Saturday, July 30, 2011

Possible Discrepancy: Simon of Cyrene

What happens when someone uses categorical evidence spamming in a debate? Unfortunately there isn't usually time to address each argument individually. However, after the debate there is plenty of time!

Dr. Ehrman listed off over a dozen discrepancies in his debate with Dr. Craig. In this post we will examine whether or not there is a difference between the Synoptics (Matt, Mark, Luke) and John with reference to the question- who carried the cross?

The Evidence:

Note: As always, I encourage everyone to at least read the surrounding chapters in order to get some context.
  1. Simon of Cyrene
    • (Matthew 27:31-32) - "And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. 32And as they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross."
    • (Mark 15:20-21) - "And after they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, and put His garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. 21And they pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross."
    • (Luke 23:26) - "And when they led Him away, they laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus."

  1. Jesus
    • (John 19:17) - "They took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha."

The apparent error exists because John seems to indicate that only Jesus carried the cross. However, the phrase "and He went out" (highlighted green) indicates that John is not implicitly saying that Jesus carried the cross the entire way. John 19:17 says that Jesus went out carrying the cross towards towards Golgotha, not that he carried it the entire way.

In the Synoptic gospels, it is quite obvious that Simon played a role in carrying the cross. However, it would appear that Jesus carried the cross while they "led him away," and "as they were coming out (highlighted purple)." The phrase that comes just before the mention of Simon in each Synoptic indicates that Jesus started to carry the cross- and after this Simon helps him.

The key phrase seems to be "to the place called the Place of a Skull" (highlited red). There are two ways in which this phrase can be taken.
  1. Jesus bore the cross to Golgotha (arrived there)
  2. Jesus started out in the direction of Golgotha (did not necessarily arrive there with the cross)
Because the important phrase is found in John 19:17, and the presence of an error hinges upon the grammar of the sentence, let's check out multiple translations and try to get some Greek action going!

(to do your own hunting check out!bible/John+19:14)

John 19:17: 

  • NET©19:17 and carrying his own cross 1 he went out to the place called “The Place of the Skull 2 (called in Aramaic 3 Golgotha). 4
  • NIV© 19:17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
  • NASB© 19:17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.
  • ESV© 19:17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.
  • NLT© 19:17 Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). 
We can now narrow our examination to just one Greek word- εισ (pronounced "ice"), which has thus far been translated in each passage as the word "to."

The essential question: Does "εισ" indicate that Jesus went to golgotha and arrived, or that he merely went "towards" Golgotha?
Definitions of εισ according to NetBible: into, unto, to, towards, for, among

Here are the top 15 ways in which εισ is translated in NetBible, followed by the number of times it is translated each way: to 513, into 326, in 180, for 145, on 36, forever 30, as 28, at 26, against 18, so that 16, toward 15, among 11, entered 8, until 7, with 7

Now then, what does this information tell us? Well, the best translation of εισ in John 19:17 is "to" and not "toward" (This clarification has been added in response to a readers comment. The reason I think "to" is the best translation is because that is the way all 5 versions translate it, not because εισ is translated "to" the most times). The simplest reading of the verse with the word "to" carries the meaning that Jesus took the cross all the way by himself according to John. However, "toward" is a possible meaning of εισ.

There is a minor discrepancy between John and the Synoptic Gospels. When the best translation of John 19:17 is compared with the Synoptics, we find a difference. John says that Jesus took the cross to Golgotha, as in he went all the way there (not toward, and not that he merely set out in the direction of Golgotha). The Synoptics say that Jesus may have started out carrying the cross, but that Simon jumped in and helped him.

The discrepancy is minor. The reason for this is that "toward," while not the best translation of "εισ" in John 19:17, is a possible translation.
On an abstract and personal scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the slightest discrepancy ever (example- one account says someone ran versus another that says someone walked briskly) and 10 being the worst discrepancy ever (example- one account says Jesus died on the cross versus another saying that Jesus never went to the cross at all and died at an old age from a heart attack) I would rate this discrepancy a 3. As such, I think that it weakens the historical reliability of the gospels ever so slightly. Only in conjunction with other discrepancies of similar or greater blatancy would the difference between John and the Synoptics here mean anything.

Note: The number "3" only has significance for me personally. I encourage all of you to consider as much evidence as possible and come to your own conclusion. But remember- don't just assume that the translation which either hides an error (if you have Christian bias) or creates an error (if you have an anti-Christian bias) is the best translation! Just because one explanation or interpretation is possible, does NOT mean that it is the best one!

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