Bible Narratives Of The Crucifixion Of Jesus And The Controversies Arising Out Of Them.
Crucifixion Was Foreseen By More Than One Old Testament Prophet
The prophet Zachariah foresaw that the people of Jerusalem would look upon the lord Messiah whom they pierced (Zech. 12:10; cf. John 19:37; Rev. 1:7).
Besides being king, David was also a prophet (Acts 2:30). Almost a thousand years before the crucifixion of Jesus King David had given a clear and prophetic account of the execution (Psalm 22). He had even foretold Jesus’ cry from the cross “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (22:1; cf. Matt. 27:46). David had even explained why God had forsaken his son. God could not look upon sin even when all the sins of the world were placed on the shoulders of his blameless son.
King David’s prediction of the crucifixion of Jesus was so vivid, that he described in detail the crowds mocking him when he was being crucified. (22:6-8, 12-13; cf. Matt. 27:39-44). He prophesied that the bones of Jesus would be out of joint and that His hands and feet would be pierced (22:14-17; cf. John 20:20). He even foretold that lots would be cast for Jesus’ garments by the Roman soldiers (22:18; cf. Matt. 27:35; John 19:24). Significantly David had foretold that not one bone in Jesus’ body would be broken (Ps. 34:20, cf. Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12; see also John 19:36). This established the tradition that Jesus would be considered the unblemished Passover Lamb that was slain for sinners (I Cor. 5:7).
The prophet Isaiah foretold the reason why Jesus would die on the cross. He wrote “Surely He (the Messiah) has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53:4-6). But did Jesus die on a cross?
A Cross Could Be A Tree And A Tree Could Be A Cross
The Greek word for tree is xulon, (xoo-lon). Literally the word could also refer to “a stick, club, tree, timber or other wooden article of substance, such as a staff, stocks, tree or wood.” On the other hand the Greek word for cross is stauroo (stow-roo), also meaning “to impale or crucify on a stauros (stow-ros) a stake, post set upright as an instrument of capital punishment.” Loosely the two words are sometimes interchangeably used. So a cross could be a tree and a tree could be a cross.
Luke used the word Xulon once in his gospel Luke 23:31 – “they do these things in a green tree”. He uses the same word thrice in the acts:
Acts 5:30 – “whom you murdered by hanging on a tree”
Acts 10:39 – “whom they killed by hanging on a tree”
Acts 13:29 – “they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb”
All three instances are in specific reference to the crucifixion.
Each of the above statements was made by Simon Peter the apostle.
In Peter 2:24 Peter himself uses the same word: “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” Since Peter uses the word xulon to refer to Jesus “hanging on a tree, taken down from a tree or bore our sins on a tree”, could it be that Jesus was in fact crucified on a tree rather than a Roman cross and that over two millennium the word tree was corrupted to mean cross (1).
Date and time of the crucifixion of Jesus
The year of the crucifixion of Jesus has been in dispute.
Some scholars have claimed that the year of the crucifixion is 30 CE. Others have claimed that the year was 34 CE. Both claims have merits and demerits. The merit has more to do with the time that the Hebrew Nazarene Ecclesia of Israel would require to develop (2).
There is controversy surrounding even the time that Jesus was on the cross before he died. By all accounts he was crucified on a Friday. But it has been claimed that after only three hours on the cross he died. Even the prefect Pontius Pilate was surprised that he should have died so soon. In fact he was so skeptical that he sent a centurion to Golgotha to verify if in fact Jesus was dead. It was only after ascertaining that Jesus was indeed dead that he granted Joseph of Arimathea permission to take down the body of Jesus from the cross. Mark 15:44-45 (3).
According to some accounts Jesus was crucified at 9 am and he died at 3 pm after being on the cross for six hours. A victim dying on the cross even after six hours was also surprising as experience showed that victims lingered much longer. In fact some victims lingered on for days. (4).
The bodies of the victims of crucifixion were removed from the cross only after they had died. So when Jesus and the other two who had been crucified along with him were on the cross for six hours Jewish leaders went to Pilate and “besought Pilate that their legs might be broken” (John 19:31). The Greek equivalent for broken also means to shatter to pieces. In practice the Romans smashed the legs of the victims so that the weight of their body now rested on the wrists that were nailed to the cross. When that happened the victims were unable to breathe and suffocated to death.
After they had smashed the legs of the victims on either side of Jesus, the Roman soldiers turned their attention to Jesus. But finding that he was already dead did not break his legs. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy of King David (5). Psalm 34:20 says explicitly of the crucified Jesus, “He keepeth all his bones; not one of them is broken.” John 19:36 says, “These things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.”
The Romans first pierced the side of the victims of crucifixion before they broke their legs. Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim referred to the piercing of the side as the coup de grace – a stroke of mercy or the death stroke. It is said that the soldiers did both this to expedite the death of the victim. However, Edersheim claims that the soldiers pierced the victim’s side to expedite death and then broke his legs to increase the pain as compensation for the reduced time on the cross (6).
