Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Contradictions Part 8: The Crucifixion

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.

The Inscription
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.

132 thoughts on “Contradictions Part 8: The Crucifixion”

  1. Good point on the differing days. Exodus 12 & 13 describe the passover and the ensuing feats of Unleavened Bread, but I always found them hard to determine if the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the same day, or if they were the same feast altogether. Leviticus 23 actually clarified this question for me. It says that the Passover was to be observed on the 14th day of the first month, and that the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be observed beginning on the 15th day of the first month and continue for 7 days.

    The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are right next to each other, but are two distinct feasts, occurring on different days. This codependency within the gospels is glaring.

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  2. …one more thing, if I may.

    When reading the gospels accounts of this, it seems as if they saying that the Passover Feast actually took place in the week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. “In the days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread…” they were preparing or observing the Passover.

    I could just be reading it wrong, but after reading it several times, this is how it appeared to me.

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  3. Hey Nate-
    So, I guess the Inscription doesn’t really bother me so much. Given that the writers were going from memory, it doesn’t surprise me that they would have slightly different wording of the same concept (I don’t hold to the premise that the text is inspired, word for word, by the Spirit – they were inspired to write, but I don’t hold they were dictated to by the Spirit).
    With regard to the time, I don’t see any problem with them going to the place where Jesus was staying at 10am, and then staying with him there for the day. Is there a reason you think that can’t be possible? Additionally, it doesn’t specify that they stayed at the place he was staying all day, just that they stayed with him all day. I think you’re stretching a bit.
    The Passover thing is a little more difficult. However, if you consider John was writing to a completely different audience there are some difference I think that can make sense out of this. Here’s a link to something I’ve read that makes sense:
    http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/how-do-we-explain-the-passover-discrepancy
    This points out the different ways in which the Pharisees and Sadducees would have arranged this week, and gives a couple of reasons why John would have used the Sadducee organization rather than the Pharisee organization. Anyway, this explanation makes sense to me.

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  4. One other quick point. If the texts of the different gospels did match up on every point without variation, I think there are too many good investigators out there who will tell you eyewitness accounts that match exactly are almost always fabrications. I imagine, if there were no discrepancies, you and I would be having the opposite conversation – why they seem as though the writers collaborated before writing. From my perspective, as with the science discussion on the other thread, I think you’ve put the text in a position where it cannot win no matter what.

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  5. Hi Josh, thanks for taking the time to read this and comment.

    One other quick point. If the texts of the different gospels did match up on every point without variation, I think there are too many good investigators out there who will tell you eyewitness accounts that match exactly are almost always fabrications. I imagine, if there were no discrepancies, you and I would be having the opposite conversation – why they seem as though the writers collaborated before writing. From my perspective, as with the science discussion on the other thread, I think you’ve put the text in a position where it cannot win no matter what.

    I see what you’re saying here, but I disagree. People can tell the same story in different ways without creating actual contradictions with one another. Yes, if they were word for word verbatim, I agree that might look suspect. But telling things in a way that even gives an appearance of contradiction is problematic for a book that is supposedly inspired by a perfect deity. And if that book is a vital avenue toward saving all of mankind, it’s extremely important to make sure it doesn’t have consistency issues that would create doubts.

    Let’s look at the time issue. As far as we know, if we exclude the gospel of John, every other book in the Bible uses time the way Jews counted it. If John breaks that precedent, and it was inspired by the same God that inspired the other 65 books, why doesn’t John explain that he’s using it differently? It would be a quick side note that would have made sense to the people of his time, as well as to everyone who’s come after. Instead, a straightforward reading of the gospels creates a major discrepancy.

    Personally, I do think John is still using Jewish time. For one, we’re never told he’s using anything else. Secondly, I think the passage in John 1 is talking about an event that would have occurred toward the end of the day. Why would they worry about where Jesus was staying at 10 in the morning? It seems to me that this passage implies the day was winding down, and they wanted to make sure he had a place to stay.

    There’s another passage in John (4:1-6) that refers to time too, and I think it further supports the idea of Jewish time:

    Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

    If he’s weary from his journey, it makes more sense that the 6th hour would refer to noon, not 6am.

    I’ll check out the link you gave for the Passover issue. Again, I’m initially skeptical that John was just using a different calendar, because that would have been easily explained in the passage. But I’ll definitely check it out.

    If you’re interested, I’d appreciate it if you’d check out all the posts I did in this series. Most of them are fairly short, and I’m curious about how they’d strike you. Before I wrote these, I researched them pretty well in various books and in sites like ApologeticsPress. I just had trouble finding convincing explanations.

