Monday, April 21, 2014

Omissions, Discrepancies and Contradictions within the Crucifixion Narratives

Mothers hide your children as this is a follow-up post to my crucifixion piece. There was a little interlude of a Danica post between the two. This is a continuation of my amateurish analysis of the four gospel accounts: this one highlighting the differences.


Not all differences from one gospel to another are problematic for me even though I formerly believed in the inerrancy of scripture. I can even accept outright contradictions, for one can certainly believe that God is revealed through the bible without believing that every word is 'God-breathed'. 

Following are three lists of what I see as omissions, discrepancies and contradictions within the four crucifixion narratives. Keep in mind that this is all from one layman's reading and not from a biblical scholar's perspective; therefore, there may be errors. I leave it up to the reader to determine whether there is any merit to this analysis.

The first of my three lists contains seemingly significant omissions from at least one gospel.
  • When the gang came to take Jesus from the garden, only in John do they fall backwards when he says. "I am he." This seems like a glaring omission from the three gospels that were written earlier.
  • Only in Luke does an angel appear when Jesus is praying, and only in Luke does Jesus sweat blood. These are astounding occurrences to omit.
  • Only Luke has Jesus seeing Annas before seeing Caiaphas, and he also has Jesus going to Herod between two trips to Pilate.
  • Matthew is the only gospel writer to report an earthquake occurring when Jesus died and graves being opened with ghosts (my word) walking about. If such an astounding event had actually occurred, one would be entitled to think that everyone would have known and that it most certainly would have been reported by all four writers as well as in external, non-biblical sources.
  • His side was only pierced in one gospel – John.
  • Jesus only [apparently] re-attaches the severed ear in Luke. It seems like an extraordinary fact for the other writers to omit.

This next list contains discrepancies, some of which seem very difficult to reconcile although I know that some people manage it.
  • The cock crowed twice as in Mark and only once in the other gospels.
  • The inscriptions on the cross were all different: The King of the Jews (Mark); This is Jesus the King of the Jews (Matthew); This is the King of the Jews (Luke); and, Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews (John). The first three could probably be fit together by asserting that Matthew recorded the whole message and the Mark and Luke just mentioned a part of it. That seems odd for such an important fact, but it's possible. I don't see how, one could easily fit John's "Jesus of Nazareth" into that, but I do find it slightly plausible.
  • Did the soldiers throw lots for the garments (plural) as in Matthew and Mark, or did they part them into 4 and only throw lots for the cloak (singular) as in John? Just how many garments did Jesus have that they could be divided into four plus a separate cloak? Wouldn't his cloak have been a bloody mess and not the prize that it seemed to be?
  • Jesus was offered vinegar near his expiration in Mark, and seemingly just before being crucified in Matthew. He did not seem to drink the concoction in either case. However, in John, he did appear to drink just before the end. I suppose He could have been offered three times — early on in Matthew and twice later, once in Mark when he refused and a second time in John when he drank — but it seems improbable.
  • The Centurion, could have said, "Truly, this was the son of God," (Mark, Matthew) and also say, in Luke, that Jesus was righteous, but it doesn't strike me as likely.
  • It seems odd that there was no discussion with the thieves in Mark but that they [both] mocked Him in Matthew, and that one was pro and the other was con in Luke. Luke also has Jesus telling the 'good' thief that he would meet with Him in paradise that very day. These accounts seem almost contradictory, and it doesn't seem like something that Mark and Matthew would leave out had they known of the exchange. And why wouldn't they have known?
  • Was Jesus rather taciturn before Pilate as in the synoptic gospels, or did he get into more of a conversation as reported in John?

Finally, I seem to spot three seemingly irreconcilable contradictions although I am sure that apologists have managed the feat somehow. I begin with the most innocuous of the three points and end with what I consider to be the most profound contradiction.
  • The robe was purple in Mark and John but scarlet in Matthew. I don't feel that it is as crucial as the timing issue of the next point, but it certainly doesn't support the belief that many have in the inerrancy of scripture.
  • In Matthew and Mark, Jesus predicts Peter's denials in Olives, but in Luke He does it before, at the supper. It doesn't seem likely that both can be true.
  • Jesus was with Pilate at the sixth hour in Luke but on the cross at that time in both Mark and Matthew. In fact in both of those accounts, Jesus was on the cross in the third hour. This seems significant to me.
As I have already stated, I don't feel that scripture must be seen to be inerrant for people to be Christians and to believe in God and Jesus. However, I do find it highly improbable that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy can be satisfactorily supported.

Edit: After readying the above for posting, I came across this graphic. I find it humorous. I hope you take it in that spirit, for I am not intending to be sacrilegious.


Mara said...

Thank you for this. I haven't read the gospels on my own ever, so I am not as au fait with their contents as you now are. I do however agree with you, some of those discrepancies seem too big to be true, especially the earthquake one. If there would have been one, all would have written about it and it would most certainly been mentioned in other writings of the same era.

Love the cartoon!

Jinksy said...

There was a fascinating programme on BBC TV recently, which looked at the earliest writings still in existence. It made it easy to see how discrepancies occurred, and no one version may be taken as 'gospel' - pardon the pun!

Jimmie Earl said...

I have read both of your posts. As a lay person, and most definitely not a Bible scholar, I was fascinated with your findings. As a Christian (United Methodist) I just take each gospel for what it is. One mans accounting, whether fact or just his views of what happened. Thanks for your insights!
Have a good week.

TexWisGirl said...

too funny!

i believe any time humans are involved, versions and variances emerge in about a minute. :)

troutbirder said...

To err is human.
To forgive is divine.
I believe the Bible has both....

Ruth said...

Interesting post. My mom wrote and published an autobiography the year before she died. Her 5 children read it and we all felt there were inaccuracies. All of us had different perceptions, observations and memories of the same experiences. She emphasized some things we thought were insignificant. In discussing it with her we compared her writing to a gospel where different accounts are featured. And the gospels were written in a different time, culture and we read translated versions. There is a definite translation bias in the King James Bible.

Donna said...

The cock crowed three times..."you will three times disown me ." As one researcher stated, " Did Peter not hear the first crow?" Who knows...others say it crowed twice...
SO many just has to trust your own gut. When many different men write and rewrite there in itself is the problem.
Good post!!

KGMom said...

Having studied the synoptic gospels in one course, and John in another--here are some answers. Not explanations, mind. No need for that.
First, Ruth gives you part of the "key"--four writers, all of them writing around 70 AD or CE, whichever you prefer. So, at least 40 years had passed.
Second, the gospels are not meant to be read as a seamless single document. They were written for four different audiences, and likely the writers never thought their gospel would be stacked up against another for comparison sake.
Third, they were not written as newspaper accounts. They were written as testaments to events that led to life changing events for the people who experienced them. So each writer has his own point of view, his own audience, and SELECTS information to fit his thesis.
I prefer to read one gospel and concentrate on how it is telling a story. Among them, Mark is my favorite--for his breathlessness and impatience. Extraneous details begone.
John, while very poetic, drones on and on. Rather like a boring preacher.
Finally, the wonderful work by Elaine Pagels on the gnostic gospels puts an interesting light on the way in which the early church picked and chose the texts to canonize--to shore up orthodoxy and banish gnosticism.
Thanks for getting my rusty brain recalling ideas from days of yore.