In the Gospel according to Matthew an account is presented where Jesus, after cleansing the temple, finds a fig tree with no fruit; and curses it, causing it to wither (Matthew 21:12-19). In the Gospel according to Mark, the events appear to happen in a different order. In Mark’s account, Jesus withers the fig tree while leaving Bethany before going to cleanse the Temple (Mark 11:12-15). Is there a reasonable explanation for this seeming contradiction?
This problem can be cleared up upon a closer examination of these two accounts.
In Mark’s account we are seeing the event from a chronological perspective. First, Jesus and his disciples go into Jerusalem, where Jesus saw what was happening at the temple Mark (11:1-11). Then, because it was late; we see them go back to Bethany for the night (Mark 11:11). Then, on the next day, they went back to Jerusalem where Jesus would cleanse the temple, and on the way, He cursed the fig tree (Mark 11:12).
Matthew’s account is focused more on topic than it is on chronology. Matthew separates the two events into two stories, by first giving his account of the cleansing of the temple; and then describing the cursing of the fig tree. Matthew condenses the two separate visits to the temple, which took place over two days, into the singular account of the cleansing of the temple. Since the cursing of the fig tree happened in between the two visits to the temple, Matthew went on to this topic after he described the cleansing of the temple, because it is a separate event.
Matthew’s description of the fig tree even is consistent with his style when narrating the encounter between Jesus and the centurion, where he condensed the story as if the centurion personally met Jesus (Matthew 8:5) compared to Luke who detailed that the centurion sent a delegation to Jesus (Luke 7:3).