Crucifixion Contradictions or How Did Jesus Really Die?

The crucifixion of Jesus is central to Christianity. It is because of this that Christians believe he was the Son of God, without it they would probably not be a religion. But why is such a core belief riddled with contradictions? Each of the four Gospels tells different versions often contradicting each other. They show clear signs of extra details being added later. If a coherent story of the crucifixion cannot be complied how can the story be believed?

Huge gaps can be discovered by comparing each of the Gospels, especially the first (Mark) and the last (John). Each time the story is told; new details are added to present Jesus and the disciples in a better light until we end up with a quite different picture of Jesus’ death. There is a large contrast between the story told by Mark where Jesus and his disciples are scared and feel God has abandoned them, whereas with John they are supremely confident and know exactly what will happen.

The main cause of the contradictions probably comes from the fact the disciples did not witness many of the events. Depending on the account, only some of the disciples were at the Garden of Gethsemane (and those that were fell asleep), but none were at Jesus’ trial or actual crucifixion.

Mark paints a picture of a mortal man afraid of death, not the Son Of God (who after all, according to Christian teaching was sent to Earth in order to die for our sins). In the Garden, according to Mark, Jesus begs that the cup of suffering passes him by. Why would the Son of God do this? Surely he knew this was inevitable and the whole point of mission. Instead it sounds like a scared human, hoping to save his life. In the description given, he has no control over the events that are happening. Unlike the other Gospels, Mark does not mention the story of Barabbas or the fate of Judas.  At his trial he is silent and does not answer questions. Most interestingly of all, according to Mark, Jesus’ final words were “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” These are not the words of the son of God sent to die, rather someone begging for God to save him. He sounds like a man whose beliefs are shattered. This does not square with the claim that Jesus foresaw his crucifixion, if anything it looks like it wasn’t part of his plan.

Matthew tells a very similar story with only minor differences. When arrested Jesus claims he could have asked an army of angels to save him, which seems like false bravado as moments earlier he had been begging that to avoid suffering. This time he has slightly more control over the situation. Matthew adds the story of Judas and Barabbas (including a line that was used for generations to justify ant-Semitism). Matthew does make the absurd claim that when Jesus died, there was an earthquake and the dead came back to life, but waited until the resurrection before rising and appearing before many. He doesn’t record what happens after this (nor does any other writer either in the Bible or elsewhere). You would think people would notice a zombie apocalypse and record it, but apparently not. For some reason it’s not worth mentioning what happens to the zombies afterwards. If they also rose from the dead what makes Jesus so special?

Luke tells a similar story but also adds details to make Jesus more confident and in control. In his version Jesus sweats blood and an angel appears to give him strength (you would think the other Gospel writers would have noticed this and mentioned it but apparently not). Unlike in Mark and Matthew the disciples do not flee when Jesus is arrested. Luke does not have any of the Romans mocking Jesus, even one of the criminals agrees with him.

John’s account is the most different. He does not mention Jesus praying and questioning God in Gethsemane or his disciples falling asleep. Instead he is prepared for Judas and the soldiers already knowing what they will do. He is in complete control of the situation to the point where the soldiers are afraid to arrest him. In contrast to the other three accounts (which say he was silent) John describes Jesus giving confident and assured answers at his trial.

There are more contradictions which I don’t have space to fully discuss but they include, how many times the cock was to crow before Peter denied Jesus (once or three times), who tried Jesus (was it a council, the High Priest or Pilate), what questions was he asked, who found Jesus’ tomb empty (Mary Magdalene and/or Mary mother of James alone/with others), what they found at the tomb (an angel, the guards, a young man, two men, nobody, two angels or Jesus), when and where Jesus ascended into Heaven (Bethany the day of his resurrection or Mount Olive 40 days after (strangely 3 of the Gospels do not say what happened to Jesus after his resurrection)).

There are other historical inaccuracies. If Jesus was accused of blasphemy, he would have been stoned to death not crucified. Likewise, although it is said (in Mark and Matthew) that Jesus was crucified with robbers; this crime was not punishable with crucifixion. How could his trial take place when the council was forbidden from meeting over Passover? It is said Pilate had a custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover, but this wasn’t actually a tradition, nor did Roman governors have this right, they could only postpone execution until after the holiday. It seems highly unusual that Pilate would give in to a group of protesters so easily. After all protesters have extremely little influence in a democracy and would have had even less in Roman times. Mary could not have been at the foot of the cross because Romans prevented friends and family members from getting close in case they tried to help the victim escape. Crucifixion victims were not buried; instead they were left on the cross until their bodies rotted.

