In Matthew 9:18, a man named Jairus comes to Jesus and says that his daughter is “even now dead” (KJV), or “has just died” (ESV, NASB, NIV). But in Mark 5:23, Jairus claims his daughter “is dying” (NIV), or “is at the point of death” (ESV, NASB). Does this indicate a contradiction?
The answer is in the original Greek from which these passages are translated. In Matthew 9:18, what is translated “has just died” are the words arti hetelentasen (Strongs 737, 5053). The word arti can mean the immediate past (just now) or the immediate present (now). The word hetelentasen means die or death, and is not in present or past tense, but aorist tense, which speaks of the action as a whole without regard to tense. So the phrase can mean, albeit woodenly, “now die.” It is not a past tense, completed action, but the emphasis is speaking of what is at hand.
The Mark 5:23 passage has the words eschatos echo (Strongs 2079, 2192). The term is indeed in the present tense (“is”), but the state being spoken of is “the last” or “the end.” Mark quotes Jairus as saying his daughter is at the end of her life, not that she is in some process leading toward death.
So Matthew is not speaking of past tense, and Mark is not speaking of a future death, but both are speaking of a present condition of the girl being at death’s door.
But even without all the Greek, a simple logical answer prevails. Surely Jairus, in the emotion of the moment, said several things. The Bible never claims to have quoted every single word that everyone says. It often contains a summary quote. So Jairus could very well have talked for at least a minute or two, telling Jesus of what happened to his daughter and asking for Jesus’ help.
It strikes me as unfair for skeptics to latch onto such small distinctions in terms, not only without looking up what the terms mean in the best sources, but also not even treating the Bible with the same respect we would give a modern person who was quoted in the news. To the skeptic who is looking for flaws, they find them where there are none.
In the end, the Bible is once again proven trustworthy, and the skeptics’ excuses once again collapse.
*(all Greek definitions here taken from BDAG)