Were Four Men Crucified With Christ?

The Way International accuses the Christian church at large of inaccurately interpreting the Bible, placing church tradition above the Word of God itself. As an example, the group asserts that four men were crucified with Jesus Christ, not two. Although The Way's founder, Victor Paul Wierwille, implied that he discovered this as a result of his unbiased study, he actually took this material from the late E.W. Bullinger. Outside of Bullinger, no one else is known to have come up this theory. An appendix of Bullinger's Companion Bible provides the most concise presentation of this idea.

Bullinger's approach to the Gospels in general is what I'd call the "Detective Joe Friday"approach. His primary methods are

- to see small distinctions and inflate them into huge separations.

- to assume that every description and event is described as a precise order of events.

It is as though he sees the Gospel writers as reporting, in police-like fashion:

"8:28 A.M.: Jesus departs Jerusalem carrying his cross... 8:50 AM: arrived Golgatha... 8:57 AM: gave gall... 9:04 AM: distributed garments... etc, etc." Then he compares the minute-by-minute logs of each of the four Gospel time clocks and assumes that it appears that one writer had two criminals arriving at 8:50 AM and another has two arriving at 9:01, then they must be two separate sets of criminals. EWB's "Joe Friday" approach is obvious again and again, like when he assumes that when a Gospel lists the three languages of the inscriptions on the cross, he had to have been listing them in the order they appeared on the sign. And if two Gospels state the languages in a different order, it must have been another sign. Not necessarily so! The Joe Friday approach may be useful-- IF the writers were Joe Friday, steeped in American culture.

An alternative approach to Joe Friday is the "artist" approach which describes all the elements and facts, but doesn't go out of its way to do it in a police log fashion. For instance, you and I may describe the crucifixion to a Bible class or to someone who asks what happened. We may do very well in describing all the words, participants and events. Yet, We may not have described them in an exact time order. We'd probably do the same with any event-- a football game, conference, party, etc. In most cases, the precise times and order is not real important-- the events and the meaning are. We may purposely describe things in an order that places the most important things first, paying little regard to time. Or, we may mix order and importance, describing the most important events in the first half of a game (but not in exact time order), then the best of the second half (not in exact order). And your and my description of the same game may then appear to be in conflict to a "Joe Friday" type who is bent on reconstructing the game in a "log."

There are several indications that the Gospel writers used an "artist" approach rather than "Joe Friday," and these are especially noticeable when you compare the Gospel wording to that of Bullinger and Wierwille. For instance, EWB uses the words "after," "before," "later" and "four" often. VPW uses "after" and "finally." All these are Joe Friday terms. These words are essential to use when teaching 4 crucified, yet none of the Gospels ever use these words in the crucifixion accounts (though they do in the trial and resurrection accounts). The Gospels only use the word "then," or "at that time." But Biblically, "meta" can even mean a block of time (a duration). We do, too. I can talk about what I did "then" (yesterday morning) in some detail, but I won't likely list everything I did then in precise minute-by-minute order. EWB and VW treat "then" as though it always means "after"-- after one minute in time and before another. . And the verb "crucified" refers not just to the minute in which a man is nailed to a cross, but the entire period of time (from hours to days) he is on the cross. The Gospels seldom uses the word "then" in the crucifixion accounts, yet EWB and VW use it often. Mostly Gospels just read "and...and...and," in run-on sentences, as is typical of Greek. Furthermore, the Gospels don't even give much detail on the crucifixion itself (not counting the trial and resurrection), considering it's the most important event in human history, since they each total only about 6-8 paragraphs, barely the length of a single page of a novel.

If you consult the Aramaic (perhaps you accept Lamsa's and VW's notion that the Gospels were written in Aramaic?), the Gospel doesn't use the word "then," or any time-oriented words; it just says, "two were crucified with Him..." It makes no attempt to order the events with time-related words.

EWB and VPW add a number of words that the Gospels don't. Another example: VW condemns Bibles that say "one on either side" because the word "one" isn't in Greek. Then he turns right around and says that the Greek equals "two on this side and two on that side,"-- and he is adding the word "two" a second time even though it isn't in Greek. So he is making the same error of adding a word, just as he condemns the translation of doing. Of course, any translator (including you and I) must add a word to make it understandable in English,

Either: "Two others, (two on) this side, and (two on) that side" (= 4 crucified)

Or: "Two others, (one on) this side, and (one on) that side" (= 2 crucified)

I think the latter reads less into the text than the former. Furthermore, TWI's own Aramaic Interlinear New Testament contradicts Wierwille. The Way's "Word-by-Word Translation" of the Aramaic plainly reads, "one on one side and one on the other."

