Do the Accounts of the Cross Superscription Contradict?
San Jose, California
It is the duty (and should be the aim) of every gospel preacher to do what he can to strengthen the faith of those to whom he preaches to the end that they will possess the utmost confidence in the word of God. To do this, it is necessary at times to vindicate the inspiration and unity of the Bible. This vindication involves dealing with arguments made by some in an effort to prove the Bible is contradictory; it also involves dealing with arguments designed to prove that the Bible writers were merely given the ideas which point they were to present, not the words in which to present those ideas.
The different accounts of the inscription on the cross have been held up by many through the years as proof that the Bible contradicts itself. He who so uses these accounts is plainly hunting a contradiction. He who claims to find a contradiction here is "seeing things" -- "seeing" something which does not exist. This will be evident to all who give the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John a fair consideration.
For simplification, the four accounts are here listed in order, together with the summary: (See Chart)
From the chart it can be seen that, while one account is fuller than another, the accounts are not contradictory but supplementary. The person who cannot see the difference between testimonies which are supplementary and those which are contradictory is an incompetent judge! Matthew, Mark and Luke did not mention the town from whence Jesus came, but John's account supplied that information. Is this a contradiction? Of course not! John's account merely supplements the accounts of the others at this point. Whereas the accounts of Mark and Luke do not contain the name "Jesus," the accounts of Matthew and John do; thus, the accounts of Matthew and John supplement those of Mark and Luke on this point.
If one writer had said, "The King of The Jews." and the others had said, "The Slave of the Jews," that could be considered a contradiction. But no such situation exists. All writers said, "The King of The Jews." I wonder why certain Bible critics overlook the absolute uniformity of these last five words? They are not looking for uniformity; they do not want to see anything but contradictions; and, so ardently do they search for contradictions, they think they see them when they do not. Their lives are such that the Bible disturbs them; and, being unwilling to change their lives to conform to the word of God, they seek to "salve" their conscience by convincing themselves that the Bible is contradictory, therefore not the word of God. The desire to continue in s undisturbed is the basic cause of infidelity!
Having seen that these different accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are not contradictory, we are ready to consider the next question set forth in the title of this article: Do these variations prove the writers were not verbally inspired?
Here the distinction between ideal and verbal inspiration needs to be re-stated. Although it has been clearly stated hundreds of times in the past, some yet seem not to understand it. Verbal inspiration is word inspiration-the concept that inspired men were given by the Holy Spirit the very words they were to speak of write. Ideal inspiration is idea inspiration - the notion that the Holy Spirit merely gave to inspired men the ideas which were to be conveyed and that the men were left to their own human powers to put those ideas into words.
Some try to make it appear that if one espouses the position of verbal inspiration, he is obligated to defend what they term "mechanical inspiration." It is argued that if the writers were verbally inspired there would have been no variation at all as to words or styles. Since variations are apparent in the words and styles employed by inspired writers, the conclusion is drawn that the writers could not have been verbally inspired.
However, the conclusion does not follow, for verbal inspiration does not mean nor necessitate mechanical inspiration. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is fully capable of variation - i.e., He, being a divine person, is capable of employing varying words and expressions and can set forth such words and expressions in varying styles. The Holy Spirit was fully capable to give Matthew the words, "This is Jesus the King of The Jews"; to give Mark the words, "The King of the Jews"; to give Luke the words, "This Is the King of the Jews"; and to give John the words, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." Furthermore, the Holy Spirit was fully capable of giving these men these words, plus all others He gave them, in the varying styles which each used. To deny that He could do so is to limit His power; to admit that He could do so is to surrender the objection to verbal inspiration based on these variations!
To further show the fallacy of this objection to verbal inspiration, I suggest the following illustration: Suppose that, while making a trip back east, I witness an automobile accident at the Texas state line. In relating the incident to others I mention the place where it occurred. I tell one man that it occurred at the sign which says, "The State Of Texas"; I tell another that it took place where the sign says, "You are entering the great State Of Texas"; I tell another that it took place where the sign says, "Entering Texas"; and I tell a fourth person that it happened where the sign says, "Now entering the State of Texas." Putting these four accounts together, we have "You Are Now Entering The Great State of Texas."
Is there a contradiction in the above expressions? Certainly not! They are supplementary, not contradictory. No judge, worthy of the name, in the land would accuse me of contradicting myself in these reports. Nor are these reports inconsistent. True, they vary; but variation does not necessitate inconsistency. "Inconsistent" as defined by Webster means: "Not consistent; incompatible; incongruous; inharmonious; specif.: A. Of propositions, ideas, beliefs, etc., so related that both (or all) cannot be true" Although the reports vary, they are not "so related that both (or all) cannot be true . . ." THE REPORTS ARE NOT INCONSISTENT!
