Matthew seems to mention two people (or animals) where other Gospels mention just one, e.g.

Why does Matthew sometimes have pairs where the other Synoptics have individuals?

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    I think "Why does Matthew double people?" is a poor way to phrase the question. It seems to imply (when I read it) that Matthew has described one person as two. Wouldn't "Why does Matthew record two people?" sound better?
    – Dave Alger
    Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 7:55
  • @DaveAlger: yes, that is more accurate. I was opting for attention grabbing with a dash of humour. Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 9:41
  • 6
    Really? Humour? On the Interwebs?! Whatever next ;)
    – Dave Alger
    Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 11:50
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    Matthew also describes Jesus as riding two animals into Jerusalem for his triumphal entry.
    – user391
    Commented Jan 29, 2012 at 0:23
  • He is cross-eyed and therefore has double vision and actually sees two people. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 22:17

6 Answers 6


There are a few suggestion as to why Matthew describes two people compared to the single person in the Markan and Lukan accounts.

  • That Matthew is implying that there were other exorcisms (e.g. Mark 1:23ff) or blind-healings (e.g. Mark 8:22ff) and uses extras to compensate
  • That it's introduced to provide symmetry as a 'popular folk motiff' (this from, I believe, R. Bultmann)
  • To make the miracles seem more impressive
  • To play on the idea that with two people (and therefore two witnesses) the story is more credible.
  • There were two men there.

The mechanical "+1s" to imply additional events seems unwarranted from general reading of Matthew (and indeed that he does describe other blind healings (i.e. Matt 9). The symmetry reading seems hard to support given that symmetry isn't really created in these accounts.

It's hard to see, in the context of Matthew's gospel, that adding an extra person will make the miracles much greater. There are other healing miracles. Is removing a demon from one person easier than two?

The witness idea is interesting, but does potentially ignore the fact that there are clearly other people witnessing this event.

So, we come back to the traditional Christian understanding that Matthew simply records two because two people were there. Whether one accepts Matthews eye-witness status or not, Matthew has received the tradition that there were two men in these incidents.

The question then becomes "why did Mark and Luke only mention one?" I'd say that here there are two things to bear in mind here: one is that in order to tell the story one does not need to mention the number of healings or exorcisms that took place. That they happened is perhaps Mark and Luke's focus. Additionally in the blind-healings it's interesting that Mark gives Bartimaeus his name and perhaps therefore, as the man is known it seems unnecessary to write "Bartimaeus and another blind man".

  • +1 I like your answer. You mention several elaborated possibilities and at the end you appeal to simple reality: there were just two(!) :). I think, it is a basic principle for bible hermeneutics: simplicity first. Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 20:23

Other gospels simplified

If you accept Matthean priority, the question becomes, "Why did Mark and Luke halve people?" It's even simpler than that since Luke usually prefers Mark's text. Robert Dean Luginbill (author and curator of Ichthys.com) argues:

There were two, so Matthew gives two. But the fact of "two" raises questions which a concentration on the more significant "one" in Mark alleviates (getting to the point without complicating things for the new convert: a valid technique with God's apparent stamp of approval). Take the donkey and the colt. Yes there were the two, but of course Jesus rode one. And why two? To fulfill in every respect in a way that would be unmistakable the Zechariah prophecy, an unmistakable sign to all who watched Him ride into Jerusalem that day on a donkey's colt with a second donkey in tow (Zech.9:9; and cf. Gen.49:11). The two mounts are also symbolic of the two advents of our Lord (cf., Rev.19:11; and possibly also of the soon to included gentile portion of the Church added to Israel: Peter was ministering to a gentile audience). Jesus rode into Jerusalem once as the suffering Servant, and at the Second Advent He will come on a white horse as the conquering Messiah (exactly what the crowd who welcomed Him with hosannas was expecting in 33 A.D.). But to include all this in Mark meant explaining the issues involved in interpreting Old Testament prophecy and explaining the expectations of Jewish believers at the time of His crucifixion, both of which were likewise completely foreign to the Roman mind (they still sometimes cause difficulties for new Christians today).

So for shortness, simplicity, and to avoid making issues of things which, while important, were not as important as the basic message of the gospel, Mark was written as it was—the truth put in a way to make truth the issue.

The Third Man factor

Since I prefer Markan priority, Matthew's account requires a different explanation. One or more of his sources might have experienced the Third Man factor. A number of anecdotes suggest that in times of extreme danger, people occasionally notice a person accompanying their party who is a stranger. T. S. Elliot described an incident of this phenomena (which Sir Ernest Shackleton experienced on South Georgia Island):

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you? —The Waste Land, lines 360-366

Perhaps more relevant to the New Testament, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were visited by another person when Nebuchadnezzar tried to immolate them. The term "Third Man" is a bit of a misnomer, since the vision is usually of one extra person in the group. There are spiritual explanations to these visions, but there's also a psychological aspect: in times of great stress, it can be helpful to know that we are supported by other people. That remains true even if we know that those people cannot physically help us.

Unfortunately, with the possible exception of the demoniac(s) of Gadarenes, the situation does not fit the usual profile of the Third Man. There was no particular danger (physically or otherwise) in healing the various blind men and there's no precedent for a "Third donkey". This theory is doubly problematic if you believe (as I do) that Matthew was an eye witness to these events. The curious thing about the Third Man syndrome is that the witness know the extra person was a vision and are not confused about the number of people who were physically there. Since Matthew had access to Mark (and knew that some of his

Graded numerical parallelism

It's possible that Matthew was enterprising a poetic technique by adding extra people to his accounts. If so, he wrote knowing that some of his readers were familiar with Mark's biography of Jesus and noted especially important incidents by using a numerical ladder. With this understanding, the healing of the blind was so important that Matthew not only doubled the number of people Jesus healed, but doubled the incident itself. Mark 10:46-52 identifies the blind man as Bartimaeus and Matthew seems to have used aspects of his story (especially the title "Son of David") in several places.

