Matthew 27:37 (cf. Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19)—Why are all the Gospel accounts of the inscription on the cross different?
Problem: The wording of the accusation above Christ’s head on the cross is rendered differently in each Gospel account.
Matthew: “This is Jesus the king of the Jews” (27:37).
Mark: “The king of the Jews” (15:26).
Luke: “This is the king of the Jews” (23:38).
John: “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (19:19).
Solution: While there is a difference in what is omitted, the important phrase, “the king of the Jews,” is identical in all four Gospels. The differences can be accounted for in different ways.
First, John 19:20 says, “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” So then, there are at least three different languages in which the sign above Christ’s head was written. Some of the differences may come from it being rendered in different languages.
Further, it is possible that each Gospel only gives part of the complete statement as follows:
Matthew: “This is Jesus [of Nazareth] the king of the Jews.”
Mark: “[This is Jesus of Nazareth] the king of the Jews.”
Luke: “This is [Jesus of Nazareth] the king of the Jews.”
John: “[This is] Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews.”
Thus, the whole statement may have read “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” In this case, each Gospel is giving the essential part (“the king of the Jews”), but no Gospel is giving the whole inscription. But neither is any Gospel contradicting what the other Gospels say. The accounts are divergent and mutually complementary, not contradictory.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.