Question: Does the fact that these reports vary mean that I did not and could not have made them all? Certainly not! Who would affirm that I am not the author of all four reports (the very words used to express them) because of these variations? If I have the power to variously, yet correctly, express what the sign at the Texas state line says, why should it be thought a thing incredible with Christians THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS THE POWER TO VARIOUSLY, YET CORRECTLY, EXPRESS THE SUPERSCRIPTION ON THE CROSS? Who is ready to affirm that man has a power here which the Holy Spirit does not have?
One may say, "You have only dealt with what the Holy Spirit has power to do, not with what He did." Be it so; merely showing what He has power to do is enough to nullify the objection to verbal inspiration with which I have been dealing.
To see what the Holy Spirit actually did for the "holy apostles and prophets" (the term of Eph. 3:5) relative to inspiring them to speak and write the things of God, let us note the following passages.
Matt. 10:18-20. To His apostles Jesus said, "And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you." Note please that they were not to take thought about the HOW or the WHAT of that which they were to speak. The Holy Spirit was to supply both. Had the Holy Spirit only given them the ideas (the WHAT) and left them to their own human wisdom to select the words (the HOW), the apostles rather than the Holy Spirit would have been supplying the HOW. If that were the case, these plain statements of Christ would be meaningless and ridiculous. But, were these men of God verbally inspired only when they stood before governors and kings? To so contend would be tantamount to making God a respecter of persons: that He was more concerned about the accuracy of the message delivered to magistrates (some of whom could not have been less concerned about salvation) than He was about the accuracy of the preaching to penitent and inquiring sinners! This would be ridiculous on the very surface. Other passages prove the apostles were verbally inspired when they spoke the things of God, whether before magistrates or others.
Acts 2:4. Here the promise made by Jesus to the apostles (See Lk. 24:49) is fulfilled. The record plainly says, "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." As the Spirit gave them what? Merely ideas? No, the Spirit gave them UTTERANCE-not only the WHAT but the HOW! That was verbal inspiration. In view of Acts 2:5-11, no-one in his right mind will argue that only magistrates were present on that occasion.
1 Cor. 2:9-13. In verse 9 Paul affirms that "the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" had not entered into the heart or mind of man; in other words, man had nothing to do with originating them. But, in verse 10 Paid affirms these "things" mentioned in verse 9 had been revealed -- "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." In view of Paul's statement in Eph. 3:3, 5, the "us" to whom these "things" had been revealed can be none other than "his holy apostles and prophets." Since the "us" of verse 10 is the "we" and "us" of verses 12 and 13, it becomes evident that the affirmations in the latter mentioned verses concern the apostles and prophets! What are the affirmations? "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." There you have it-the apostles and prophets spoke the THINGS OF GOD in the WORDS WHICH THE HOLY SPIRIT TAUGHT. Thus, in setting forth God's revelation, it was not the apostles and prophets who spoke, but the Spirit of God who spoke in them. (See again Matt. 10: 20).
Relevance of Verbal Inspiration
One may ask: "What difference does it make whether the apostles and prophets were inspired in thought only or in the very words they used? What difference does it make as to which position I accept?" It makes a WORLD of difference: (1) It is the difference between accepting or rejecting the plain statements of the passages just considered-the difference between belief or unbelief. (2) It is the difference between whether the apostles and prophets spoke the real and unadulterated will of God or merely their uninspired interpretation of that will. Consider: If they were given the ideas only, and left to their own human wisdom in the selection of the words to express those ideas, an uninspired interpretation of God's will is all they could have spoken I Think it through. (3) It is the difference between espousing a position that will undermine faith or one that will strengthen faith. The former is exactly what the theory of idea-inspiration-only is designed to do. If the apostles and prophets were left to their own human powers to select the words, they (being human) may have chosen the wrong words and expressed the wrong ideas; consequently, we could have little faith in anything they said. This is the next logical step for those who accept the theory; actually, it is the very design of the theory.
The idea-inspiration-only theory is not confined to denominational groups; some in the church of Christ have espoused it and openly proclaim it. Thus, great emphasis of the truth on this matter is needed. Preachers, elders, Bible class teachers and others need to recognize the problem and make sure the right teaching is given, lest the faith of many be "made shipwreck" (I Tim. 1: 19), and an "evil heart of unbelief " arise in many causing them to depart from the living God (Heb. 3:12).
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 49, pp. 10-13