We need not conclude that Matthew exaggerated or fabricated the details of his narrative. Since Jesus clearly healed many people of blindness and demon possession, so the healings Mark (and later Matthew) decided to fill out into detailed stories are representative. Jesus might have healed many blind people at Jericho, but Mark only described one. Matthew, therefore can be seen as restoring the scale of the miracles without sacrificing (too much) descriptions of Jesus' personal touch.


Unfortunately, we can't know for certain why Matthew occasionally, used two individuals when Luke and Mark used one. The above is largely speculative. The explanation is substantially simpler if Matthew was the first gospel as it's easier to imagine later accounts simplifying the stories rather than expanding them.


The example of Matthew mentioning two people (and animals) where Mark and Luke consistently agree on just one, is strong supporting evidence for Markan priority. It is only remotely possible that the authors of both Mark and Luke would both, so consistently, alter Matthew's mention of two, assuming Matthean priority, but quite feasible that the author of Matthew would choose at times and for his own reasons, to double the number he found in Mark's Gospel.

Daniel J. Harrington (The Gospel of Matthew, page 290) says that there has been no satisfactory explanation for Matthew's fondness for such doublings. One popular suggestion is that the doublings provide emphasis, although this is not entirely clear. At this stage, we must acknowledge that any explanation will only be speculative.

The exorcism event near Gedara occurred shortly after Jesus stilled the storm, so there can only have been one such exorcism, either of one demoniac or two. There is no doubt that both Mark and Luke say there was one wild demoniac, because we are even told his name, but Matthew describes there as being two of them. Similarly, where Mark (and Luke) specifically describe the healing of blind Bartimaeus near Jericho, Matthew tells us that Jesus healed two blind men. I note that in these cases, doubling means that Matthew can discreetly omit the name 'Legion' by which the demons answer Jesus, and in the second case the strangely Aramaic-Greek name 'Bartimaeus'. Dennis R. Macdonald points out in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark that both names, along with some context that Matthew omits, are suggestive of Greek mythology. Perhaps this points to one possible explanation for Matthew's doublings.

The doubling of the animals in Matthew 21:7 is easier to explain:

Matthew 21:7: And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.

Mark 11:1-11 and Luke 19:29-38, there is only a single colt, onto which the disciples cast their garments so that Jesus would ride it into Jerusalem, but in Matthew there are an ass and it foal upon both of which the disciples cast their garments, and Jesus seems to ride on both at once.
The author of Matthew is well known for his use of the Old Testament, and this is an instance where he knew that Zechariah 9:9 referred to an ass and her foal and he was prepared to make his account harmonise with the ancient scripture:

Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.


Matthew uses two as a stylistic way of giving more credibility to what he wrote. Remember he is writing to those with a Jewish background. If one notices that in most cases Hebrew word order is used. It is much like we hear children saying in conversations with one another like "my dad is better than your dad. No my dad is twice as good as your dad.

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics SE, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other SEs. Our community looks for answers to reflect a good degree of research and references. Typically, we like answers that cite scholarly references and/or explain how your interpretation arises from the text. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. I believe this answer is correct, just incomplete and without good sources. Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 0:38

I think often the scriptures leaves a place for you and me. It also leaves room to consider what happened to the other man that the demons was removed from? Where are the nine? Could Mark be following the storyline of the one held and following Jesus? The other may have had demons removed, but simply wanted but did not really want that form of freedom?

I often think of Jesus asking the disciples in the boat "children have you any meat?" He names the disciples until the last two words "and two other". perhaps for you and me to be on that boat as well?

I think often in sanctification we want to follow Jesus until it disrupts what we think we know about something. Then we all have seemed to go astray for a while until we return to Him!

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    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 19:24

One one the primary observations when using the methods of Sensus Plenior is that when two things are closely associated, they represent a physical and spiritual nature of a single thing. Milk and honey, soul and spirit, etc. As such, when there are two in the field and one is taken, it does not signify that 50% of people will be saved. It merely says the body is separated from the spirit when you drop dead. It is suggestive that the rapture happens at the time of death for each of us as we pass from time to timeless eternity, therefore no single time can be given for his return.

Add to this a tradition that the order of writing was Mark, Matthew, Luke John. Each author demonstrates a better handling of the "mystery" than the previous authors, as they continued to study and learn how to read the OT properly in the context of the resurrection.

Mark starts with the teaching of John. Matthew moves the beginning of the story back to Abraham. Luke moves it to Adam. John moves it to Genesis 1:1.

Each demonstrates a greater knowledge of the mystery, and uses hermeneutic tools not used previously. In the gap between Abraham and John, Matthew's new tool set can be observed. Between Adam and Abraham, Luke demonstrates new hermeneutical skills. And by far, John is the most accomplished, having more years to study than the previous authors.

John is able to tease much of his doctrine from the first three words of Genesis 1:1 including but not limited to: In the beginning was the Word The Word was with God The Word was God The Son was the Word He was the light He was the life He was the bread No man has seen the Father Only the Son makes him known From the beginning there was a covenant with man From the beginning the Son was totally devoted From the beginning the were 6 testimonies (3 in heaven and three on earth) That his work was finished on the cross.

Mark had largely related the literal events. Matthew began to explain the hidden mystery, and understood the meaning of the duality.

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