Why do all four Gospels contain different versions?
Does this indicate error?

By no means. Both Luke and John tell us that the inscription on the Cross of Jesus was written in three languages, Greek, Latin and Hebrew. It is therefore a reasonable assumption that three of the Gospel writers each chose to quote a different language, and that one writer chose to quote the words common to the other three.

  • Can this assumption be justified?
  • If so, can it be said with any certainty who chose to quote what?
  • And why?

The Inscriptions

Let us begin with the way each writer prefaces the inscription(s):

  • Matthew 27:37 says, ‘And [they] set up over his head his accusation written’.
  • Mark 15:26 says, ‘And the superscription of his accusation was written over’.
  • Luke 23:38 says, ‘And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew’.
  • John 19:19 says, ‘And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross’.

Notice that all these prefaces differ. Mark tells us that a superscription was written; Matthew, that it was set up over his head; Luke, that it was written in three languages; and John, that Pilate was the writer. All these statements are correct, even though each writer says something different!

The four accounts of the inscription are tabulated below so the similarities and differences are easily discerned:

 

What Was the Significance That Three Languages Were Used?

It was the custom of the Romans to use gypsum letters written on a rough board affixed to a cross to proclaim the reason why a person was being executed, although three languages were not always used.

Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire; it represented human government, power, and conquest. Greek was the international language of culture; it represented human wisdom, art, and commerce. Hebrew was the religious language of the Jews; it represented the Covenant Race, the Law of God, and the means by which God made Himself known to man. In the providence of God, all of these human and divine institutions were addressed when Jesus was crucified. How did this come about?….

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