Many religious people ask that we believe in the crucifixion of Jesus, I would ask which version? It is clear that later versions were changed to make Jesus and the disciples look better and to avoid offending the Romans (due to the politics of the early church). How can we know what is true and what is not? If we cannot be sure about the most central belief of Christianity, how can we believe any other part of it?


22 thoughts on “Crucifixion Contradictions or How Did Jesus Really Die?”

  1. I highly recommend the documentary Zeitgeist The Movie.
    Dozens of religions hundreds even thousand of years before Christianity have a God that subscribes to the same characteristics as Jesus. Dionysus and Vishnu for example were born on Dec 25th, born of a Virgin, were Crucified, dead for 3 days and then resurrected. The contradictions in the Bible are due to the re-telling of a story replacing the main character.

    1. I have heard of many religions that have details resembling Jesus’ life story such as being born of a virgin, on the 25th of December, rising from the dead on the third day etc It seems that was a common story in the middle east during that time

  2. It’s quite telling that the only two links you provide are blatantly atheist. Did you consider any arguments on the other side? If you are interested in some of the Christian apologist counterpoints there’s a good article here. Alternately, if you like reading books, you could take a look at “The Case for Christ” which deals with much of what you are talking about here. Also, if you want a more philosophical angle you can check out “The Case for Faith” or “Reasonable Faith”. You could also check out my blog which talks about stuff like this ad nauseum. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it.

    Great blog, by the way.

    1. Glad you like the blog. The links I posted are side issues, this post is really about me grappling with the Bible myself. Basically I read the relevant passages and wrote down my thoughts. The links at the end are just for anyone who is interested in the topic and wants to learn more. Yes they are blatantly atheist but is that any worse than your blatantly religious books? I do try where possible to see the other side of the story, but having been raised Catholic I’ve seen the world from a religious point of view.

      While we’re discussing it, is there anything you want to say about the content of the post itself? Can you square the contradictions?

      1. “Yes they are blatantly atheist but is that any worse than your blatantly religious books?”
        – Well, you’d be hard pressed to find any neutral books on this subject so we are obliged to take opinions from people that have already drawn their conclusions and are presenting the evidence for those conclusions. I was just suggesting some sources if you just had genuinely not been aware of the existence of such material or hadn’t found any that satisfied your criteria. Those sources have reasonably succinct descriptions of the evidence within whereas if you rely on internet sources you could cover the same material multiple times or miss some key argument.

        As for the apparent contradictions, I’ll give you the same analogy as I have told others. Suppose a traffic accident happens and the police file a report which includes witness statements. Not all of the witness statements will be the same. People remember details differently, leave some out or change the order of events. So if you read those accident reports in 1000 years time, would you say, “These don’t match. I guess the accident must not have happened.” or “These don’t match, there must have been some heinous plot to make this accident appear to have happened.” or whatever. What would be the motivation of the people or the police to falsify the reports?

        What would be the motivation of the authors of these books be to falsify them? Because they wanted to create a system of control? That’s not credible as Christianity wasn’t used for anything like that for several centuries after all these accounts were recorded. All of the authors except for John met their death at the hands of the persecutors after a life time of poverty. What would motivate them to persevere despite no reward except that they genuinely believed in what they were doing.

        Happy trails on your journey.

        1. Imagine if there was a traffic accident. One person says a blue ford crashed into a red toyota. A second person says it was a yellow ford. That’s a contradiction not a different point of view.

          Imagine if one person said this accident killed a man instantly but the second person said no the man was walking around in perfect health days after the accident.

          The points above are contradictions not simply points of view, though if you disagree I would like to hear why.

          Why would they falsify their stories? Well first of all scholars don’t actually know who wrote the Gospels they were only ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John centuries later (source Bart Ehrman). So we don’t know their reasoning.

          Secondly there were many other Gospels that were not included in the Bible, such as the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel Of Mary, even a Gospel Of Jesus. However these were deemed to be fake. Why would anyone falsify these Gospels? Must they be true?

          I presume you are not a Muslim. Why do you not believe the Koran is true? Why would anyone falsify it? Why would Muslims be willing to die for something that is not true? Does this prove the Koran is true?

          Just because someone believes something doesn’t mean its true. History is full of people believing and repeating untrue stories. Quiet likely these stories were initially passed by word of mouth and like a game of Chinese whispers they got changed along the way.

          1. Regarding eye witness contradictions, etc., maybe you’ve never seen this experiment.

            Apocryphal gospels: most of them were written way later (as far as I understand), they could have been written to try to cash in on the new found popularity of Christianity. They could have been written by messers. I don’t know otherwise.

            I have never read the Koran although I intend to. Suffice to say that the message of Islam and the message of Jesus are quite different. Islam dictates its followers to uphold the five pillars of Islam so it is more or less a works based faith, which is what many faiths are. Christianity is based on God’s forgiveness: it is not what I do for God, it’s what he does for me. After that, with maturity, comes obedience to God out of love and gratitude.

