Did the tree that Jesus cursed wither immediately or overnight?

Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:14, 20

  1. Immediately (Matthew 21:19)--"Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered."
  2. Overnight (Mark 11:14, 20)--"He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" And His disciples were listening. . .20As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up."

This "contradiction" is one of the more problematic. If you look at the chart below, you will see that that the areas in blue are difficult to reconcile if we look at them in a strictly chronological manner. One answer I have discovered says that Matthew writes thematically and often grouping topics together without a detailed focus on chronology where Mark does not. In other words, Matthew simply compressed the event to a single instance in order to make the point about the necessity of bearing fruit. Therefore, Matthew's account is not meant to be chronological but thematic and that it is Mark's account that presents the chronological order. This is certainly a possible solution. However, the weakness of this answer is in Matthew's use of the phrase "at once the fig tree withered" in 21:19. If Matthew's account is not intended to be chronologically precise, that is one thing that I can accept since it does indeed occur in Matthew. But, the phrase which tells us the fig tree withered "at once" is stating it was immediate. This doesn't leave much room for the fig tree to wither overnight. But, if Matthew were compressing the incident, then the immediacy would be evident.

Another possibility is that there are two different fig trees that were cursed. I don't think this is a viable option if you look at the chart below. But it is a possibility.

Yet another possibility is that in Matt. 21:19, it is not said how much the tree withered. It could be that the tree showed immediate signs of withering but had not completely withered. Then, in Mark 11:14, 20 the next morning the disciples saw that the tree had withered from the root up. In other words, the withering was complete.

Jesus was obviously using the Fig Tree as a symbol as He taught. His condemnation of the fig tree for not bearing fruit is actually a condemnation upon the Jewish leadership and their spiritual deadness. Note the context of Christ cleansing the temple (Mark 11:15-17) and His quote from Isaiah 56:7 and Jer. 7:11. The fig tree was used elsewhere in scripture symbolically for leaders (Judges 9:10-11), fortifications (Nahum 3:12), in parables (Matt. 24:32ff), etc. If Jesus were using the Fig Tree as a symbol, then either Matthew or Mark could easily take liberties in focusing on the issue of the meaning of the story rather than recounting a chronological event.

Nevertheless, the account does pose a challenge to the doctrine of inerrancy. But, does this mean that the Bible is not trustworthy or not inspired? Not at all. We do not give up on physics or mathematics or astronomy if we find things we cannot easily explain. The Bible is a wondrous and beautiful book, and it will always stand the test of time. As archaeology continues and older and better manuscripts are found, then, as has happened in the past, more and more biblical discrepancies will be answered.

Matthew Mark
    11:12 On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry.
Curse of the fig tree

 

"May no one ever eat fruit from you again!"

  11:13 Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
11:14 He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" And His disciples were listening.
at the temple and overturns tables 21:12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.
21:13 And He said to them, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER '; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN."
11:15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves;
11:16 and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.
11:17 And He began to teach and say to them, "Is it not written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS'? But you have made it a ROBBERS' DEN."
They wanted to kill Him. 21:14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.
21:15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David ," they became indignant
21:16 and said to Him, "Do You hear what these children are saying ?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes ; have you never read, 'OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF'?"
11:18 The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.
out of
the city
21:17 And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. 11:19 When evening came, they would go out of the city.

Next Day

 
in the morning 21:18 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 11:20 As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.
No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." 21:19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered.
21:20 Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, "How did the fig tree wither all at once ?"
 
the tree withered   11:21 Being reminded, Peter said to Him, "Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered."
faith, mountain be moved 21:21 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen. 11:22 And Jesus answered saying to them, "Have faith in God.
11:23 "Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.
all things you ask believing . . . 21:22 "And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." 11:24 "Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.


All scripture quotes are from the NASB.

 

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