How Many Were Crucified With Jesus?
By Kenn McDermott
A majority of Christians have been taught that our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified along with two others, and that his cross was in between the other two. We have seen many displays, pictures, monuments, bumper stickers, crosses along the roadside, crosses in churchyards, and the like - all showing three crosses.
This fascinating study clearly demonstrates how God has protected His Word through the centuries and how the truth is still available to those who hunger and thirst after it. We are exhorted by God to study His Word and to “rightly divide” it. Although some things may be difficult to understand, this particular topic and the supporting verses are quite clear and easily understood. If you can grasp what is presented here, paying close attention to detail and staying your mind on the fundamental truths we will cover, you will, of necessity, find yourself in a quandary: do you continue to believe what you have been taught or do you change your mind to bring your belief into alignment and harmony with God's Word? I pray that you will consider the material presented here, and that you will ask God to help you as you study His wonderful, matchless Word. God wills not only that all men be saved, but also that they also come unto a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).
A major reason for so much confusion regarding the "others" crucified with Jesus is that men have interpreted the Word of God to suit themselves, their theology, and their traditions. Instead of going to God's Word and studying it for ourselves to determine if what we are being told is correct, we too often choose to believe men and women with degrees from Bible colleges and seminaries. We say that hundreds of years of tradition can't be wrong, but I hope to show you differently here.
Jesus Christ challenged the religious traditions of his time, as per the following verses:
(1) Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,
(2) Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
(3) But he [Jesus] answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
This identifies the root of the problem: a lack of real faith in the integrity of the Word of God. Such faith leads to the indispensable conviction that the Word cannot contradict itself. When one is rooted and grounded in that premise, he has a basis from which to work out what seem to be apparent contradictions, of which there are many in the Bible.
When it comes to the subject of the others crucified with Jesus, the key is to realize that, as with any author, one part of the narrative may not tell everything about a particular incident. At another place, the author may choose to add more information. Because we know that God cannot contradict Himself, if what He tells us in Matthew is different than what he tells us in Luke about the same event, we know that we must put the two together to get the whole picture. You could call this principle “narrative development.”
Before we begin our study of the four crucified with Jesus, let's discuss the problems created by traditional teachings. The two thieves and the two malefactors described in God's Word have, by tradition and the ignorance of Scripture on the part of medieval painters, been made to be the same. In other words, only two were crucified with Jesus. But if we let this stand, we have a major discrepancy in the Word of God. Matthew 27:38 (and Mark 15:27) clearly state that there were "two thieves," while Luke 23:32 says "two malefactors."
Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.
Furthermore, both, thieves (or robbers) reviled Jesus, but only one of the malefactors "railed on him," while the other malefactor defended Jesus.
The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
Luke 23:39 and 40
(39) And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
(40) But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
Another discrepancy created by traditional teaching is regarding the timing of the crucifixion of the two malefactors who were "led with him to be put to death" and the timing of the crucifixion of the two thieves.
Luke 23:32 and 33
(32) And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.
(33) And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
The two malefactors were crucified at the same time Jesus was. Yet, Matthew 27 says that after a number of things happened at Calvary, two thieves [robbers] were crucified with him.
Matthew 27:33 – 38
(33) And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
(34) They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
(35) And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
(36) And sitting down they watched him there;
(37) And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
(38) Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
If all of this is synonymous and dealing with only two individuals, then words have no meaning and language is useless for the purpose of communication. The Bible then becomes just another book written by men, full of errors and misstatements and not what the Word says of itself in 2 Peter 1:21, namely, "...holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
The King James Version says "two thieves;" the Greek words are duo lestai of which duo is “two,” lestai is “robbers.” The Greeks used an entirely different word for “thieves,” kleptes, but this distinction is obscured in the KJV. Duo lestai, two robbers, were crucified with Jesus after an interim of time.
Luke tells us that two malefactors (duo kakourgoi) went with Jesus when he was led forth from Pilate's Hall and were crucified at the same time Jesus was crucified. Remember that Matthew and Mark stated that there were two robbers (duo lestai) crucified with him after the garments had been parted and the soldiers had sat down and were watching what was going on. Matthew and Mark record that both “robbers” reviled Christ. Luke has only one reviling Christ, and he is called a “malefactor.”