EWB and VPW both use the word "four," which none of the Gospels do. Both assume that the crosses were is a straight row, and that only two soldiers broke the legs of one criminal (leaving other soldiers presumably just standing around watching), then moving across the middle cross to the side cross, skipping Jesus. The Word doesn't support VW's assumptions. In fact, when Jesus was arrested in secret, at night, "a large armed crowd" (Mat. 26:47, Luke 19:48, 20:19, 22:47,52; "detachment" in John 18:3,12) went to arrest Jesus, because they expected a big fight. They would have assigned even more soldiers to the execution, fearing that the literally tens of thousands of Jesus' followers who called him "Son of David" (David was a military general and king) would attempt a rescue, as Peter had tried alone in Gethsemane. Roman soldiers feared a mob, and were nervous every time 500,000 nationalistic Jewish males came to Jerusalem for the Passover (this is why the Roman troops always holed up in the Antonia fortress there; about 35 years later Jewish rebels captured the fort and killed the garrison). Unlike today when soldiers are armed with grenades and machine guns, Roman soldiers could be (and sometimes were) suddenly overwhelmed by huge mobs who had just as much "firepower" (namely, a sword) as the soldiers did. Readers can just easily assume that two went to one criminal, while other soldiers broke the legs of the other, or that after the first criminal they were interrupted (they got thirsty, or had to deal with an unruly spectator, etc) and then went on to the other criminal. But EWB's assumptions color his interpretation of 4 crucified more than the text does.

EWB's habits of adding words and description that the Gospels don't is apparent in many of his appendices. For instance, he has three inscriptions over the cross, which has to include the soldiers taking down two of the outmoded inscriptions and Pilate writing three times. But the Gospels never mention such things, EWB just infers and adds them himself. It never even occurs to EWB that some of the Gospel writers were probably paraphrasing, not quoting, the inscription, just as the writers often paraphrased, not quoted, people and even the Law and the Prophets. When Mark says "King of the Jews," he is just offering a condensed version of the longer inscription which was attached to the cross.

Both EWB's and VW's narrow definitions of allos and heteros are contrived. If you take ten minutes with a Greek concordance looking at these words, it is obvious that they don't work in all the occurrences in the NT. Narrow definitions of words sometimes were true of Attic Greek, but the Koine Greek of the NT is common Greek, in which the meanings of many words are defused. To hang an interpretation of John 19:18 on two words that are (and must be) translated with several English words is foolish and not true to the Bible text. If you don't have access to a Greek concordance, I can send you a copy of the allos and heteros pages. Even a brief look at a Greek concordance destroys most of VW's unique word definitions (lambano, dechomai, etc, etc).

VW's definitions of allos and heteros were radically different in the first two printings of PFAL (1971, pp. 167-168; he may have changed them because they contradicted his meaning for heterosin RTHST.). In the first printing, VW insisted that heteros meant "other of the same kind," but months later in the second printing he insisted heteros meant "other when only two may be involved." In the first printing he asserted that allos meant "other of varying kinds," but in the second printing he said it meant "other when more than two may be involved." In both printings he left the claim, "Which Greek word had to be used to have the true Word?... This is the sharp accuracy of God's Word." If it was so accurate, why did VW change the meanings so radically-- but not the conclusion about four crucified? If those meanings were the accuracy of the Word, how could they change so radically in only a few month's time?

Actually, all of his meanings for these words are false. Although he said that "Allos is used when more than two may be involved," the Gospels also use allos to refer to turning the other cheek (Mat. 5:39), a cripple's other hand (Mat. 12:13) and the other disciple (John) who went into the tomb with Peter (John 20:8). Perhaps Jesus healed a three-cheeked, four-handed cripple? VW also wrote that "heteros is used because only two categories are involved." But the Gospels use heteros to refer to another psalm, place, king, man, servant, hearer, believer, wife, day, tribe, etc, etc. Are there only two categories of these things? (Many Wayers/ex-Wayers don't even seem to realize that allos and heteros are translated "another," almost as often as "other.)

It's true that heteros suggests a difference in type more often than allos. However, the words are usually interchangeable, and the choice of word depends more on who the writer is than on its use. John's Gospel and Revelation use allos about 50 times, but use heteros only once. Mark uses allos about 23 times, but uses heteros only once. Luke is just the opposite, using heteros about 50 times in Luke and Acts, but using allos only 16 times. Therefore, the careful student of language would be surprised if Luke didn't use heteros to describe a criminal, or if John didn't use allos.

