Anomalies and Contradictions – Matthew 27:33-50

audio version

Twenty years ago – in 1995 – I preached a two part message entitled, “If I was the Devil.” I didn’t pull them up to check, but if I remember those sermons, I suggested things that I would do if I was in charge of a God-hating world. And it just so happens that we could see those things taking place – and even more so now. As an addendum, may I add that if I were the Devil and I wanted to attack the Word of God…. or if I wanted to destroy Bible Christianity, I might nibble away at the edges of the truth. On the other hand, I might stab at the very heart of the matter – perhaps both at the same time. Since the core of Bible Christianity is the crucifixion of Christ, I think that if I was the Devil I’d do all that I could to confuse the subject of salvation through the merits and blood of Christ. And of course that is precisely what Satan is doing and has been doing for a long time.

In comparing the four gospel accounts of the crucifixion, it seemed to me that God’s enemies might try to point out some apparent contradictions between them. Since this is not the sort of message that I’d want to preach on Sunday morning, and since there are several aspects of the crucifixion which are more worthy subjects for that service, I’ve decided to jump into the middle of this muddle tonight. And then there is the fact that this will be somewhat short.

Consider for example, what was offered to Christ as refreshment or as palliative medicine.

As we see here in Matthew, Christ was offered something on two occasions. Verse 33 – “And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall, and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.” Then verse 48 – after He cried “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” “straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed and gave him to drink.” Mark speaks of both these sips. But Luke only mentions the second – apparently – “And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar.” And John, as well, only speaks of the second “Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar, and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put on upon hyssop, and put to his mouth” John 19:29.

When the Romans were preparing Christ for the nails, they offered Him a drink. Matthew says that it was “vinegar mingled with gall.” Mark says that it was “wine mingled with myrrh.” In both cases we are told that Christ rejected it – both scriptures are referring to the same thing. Is there a contradiction between vinegar mingled with gall and wine mingled with myrrh? Absolutely not. There are no contradictions within the pages of the Word of God. You may write that down in the margin of your Bible, and I’ll autograph the statement for you if you like. That doesn’t mean we can always explain the apparent discrepancy, but still, there are no contradictions.

In this case the explanation isn’t too difficult. Wine (“oinos”) is a word which speaks about some form of grape juice. That “oinos” may be fermented or it may be unfermented. It may also be sweet, sour or even bitter. And just as there are hundreds of different kinds of wine, there are dozens of different kinds of vinegar. Furthermore, some forms of vinegar may be nothing more than sour or bitter wine. In his research, John Gill discovered that part of the salary of a Roman soldier was a certain amount of drinking vinegar, and that was the reason it was at Golgotha in the first place – to refresh the soldiers. At least in this case the words “wine” and “vinegar” are basically interchangeable.

The word “gall” is used only twice in the New Testament and is rather generic, speaking of something bitter. And myrrh is a bitter tasting gum resin, used for various purposes from medicines to perfumes. In this case, it was apparently added to either table wine or already sour vinegar to take some of the painful edge off the process of crucifixion. In other words, the wine was in a vinegar form and the generic gall used in it was myrrh. There is no contradiction in the Word of God..

Later, after Christ had been crucified for some time, He spoke, and someone ran to get Him some refreshment. All four gospels agree that it was vinegar. That was not because it was poisonous or meant to add to His misery, but because that is what was what the soldiers drank – and it was available. Apparently this time there was no gall or myrrh mixed in – it was in some soldier’s canteen. Matthew 27:48 – “And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.” I have to wonder about the heart of this man – was it softening or beginning to come around to the truth? Was it simply a tender heart seeing another man suffering and thinking he was hallucinating or something?

But there is a related discrepancy between Matthew and John. John 19:29 – “Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon HYSSOP, and put it to his mouth.” Matthew speaks of a reed, while John mentions hyssop. Once again, a “reed” can be rather generic, speaking of any plant with a stem, and some of the articles I’ve read about “hyssop” say that it may have had a stem 8 or 10 inches long. I don’t have an problem uniting “reed” and “hyssop.”

But there is still another potential problem between Matthew and Mark. Matthew has Jesus saying in verse 46 “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” But in Mark 15:34 we read, “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Why does one scripture say “Eli” while the other “Eloi”? Other than that one form of this statement is Hebrew while the other is Aramaic, I don’t have a reasonable explanation for the difference. This may be the most difficult of the apparent anomalies before us this evening. But the translated statement is the same – coming from the Messianic crucifixion Psalm – Psalm 22. Perhaps Matthew quotes the Hebrew Bible while Mark records Christ’s Aramaic statement.

Contradiction number two involves the accusation sign placed over Jesus’ head.

Matthew and Luke say that it read – “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” Mark simply has “The king of the Jews.” John declares that it read, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” We have three different versions, can they all be right? Of course they can all be right, for we find them in the Word of God. That may be a simplistic answer, but it is the truth.

On the other hand there is perhaps a more practical answer. John 19:19 says – “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Verse 20 goes on – “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.” I am not going to worry about the differences between the three accounts of this sign, because there were in a sense three different signs, and who is to say that one was not more complete than the others? I have no problem with this apparent discrepancy.

Anomaly number three is in regard to the words of the Centurion.

There is no reference to him in the Gospel of John. Matthew 27:54 says, “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” Mark 15:39 puts it this way, “And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.” Despite the fact that in English, Mark has one additional word, there is no difference between the two statements. Matthew “Truly this was the Son of God.” Mark “Truly this man was the Son of God.” I am told that the word “this” is masculine – it means “this man.” There is no problem between Matthew and Mark.

But there does appear to be a greater problem between Matthew and the account given in Luke. “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.” There is essentially no difference between “truly” and “certainly,” just as there isn’t between “verily, verily” and “truly, truly.” However there is a big difference between “the Son of God” and “a righteous man.” But my answer is – couldn’t the centurion have made both statements? Could he not with one breath called Jesus “righteous” and then with just a moment’s further reflection declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God”? Once again, I have no problem with both statements being absolutely true.

But here is the question with which to conclude this brief message – did this Centurion become a child of God? I reserve the right to return to this in a later message. But my answer at this point is that I certainly hope that this man became a believer, but there is no proof of that here in any of these scriptures. Like millions of nominal Christians, who say that Jesus was the virgin born, Son of God, that doesn’t mean that they have gone one step beyond a couple points of theology. Like millions of nominal Christians, this centurion witnessed the crucifixion of Christ, but that does not mean he placed his soul into the hands of the Redeemer. Similarly, we may spend a month or more looking at the closing verses of Matthew 27 or John or Mark, but that doesn’t mean everyone who attends these services of our will leave this world as children of God. The Bible says “Ye must be born again;” it doesn’t say that ye must believe that Jesus is a righteous man or that He is the Son of God. “Ye must be born again.”