Was the vinegar given to Jesus on the cross mingled with gall or myrrh?
Matthew 27:34 and Mark 15:23
- Gall (Matthew 27:34) - "they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink."
- Myrhh (Mark 15:23) - "And they tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it."
Gall is bile secreted by the liver. Biblically, it is used to denote bitterness of spirit (Acts 8:23; Lam. 3:19). Myrrh is an aromatic gum that grows in Arabia, Abyssinia, and India. It was used to sweeten the smell and taste of various foods. It was also used in embalming (John 19:39).
According to "Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible" by Haley, page 28, there were two times that Jesus was offered the vinegar. "The first time, the wine drugged with bitter narcotics, the effect of which would be to stupefy him, he did not receive. Afterward, some drink free from drugs was given him, which he accepted." In other words, they were of two different times and different things were offered. Though it is a hopeful explanation, it does not fit the text. Please take a look at the table where I have put the verses in order from Matthew and Mark and included the two times Jesus was offered drink.
|At the beginning of the crucifixion . . .|
|27:34 "They gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink." (Greek "wine" is "ozos" which is a mixture of sour wine or vinegar and water.)||15:23 "And they tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it." (Greek "wine" is "oinos" which means simply, wine.)|
. . . several hours pass . . .
|27:48 "And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink." (Greek "sour wine" is "ozos", or vinegar as above).||15:36 "And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink." (Greek "sour wine" is "ozos", or vinegar).|
Most probably, both gall and myrrh were added to the vinegar. The text does not explicitly state this, nor does it exclude the possibility. Nevertheless, "The ancients used to infuse myrrh into wine to give it a more agreeable fragrance and flavour."1 This means that it is quite possible that the vinegar already had myrrh in it, as would be expected among Roman soldiers, and gall was later added. Each writer focused on a different aspect.
Furthermore, these verses do not necessitate a contradiction if we understand a contradiction to be the condition when the statement of one verse negates the possibility of the other being true. Technically, the inclusion of both gall and vinegar is very possible.
A second explanation could be that that Matt. 27:34 and Mark 15:23 are describing different events. Textual evidence supporting this would be that different Greek words are used: "ozos" in Matthew for "wine" while Mark has the Greek "oinos" as wine. That, combined with different Greek words "chole" for "gall" in Matthew and "smurna" for "myrrh" in Mark, may be a clue that these are different events. However, this explanation, though possible, is not very likely since the context of the verses strongly suggest that each is a description of the same event.
Third, there may be an unknown copyist error. I say unknown because I could find no record of any textual variation in Matthew and Mark regarding these verses in question. This does not mean that we might not find one in the future which could shed more light on the issue. However, the weakness with this explanation is that it is an argument of silence and is not favored.
I conclude that the most likely explanation is the first one, that both myrrh and gall were present in the vinegar.
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- 1. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1995.
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