What did the sign on Jesus’ cross say?

Posted on Jan.15, 2009. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Average rating: 1.5 / 10 (Rate It).

When someone was crucified by the Romans, a sign would be affixed above them giving the reason for their execution. Each of the gospels gives a different account of what the sign above Jesus said.

In Mark’s version of the events, the sign read simply, “The King of the Jews”:

The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ [Mark: 15:26 (NRSV)]

Luke’s version of the sign is slightly longer, but is basically the same:

There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ [Luke: 23:38 (NRSV)]

Matthew says that the sign over Jesus also gave his name:

Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ [Matthew 27:37 (NRSV)]

John’s sign is different again, including the detail that Jesus was from Nazareth:

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ [John: 19:19 (NRSV)]

So what exactly did the sign over Jesus say?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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    I don’t see this as a contradiction; to apply modern standards for precision of direct quotations to the Bible is an anachronism. The authors of the gospels didn’t intend to give the precise wording of the sign, and their readers would have understood this. For all of the relevant verses to be true, the sign would just have to say something that would make them an accurate paraphrase of at least part of it, e.g. “Jesus, King of the Jews”.

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