            Mohammed and Jesus were very different. Mohammed built a small empire within his lifetime so there is obvious motivation for his faith to form the backbone of his empire. Of course the same criticism could be laid at the feet of Christianity as Constantine commandeered it to unite his empire, however that was centuries after the founding of Christianity.

            1. No there was no motivation as far as Islam is concerned. According to many traditions, Muhammad PBUH and his family were living in a very poor condition though he was the leader of a big community. He and his family never ate a proper food for three days in continuance. After his death, as per the will of Muhammad PBUH all his leftover stuff was given under the funds of the government and his progeny get nothing from it. All Muslims are required to pay charity @ 2.5% of their savings (known as zakat) to poor yet it is illegal as per Islam to give any money to any one from line of Prophet Muhammad PBUH. No one from his progeny got the throne of any Muslim Kingdom. With the spread of Islam, Prophet Muhammad PBUH and his family members never got any benefit not even a single penny

  3. Robert,

    Where in the world are your sources?

    First, Peter was at the trial. And John was at the Crucifixion. You might want to correct those typos.

    As for proving to you Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead? That like economics has been argued for centuries, there are believers, agnostics, and atheists. Each of those groups hold a different story as Gospel.

    Which version of Truth have you chosen to follow?


    1. Well there are the two sources at the end plus the video as well as my own reading of the relevant parts of the Bible. (You’re attempts to catch me out aren’t working).

      The resurrection is a separate point dealt with in another post (the link to which is just above your post).

      Which Truth do I believe? That its all just a myth. There may or may not have been a person called Jesus, but he certainly did not perform miracles or rise from the dead. As I said above, a simple story got exaggerated with each retelling until it became the wild myth we recognise today.

      1. Robert,

        There were NO videos of Christ. So, those are NOT sources.

        I studied the source documents. You may fly to the same location where I did some of my study .

        I have read the Greek New Testament twice for enjoyment. And I have found NO ‘inconsistencies.’

        I did find different view points. I expect that coming from the view points of different men.

        You choose to believe it is a myth.

        Your sources do not mean ‘myth’ when they call it a ‘myth.’ They mean story. The term ‘myth’ is used by the intelligentsia to call a story a story. And it does not indicate whether the ‘expert’ believes the story is valid or not.

        And no, you do not recognize the story today. I do.

        You can choose to not believe. And that is a valid response. Wrong but valid.

        But, to mislead people with tales falsified to make the history look bad?

        1. Ok, you do know there is a difference between primary and secondary sources? The video I linked is of a biblical scholar who has read the original New Testament in Greek and still found many contradictions.

          If I’m wrong, please point out where. How can you explain these contradictions? If I am wrong and you are right than it should be easy for you to explain at least some of the points I raised.

          1. Robert,

            You are not even referring to ‘sources.’ Primary sources are the original documents. Secondary sources are documents referring to the primary source document.

            So, yes, I do know. Quit attacking the person (ad hominem).

            You did not raise points. You made claims of contradictions. But, you did not give ANY contradictions.

            1. I’m not sure what you mean. My sources are the secondary sources I linked to at the end of the post plus the Bible itself.

              There are many contradictions such as whether or not Jesus accepted his death with fear and silence only to cry out questioning God (according to Mark) or whether Jesus accepted his death calmly and bravely never questioning the plan (according to John). The post is full of lists of contradictions so I don’t know what you mean when you say I didn’t give any contradictions.

              1. A. T. Robertson did a wonderful “Harmony of the Gospels.”

                What you are listing is different points of view of the same story.

                Had the differences not been there. Your tertiary interpretational scholars would have complained there was only one witness. IMHO. Of course, they tried to do that as well.

                The historical evidence is very clear. There was a Jesus. He was crucified. There arose a new cult whose members worshiped him and believed he rose from the dead.

                The Jews discuss this in different histories. The Romans do as well. And this record is preserved by Muslims, mostly intact.

  4. Why did you neglect to mention that in Mark and Matthew, Jesus dies on the morning AFTER the passover, while in John 19 he specifically dies on the morning BEFORE the passover?

    1. Where did you get your knowledge from please? It clearly doesnt say that anywhere in either chapters. They both state on the day of Passover. Thank you very much.

  5. Not every story told in Antiquity was meant to be taken literally.

    The reason for the apparent discrepancy in the two Judas’ accounts very likely is due to the fact that one or both stories are not historical; they were never meant to be understood literally. This issue demonstrates a major false assumption among conservative Protestants: Not every story in the Bible is historical. This statement is confirmed by mainstream NT scholar, Raymond Brown:

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