Friday, April 8

INRI: What Was Written Over Jesus On The Cross?

It is April, ca. 30-33 AD. Three alleged criminals hang on three crosses at Golgotha (the place of the skull) outside of Jerusalem. It is the time of the Passover, and it is about noon. Darkness has fallen over the land, (there are actually non-biblical sources confirming this event) and those around the crosses can do nothing but watch and wait. The "criminal" in the middle, hung merely for alleged blaspheming, has an inscription over His head that reads: "THIS IS JESUS KING OF JEWS." Or does it read, "JESUS OF NAZARETH?" Or does it say, "KING OF JEWS?" (Photo credit: ChristianAnswers/CMI)

This is one of the few alleged contradictions in the Gospel accounts, specifically the Death of Jesus Christ. It has been claimed that the differences of inscription are not supplementary, but contradictory. But upon further investigation, we find that this is not the case. According to John 19:19, "Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek."

To clarify, the phrase "INRI" is often found on the cross in pictures. "INRI" is the Latin inscription, which read, ""Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm," meaning, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." When abbreviated, we see it as "INRI." It is unlikely that this is what Pilate actually had over Christ's head, since John conveys that the inscription was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek.[1]

John refers to the inscription as a "title," whereas Matthew and Mark refer to it as an "accusation." An inscription describing the crime of the person - and their name - was customarily hung over their head on a cross. The accusation by which Jesus had been condemned by Pilate was His claim as King of the Jews. It is ironic, however, that the "crime" for which He was crucified was not actually a crime, but absolute truth. Jesus of Nazareth is the King of the Jews, and according to Revelation 19:16, He is "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS."[2]

It was not His crime that nailed Him to the cross, but the crimes (the sins) of all those who would ever be saved through Him. According to Colossians 2:14, Jesus has "blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.” Now, can this alleged contradiction be reconciled? Before we continued, we ought to examine what the Gospels say about the matter.

Matthew 27:37, "Above His head they placed the written charge [accusation] against Him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Mark 15:26 reads, "The written notice of the charge against Him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS." Luke 23:38 says, "There was a written notice above Him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." Finally, John 19:19, "Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS."

At first glance, it seems as if we have four different inscriptions: "THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS," "THE KING OF THE JEWS," "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS," and "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." So which is it? Matthew tells us that it was placed above His head, Mark conveys that there was a superscription, Luke (and John) that it was written in three languages, and John that Pilate had wrote it.

Now, it was customary for Romans to use gypsum letters on a rough board affixed to the cross, but three languages were not always used. Latin was the official language of the Roman empire, Greek was the international language of culture, and Aramaic (Hebrew) was the religious language of the Jews. It is evident that Pilate likely dictated the words to be written down, and that KING OF THE JEWS was added to be get on the nerves of the Jews, and that NAZARETH was likely added to show that their "king" was a Galilean. 

From: ChristianAnswers/CMI
It is apparent that since John is the only writer which conveys that Pilate was the author, and mentions a "title," that John was likely quoting the Latin inscription: IESUS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEORVM. As for Luke, who was writing to the Greek Theophilus, (see Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1), and as a highly educated man himself (Colossians 4:14), Luke likely quoted the Greek inscription: OUTOS ESTIN O BASILEUS TWN IOUDAIWN. Matthew's Gospel was written to the Jews, and uses many quotes from the Old Testament. He likely quoted the Aramaic (Hebrew) inscription.[3]

As for Mark, "whose Gospel is shorter than the other three, and who gives us a somewhat abbreviated account of the life of Jesus, as his purpose is to tell us more about what Jesus did than what Jesus said. For example, he omits the birth of Jesus, as well as the whole of the sermon on the mount and several other discourses. True to his style, Mark abbreviates the inscription to the words common to the three languages used, namely 'THE KING OF THE JEWS.'"[4]

Why does it matter? Since the inscription was written in three different languages, it may have been a different inscription in each language. Latin was likely the first on the board, having been the official language. The length of the Latin inscription would have determined the length of the board. Unlike today, they did not use spaces between their words, so if John was quoting the Latin inscription, it was 26 letters long with no spaces.[5]

Luke's superscription contained 30 letters, and would have had to have been written a little smaller. From this it is evident why "JESUS OF NAZARETH" was not in the Greek inscription - there was no room. As for Matthew's Hebrew inscription, it would have contained only 19 letters, fewer than the Greek and Latin, since the Jews did not use vowels. Whoever transcribed the Hebrew felt it best not to add "OF NAZARETH," it seems.[6]

As such, from this we can glean the following: Pilate had three inscriptions written - one in Latin, one in Greek, and one in Aramaic. These inscriptions did not necessarily have to be the same. Latin was likely the first on the board, followed by Greek, then Aramaic. The board was fastened to the cross, and all around it could read it. "The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, 'Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be the king of the Jews.' Pilate answered, 'What I have written, I have written.'" (John 19:21-22)

Is the inscription written in three different languages a "Biblical Contradiction?" No, it is merely that time needs to be taken to reconcile the alleged contradictions to determine what the correct reading of each passage is, then taken as a whole. Jesus died on the cross, and three days later, His tomb was found empty. He did not faint, the Disciples did not hallucinate, nor did they steal His body, and the witnesses did not go to the wrong tomb. The only rational explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Messiah, God the Son, actually rose from the dead.

Thank you for taking the time to read this entry of "The Truth." Feel free to comment below (but remain civil) or email vexx801@yahoo.com, or The Truth Ministries team at thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website. Take care, dear reader, and may God bless you. Troy Hillman

Sources:
[1] Taylor, Paul S. "What do the letters “INRI” on the crucifix mean?." Christian Answers Network. Christian Answers Network, 1998. Web. 26 Mar 2011. .
[2] "What does INRI stand for? What was written on the sign nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head?." GotQuestions.org. Got Questions Ministries, n.d. Web. 7 Apr 2011. .
[3] Grigg, Russell M. "Why do all four Gospels contain different versions of the inscription on the Cross?." Christian Answers Network. Christian Answers Network and Creation Ministries International, 1997. Web. 7 Apr 2011. .
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

7 comments:

  1. i'll tell you what, i'm a sophmore in high school but i went to a private/Christian school for 10 years altogether before i moved on to high school, and i have to say that that whole description was just astoundingly brilliant. i thought i was going to have to go forever without knowing the meaning that the sign above our saviors head read, but you cleared it all up for me. thank you Troy and God bless.

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  2. Glad to have cleared this up. By examining such alleged "contradictions," it strengthens faith and trust in God's Word, and demonstrates that contradictions are not present - but are man's misunderstanding of God's Word. Thank you for your kind words. When I was still in school, I had attended a private Christian school for three years, though I did not graduate from there. As a wise man once told me, "Don't keep the faith... spread it." Best of luck in your education, and may God bless you.

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  3. This site is really helpful...Our Theo (Problem Text) teacher let us do the research about superscription on our savior's cross. Now I have something to discuss in the classroom tomorrow! ..In courtesy of The Truth Ministries. Thank You!:)

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  4. Make this subject alot easier to understand.

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  5. Anonymous - you are most welcome! Big B Memphis 10 - in other words, the different wording of the inscription hung on the cross, mentioned in the gospels, was written in more than one language.

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  6. Really, truly inspiring

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