In the case of Jesus as soon as the soldiers pierced his side, they saw that blood and water oozed out of the wound and concluded that Jesus was already dead and decided against breaking his legs. John 19:34 says, “One of the soldiers, with a spear, pierced his side, and immediately came there out blood and water.” The side being pierced is again in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zachariah. Psalm 69 contains prophecies relating to the crucifixion (7).
Who Were The Witnesses To The Crucifixion?
Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus seem to be based on eyewitness reports. Matthew 26:56 states that all the disciples fled for fear of their lives. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that they stayed away from the site of the crucifixion. According to John 18:15-27, Peter was so terrified that he repeatedly denied knowing Jesus. That being the case, who were the witnesses to the crucifixion?
Jesus was crucified atop a hillock called Golgotha which lay just outside the city walls. This hillock was probably located near one of the gates leading out of Jerusalem. A study of the Gospels tells us who in fact were present at the crucifixion.
According to Matthew 27:55-56 the followers of Jesus who watched the crucifixion from a distance were: “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” The women were present probably because they knew that they would not be arrested provided they did not interfere with the proceedings. Mark 15:40-41 also states that many female followers of Jesus were witnesses. He specifically names “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.” The Gospel of Luke merely mentions that some of Jesus’ followers were there but does not mention names. In John the witnesses are specifically named. According to him Jesus’ mother Mary, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clophas (or Cleophas), and Mary Magdalene and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” were all present.
The exact identity of the beloved disciple is a matter of dispute. Some scholars think that he is John the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, and the author of the gospel. However others have disputed this claim and the matter is still to be resolved.
The other Gospels make no mention of the beloved disciple as one of the witnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus and according to them what Jesus spoke from the cross is entirely different from the account by John. It may therefore be construed that John’s source of information regarding the crucifixion is different from the source of the other three. There is no consensus regarding the source of the other three. However it is likely that one or more of the women present provided the evangelists the details.
Based on the accounts in the four Gospels the witnesses to the crucifixion were:
1. Mary Magdalene (cited in Matthew, Mark, and John)
2. Mary the mother of James and Joses (cited in Matthew and Mark)
3. The mother of Zebedee’s sons (mentioned in Matthew)
4. Salome (mentioned in Mark) — Many scholars are of the opinion that this person is the same as the mother of Zebedee’s sons
5. Mary the mother of Jesus (mentioned in John)
6. Mary the wife of Clophas (mentioned in John. She was quite likely the wife of Joseph’s brother)
7. An unnamed sister of Jesus’ mother (mentioned in John) — Scholars think that this is the wife of Clophas
8. The unnamed Beloved Disciple (mentioned by John)
However this list is not without controversy and the controversy is not limited to the identity of the “beloved disciple”. There is also no consensus regarding Mary the mother of James and Joses. Some believe she is the one referred to as the “other Mary”. She is the same person who is said to have accompanied Mary Magdalene to the tomb on the day of the resurrection. It has also been argued that she is the wife of Clopas and perhaps even one of the sisters or a half-sister of Jesus’ mother.
There have been claims that this “other Mary” is none other than the mother of Jesus. If this is so then the three evangelists Matthew, Mark and John would be consistent in saying that Mary the mother of Jesus was present at his crucifixion. The mention that this Mary is the mother of James and Joses lends credence to this claim thus making her the mother of the four brothers of Jesus (Mark 6:3). However if this is indeed the case why were Matthew and Mark not explicit about this instead of referring to her as the “other Mary”? (8).
(1) Mock, Robert D. (1999). Crisis in the Nazarene Ecclesia – The Sanhedrin and Rabbi Shaul are Coming. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.biblesearchers.com/hebrewchurch/primitive/primitive4.shtml
(2) Mock, Robert D. (1999). Crisis in the Nazarene Ecclesia – The Sanhedrin and Rabbi Shaul are Coming. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.biblesearchers.com/hebrewchurch/primitive/primitive4.shtml
(3) New International Version (NIV). (2011). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+15%3A44-45&version=NIV;KJV;YLT
(4) The Amazing Burial of Jesus, Part 1, Matthew 27:57-61. (2012). Retrieved 2012, from http://www.gty.org/resources/print/study-guide-chapter/2399
(5) The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Matthew 27:57–28:15. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.gty.org/resources/study-guides/40-5178/The-Resurrection-of-Jesus-Christ
(6) The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Matthew 27:57–28:15. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.gty.org/resources/study-guides/40-5178/The-Resurrection-of-Jesus-Christ
(7) The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Matthew 27:57–28:15. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.gty.org/resources/study-guides/40-5178/The-Resurrection-of-Jesus-Christ
(8) Who Was at the Cross? (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.gospel-mysteries.net/witnesses-crucifixion.html