As I began this series of posts exploring whether the New Testament was a reliable and consistent source of information I had originally planned to make the 2nd post about the crucifixion and resurrection. Well, I ran into a little snag here, namely the crucifixion and events leading up to it was a topic in and of itself, as will be the resurrection. So, what was originally going to be a 3 part series will now be a 4 part series.
The intent of this series is to give Christians a look into the world of historical and textual criticism of the bible. The contradictions and inconsistencies are vast. At some point Christians must lay down their apologetic arms and come to terms with the fact that the bible is not a perfect, inerrant work. Today I am going to be discussing clear cut inconsistencies and errors in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
I shall begin with the trial. There are many inconsistencies here, starting with what does Jesus say in response to the question from Pilate "Are you King of the Jews?" Was it "Thou sayest it" as in Mark(Mark 15:2),Matthew(Matthew 27:11, which actually says thou sayest), and Luke(Luke 23:3) or does he say "Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?" as in John(John 18:34). That is just a slight difference, but from there on out we have a more drastic difference. After this round of questioning how does Jesus respond from here on out. Does he say nothing as in Mark(Mark 15:4-6), Matthew(Matthew 27:12_14) or does he continue on to say: "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." as in John(John 18:36). He could not have said nothing and this, either the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke are right or John is right,but someone has to be wrong. This trial is a mess all around. When does Jesus get flogged after the trial as in Mark(Mark 15:15) or during the trial as in John(19:1). One more part of the trial we will discuss is the fact that the custom of releasing prisoners like Pilate did for Barabbus was not in the real Pilates nature. This historical information just does not make sense with what we know about Pilate and Roman history. There are many more problems with the trial but I will leave it at that.
Now we move on route to crucifixion, is Jesus talking or silent, who carries his cross? These questions are left up in the air by the gospels since, get this, they have different answers depending on which author you are reading. When walking to the be crucified is he silent like in Mark and Matthew or is he talking like in Luke(Luke 23:28) were he says to a group of woman "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children." We also have a contradiction of who carries the cross. In Mark(Mark 15:21), Matthew(Matthew 27:32), and Luke(Luke 23:26)or did Jesus carry the cross himself as in John(John 19:17). These things simply cannot be rectified. They are not saying the same thing, one or the other is simply wrong.
Now onto the actual crucifixion, where we find other clear problems. Firstly, Luke(Luke 23:34) is the only one to note Jesus says anything while being nailed to the cross he says a prayer, the others simply have him not saying anything. I will actually be coming back to this later, but we move forward. On the cross there lies different inscriptions:
This is Jesus the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:37)
The King of the Jews (Mark 15:26)
This is the King of the Jews (Luke 23:38)
Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews (John 19:19)
That is a small difference yes, but it does once again mean not all the gospels are right. We can now turn our attention to how the 2 thieves(Mark 15:27,Matthew 27:28,Luke 23:32, and John 19:18) treated Jesus. In Mark and Matthew the two thieves both mock Jesus(Mark 15:32,Matthew 27:44), while in Luke one of the two thieves comes to Jesus defense, even saying that Jesus had done nothing wrong(Luke 23:40-43). These 2 views are next to impossible to reconcile and again I shall return to this in a bit. Finally, during the crucifixion what are Jesus' final words? There appears 3 different variations:
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"(Mark 15:34)
'Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?' that is to say, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' ...Jesus, when he cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost."(Matthew 27:46-50)
"Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit"(Luke 23:46)
"It is finished"(John 19:30)
Now, I hear your apologetic minds working right now, but both Luke and John say he said his phrase and gave up the ghost, meaning he died right after saying different last words. On the other hand, you could say you have a little wiggle room with Mark and Matthew as they have him taking a drink of vinegar and crying out again and then giving up the ghost(Mark 15:35-37, Matthew 27:47-50). The fact is out of 4 different gospels he says 3 different things as his last words. There is also contradictory reports of when the curtain of the temple was ripped. Matthew and Mark have the curtain ripped after Jesus dies(Matthew 27:50-51; Mark lS:37-38) Luke says it tore before his death(Luke 23:45-46). There is also the little issue of Matthew talking about resurrecting corpses and an earthquake that is not documented elsewhere throughout history(Matthew 27:51-53). It is reasonable to believe that these events would have drawn a bit of attention, but not even his contemporaries Mark, Luke, or John seemed to be aware of these big events.
As I have been saying I would get back to several comments made by Jesus in Luke. If you have been paying attention, the quotes attributed to Jesus are those of a man who knows what is happening to him a man who is cool and collected. He is not in any sense distraught. Where as in Mark particularly Jesus is distraught. All one needs to do is compare the last words of Jesus in each. In Mark Jesus is asking why god has forsaken him, in Luke Jesus is telling god he is coming to him. It takes a great deal of mental gymnastics to think that these 2 phrases portray the same character. You can look back at the quotes attributed to Jesus by Luke that we have reviewed and see these quotes also portray the same mental state of being aware of his mission and knowing what is happening. The final words of Jesus in Mark and Matthew have always been a problem for Christians because they do not show a man who is making a voluntary sacrifice, but a man who thinks god has left him. Whether this be from this simple theological problem or the problem of dealing with early sects of Gnostic Christians who believed Jesus had 1 part human and one part god, both being 100%, but the god part left the man to be on the cross. This verse seemed to justify their views that the god part had left him.
Alright, now I am going to look at the time table for these events. Did the events happen before the passover or after the passover. Mark says after,where as John(John 13:29, John 18:28, John 19:14) say before. The 2 dates cannot be reconciled. These 2 accounts also do not get the the time right, at 6 on the day of crucifixion Mark has Jesus on the cross(Mark 15:23), while John has Jesus still in the court at this time(John 19:14).
So, once again I say put away the apologetic books and come to grips with the reality that the bible does contain contradictions and irreconcilable differences. The book is a book written by men with different views and who made things up for their own purposes.