Did Christ Ride 2 Donkeys or 1 Donkey on Palm Sunday (You may be surprised by the symbolism!)

For years I was confused about Palm Sunday. In Matthew’s Gospel, we read that Christ rode a female donkey and her baby colt. However, in Mark, Luke, and John, we read that Christ rode a donkey without any mention of the her colt. For some reason, I had imagined that Christ rode the she-donkey and the little colt at the same time – wide straddling both. This seems ridiculous, but I didn’t know how else to visualize what Matthew was describing.


I finally found clarity while reading Cornelius a Lapide’s commentary on the passage. According to Lapide, Christ first rode the ass up and down the mount and then rode the colt into the city.

There is a practical reason for this. The she-ass would be stronger and more able to go up and down the terrain. Next, the colt would be able to bring him into the city easily.

Yet there is a mystical signification is this as well. The she-ass and her colt signify “the two sorts of people of which the world is made up—the Jews, accustomed to the yoke of the Mosaic law, who were represented by the ass; and the Gentiles, living up to this time without the Law of God, and who were denoted by the colt.”

The she-ass represents Mother Israel who has been burdened with the Law of Moses. Saint Peter our first Pope described the Mosaic Law as “a yoke…which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10, D-R).

The young colt represents the new and untrained Gentiles – the wild olive branch that the Apostle describes as the Gentiles.

Christ our Lord rode both to signify that both the Jews and the Gentiles were called to be Christophoroi – Christ-bearers.

Now it’s your turn: How did we carry “Christ to the world” in our age. What is the humble donkey or colt in our lives that communicates Christ’s Gospel to others? Please leave a comment.

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  • Shaun McAfee

    What’s cool too is what I read in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, where a speaking colt meets Thomas the Apostle and claims he is the cold from Matthew’s Gospel. Very interested what scholars and Church Fathers have said about this writing. Obviously not inspired, but interesting reading for those who want to understand the apocrypha a little better. Thanks for this Dr.

    • I haven’t read this. What does the apocryphal colt say?

      • Shaun McAfee

        I don’t see my reply here any longer. Was it deleted?

        • If your reply contained a link, it went to our “Comments Purgatory.” All comments with links in them have to be moderated first (so that we don’t get any evil links on the site).

          I hope that’s reasonable.

          • Shaun McAfee

            Oh. Now I see it there. I don’t remember it containing a link but I will keep that in mind in the future.

          • So what does it mean?

          • Shaun McAfee

            There’s a lot of speculation.
            The Acts are said to be Gnostic, but to me, it really doesn’t touch the broader bizzarness of other Gnostic language like the Apocryphon of John. However, if it is, it makes a lot of sense. The Gnostics, as I am sure you know, believed that Jesus was not a man but a spirit. In their negotiation of this, they thought he would be perpetually present on earth through one who was not spiritual but was flesh. They took this to be Thomas. They glamorized him as the “twin Christ” which could mean to them that he was the flesh version of Jesus, on earth.

            We know that Thomas *did* go east, and converted many, but do not have a large amount of information concerning the content of his missionary journey. Could this be the real story of Thomas with some Gnostic influence? Who knows. The early Church didn’t think it was appropriate to be read in Church and so it withered into the hands of the Gnostics, like the Gospel of Thomas – which closely resembles Matthew’s Gospel. They likely adopted these two texts and now we have a version more associated with them, than with an orthodox.

            How’s that?

          • So is the symbolism that Jesus (a gnostic per spirit) did not weigh down the donkey, but Thomas (a gnostic flesh body) did weigh down the donkey. Is that the hidden meaning?

          • Shaun McAfee

            That’s clever. But when I read it it seemed more as if the colt had fulfilled some bit of his heart that was missing but having Thomas ride him. However, in Gnostic text, there is always some interesting intention.

  • Jeremy

    I like Lapide’s solution. He makes religious sense of the historical reality.

    I like Donald Hagner’s solution to the historical reality and the difference in the synoptics:

    Clearly the key to the problem lies in the fact that an unbroken colt (note Mark 11:2, “upon which no one had sat,” which is known to Matthew although omitted by him) was usually introduced into service while accompanied by its parent (on the inseparability of the two, see m B. Bat. 5:3; on the importance of the Judah oracle [Gen 49:11] for the coming of the Messiah, see Blenkinsopp). And the tumult with which Jesus would enter Jerusalem would make such accompaniment all the more necessary (see Winterbotham). There is thus an ipso facto probability that historically two animals were involved in the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

    —Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998, p. 594.

  • MPR

    This was another great post! Thank you, Dr. Marshall!