Daily Lent Devotionals: Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Wine or Sour Wine,  Gall or Myrrh: What Was Offered to Jesus? Part 1

This part of Jesus’ crucifixion is a bit confusing to many Christians, enough to cause some to say that the four Gospels have conflicting narratives:

Vinegar Given to Jesus by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click to enlarge)

"Vinegar Given to Jesus" by James Tissot, 1886-94 (click to enlarge)

Matthew 27:33-35, 48-50: 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him…
48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

Mark 15:23-24, 36: And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him… 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

Luke 23:36-37: The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

John 19:28-30: 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said ( to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

To harmonize these narratives, we have to account for two instances, not one, where Jesus was offered to drink. Matthew and Mark mention both instances, while Luke and John tell only the second instance. How do we know this? In Matthew 27:33-35, Jesus was offered to drink after he arrives in Golgotha, but before he was nailed to the cross. Note that after he was offered to drink, verse 35 says, “And when they had crucified him…” Mark has a very similar account.

Later, both Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus was offered to drink again while he hung on the cross. In Matthew 27:49-50, it says that after he was offered to drink, the people wanted to see if he could come down from the cross, and after that, Jesus died. Again, Mark 15:36 has a similar story.

Wine Mixed with Gall or Myrrh
In these two instances, what was offered to Jesus were two different kinds of drinks. Before he was crucified after arriving at Golgotha, he was offered wine mixed with gall (Matthew) or myrrh (Mark). Here, the Greek word for wine used is oinos, the same word used for “wine” in the wedding at Cana (John 2:10). Matthew uses cholē for “gall,” or bile, or a bitter substance (BAGD, 1086). The word was used to describe narcotics and even poisons because of their bitter taste.

Why then does Mark use “wine mixed with myrrh”? The Greek word used is smyrnizō, which means “to mix or treat with myrrh.” Among the ancients, myrrh was used as perfume, flavoring, embalming, and as a narcotic (R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, 639). Thus, Matthew’s “gall” and Mark’s “myrrh” have similar bitter qualities.

Sour Wine
All four Gospels agree that sour wine was offered to Jesus when he was close to death on the cross. It is during this instance that Jesus uttered the words, “I thirst” (John 19:28), prompting those who heard him to offer him sour wine for drink.

The Greek word used is oxos, which means “sour wine” or cheap wine, in contrast to oinos, the “wine” in Cana. This was the cheap drink that the lower classes of the military or society were able to afford to satisfy their thirst. “It relieved thirst more effectively than water and, being cheaper than regular wine, it was a favorite beverage of the lower ranks of society and of those in moderate circumstances” (BAGD, 715).

Who offered these drinks to Jesus in these two instances? Why did Jesus have different reactions in the two instances? And why does the Gospel of John say that Jesus said, “I thirst” to fulfill the Scripture? Read the continuation in tomorrow’s devotional.

Part 2

Invitation: If you live in or near Pasig-Cainta or Imus, Cavite areas, you’re invited to join our worship services: 9:30 a.m. in Imus and 2:30 p.m. in Pasig. Our Seven Last Words sermon series will be preached till Good Friday, April 6, and Resurrection Sunday, April 8.

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