The Blind Beggar of Jericho: Responding to the Critics of the Bible

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Critics of the Scriptures want to have it both ways.

If they find an inconsistency in Scriptures–the numbers seem not to agree, or a story is told in two different ways, that sort of thing–to them it proves the Bible is man-made, filled with errors, and not to be trusted.  However, when they find no inconsistencies, this proves the church removed all the troublesome aspects of the Bible in order to claim it to be inspired of 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).  My favorite account is the one in Luke 18.

I call this my favorite story in the Bible.

I like to think of Bartimaeus as “the smartest man in town,” even though he is a blind beggar wearing rags, a fellow who needed a bath badly and a haircut seriously.

What makes him so smart, in my thinking, is that while sitting on the roadside outside the city gates of Jericho, he did the wisest thing any of us can do: he kept his mouth shut, kept his ears open, listened to what was going on around him, thought about what he heard, and reasoned it out.  He kept hearing stories about Jesus of Nazareth.  For three years now, the news of Jesus had flowed in from every direction.  You and I might say that “Jesus had gone viral.”  Over and over, people arriving from various communities reported what they had heard Jesus teach, what they saw Him do–healing the sick and raising the dead!–and what they heard others saying about Him. No one had not heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Even the blind beggars.

The most disturbing thing Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus was that He had been through Jericho several times before, on His travels to and from Jerusalem. And each time for some reason, Bart had missed seeing Him.

And that is how the blind beggar of Jericho came to three critical decisions about Jesus: 1) He is the Son of David, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God sent by the Father to save the world from sin; 2) The next time Jesus comes to Jericho, I’m going to meet Him and give Him the opportunity to change my life; and 3) Whatever I have to do to get to Him, I’m willing to do it; nothing is more important than this.

That’s why, when the beggar heard all those trampling feet going by him heading into Jericho, he spoke up. “Who is this? Who’s coming this way?”

Something big was afoot.

Eventually, someone answered the smelly beggar, this embarrassing sight by the roadside.

“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 is here!

And that’s why he commenced to yelling and flailing his arms.

“Jesus! Son of David! Over here! Have mercy on me!”

When you’re blind, you have no way of knowing whether the Lord is standing nearby or a mile off.  Bart could not take a chance on missing Jesus.

The more they tried to shush him, the louder he called. He would not be deterred.

Ya gotta love this man.

I told you he was smart, but he 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 approach to a date with destiny, a cross on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem.

Jesus would never be back this way again.

Bart would never have another chance to meet Jesus.

Had Bartimaeus been like some of us, he would 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 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.”

It was all that for Bartimaeus.  We do love this story.

But there is a problem with it.  It gets complicated. 

In Luke’s narrative (Luke 18:35-43), the unnamed beggar sits by the roadside on the north side of Jericho where he can catch people coming in 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.

And Matthew? He 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?

–1) Short answer: nothing.  It doesn’t bother me in the least.  Sorry if my non-concern is of concern to readers.

My commentaries 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.

–2) However.  A few things may be said of this….

–Let’s say you have three witnesses to a traffic accident. The police know not to expect their accounts to jive on every tiny detail, otherwise they will assume they’ve colluded to get their stories together.  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.  I’ll tell you what I think (which is worth exactly what you are paying for this!).  Bartimaeus used to sit on the west side where he caught people coming from Jerusalem toward his city and leaving his city for Jerusalem.  And that’s how he had ended up missing Jesus on His previous visits. So now–this is just my theory–he has decided to position himself on the north side of Jericho to catch the Lord coming from the north, as He enters.  And, if it should happen that he misses Jesus, he can always move over to the west side and try to get to Him on His way out.

(I have done this–lain 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 Richmond many years ago, in order to meet the Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist Jeff MacNelly.)

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 Zaccheus did as 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.

–One thing more. And this is a biggie. If, as critics of the Scriptures 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.