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. Nate-
    I think it’s reasonable to come to either conclusion on intellectual grounds. The conviction of the Spirit is something that is not intellectual. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says –

    “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

    There I go using the Bible again. Now, the business of who has the Spirit and who does not, who had it when they died, etc. That is tricky. That’s not our place to judge. I just hope some discussion about what I believe might be useful to the Spirit in bringing others to that knowledge.


  2. William-
    “You say that the NT is well supported by history. Which parts? I hear this claim often, but am not really sure what is meant by it. What is so well supported by history?”

    The number of copies, and internal consistency of the copies, of NT documents.

    Re: the prophecy. I assented to the possibility of double fulfillment of prophecy, which would mean Isaiah’s prophecy could have been fulfilled both in his time, and by Jesus. Because a prophecy pertains to two events doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate.

    Re: the rest of the response. I think this goes back to why I would believe in Jesus if the scriptures were inaccurate. I answered that a while back in this thread. I’m pretty sure that, even if I could be convinced there is no reason to trust the NT, that Jesus is the only God I would deem worthy of worship, for reasons I went into earlier. So, I do recognize there are difficulties in scripture. I do believe there are some reasonable responses to those difficulties. I acknowledge that we won’t agree that those responses are reasonable. And, even if you could prove to me that none of them were reasonable, and my understanding of the historical evidence for the NT reliability was wrong, I am certain I would continue to hope in the promise that Jesus is who he said he was.

    So, maybe I’m just wired to believe? Maybe I am too biased to see the reality of the evidence (or lack thereof)? It’s often said that religion is a crutch for weak people. I’ve outlined that I feel I am weak and inconsistent as a person, and that I believe that a redeemer will come to make all the unfairness and suffering go away. So, I would agree that I place my hope on that crutch.


  3. How does one get the Spirit?

    Also, if you personally get some comfort from believing, then I suppose that’s fine. What I think becomes inconsistent is what’s at stake if Christianity is true. If God’s going to judge some as faithful and some as unfaithful, but the quality of evidence is such that people can honestly come to different conclusions about it, then God unquestionably cares nothing for justice. There’s simply no good way around that fact. Is that the kind of God you believe in? Personally, I feel no comfort in such a system. In fact, I’d have to describe it as horror.


  4. Remember, Josh, the point of the gospel is not whether or not you get comfort from it — the point is to offer an avenue of salvation for all people. I think it’s paramount that we consider its likelihood in achieving that. For most of our comments, you’ve agreed with me that the evidence is a bit murky and people could honestly fall on either side of the issue. So does that really sound like a good system?

    Not trying to pick on you at all — I like you and admire your willingness to discuss these things. But I think it’s important to keep calling our attention back to how high the stakes of this thing really are.



  5. Nate-
    I absolutely agree with that assessment. Which, is why I wouldn’t place the whole of the burden on evidence. I think it is rather obvious just by reading these blogs and other books that the evidence doesn’t convince everyone. And, even those who it does convince, I’d suggest there is more going on than just processing evidence. God is the one who grants the gift of faith through grace. I’m not above suggesting this could take a lifetime. And, I’m not above suggesting that some may “accept” Jesus while hating the Church so much that they don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus or the Church. Jesus accepted, forgave, and announced salvation to many who would never be allowed in a church. You and I would probably agree that there are some people who claim they are Christians who behave and treat others in such a way as to call that claim into question. If it’s true that they maybe have not actually placed their trust in Jesus (thus, treating people more compassionately, etc), then it could also be true that someone who misunderstands what Jesus claims, because of miscommunication by others, could actually have faith in what Jesus is without recognizing that due to their despise of his (admittedly imperfect, and sometimes terrible) representatives. I can’t fathom what all of God’s ways are – and I don’t think it’s unfair or a copout to claim that. His ways, if He exists, would be more than we can comprehend.


  6. Thanks for that reply. But it’s at this point in the rationale that it all falls completely apart for me. If you’re right, what’s the point of any of this? If faith comes from God, then there’s not much point in arguing with each other about what’s true, because those of us who don’t believe simply don’t believe because God hasn’t given us faith yet. And why did he inspire anyone to write the Bible? If faith comes from him, and the Bible isn’t enough to convince people, why have it?