At times Luke quotes the same words of Jesus which other Gospels do, but Luke uses heteros where the others use allos. For instance, in the parable of the sower, Matthew 13 and Mark 4 use only allos to refer to the seed, while Luke 8 (which uses mostly the same terms throughout) uses only heteros. When Matthew 19 and Mark 10 quote Jesus' censure of a man who divorces one woman and marries another, they use allos while Luke uses heteros. Matthew 21 and Mark 12 quote Jesus' parable about an owner who sends an allos servant, while Luke 20 states he sent an heteros servant. Paul interchanges the words also, using allos six times and heteros twice in his list of manifestations "other" believers use (see also Hebrews 11:35-36). The Gospel writers would not interchange allos and heteros if there were radically different, inflexible definitions as Wierwille claims. In addition, TWI's Aramaic Interlinear again contradicts TWI's teaching on "other," because it uses the same Aramaic word for "other" in both John 19:18 and Luke 23:32.

VW also ignores singular nouns. He quotes John 19:32, saying soldiers broke the legs "of the other which was crucified with him." But if there were four men, John would have written, "of one of the others who were crucified with him." In summary, The Way's "precise" definitions are bogus, and to rest the teaching of two more imaginary criminals on them lacks logic.

It is peculiar that VW tried to use "malefactor" and "robber" to try to prove they were two different sets of people. If he was consistent in applying this principle, then there would have to be two Barabbases, as John 18:40 terms him a "robber" while Luke 23:19 and Mark 15:7 call him an insurrectionist and murderer. If Paul is called a "believer" in one place, and an "apostle" in another, is this proof there are two different Pauls? Even today, a single news article can use several different terms (thief, criminal, fellow, etc) to refer to the same person. While VW admits that "A malefactor is an evil-doer," he stubbornly insists they must be different anyway. A robber is certainly one kind of criminal, and the Gospels use both terms to refer to the same men.

Most of the "discrepancies" are contrived by the "Joe Friday" approach. One, I think, is more significant-- in one Gospel, two criminals revile Jesus, in another, one doesn't. The reason it appears to be a discrepancy is because we can't readily picture a criminal making such a dramatic change in behavior in six hours' time, with one Gospel recording his attitude at the start of the crucifixion and the other noting his attitude at the end. If it is "impossible" to change so quickly, then it "must have been" two different people. Yet, changes of heart are a normal thing with people who confront Jesus Christ. The centurion professes "this was the Son of God," and spectators beat their breasts and went away at the end. The Gospel doesn't note his skepticism about Jesus at the start of the crucifixion (just as one Gospel doesn't record the criminal's ridicule) because it is assumed by any Jewish reader that criminals and Roman centurion's are sinful and unbelieving. It took only two minutes with Jesus for Nathaniel to change from an indirect insult ("can any good thing come out of Nazareth?") to awed belief ("Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel") and for Saul to turn from persecutor to believer. The criminal observed Christ for six hours, experienced miraculous events (darkness at noon), and the anger, hate, fear of death, and sorrow that comes with facing a torturous death in a few hours. And perhaps Christ said other things to others and to the criminal which were not recorded. In view of Jesus' ministry, a criminal's change of heart is hardly surprising. In fact, the very reason the centurion's and criminal's statements of belief were included in the Gospels is because they were testimonies to Christ's amazing power.

Another peculiar thing: anyone who read Matthew, Mark, or Luke (and even John) by itself would have to come to the conclusion that only two men were crucified with Jesus. (John wasn't even written until 40-50 years after the other Gospels, and before the printing press few people probably had all four Gospels in hand so couldn't compare them all in log fashion.) None of the writers ever uses the word "four" and none of them ever mentions two criminals led to Golgatha and then two more led there at a later time in the same Gospel. The only conclusion they (especially someone like Theophilus who was reading it as his sole report) could ever come to is erroneous (in the Joe Friday view)-- that two were crucified with Jesus. Could the writers write the Gospels in such a way as to mislead the readers so? Or were they all describing the same simple fact-- that two were crucified with Jesus?

Why would the "artist" paint a picture of men crucified with Christ? To show the fulfillment of Isaiah 53, that he was numbered with the transgressors. You need only two to fulfill it.

Many of these insights apply just as well to Way ideas like "Peter's six denials"-- "artist" versus police log style, adding words not in the Gospels, Aramaic support, inaccurate definitions of Greek words, presumed events that are not mentioned in the Bible text, inability to see this in a single Gospel taken by itself, and the like. These other unique Way teachings are not found in the Bible itself, but are imposed by the imagination of "the Teacher."

C. 1997, rev 1999, Dr. John P. Juedes, www.empirenet.com/~messiah7

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