In all four gospel accounts, we are told that there was a “title” or “superscription” put on the cross, right above Christ’s head. John 19:19 tells us that Pontius Pilate is the one who wrote the title and put it on the cross.
The only problem, says the skeptic, is that all four gospel accounts vary in the actual wording of the superscription. If the Bible is God’s word, shouldn’t it be the same? This must surely be a contradiction, for the Bible clearly says something different in each gospel record, right?
Why the Title Above Jesus Varied
Here are all four gospel accounts of this event, so that we can examine the passages in question:
Matthew 27:37 And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Mark 15:26 And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Luke 23:38 And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
John 19:19-20 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
There are two possible explanations for the differences in the written accusation.
Each Gospel Writer Wrote Only Part of the Phrase
The first possible explanation is that each gospel writer included only part of the phrase, and by examining all four accounts, we then see the complete phrase that was written. Thus, there would be no contradiction at all, because a contradiction only exists when statements oppose each other. These statements are incomplete yet complimentary, not contradictory. When combining all four statements, we can then see the one harmonious statement that reads:
THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Thus, each writer may have included only a fragment of the superscription, and by combining all phrases, we see the complete phrase that was put on the cross. Here’s a quick look at what each writer omitted out of the complete phrase (brackets indicate the omission):
- Matthew’s omission: THIS IS JESUS [OF NAZARETH] THE KING OF THE JEWS.
- Mark’s omission: [THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH] THE KING OF THE JEWS.
- Luke’s omission: THIS IS [JESUS OF NAZARETH] THE KING OF THE JEWS.
- John’s omission: [THIS IS] JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Each Gospel Writer Recorded a Different Language
Another possible explanation is that each gospel writer (except one) recorded the description in the language that stood out to them most. Luke and John both tell us that the superscription was written in three different languages: Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. It could be that the phrase was worded a bit differently in each language, which would likely occur due to the nuances of languages.
Thus, it could have been that Matthew translated the Hebrew version, Luke wrote the Greek version, John wrote the Latin, and then Mark merely summarized Luke’s version by omitting the “THIS IS” phrase.
Again, this would be no contradiction, for each writer would be accurately recording the phrase in each different language.
Conclusion: There is No Contradiction on Christ’s Superscription
Although skeptics labor so hard to discover imaginary contradictions, often to make themselves feel more comfortable in their rebellion and sin against God, no contradiction really exists in these accounts. Either it was a complimentary fragmented account, which taken together, give us the complete phrase. Or the gospel writers recorded the phrase in the different languages written on the cross, with Mark summarizing the phrase.
Either way, God’s word stands strong. It is inerrant, infallible, and indestructible.
Have you been saved from your sins? If not, you could die and go to hell. The Bible tells us that we’re all sinners who have fallen short of His glory. However, if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we can be saved. By placing your faith in Christ, you can be saved from the coming judgment of God. I pray that you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today, and accept His sacrifice as the full payment for your sins. Today is the day of salvation!
May God bless you!