Problem: A girl is dead or not quite dead
Verses: Matthew 9:18, Mark 5:23, Luke 8:42; Status: Minor

Jesus is reported to have brought several people back from the dead. Here is Matthew 9:18:

While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live." (ESV)

And here's a description of the same thing in Mark 5:23:

Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live." (ESV)

So in Matthew she is already dead, whereas in Mark it seems she is merely close to death. Luke agrees with Mark that the girl was still alive at this point. This is Luke 8:41-42:

And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus' feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying. (ESV)

Although Luke doesn't quote the man directly, it seems plain that he didn't think his daughter was dead yet. Furthermore, in later verses of both Mark and Luke, the man is informed that his daughter has now died, implying that he had previously thought she was alive.

It's not totally impossible that he spoke both sentences, perhaps in his grief, so I am calling this problem Minor for now.

However, by far the more likely explanation is that Matthew has altered the story slightly. Note that he also omits the later news that the girl has died, which of course he must do to make his new version coherent.

Updated: 2009-02-28

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