the others crucified
How many individuals were crucified with Christ is not all that vital on the one hand, but then on the other it is of crucial importance. Numerically, it doesn't matter if it was two or four or four hundred. What is of vital importance though, is that if the Church can't at the very least know a simple thing like this, can we trust them to know things that are crucial for our salvation?
Of course they think they know how many were there, but if we discover that they are wrong, then we must ask, How could they be wrong? How can they not know this simple fact? When did they loose count? How could the Church loose count?
We all know how many ships Columbus sailed with. Most know that there were thirteen original American colonies and many know that there were fifty three signers of the Declaration of Independence. So how could the Church not know, not pass down to their children, even their disciples, how many were crucified on that hill that day? This is our ultimate question. But first, let us see for ourselves, just how many that the four evangelists tell us were crucified with Yeshua that day.
One single passage should have arrested our attention from the outset. Like the Burning Bush was to Moses, this one verse should have alerted our wandering minds, disturbed our reading and drove all of our thoughts to consider and ponder this important question.
- JOHN 19:32 Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
The question immediately before us in this verse is to whom is John referring when he makes mention of the other which was crucified with him? Exactly who is this him to which John refers? Is John speaking of the second criminal being crucified with the first one, or is he referring to this second criminal being crucified with Yeshua? With whom was this second man crucified?
The casual reader may understand this verse to say that the him refers to the first one crucified, rather than to Yeshua. They suppose that the soldiers broke the legs of the first robber and then they came and broke the legs of the other robber who was crucified with the first robber. If that was what John was intending to mean, then why didn't he just say that the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two robbers and then came to Yeshua? If these were the only two crucified beside Yeshua, why differentiate the first from the second by saying that the second was crucified with the first?
As we compare this verse with the others relating to it, we will see that the simplest reading is the true one. But let us digress a moment to first discover why the soldiers were braking the legs of these men who had been crucified. The position of the body when crucified made it extremely difficult to breath. Oftentimes a notch was cut into the tree or cross where the feet of the crucified were nailed. In a desperate effort to breathe, the wretched sufferer would raise himself a bit with his legs to relieve the constant pressure on the lungs. Howbeit, when the authorities wished to bring to a quick conclusion the man's suffering, they would simply brake his legs and soon he would suffocate. So here, according to the previous verse (31), they wished to have all of these men die soon, so they ordered the soldiers to brake their legs.
But if Yeshua was hanging there in between only two others, why does the fourth Gospel tell us that the soldiers broke the legs of the first, then of the second, coming lastly to Yeshua? Would they not instead come to brake Yeshua's legs second, if He was between the other two? According to Church tradition you would have the first man, then Yeshua in the middle and finally the third man. So the soldiers would brake the legs of the first, then come to Yeshua. But that is not how the Gospel tells us that it transpired.
But if there were more than three crosses that day, then all makes perfect sense. The soldiers would brake the legs of the first, who was not crucified at the exact time which Yeshua was, then they would brake the legs of the other one, who was crucified with Yeshua, then next in line would be Yeshua. Of course the evangelist concludes his telling of the event with the soldiers coming to Yeshua because, His legs not being broken is what the evangelist is wanting to point out (vs. 36). The braking of the legs of the final two after Yeshua is not of importance to the evangelist's purposes.
Let us look and see how all four Gospels handle this event and discover for ourselves whether there was indeed more than three crucified on that hill that day. We will begin with Matthew's account.
The record begins at the end of verse 31 in chapter 27. The following is the chronology.
- 27:31b They led Him away to crucify Him.
- 27:32 They compelled Simon to bear His cross.
- 27:33 They came to Golgotha.
- 27:34 He would not drink the vinegar they offered Him.
- 27:35 They crucified Him and parted His garments.
- 27:36 They sat down and watched Him.
- 27:37 They set over His head the accusation, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews".
- 27:38 Then two thieves were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left.
- 27:39-44 Some, along with both of the thieves, reviled and mocked Him.
- 27:45 There was darkness over the land. (6th to 9th hour= noon to 3 PM)
- 27:46-47 Yeshua cries with a loud voice.
- 27:48-49 They again offered Him vinegar to drink.
- 27:50 Yeshua dies.
Now let us compare this account with Mark's. The record begins in verse 20 of chapter 15.
- 15:20b They led Him out to crucify Him.
- 15:21 They compelled Simon to bear His cross.
- 15:22 They came to Golgotha.
