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Two thing stick out to me in the gospel accounts of Jesus on the Cross:

Mark 15:27-32
They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

  1. Were those that were crucified with him 'rebels' or 'criminals'?

  2. Why does Mark mention that there were two rebels, both of whom were presumably insulting him "Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him", whereas Luke has one criminal insulting him and the other recognizing his innocence and mission?

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Were they "rebels" or "criminals"? Even today, it's often difficult to make that distinction, as the difference is mostly one of perspective. As they say, "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist." –  Mason Wheeler Jan 7 '13 at 23:29
    
@MasonWheeler, correct, though I wonder if there is a subtler similarity or difference in the original Greek? –  aceinthehole Jan 7 '13 at 23:30
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2 Answers

These two different accounts in Luke 23:39 on one side and Mark 15:32 and Mathew 27:44 on other side can be reconciled. by supposing that, at first, both of them reviled the Saviour, and that it is of this fact that Matthew and Mark speaks. Afterwards one of them relented, and became penitent-- perhaps from witnessing the patient sufferings of Christ. It is of this particularly that Luke speaks.

Or it may be, that what is true of one of the malefactors, is attributed by Matthew/Mark to both. The gospel writers, for the sake of brevity avoid particularizing, often attributing an instance to many, what was said or done by single persons. Meaning no more than that it was done by some one or more of them, without specifying the one.

Similar instance can be found by comparing:

Mark 7:17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable.

with

Matthew 15:15; Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us."

also

Mark 5:31, And His disciples said to Him, "You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, `Who touched Me?

with

Luke 8:45; And Jesus said, "Who is the one who touched Me?" And while they were all denying it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.

and

Luke 9:13, But He said to them, "You give them something to eat!" And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.

with

John 6:8, One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, 6:9 - "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?

Source: Barns Notes

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This potential discrepancy is addressed at http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=768

Possible resolutions to the discrepancies between the accounts:

  • Possibility #1: Initially, both thieves reviled Christ, but then one of them repented.

After hearing Jesus’ words on the cross, and seeing His forgiving attitude, the one thief may have been driven to acknowledge that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. How many times have we made a statement about someone or something, but then retracted the statement only a short while later after receiving more information?

  • Possibility #2: The discrepancy could be due to a figure of speech called a synecdoche

Also, from the article in the portion relating to the possibility that this is a synechdote:

It is feasible that Matthew and Mark were using the plural in place of the singular in their accounts of the thieves reviling Christ on the cross. Lest you think that such might be an isolated case, notice two other places in Scripture where the same form of synecdoche is used.

  • Genesis 8:4 indicates that Noah’s ark rested “on the mountains of Ararat.” Question: Did the ark rest on one of the mountains of Ararat, or did it rest on all of them at the same time? Although the ark was a huge vessel, it obviously did not rest on the many mountains of Ararat; rather, it rested on one.

  • In Genesis 21:7 Sarah asked, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” Anyone who knows much about the Bible will remember that Sarah had but one child. In certain contexts, however, one might use a synecdoche and speak of one child (as did Sarah) by using the word children.

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