Contradictions – Jesus’Verdict

The next contradiction raised is that the four Gospels each record slightly different wording for the inscription which was carried by Jesus and/or affixed over his head on his cross.  This inscription was a common Roman practice and indicated the offense for which the person was being executed.  The Romans used crucifixion to make an example of people so that others would think twice before committing similar offenses.

The Gospel writers record the following:

  • Matthew 27:37 – “This Is Jesus the King of the Jews”
  • Mark 15:26 – “The King of the Jews”
  • Luke 23:38 – “This Is the King of the Jews”
  • John 19:19 – “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews”

It may not seem like a massive difference – and it isn’t.  But the implication behind the accusation of contradiction is that if the Gospel writers can’t even agree on something so basic, how can we trust their other details?

First of all, John tells us (19:20) that the inscription was written in three languages – Latin (the official language of the Roman Empire), Greek (the language of trade and the arts), and the language of the Jewish people.  Some translations render this as Hebrew in John 19:20, while others interpret this to mean the common language of the area, which was Aramaic.  Most translations interpret it to mean Hebrew, but the English Standard Version interprets it to mean Aramaic.  In any event, there were three inscriptions, not just one. One interpretation for why the accounts differ might be that each author referred to one of the inscriptions – Matthew to the Hebrew/Aramaic one (since he is writing for a Jewish audience), Luke the Greek one (as an educated man writing presumably to a Greek reader), and John the Latin (because John refers to the placard as the title over Jesus’ head, or titulus in Latin, and because the early church depicted the charge abbreviated in the Latin INRI.

We can also see that the differences are not in what is said, but how much is said:


This is Jesus The king of the Jews


The king of the Jews


This is The king of the Jews


Jesus of Nazareth The king of the Jews

So is this a contradiction?  Once again, there is no contradictory statement between the four accounts – there is only a difference in how much of the statement is referenced.  And even this may be due to each author referring to a different language inscription.

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