- 15:23 He would not drink the wine mingled with myrrh (vinegar) they offered Him.
- 15:24 They crucified Him and parted His garments.
- 15:25 It was the third hour (9 AM).
- 15:26 His accusation (indictment) was written "The King of the Jews".
- 15:27-28 Two thieves were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left.
- 15:29-32 Some, along with both the thieves reviled and mocked Him.
- 15:33 There was darkness over the land. (6th-9th hour= noon to 3 PM)
- 15:34-35 Yeshua cries with a loud voice.
- 15:36 They again offered Him vinegar to drink.
- 15:37 Yeshua dies.
As one can see, these two accounts agree almost entirely. So let us continue on with Luke's account.
- 23:26 They compelled Simon to bear His cross.
- 23:27-31 Many bewailed and lamented Him.
- 23:32 Two malefactors were led with Him to be put to death.
- 23:33 Coming to Calvary they crucified Him and the malefactors.
- 23:34 They parted His garments.
- 23:35-37 Some derided and mocked Him.
- 23:38 An accusation, "This is the King of the Jews" was written.
- 23:39-43 One malefactor railed on Him, the other defended Him, asking to be remembered.
- 23:44 There was darkness over the land and the veil of the Temple was rent.
- 23:46 Yeshua dies.
Luke's account is similar to the first two with some important differences. Most notable are the two malefactors led with Him to be crucified. These malefactors were crucified with Him before the parting of the garments, while in MATTHEW and MARK it was two thieves who were crucified with Him, and that only after the parting of the garments (MATTHEW 27:35), and after the soldiers sat down and watched Him (MATTHEW 27:36), and after they set the accusation over His head (MATTHEW 27:37). It is pretty difficult to make these two malefactors the same individuals as the two thieves who were led with Yeshua from the beginning.
Not only does the sequence of events not allow for it, but the separate actions of the two pairs, the malefactors and the thieves, prevent us from mistaking them as the same individuals. The two thieves of Matthew and Mark's account both reviled and mocked Him while only one of the malefactors of Luke's account railed on Him. The other malefactor not only spoke in His defense but went further to ask that he be remembered when Yeshua came into His kingdom. This other malefactor was evidently a believer of some sort. So you see, one has to be pretty imaginative and ignore some pretty plain facts to make the malefactors and the thieves the same two individuals.
But we have one more account to consider. Let us see how the fourth Gospel relays the events.
- 19:16-17 They took Him and led Him away to Golgotha.
- 19:18 They crucified Him with two others on either side.
- 19:19-22 His accusation was written, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews".
- 19:23-24 They parted His garments.
- 19:25-27 Yeshua assigns one to care for His mother.
- 19:28-30a Yeshua ask for and receives the vinegar.
- 19:30b Yeshua dies
- 19:31-37 The braking of the legs.
This fourth account of the crucifixion is quite different from the other three, but much of John's Gospel is. MATTHEW, MARK and LUKE are called the synoptic Gospels because they all seem to follow the same story line, differing only in minor points along the way. But the fourth Gospel takes a completely different course, charting new and different waters than the other three. Having one Author though, the four Gospels must all fit together as one whole, which they do when we take the time to open the Book and search it out.
Scripture assures us that the original writers were inspired by GOD as to what they should write. Howbeit, the translators and copiers of those original inspired texts may very well have not been inspired by GOD. It is not surprising then that if a particular translator thought that there were only two other crosses on Calvary that day, then he would try to make the record accord with his understanding. An example of this is in JOHN 19:18.
- JOHN 19:18 KJV Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
or is it?
- JOHN 19:18 Where him they crucified, and with him two others on this side and on that side, and in the middle Jesus.
The first rendering is from the King James Version, the second rendering is the word for word translation from the original Greek.
In JOHN 19:18, the word one which we find in the King James Version (as well as nearly every other version) is simply not in the original Greek text. It was added by the translators to substantiate the idea that only three crosses were on that hill that day. The Concordant Literal New Testament does, however, translate the verse more honestly.
- JOHN 19:18 where they crucify Him, and with Him two others, hence [this place] and hence [this place], yet in the midst is Jesus.
The verse plainly states that they crucified Yeshua, and with Him two others on one side and two others on the other side, and in the midst of the four was Yeshua. The only reason some have a problem with this verse is that they have seen the pictures and movies of only three crosses so many times that this is what they believe to be the truth.
