I am skeptical of the classical inerrantist’s view that the Bible cannot “err.” Essentially, the Bible, to be God’s word, cannot make any erroneous claim when it comes to history, science etc. The only problem? The Bible clearly errs, and one such example concerns Jesus’ own very robe (just to be clear, if the Bible errs it in no way implies that it is uninspired or non-authoritative. Inerrancy and inspiration/authority are not the same things). How so?
When Jesus was undergoing trial, just before being led off to be crucified, Matthew tells us that he was wearing a scarlet robe (27;28; 27:31) whereas in Mark and John it is a purple one (Mark 15: 17; 15:20; 19:2; John 19:2; 19:5). Therefore, clearly one gospel tells us that Jesus wore a scarlet robe whereas in the other two it is purple. This is a contradictory claim since scarlet and purple are not the same colours, and that would be a bit of an issue for the classical inerrantist to explain concerning how he thinks the Bible needs to be read. So, one inerrantist Matt Slick tries to explain this away (1):
“Was the robe of Jesus scarlet or purple? To answer the question, we must first examine the colors to see what they are. Below is a chart showing both scarlet and purple with different shades, in hex code, side by side. The upper grid is the direct color presentation. The bottom grid is the same presentation with a transparent shade over it. The shade is to simulate dim lighting conditions, which might have been the case inside Pilate’s palace where they placed the robe on Jesus.”
This is actually quite desperate. Colour chart or not scarlet and purple are different colours just as green and blue are different colours. The chart that he provides is thus totally irrelevant. He goes on:
“As you can see, the colors are both different and similar depending on the shade and the lighting. For example, dark scarlet is very similar to darker purple. In the condition of poor lighting, the distinction is even less apparent since the colors would appear darker.”
Again, irrelevant. If the Bible must speak as the inerrantist thinks that it should then all three authors have to agree on what colour Jesus’ robe was, and if they don’t then one is making an incorrect historical claim. It thus simply does not matter what the “lighting” was in the room because purple & scarlet remain different colours. To say that the robe was “dark scarlet” to try and match it with “dark purple” is not only speculative but what it is actually saying is that the robe was neither colour described. In other words, all three accounts get it wrong! More desperation yet somehow more plausible:
“Also, another possibility is that the robe could have been made of two colors that were put together due to their similarity. But this explanation doesn’t seem to fit that well.”
It is plausible that the robe could have been two colours (both scarlet and purple) but the point is that the inerrantist is forcing his inerrantist presupposition onto the text itself. He is not allowing the Bible to speak for itself, and the Bible clearly makes a contradictory claim about the colour of Jesus’ robe. Then this: “it could simply be that the robe was a dark color that could have been accurately described by either word.”
False and a contradictory claim. Scarlet & purple cannot both be “a dark color.” Scarlet is a rather bright reddish colour and purple is more darkish. They clearly cannot both be dark colours. This demonstrates the lengths that inerrantists will go to explain away discrepancies within the Bible.
But having said this, how do I see it?
To me this contradictory claim is a mark of authenticity. When two witnesses corroborate the same event in differing ways it has a far higher degree of historical probability (both provide independent testimony that is not concocted in the mind one author). Either way, as a matter of historical fact, Jesus was cloaked in a robe and led to die via crucifixion. One of the gospel authors, though relaying a historical event, makes a mistake concerning the colour of the robe (it’s also worth nothing that our gospel authors were not eyewitnesses to the events they described but relied on details from witnesses). The mistake could come down to multiple things. A witness could have simply made a mistake (maybe by being colour blind, or the lighting could have warped his perception to give the impression of the incorrect colour) or the tradition through which these details came down through time got muddled. By weighing historical probability I think that Jesus probably wore a purple robe since it is attested to in two independent sources (both Mark & John) as well as in our earliest gospel (Mark).
However, does this matter in the bigger picture of Christianity? No. It only matters for the inerrantist who tries to make the Bible speak on his terms.
Slick, M. Was the robe of Jesus Scarlet or Purple? Available.