Truth Versus Tradition: Who Was Crucified with Jesus?

The Gospels of Matthew and Mark record that there were two robbers crucified with Jesus. Luke records that there were two malefactors (evildoers) crucified with Jesus. It is the commonly held belief that the robbers of Mathew and Mark were the same individuals as the malefactors of Luke, but there are significant differences between them.

The robbers were crucified after the soldiers had parted his garments, gambled for them, watched Jesus for a while, and then put up his accusation.

Matthew 27:35 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 [robbers] crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.

The malefactors were led with Jesus to be crucified.

Luke 23: 32 And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.

Both robbers reviled Jesus (Matthew 27:43). Only one malefactor did so. The other turned to Jesus for salvation.

Luke 23:39 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?

41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.

42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

Every robber is a malefactor, but not every malefactor is a robber. Dr. E. W. Bullinger, in his appendices to his “Companion Bible,” has provided a comprehensive analysis of the evidence that there were four crucified with Christ, not two, and that the robbers and malefactors were not the same individuals. There is a link to these appendices in our web links section. The relevant appendix is #164. I am only giving a summary of some of the evidence here. If you want more details, please follow the link to Dr. Bullinger’s work.

The gospel of John is interesting in regard to the number of those who were crucified with Christ.

John 19:18 Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.

The little secret here is that the word “one” has no corresponding word in the text. It was simply added arbitrarily to conform to what was already the traditional picture by the time of the original King James translation in 1611. Nearly all more modern versions have followed suit. But it should read along the lines of: Where they crucified him and with him others, two on this side and on that side [enthathein kai enthathathein].

Another piece of evidence is the actions of the soldiers.

John 19:31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

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:

They broke the legs of one person and of the next they came to, but when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was dead already. What did the soldiers do? Did they close their eyes and sneak past Jesus to get to the guy on the other side and then come back to Jesus and see that he was already dead? Or were there five, with Jesus in the midst. They broke the legs of the first and then the next one they came to and then came to Jesus.

In one sense, it doesn’t make any difference how many were crucified with Jesus. He is the central figure. Who cares how many others there were? But there is a matter of the heart involved here that is not just important but crucial. If one is unwilling to give up his tradition in favor of what God’s Word says relative to a matter as meaningless as this, what will he do with matters of doctrinal significance in God’s Word? Regarding something that is more important, will he give up tradition in favor of God’s Word when he was unwilling to do so regarding such a small matter? I think we both know the answer to that. Everyone makes a decision in life as to what he/she holds to be the highest authority when it comes to the things of God. Choose wisely.

The above record is also part of the evidence regarding the day Jesus Christ was crucified. It was not the day before the weekly sabbath. It was the day before a special “high day” sabbath. It was the “preparation,” the time when the Children of Israel were slaughtering their Passover lambs and preparing them for the Passover meal. Jesus was not crucified on a Friday. Matthew 12:40 could not be more clear that Jesus would be buried for three days and three nights.

Matthew 12: 40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Even if we count any part of a day as a day and any part of a night as a night, there are not three days and three nights between “Good Friday” and “Easter Sunday.” He was crucified and buried on a Wednesday. He arose on the following Saturday afternoon. When the women arrived they found an empty tomb. It had been empty since Saturday afternoon.

Understanding what day of the week Jesus was crucified or how many were crucified with him is not essential to any practical aspect of one’s life. But when the Biblical records are so clear, especially in the case of the three days and three nights, that the traditional view is incorrect, continuing to hold on to tradition shows disrespect for God’s Word. The fact that this disrespect is manifest across the spectrum of the vast vast majority of Christian churches should be a matter of grave concern.

No tradition is worth violating God’s Word for, even in the smallest detail. If we attend church and look to our leaders for insight regarding such vital matters as the requirements for eternal salvation and righteousness before God, shouldn’t we hold these men and women accountable to know God’s Word and care enough about it to present the truth rather than tradition? I have no quarrel with traditionalists personally. Many of them are very fine and loving people. They just can’t be trusted for what is and what is not truth when it comes to the things of God. That authority lies solely with His written Word. We should have such reverence for God’s Word that any willful discarding of it even in the smallest detail in favor of an errant tradition is totally unacceptable.

Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

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