The phrase bearing his cross in JOHN 19:17 might also seem like a contradiction from the other evangelist, where they all claim Simon carried His cross, but the answer is a simple one. Bearing his cross does not always mean that one is carrying a physical wooden cross. In fact, of the ten passages in the Gospels which speak about one bearing his cross, only three (MATTHEW 27:32 MARK 15:21 LUKE 23:26) refer to a physical cross. The other seven (MATTHEW 10.38; 16:24 MARK 8:34; 10:21 LUKE 9:23; 14:27 JOHN 19:17) all refer to bearing one's own sorrow and suffering.
- LUKE 14:27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
Concerning this phrase "bearing his cross", Alfred Edersheim wrote in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,
- Indeed, the expression ‘bearing the cross,’ as indicative of sorrow and suffering, is so common, that we read, Abraham carried the wood for the sacrifice of Isaac, ‘like who bears his cross on his shoulder.’ (Book III Chapter 27)
Another problem to be solved in understanding how the four Gospels are to be reconciled with each other, is concerning the chronology of the inscriptions on the cross. In MATTHEW and MARK the accusation was written before the two thieves were crucified while in LUKE the accusation was placed after the two malefactors were crucified, but in the fourth Gospel account he seems to place the posting of the sign after all five were crucified.
We could suppose that we have here a contradiction or we could consider another possibility, that there was more than one inscription. Why must we be forced to believe that all the evangelists are writing of the same inscription? Very likely they were not. Mark's account (MARK 15:26) doesn't even tell us that the superscription was fastened to the cross, only that it was written up (not over). It may very well have been nothing more than the bill of His indictment, the cause of His condemnation (JOHN 19:12), which was carried out in front of the criminals as they made there way to be crucified.
Thus, the title, the titlos written by Pilate (JOHN 19:19) and fastened by his orders to the cross, was most likely done before it left his presence. But the superscriptions, the epigraphe of MATTHEW and LUKE may very well have been added later, independent of the titlos written by Pilate.
Another issue to deal with is the timing given in the fourth Gospel of Yeshua's crucifixion in relation to the other three evangelists (JOHN 19:18). A casual reading of the fourth Gospel gives the impression that all five were crucified together. Howbeit, the evangelist plainly tells us in verse 18 that he is concerned not with the sequence of the events, but of the place. Note in 19:16 we are told when He was delivered to be crucified, but in verse 18 it switches to where He was to be crucified, and then back again in verse 20 to then. We all have done this when relaying an event so we should allow the evangelist the same latitude.
So that is about all the information we have from the Bible concerning how many were crucified on that hill that day. If we were reading it for the first time with no preconceived ideas, few would come to any conclusion other than that five were crucified on that hill that day. But somehow most all of Christendom sees only three crucified there.
One might wonder how Church tradition could be so wrong? Literally thousands witnessed the event and were well aware of all the particulars. And many thousands of others were told in the coming days and years of all the minute details, as Yeshua's disciples went out and witnessed to all the world. So where and how could this simple but important detail be lost? How was it possible that some individual came along and taught for the first time that there were only three crosses, when so many believers (and unbelievers as well) knew that there were five?
If what we have presented so far is an accurate rendering of the event, then this question of how the Church lost count of the true number of those crucified on that hill that day is indeed a most solemn question. I believe that there is only one logical answer to the question. There is only one possibility that can solve the riddle. Why the Church today, indeed the Church of the last nineteen centuries does not know what the Church of the first Century knew, is that it is a different Church altogether.
This is a hard pill to swallow, I know, but what other answer could there be. We know that already in the second century (A.D. 195) there was a great dispute about the correct date of Easter. Even the identity of GOD [wrong as it was] in relation to HIS Son was not formally established until A. D. 380 at the council of Nicea. How and when was it all lost? Why was it lost?
Here we are convinced that the truth of these most important doctrines were lost when Yeshua returned and gathered together His followers into heaven in A.D. 70. (see the Study Whatever Happened to Timothy?). After that event, perhaps years later, people began to pick up and read the writings of that first century Church. From these they began to construct a doxology which unfortunately was mixed together with their pagan beliefs. Upon this foundation they constructed the Church which is thought of today as The Christian Church, but in reality is nothing of the sort.
So although the correct number of how many were crucified on that hill that day isn't of vital importance, how and why the Church does not know is most decidedly important. This is the test of their authenticity. Especially the Roman Church, for they claim to be the very ones entrusted with the truth from Peter himself. Yet somehow they have lost track of this most basic fact, that being,
- How many were crucified on that hill that day?