    Anyway, thanks again for your time and your thoughtful replies.

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  6. No problem, Nate. I love the dialogue.

    “But telling things in a way that even gives an appearance of contradiction is problematic for a book that is supposedly inspired by a perfect deity.”

    The claim is that the book is inspired by a perfect deity. The claim is not that it was originally written or transmitted over time, word for word, by a perfect deity (at least, the claim that I would make). I think, as I might have mentioned before, that you need to establish that the documents need to be perfect. I don’t accept your premise that, because God was communicating himself, he couldn’t have allowed any human error, mistranslation, etc into the passing down of the documents. This kind of thing happens in transmission of documents from that time. And, according to scholarship, it appears that the consistency of the NT documents is light years better than anything from the time. You clearly see it as a necessity that this kind of thing does not happen with scripture, but I will disagree with you there.

    Regarding the time again. My understanding of ancient story telling, and the documentation of those stories, is that they did not stick to strict chronological telling of the stories. It is possible Jesus is still tired from the previous days’ journey the following morning at 6am, right? It doesn’t necessarily mean that he was journeying immediately previous to sitting at the well. John, being an ancient writer, wouldn’t have cared about this level of accuracy, as you suppose he would.

    I think there are acceptable reasons to think John would have used different timing. And, if it is the case that he used timing that his readers would have been familiar with, then there would be no reason for him to explain his use of that timing. You have to remember, he is writing for the purpose of communicating to his particular audience. He is not writing to make sure his account squares entirely with other accounts, which his original readers likely never would have seen.

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  7. I might have mentioned before, that you need to establish that the documents need to be perfect. I don’t accept your premise that, because God was communicating himself, he couldn’t have allowed any human error, mistranslation, etc into the passing down of the documents.

    The need for very reliable evidence comes down to what’s at stake. If the knowledge we get from the Bible makes the difference between Heaven and Hell, then we need to be able to tell the difference between what is really from God and what is just another man-made religion. As you said, “This kind of thing happens in transmission of documents from that time,” which is why I have trouble buying the idea that it’s not just another typical document from that time.

    it appears that the consistency of the NT documents is light years better than anything from the time

    Yes, but this is only because we have so many copies. And we only have so many copies because the vast majority of copyists were Catholic. It’s no wonder they copied the Bible. And we also know from history that the church did its best to do away with other ancient works that they weren’t as crazy about. So I don’t see anything miraculous in that fact that we have a lot of copies of Bible manuscripts.

    You have to remember, he is writing for the purpose of communicating to his particular audience.

    I think this is somewhat to my point. We are also his audience. Someone inspired by God would surely know that what he’s writing is going to be very important throughout the rest of time. To give no consideration to this later audience makes perfect sense if we’re just reading something written by some guy with no divine guidance. But for someone inspired by God, this would be puzzling, to say the least.

    As to the time thing, if Jesus had traveled the day before and was just getting started up again at 6am, why would he be tired? Didn’t he just wake up? He would have been used to making this journey — I’d be surprised if he was still exhausted from walking after a night’s sleep. However, if he had started out that day and came upon the well at noon, it makes perfect sense that he might want to take a break — it’s lunch time. Taking a break around noon makes much more sense than taking one at 6am. And if John didn’t care about this level of accuracy, why did he include it? He could have skipped the time completely.

    Thanks

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  8. Fair enough, Nate. I think we’ll just have to disagree. I see and acknowledge the points you, and others, bring up. I think there are reasonable answers, just not ones that seem to satisfy everyone. I’ve heard the extraordinary evidence plea before, and I just don’t agree on those standards.

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  9. Another line of questioning for you, Nate 🙂
    Maybe you have this in a previous post – I haven’t looked over the whole site – but, I’m wondering what your goal is with this blog. Are you trying to convince people that religious beliefs cannot be true? I’m wondering what you’re purpose is, and why, if you don’t believe, you care if other people do. In other words, what’s the harm in believing that is avoided by not believing? Thanks.
    -Josh

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  10. Hi Josh — good question.

    There are a few reasons why I blog. For one, I used to use this blog to try to spread Christianity (the version I believed in, at least), and I didn’t feel like it would be consistent if I stopped blogging just because I changed my mind. I felt like I owed it to anyone who came across this site to show them how my thoughts on the subject have changed over time.

    Secondly, I enjoy it. Religion has always been very important to me, and I’ve researched it a lot over the years. It’s still a subject I know very well — better now in some ways — so why stop talking about it?