    How could the same God who created the laws of physics and gave humans the ability to reason, simply throw out all logic and rationale when it comes to his “plan” (a very poor word to describe what we’re suggesting) which is supposedly more important than anything else?

    Usually, when we talk about something that makes this little sense, we rightly label it as “incorrect.” It’s frustrating to me that we seem unable to apply the same label to religion. I also find it rather insulting to the idea of God, when you get right down to it.


  7. @Josh
    No. I won’t agree to that.

    And now you know why atheist will continue to hammer religious people for the utter diatribe they espouse.
    And may your kids forgive you….


  8. @Josh
    No. I won’t agree to that.

    Fair enough. Then may I have permission to introduce your children to a Jehovah’s Witness ?


  9. Ark-
    ”Sure. You can introduce my kids to anyone you want.”

    Super. Thank you. Would you like to direct them to my post and i can take it from there?


  10. I will try to remember to do that when they can read. They are, as yet, nonexistent. So, I hope you’re still blogging then.


  11. Done. And when this meeting takes place I sincerely hope you are able to eat Humble Pie.
    Children are a LOT smarter than you think, given the opportunity to make a choice.
    Yopu and I …and Nate were not given this opportunity.
    If your future kids are you are going to have egg all over your face…I GUARANTEE it.


  12. I’m just curious if you have somewhere you’ve written down what you used to believe and what you believe now. I just thought it might give me a better idea of who you are. I’m really not asking so I can go there and argue with you. Just interested.


  13. Ah, see what you mean.

    I have nothing specific, as Nate does, but for what it’s worth….I hope Nate will indulge me. Thank you:)
    I was brought up in a very ordinary Church of England (Anglican) family. I attended Sunday School, went to church with my parents and brothers and sister, but not ‘religiously’ ‘scuse the pun.
    I always considered my self Christian more in a cultural sense rather than a ‘born again’ sense.
    I have read the bible (cover to cover) and to a lessor extent studied it. (and still do)

    I hardly ever attended church or really bothered about religion once I became an adult.

    My atheism became truly cemented after doing research for a piece I was writing – purely for interest sake – on Moses.
    At this stage I was ambivalent about religion, and my knowledge of biblical history was scanty and confined to what most Christians know. Easter, Christmas, Son of God, Pontius Pilate, Crucifixion, Noah, Adam & Eve etc…the main characters and events, in other words.
    I found There is nothing historical bout Moses for one to reference.(other than religious literature)
    At this point I was still merely curious, with no hard set beliefs and so I dug deeper. Still nothing.

    Then I looked at Egyptian history, for I was sure there would be something. Even if it were just an allusion. But no.Again nothing. There is no verifiable history to this character.
    And it was around this time that the bells began to ring and I was forced to say…”Wait a moment!”
    If there is nothing about Moses..not a single scrap of evidence for the Exodus or anything pertaining to this massive event outside of the Bible, is this character real?
    This caused some real problems, because if it turned out that he was more than likely a narrative construct, fictitious, what did this say about Jesus who refers to Moses on several occasions?
    Oh, boy…now we are treading n thin ice…
    Please understand, I had no idea that these topics were already ‘out there’ and had been for ages and ages. I was blissfully ignorant and completely naive.

    It was at this point that I decided to read the bible cover to cover. * my KJV has more red pen marks than an editor’s copy of a bad manuscript.

    After this I realised that it could not possibly be true. None of it.
    What bothered me most was that here was this book, the bible, that was open to anyone to read and yet they didn’t. Or not in the manner that I had just done.

    And I wondered what it was that could possibly keep people believing in this heinous rubbish
    ( sorry, but that is how I feel) and then TEACH it to children as if it is fact.
    I was horrified. Truly.
    And I made the decision there and then, that any time I came across someone espousing their religion I would demand of them to demonstrate their claim of its inerrancy.

    So far not a single religious person has been able to do this, which is why I continue to call people like you out.

    So now you know….


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