The Inscriptions on the Cross (Stake)
Each of the four Gospels gives a different wording of these inscriptions:
1). Matthew 21:37: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
2). Mark 15:26: “The King of the Jews.”
3). Luke 23:38: “This is the King of the Jews.”
4). John 19:19: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
Here again the difficulty is created by assuming that these similar but differing records are identical, without noticing the exact words which are written. It is not universally assumed that there was only “one,” and then follow the efforts to explain the alleged “discrepancies” between the different versions of it.
If we note carefully what is actually said all will be clear.
1). Mark 15:26, can be dismissed: “For he does not say anything about a “title” (Gr. Titlos, John 19:19) being put on the cross or anywhere else, which any one had seen. It is a question of the Lord’s “accusation” or “indictment,” or the ground or cause of His condemnation as claiming to be “the King of the Jews.”
2). John 19:19 speaks of a “title” written by Pilate, before it left Pilate’s presence; for no one suggests that Pilate went to the scene of the execution and wrote anything there.
In Pilate’s writing the three languages were in this order: (1) Hebrew, (2) Greek, and (3) Latin (cp. IV, below). And it was read “after the cross had been set up.”
This was the one which gave rise to the argument between the Chief Priest and Pilate (John 19:21-22); and this argument took place before the parting of the garments. (Vv. 23, 24)
3). The inscription in Matthew 27:37 was the result of that discussion; for another “title” was brought and was “set up over his head,” “after they had parted His garments,” and having sat down, they watched Him there. (Vv. 35-36)
As there could hardly have been two titles at the same time, the former must have been then taken down and the other substituted. We are not told how long the argument lasted or when it ceased, or what was the final result of it.
4). A further result is seen in Luke 23:38; for another was brought much later, close upon “the sixth hour” (v. 44), when the darkness fell. It was written with the language in a different order: (1) Greek, (2) Latin, and (3) Hebrew. (V. 38) (See the texts) It was put up “over Him” (Gr. Ep’ auto, v.38), “after the revilings of the people.” (Op. Vv. 35-37 with v. 38); whereas Matthew’s (No. 3) Was set up “before the revilings” (op. Matthew 27:37 with v. 39)
The result is that:
1). Marks was only His “indictment.”
2). John’s was the “first,” written by Pilate himself (or by his order, in (1) Hebrew, (2) Greek, and (3) Latin, and was put on the cross before “it left Pilate’s presence.”
3). Matthew’s was the “second” substituted for the first, in consequence of the arguments which took place, and was set up “over His head” “after” the garments had been divided, and “before” the revilings.
4). Luke’s was the “third” (and last) put up “over Him,” “after” the revilings (Luke 23:35), and was seen just before the darkness of the “sixth hour.” (V. 44) This was written in three languages, but in a different order: (1) Greek, (2) Latin, and (3) Hebrew. (v. 38) Not in Hebrew and Greek, and Latin, as No. 2 in John 19:1)
Thus, such differences as these are marks of Divine accuracy; and instead of being sources of difficulties, become, when rightly divided, the means of their removal. (Remember that when the word “Cross” is used that it should be rendered “Stake” and that the inscriptions were on boards placed above Christ’s head)