The first post in this series can be found here.
The gospels are usually viewed as simply 4 equally true perspectives of the same events. But upon closer inspection, many of their differences are not just differences in perspective; often, they are contradictory. We’ve discussed a some of these issues already, but there are a few in relation to Jesus’s crucifixion that really stand out.
We’re told that when Jesus was crucified, he was mocked by a sign that hung above him, proclaiming him to be the “King of the Jews.” But the four gospels tell us that it said four different things: Mark 15:26 says, “The King of the Jews.” Matthew 27:37 says, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Luke 23:38 says, “This is the King of the Jews.” And John 19:19 says, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
Granted, all four of these versions mean the same thing. But if there was just one sign, then it only said one thing. Why are there four different versions of what it says? If these were accounts just written by men, then it would be understandable for them to remember them slightly differently. But Christians believe that the Bible is verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit. Why would he give four different versions of the same sign?
Time of Death
Another discrepancy that might be surprising concerns the time of day that Jesus was crucified. John 19:14 shows us that Jesus was standing before Pilate when he was given the sentence of crucifixion, and the writer tells us that it was “about the sixth hour.” Of course, Jewish day started at sundown (or 6pm). They had twelve hours of night and twelve hours of daylight. So, when John 19 says it was “about the sixth hour,” Jews would have understood this to mean around noon.
Mark 15:25 says, “And it was the third hour when they crucified him.” Of course, this would have been at 9am. Verse 33 says, “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
The problem is apparent. Mark says they started crucifying Jesus at 9am, darkness fell across the land at noon, and at 3pm the darkness lifted and Jesus died. But John has Jesus standing before Pilate at noon. How can both accounts be true?
The common answer is that John is using Roman time, so that when he says “about the sixth hour,” he actually means 6am. This would certainly take care of the issue. However, there’s nothing in John to make us think that he’s using Roman time. Plus, John seems to use Jewish time in another place:
Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
– John 1:38-39
This passage really only makes sense when counting time in the Jewish format. The disciples deciding to stay with him indicates that it was getting late in the day. If we are using Roman time, then the time of day would only be 10am. Obviously, that doesn’t really fit the passage. We could say that it’s 10pm, but that seems highly unlikely for a culture without electricity (plus, it says they stayed with him that “day,” instead of specifying night). But 4pm, the Jewish 10th hour, fits the scenario very well. If he used Jewish time here, why would he change it in chapter 19 without telling us?
Day of Death
But even if we ignore the inconsistencies with the time of Jesus’ death, it’s harder to ignore the day of it. Mark 14:12 tells us that Jesus’ disciples went to prepare the upper room for him on the day that the Passover lamb was sacrificed. This would be the day before Passover. In verse 17, we’re told that Jesus met with his disciples that evening, which would have been Passover. They ate their meal, and Jesus was arrested that night. According to Mark 15, Jesus was tried before Pilate that morning, and his crucifixion was begun at 9am that day. He was dead by 3pm on the Passover (Mk 15:33-38).
But John tells it differently. John 18:28 says:
Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.
From this passage, it’s obvious that Passover had not arrived yet. In John 19 Jesus is receiving his sentence from Pilate, and verse 14 says, “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour.”
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree that Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover. John says it was the day before. I recommend taking your time to go through the different accounts. The implications are pretty clear.