The Inscription on the Cross

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 95 1

In previous articles, I have written that many critics of Christianity believe that there are many contradictions in the Bible. This is a serious charge since the Bible claims that it is inspired by God. God, of course, is all-knowing, so the Bible should not contradict itself or contain false information. In today’s article, I will discuss one of these common contradictions that are found in the gospels. When Jesus was crucified, Pilate wrote an inscription and had it placed on the cross above Jesus’ head. Each gospel quotes the inscription differently. The various readings of the inscription are:

Matthew 27:37 says, “Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Mark 1526 says, “The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Luke 23:38 says, “There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

John 19:19 says, “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZRETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

So, which is the correct reading? They all cannot be correct, right? Actually, there is a good chance that they all may, in fact, be right. John 19:20 gives us a hint to how to solve our little problem: the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. It is obvious that Matthew quoted the Aramaic inscription, since his gospel was written with Jews in mind (Aramaic was the language of the Jews in the First Century AD).However, when it comes to the other three authors there is disagreement on who quoted which language.

Georgia Purdom, of Answers in Genesis, believes that Luke quoted the Greek since he wrote to the Greeks. John quoted the Latin inscription since he mentions that Pilate wrote the inscription. Pilate was the official sent from Rome to rule Judea, and Latin was the official language of the Romans. Mark paraphrased the entire inscription by quoting the only words that are present in all three inscriptions (KING OF THE JEWS).[1]

Bible scholar Gleason Archer gives another interpretation. He thinks that Mark quoted an abridged version of the Latin, since an Early Church tradition says that Mark wrote to the Romans. John used the Greek since he later lived in the city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey) where Greek was spoken. However, he does not mention what Luke quoted from.[2]

I’ll be completely honest: both interpretations make sense. It is clear that Matthew quoted from the Aramaic. John’s wording of the inscription is different from Matthew’s so it must have been either the Latin or Greek. However, both Archer and Purdom make good points, so it could have been either Latin or Greek. However, it is interesting that Mark’s wording includes only the words that are present in all three inscriptions, so Purdom may be correct in that Mark may be paraphrasing the main message of the inscription. Matthew = Aramaic; Mark = paraphrase; Luke = probably the Greek; and John = Greek or Latin with the latter being the most probable.

To conclude, there is no contradiction in these verses. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or comment on Facebook or use Twitter.


[1] Georgia Purdom. “Crossed Messages.” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. Ken Ham ed. Green Forest: Master Books, 2010. Pg. 111-112.

[2] Gleason L. Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982. Pg. 345-346.

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