How many criminals who were crucified at the same time as Jesus was were there who repented? Were there none or one? By reading most versions of the Gospels, the reader cannot be sure. This can give atheists the opportunity to say that the Bible is contradictory in this instance. Would they be right? This essay attempts to answer that question.
First, I shall examine what is recorded in
- Matthew 27: 44
- Mark 15: 37
- Luke 23: 39-41
in the King James Version and the Concordant Literal New Testament. Then, I shall examine five other versions which bring in other aspects.
- CLNT – Concordant Literal New Testament
- IV – Inspired Version
- KJV – King James Version
- MSNT – Modern Speech New Testament
- NAB – New American Bible
- TDB – Dartmouth Bible
- WAS – Worrell New Testament
King James Version:
- The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
- And they that were crucified with him reviled him.
- And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
Concordant Literal New Testament:
- Now with the same, the robbers also, who are crucified with Him, reproached Him.
- And those crucified together with Him reproached Him.
- Now one of the hanged malefactors blasphemed Him, saying, “Are not you Christ? Save yourself and us!” Yet answering, the other one, rebuking him, averred, “Yet you are not fearing God, seeing that you are in the same judgment! And we, indeed, justly, for we are getting back the deserts of what we commit, yet this One commits nothing amiss.”
Matthew and Mark agree that both criminals reviled Jesus, while Luke records that only one reviled him. There is definitely a disagreement here. This poses a problem for those Christians who claim that God is the author of the Bible or that He dictated what was written. This would suggest that either God changed His mind or that He really did not know for sure. No true believer in God would accept either premise. It would be better to say that God inspired the writers to record the episode in their own words as they recalled the events at a later date.
The theory that there were actually four criminals has to be rejected. It is true that the men described by Luke were called by different names and that they reacted differently from those described by Matthew and Mark. However in Matthew 27: 38, Mark 15: 27, and Luke 23: 32-33, it is stated that there were two who were crucified and that one was on the right of Jesus and the other was on the left. Thus, there could not have been four others, given the placement and the time element.
All other versions examined, except those listed below, agree with the two versions above in what is reported in the three gospels. Like the Concordant Literal New Testament, they all have their own wording in describing the event. However, none make any note that Luke does not agree with Matthew and Mark in the number of criminals who reviled Jesus.
- One of the thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same into his teeth. But the other rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation; and this man is just, and hath not sinned; and he cried unto the Lord that he would save him.
- And one of them who was crucified with him, reviled him also, saying, If thou art the Christ, save thyself and us.
- And one of the malefactors who was crucified with him, railed on him, saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss.
This version is a correction of the King James Version through inspiration from God. The discrepancy has been eliminated with the record of Luke being considered to be correct. Whereas many Christians accept that God inspired the original writers, they reject the idea that He would inspire this interpreter. Yet, at the same time, they will accept other versions in which men have made changes. Unfortunately, there are corrections in other passages of this version which are very questionable. However, the other versions can likewise be similarly criticised.
New American Bible
- The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.
- Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.
- Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Footnote: This episode is recounted only in this gospel. The penitent sinner receives salvation through the crucified Jesus.
This version notes the difference in that the event was recorded by Luke only. It should be noted in this regard that it is not uncommon for an event to be recorded in any number, but not all, of the gospels. Nevertheless, this does not account for the discrepancy in the number of criminals who reviled Jesus.
Modern Speech New Testament
- Insults of the same kind were heaped on Him even by the robbers who were crucified with Him.
Footnote: [Robbers] The impenitent robber probably cursed Jesus in a loud voice, and his words were heard even by the crowd that stood a short distance off, and (no nice discriminations being made) the general belief and impression was that his companion was joining in. Luke however, who as a physician was brought into close contact with the women of the early Church, may have had reported to him by those of them who stood at the very foot of the cross the conversation carried on in low voices between Jesus and the penitent robber, which perhaps they and the beloved disciple alone heard (Luke xxiii. 39-43; John xix. 25). – ED.
- Even the men who were being crucified with Him heaped insults on Him.
- Now one of the criminals who had been crucified insulted Him, saying, “Are not you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” But the other, answering, reproved him. “Do you not also fear God,” he said, “when you are actually suffering the same punishment? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving due requital for what we have done. But He has done nothing amiss.”
With all the noise of the moment, this explanation is plausible. John reports that he and the women were close to Jesus. It is quite probable that the repentant criminal spoke in a much lower voice than the crowd of revilers. Thus, very few people in attendance would have heard him speak. All the accounts most likely were written later than when the reports were given to them. If this be the case, there would have been no intention of telling conflicting stories. This explanation would confirm the accounts in the Inspired Version and vindicate all the other versions.
- And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
This is an abbreviated version of the King James Version. The compilers eliminated repetitions for easier reading. The Gospels are combined because of the repetition. In this instance, Luke’s account was the one accepted, thus eliminating the discrepancy. No reason is given in the notes at the back of the book for this choice.
Worrell New Testament
- And the robbers, who were crucified with Him were reproaching Him with the same thing.
Footnote: The robbers … with the same thing; they joined with the rabble in upbraiding Jesus for a time; but one of them repented later, (see Luke 23:39-43).
- And those who were crucified with Him were reproaching Him.
- And one of the suspended malefactors kept reviling Him, saying, “Art not Thou the Christ? Save Thyself and us!” But the other, answering and rebuking him, said, “Do you not fear God, seeing that you are in the same condemnation? and we, indeed, righteously; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but This Man did nothing amiss.”
Footnote: One of the malefactors; Matthew and Mark represent both of the malefactors as reviling Jesus. One repented, however, and was saved.
This version brings in another aspect. One of the criminals changed from a stance of being critical to one of being repentant. Here, being saved means that he recognized his sins, repented, and accepted Jesus as the Messiah. In return, Jesus accepted the repentance. This explanation of what happened vindicates the reporting of the discrepancy in the many versions. However, it is not stated why this view was taken.