There is an easy way to understand the Word of God: read it carefully and think about it. Instead of believing the picture of three crosses we have been conditioned to, we must believe what God tells us in His Word. Two malefactors were crucified with Jesus when he was crucified, and two robbers were later crucified with him after his garments were parted, etc. Thus, one malefactor and one robber were on either side of Jesus. For the record, every robber is a malefactor (evil-doer), but not every malefactor (evil-doer) is a robber.
From reading Matthew, Mark, and Luke we know there were four others crucified with Jesus. So now we go to the Gospel of John, which is not concerned about the time element when describing the crucifixion account. It does not provide the when, but instead gives us the where.
John 19:17 and 18
(17) And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha:
(18) where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
Whoa! That verse says there were only two crucified with Jesus, and now we have an apparent contradiction. So what do we do? Well, because we cannot resolve it from what we can read in English, we need a tool to be able to dig beneath the English “surface” of Scripture into the Greek below.
If you have an interlinear translation of the Stephens Greek Text, from which the KJV was translated, you can check the following for yourself, but to assist you we are including a scanned image from The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, by George Ricker Berry, page 303:
Please note that immediately above the word "one," which is in brackets, there is no corresponding Greek word. This indicates that the translators added the word "one."
In the interlinear translation, John 19:18 reads "where him they crucified and with him others two on this side and on that side [one] and in the middle Jesus." The word "one" appears in the English, but there is no corresponding Greek word. To indicate that the translators added the word "one," they put it in brackets. If the word "one" is not in the critical Greek texts, why is it in the KJV? Because by 1611 the Western world had been so indoctrinated by paintings showing Jesus on the center cross and one evil-doer on either side of him that when the translators came to this particular verse, they inserted the word "one." By taking out the added word "one," we do not touch the original, God-breathed Word, which then reads as follows:
Where they crucified him, and two others with him on either side, and Jesus in the midst.
One more point of logic is relevant, based in the following verses:
John 19:32 and 33
(32) Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
(33) But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
When we let the Word of God speak with its inherent and inerrant accuracy, we see that the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men on one side of Jesus. Then they came to Jesus next in line and found him dead already. As Jesus is the focal person, the Word does not mention the last two men still in line, but certainly the soldiers continued on and broke their legs if necessary. Here is a graphical representation of the five crosses to help you replace the traditional mind picture with the biblical one:
The word "other" in John 19:32 ("and of the other which was crucified with him") is another key to further substantiate that four men were crucified with Jesus. In the Bible, there are two Greek words translated "other." One is heteros and the other is allos, and their usage is for two different situations. In John 19:32, allos is used because more than two may be involved. The two malefactors and the two thieves (robbers) make four. Therefore, the soldiers broke the legs of the first and of the other (allos) of the four involved.
In Luke 23:32, the English word "other" is also used: “And there were also two other [heteros], malefactors, led with him to be put to death.”
The word for "other" in this verse is not allos, but heteros because there were only two involved. This is the remarkable accuracy of God's Word. Two malefactors were led with Jesus and crucified with him; later, after they had parted his garments, cast lots, sat down for a while, they put up an accusation, and finally, after they had done all of that, they brought the two robbers and crucified them. Two plus two makes four. When the soldiers came, they broke the legs of the first and of the other (the allos, of more than two), but when they came to Jesus they found that he was dead already. This is significant because the prophets of old had prophesied of the Savior that none of his bones would be broken. The Passover lamb was not to have any broken bones, and Jesus was the Passover lamb that year (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12; Ps. 34:20).
So, who do we believe—the doctrines and traditions of men or God and His rightly divided Word, which is truth? The choice is yours, because God will never violate your free will. He gently and lovingly invites you to consider the truth of His Word, but He will never make up your mind for you.
This study of the five crucified can be used as a starting point because it clearly shows how to work God's Word from the inside to the outside instead of the traditional way, which is from the outside to the inside. Once you grasp that concept, you can begin a journey into the Bible that will answer many, many questions for you and help you see why God magnified His Word above His name. In other words, He underwrote it.
I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
the five crosses at Ploubezere Brittany