from God" as they
were "moved by the Holy Spirit." So individual and personal
choices were not involved.
This conclusion is in complete agreement with what George DeHoff
said in his book _Alleged_Bible_Contradictions_Explained
_ as he discussed the full implications of the doctrine
of verbal inspiration:
The Holy Spirit taught the apostles what to say--what to write.
We have, therefore, the Word of God. If God had wanted another
"i" dotted or another "t" crossed, He would
have had it done. The writers did not use one word unless God
wanted that word used. They put in every word which God wanted
them to put into the Bible (p. 23).
If DeHoff is right, then how would variations _of_any_kind
_ be possible in verbally inspired accounts of the same
incidents? If Mark did not use "one word unless God wanted
that word used" and if the same was true of Matthew and Luke,
why would there be any variations at all in the telling of the
story of Jairus's daughter? Are inerrantists arguing that the
Holy Spirit wanted writer A to use certain words when recording
an event but wanted writer B to use entirely different words when
recording the same event? If so, why? Was the first account that
the Holy Spirit inspired somehow imperfect and thus in need of
improvement when the second account was inspired? This is something
that inerrantists absolutely must explain if they expect anyone
but hopelessly indoctrinated fundamentalists to take seriously
such explanations as the one they offer in the matter of Jairus's
In particular, DeHoff's statement makes variations impossible
in what characters said in verbally inspired parallel accounts
of the same incidents. If Jairus said, "My little daughter
lies at the point of death," as Mark indicated, then he couldn't
even have said, "My daughter is about to die," because
the two statements are not identical, and he certainly could not
have said, "My daughter has just died," as Matthew indicated
in his account. Jairus said what he said (if the incident actually
happened), so no rational person can believe that Mark's and Matthew's
accounts are both verbally inspired, inerrant accounts of what
Jairus said. To argue otherwise is to put one in the ridiculous
position of claiming that the omniscient, omnipotent Holy Spirit
verbally inspired Mark to say that Jairus said that his daughter
was still alive and then later verbally inspired Matthew to say
that Jairus said that his daughter was dead. So the problem would
remain unresolved even if we could determine beyond question that
Matthew meant for his readers to understand that Jairus was speaking
figuratively, because if he did indeed speak figuratively to Jesus
(Matthew's version), then he couldn't have spoken literally (Mark's
version). By necessity, one writer had to have recorded his words
inaccurately. Only a Bible fundamentalist can see merit in such
irrational, straw-grasping "solutions" as the one offered
to "explain" the problem in this story.
When this point is applied to other uses of dialogue in the different
accounts of the story of Jairus's daughter, we see the same problem.
Mark, for example, had the messenger(s) from Jairus's house saying,
"Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?"
whereas Luke had them saying, "Your daughter is dead. Do
not trouble the Teacher." Although inerrantists will dismiss
this point as a quibble, I must insist that it is a legitimate
objection. If we remember that what a person _says_
is what he says, the legitimacy of the objection is apparent.
If DeHoff is right and Bible writers did not use "one word
unless God wanted that word used," then we must wonder why
the Holy Spirit would not have wanted both inspired writers to
use the exact words that the messenger(s) spoke when they announced
that Jairus's daughter was dead. As a matter of fact, Mark and
Luke both used the exact same words in recording what the messenger(s)
said in their first sentence: ""Your daughter is dead."
So if the Holy Spirit could inspire this kind of exactness in
one sentence, why not in the next? It is a problem that inerrantists
A simple analogy will demonstrate the obviousness of this point.
Let's suppose that two reporters at the scene of a fire witness
someone in flames running from the house, shouting, "Help
me! Help me! Somebody please help me!" Since the reporters
are both professionals, we can reasonably assume that they want
to report accurately what happened. However, in writing her story,
one reporter said that the person on fire shouted, "Please
help me! Somebody please help me!" whereas the other one
wrote that the person screamed, "Help me please! Please help
me, somebody!" Although both reporters wrote accurate accounts
of what happened, neither one wrote an inerrant account, because
neither one reported _exactly_ what the person shouted. We
would understand that the failure to report the exact words of
the person on fire was due to human fallibility. No one, however,
would believe that the failure to report exactly what was said
was an intentional matter of choice, for what professional journalist
would purposely report what he knew wasn't accurate? In other
words, if the reporters had been able to recall exactly what the
person had screamed, they undoubtedly would have both reported
his exact words.
Now let's apply this to the matter of what Jairus said to Jesus.
If Jairus really did come to Jesus and ask for help, he had to
have said something. An omniscient, omnipotent deity would have
known exactly what Jairus had said, so if this deity later verbally
inspired three people to write accounts of what Jairus had said,
all three accounts would have attributed the exact same words
to Jairus. If not, why not? So the fact that all three accounts
did not use identical words in reporting what Jairus said to Jesus,
what the messenger(s) said to Jairus, what Jesus said to the mourners
at Jairus's house, and what Jesus said to the girl when ordering
her to arise, we can know that the three accounts can't _all
_ be verbally inspired.
We can probably expect inerrantists to resort to their old standby:
"If three people witness an accident, the police reports
that they file will contain variations...." Yes, this is
true, but inerrantists who use this argument conveniently forget
one important thing: the three people who witness the accident
are not verbally inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity while
they are writing their police reports. If they were, we would
have reason to expect all three accounts to be in perfect agreement.
Variations in the three versions of the story of Jairus's daughter
is just the tip of a biblical-inconsistency iceberg. The fact
that parallel accounts in the Bible so often vary, sometimes significantly,
in reporting what characters allegedly said is more than sufficient
to reject the claim that the Bible was verbally inspired by an
omniscient, omnipotent God.