    Also, I don’t think it would be bad if more people left religion. There are many aspects of it that I find dangerous in politics, education, etc. While I’m not as opposed to some of the more liberal iterations of it, I find fundamentalism to be very harmful. One of the main reasons my wife and I decided to leave our church (we actually thought about remaining a part of it, even though we had stopped believing) was because we didn’t want the indoctrination to have a negative affect on our children. Teaching them that God wiped out the Egyptian first born, caused the flood, or commanded the Israelites to slaughter whole nations just seemed like bad parenting to us, since we didn’t believe any of those things.

    Finally, if nothing else, I think people should know why they believe certain things. So if someone comes across my site and gains new information about Christianity, I think that’s a good thing — even if they remain Christian. If nothing else, they’ll hopefully see that some of us “heathens” aren’t such bad guys after all. 🙂

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  11. Good reasons. Thanks, Nate.
    And, no, I don’t think you’re a bad guy.
    I’ll read through the rest of these contradictoins posts, and I’m interested in your deconversion posts.
    Keep the conversation going!

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  12. Noble reasons, Nate, noble reasons. The most destructive aspect of Christianity, in my mind, even more destructive than, at least to some degree, its uncriticalness is the concept of Hell. It disgusts me, and it should afflict the conscience of anyone provided with some element of culture.

    I finally replied to your email a few days back, not sure if you got it, but I am doing well and thanks for checking in. I hope all is well in Bham?

    Regards

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  13. Presto-
    I agree with you. I cannot accept the idea of hell. There are, actually, many things in scripture I have a lot of difficulty accepting, and hell is the hardest, maybe impossible. I am convinced, however, that God exists and Jesus is God. And, if God exists, it would have to be the case that there are things he understands that I never will, and things he does that offend me because I am not him and can’t understand. I believe the only way it would be possible for me to understand and accept him 100%, without any trusting in him despite not understanding, would be if he made me god as well.

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  14. Hi Persto,

    Thanks for the comment! I couldn’t agree with you more about Hell. That was one of the first things that started to unravel my faith. And yes, I did get your email — thanks for the reply. Things are good here in B’ham. Our trip to the coast was awesome — the whole week. We should be back down again in a few months, and hopefully we can get together again then. I’ll let you know when we pick a date. 🙂

    Josh,

    I appreciate your comment here, and it’s interesting to hear more about your beliefs. I had kind of assumed that you were more fundamentalist than your statement makes it sound. When I first stopped believing in Christianity, I considered myself a deist. I still believed that there must be a God, but I could no longer believe it was the god of Christianity. I just got to a point where I felt that the Bible had way too many problems for me to think it was related to God in any way.

    Have you ever looked into deism? If not, I can’t recommend enough The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. Some of it’s a bit outdated, but it made a profound impact on me. You can usually find a free e-book version somewhere, if you look for it. Also, the site deism.com has some really good articles, if you’re interested.

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  15. I have looked into deism a bit, in the sense that I think I understand generally what is claimed. I think I am at a bit of a different point than what might have been suggested by any one post. I believe we see errors in the Bible that are not actually errors, even if we cannot explain them completely. If there is a possible explanation, then it is not an error in my book. You’re looking at things from a different perspective from me – you seem to be persuaded that we must be able to clear all the smoke from over 2000 years of transmission and language and cultural change in order to square every detail of scripture with every other detail. I think you’re asking way too much here, as I’ve suggested in other comments about communicating across cultures.

    I agree that the Bible has problems I can’t understand, and records things that I disagree with. Where you and I differ is that I believe it is possible, actually required, that a God who is beyond human understanding would operate and communicate in ways I cannot completely comprehend. You may see that as a copout, but I think, if you ponder it, you would see that this would have to be the case in relationship between an ultimate, perfect being and finite, imperfect beings. Trust has to enter the equation.

    “lean not on your own understanding”

    “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might”

    “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    Dodging? Maybe to you. I see it as the place where faith intersects with our doubts and inadequacies.

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  16. Where you and I differ is that I believe it is possible, actually required, that a God who is beyond human understanding would operate and communicate in ways I cannot completely comprehend.

    I do see this as a possibility. But such a God, if he’s good, will not expect things of us that we’re incapable of giving. If we can’t all fully understand his message, then we can’t be held accountable to it, anymore than I could hold a first grader accountable to the rules of calculus.

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  17. And Josh, I still cant help but wonder, what believer of any other religion couldn’t defend their own religion in such a way?

