Some people question the consistency of the four Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) with regard to their reporting of Jesus Christ’s last words as He was dying on the cross. We will consider relevant scripture passages from all four of the Gospels. [Note:  When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we note otherwise.]

Matthew 27:46-50: And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

Mark 15:33-37: Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.” And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last.

Luke 23:43: And Jesus said [to one of the two thieves who were crucified with Him], “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

John 19:26-27: When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.

Luke 23:46: And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last.

John 19:30: [W]hen Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

Both Matthew 27:4650 and in Mark 15:33-37 mention the same words that Jesus Christ spoke (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”)  and make it clear that Jesus did not die immediately after speaking these words. Furthermore, neither passage reports specifically anything else that Jesus said while He was dying on the cross, although both passages indicate that Jesus subsequently “cried out with a loud voice” before He died. Thus, there is no valid reason to believe that either of these verses provide an account of Jesus’ very last words.

And, Luke 23:43 and John 19:26-27 report an additional statement by Jesus Christ while He was on the cross, but these statements differ from each other. In any case, neither of these passages nor the verses that immediately follow them provide reason to believe that either statement of Jesus in these passages pertains to the very last words of Jesus before He died.

In contrast, both Luke 23:46 and John 19:30 seem to indicate that what Jesus Christ stated in that respective passage are the very last words He spoke before He died. However, the two passages differ as to what Jesus said. The Luke passage appears to indicate that Jesus died immediately after He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit,” whereas the John passage apparently implies that Jesus died immediately after He said, “It is finished.”

Furthermore, neither of these two passages indicates that Jesus Christ said anything between the time He spoke the words stated in the respective passage and the time He died.   Thus, there appears to be a contradiction, since both statements by Jesus obviously could not be His very last words.

However, the wording of several biblical translations of these two verses of scripture does not exclude the possibility that Jesus may have spoken between the time He said what is recorded in one or the other of these verses and the time that He died. If so, which of these two verses is more likely to contain Jesus’ last words?

First, let’s consider the wording of John 19:30 in the following translations, as well as in the New King James Version that we previously cited.

American Standard Version: When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished!” and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.

Amplified Bible: When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

Holman Christian Standard Bible: When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

New Revised Standard Version:  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Wycliffe Bible: Therefore when Jesus had taken the vinegar, he said, “It is ended.” And when his head was bowed down, he gave up the ghost.

Although a quick reading of these translations may appear to indicate that Jesus Christ bowed His head and gave up His spirit (i.e., died) immediately after stating “It is finished” (or “It is ended.”), there is no certainty that the writer intended to give this impression. For example, there is no specific statement that Jesus bowed His head instantaneously after stating “It is finished” (or “It is ended.”). Thus, the wording of John 19:30 allows for a reasonable possibility that there may have been a brief interval between the statement Jesus made in this verse and the time that He bowed His head and died, which gave Him time to speak several additional words.

Now, let’s consider the wording of Luke 23:46 in the same translations.

American Standard Version: And Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said this, he gave up the ghost.

Amplified Bible: And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit! And with these words, He expired.

Holman Christian Standard Bible: And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.”[a] Saying this, He breathed His last.

New Revised Standard Version:  Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.

Wycliffe Bible: And Jesus crying with a great voice, said, Father, into thine hands I betake my spirit. And he saying these things, gave up the ghost.

We do not believe the wording of Luke 23:46 allows for a reasonable possibility that there was a brief interval between the statement Jesus made in this verse and the time that He breathed His last (gave up the ghost). Therefore, we think it is likely that Jesus made the statement recorded in this verse (“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”) after He spoke the words recorded in John 19:30 (“It is finished.”). Thus, the words recorded in Luke 23:46 were probably Jesus’ very last words.

And, there is another reason for believing that Luke 23:46 records the very last words of Jesus. When He was sent by God to earth, His mission was to live a sinless life and then willingly become the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of everyone who trusts in Him as their Savior. In other words, Jesus could be the ultimate sacrifice only if He lived a completely sinless life (i.e., was unblemished by sin). This followed the precedent set in Old Testament times, which required that only unblemished animals be sacrificed to God.

As Jesus was dying on the cross and about to complete His mission, He declared aloud that His mission was finished. Only then was He ready to commit His spirit into the hands of God, His Father. From a purely logical standpoint, this is much more likely than the reverse order that would have resulted in Jesus committing His spirit into the hand of God before He declared that His mission was finished.

Conclusion

Although the Gospel writers differ to some extent as to what Jesus said while He was dying on the cross and as to when He made those statements, this does not necessarily mean these accounts contradict one another. When assessing biblical passages that differ from one another, it is important to keep in mind that whenever witnesses to an event focus on different aspects of that event, they are likely to report somewhat diverse accounts of that event. Therefore, each and every one of these accounts may be accurate (i.e., there are not necessarily any contradictions).

Thus, it is important to thoroughly investigate apparent biblical discrepancies before concluding that they are contradictions. There may not be a high degree of confidence in the possible explanation for a particular discrepancy, but there is ample evidence that the entire Bible is reliable and that, therefore, a credible explanation does exist for any differences in what is reported, even if that explanation may not yet be evident. [For a discussion of reasons to believe the Bible is credible, see our article entitled “Is the Bible Reliable?”]