    I think anyone can say, “mistranslation here,” or “that only looks like a contradiction, but really isnt for reasons we’re incapable of understanding,” and the universal, “god’s ways are higher than our ways,” etc. These are not good explanations to errors, and we woudlnt accept them as plausible answers to any religion or idea that is foreign to us, would we?

    take that along with the fact that many of these bible errors and contradictions could have been literally erased if the phrasing had changed (thinking of the Mathew and Luke Genealogies as one example).

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  18. They could, William. They all could, that’s true. I see what you’re saying, and, largely, I do not disagree with your perspective. To boil this down, there is one tenet of Christianity that I believe and hold to – the good news of the Messiah who became sin for us. God seems like a lot of things in the Bible, and apart from Jesus we have very little to go on regarding what God is like. In Jesus we have God choosing to limit himself to a human body, and taking on HIS OWN punishment for every mistake, every misstep, every misunderstanding, every hateful thing that any of us has ever done, and every loving thing any of us has failed to do. Without Jesus, I would likely agree with much of what you, Nate, and others are saying. However, given that God has taken on judgment in our place, we know that, no matter what else God is, he has reached out to us in a way no other God claims. Regardless of what misunderstandings we have about God, we can point to his suffering and dying in our place to prove what his position regarding us is. This is the only kind of God I want to believe in. Other faiths can claim some of the same things Christianity claims about their text, but they can show me nothing about who God really is. Whatever God is or has done, Jesus proves nothing that he does is because he does not love us. He took our punishment on himself in order to bring us to himself – a cruel, vengeful, hateful God would not do that. Even if scripture did not exist, Jesus is the representation of the only God I would care to believe in. We all (most of us) want God to love us, and forgive us for anything we may do wrong, and understand our weakness. Jesus is the only God who does this. No other God shows his love in any active way, and no other God gives us proof that there is concrete salvation available to all. Even if I don’t believe I can prove God’s existence, I can say this God represented in Jesus is worthy of worship.

    “In the long run, the answer to all those who object…is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out [our] past sins, and at all costs, to give [us] a fresh start…? But He has done so, on Calvary.”

    “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

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  19. “…and no greater love hath any man, than to lay down his life for his friends.” I truly value these passages and can certainly relate to where you’re coming from.

    There were several things leading to my deconversion. some of them were a result of answering the above questions for myself. Another thing that did it for me was the realization that god has neither said nor given me anything directly – only men have done that. I then realized that my faith had really been in men all along, and not in god or jesus, but in what men said about them. and that knowing which religion to follow ultimately boiled down to raw faith, the next question was how do i determine which faith is superior if in each case absurdities and errors have to be tolerated or overcome?

    I wouldnt accept those supernatural claims from anyone today, but i had accepted it unquestioningly for many years from of an old collection of letters an books, of which we have no originals, written by men that i never knew.

    thanks for your honest response.

    William

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  20. Absolutely, Nate. I’m trying to get a little more honest, and a little less hard-nosed :). I appreciate your position, and I have to say there are times, in my doubts, that I am surprised I don’t end up there myself. Like I said, even if the scriptures are all made up, Jesus is still the only God I consider worthy of worship. So, I place my trust in that, not in the scripture or anything else.

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  21. Hi Josh,

    I really appreciate your candor! I agree that the portrayal of Jesus in the Bible is way better than the portrayal of God in the OT. However, Jesus still teaches the doctrine of Hell, which I find to be pretty problematic. Do you struggle with those passages too?

    Also, what do you feel we need to be forgiven of?

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  22. Yes, Jesus teaches the doctrine of hell. I do struggle with the idea of hell as I understand it, no matter who teaches it (even Jesus). However, whatever it was that he was actually teaching, whether I can understand and regurgitate the information or not, he was willing to die and go there in my place. No matter what hell is, he is still worthy.

    What do we need to be forgiven of?

    “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

    “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

    “There is no one righteous, not even one”

    I believe myself to be a “good person”, according to the world’s standards. But, I am a sinful person. I have thoughts, desires, actions, and words that I know represent my true attitudes: I am better than other people, more capable, and I can prove it by… I sin in my pride. I sin in my self-doubt. I sin in my judgment. I sin in my hatred. I sin in my jealousy. I sin in my need to prove everything, and to prove that I can prove everything. I cannot accept that God knows better than I do. If Jesus is God, I need his salvation desperately. No matter how much I try to become a good person, and I think there’s been some progress, I have very real evil intentions that lie in my heart. I hate them. I don’t want them there. But, they are there. I really hate to generalize this, but I think we have all seen what all people are really capable of at their basest. And, this isn’t just some people, I’m convinced We all need cleansing.

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