A Discrepancy As Jesus Is Offered Bitter Wine

Matthew and Mark using different terms to describe the event where Jesus is given wine to drink while on the cross.

And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.   —Matthew 27:33-34

Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it.  —Mark 15:23

The gospel of Matthew describes this drink as a mixture of wine and gall; Mark describes it as wine and myrrh. There is no discrepancy here; both writers are correct.

The word “gall” in both the Hebrew and Greek languages is translated as “bitter” or “poisonous.”

  • Hebrew: “ros”
• Greek: “chole”
The wine that the Roman soldiers offered Jesus, contained a bitter gum resin called myrrh. Wine that has turned bitter in the process of becoming vinegar was the common drink of Roman soldiers because it was cheap and readily available. It was common during a crucifixion that Hebrew women would mix myrrh with wine and give it to the dying as a sedative—to ease their suffering.

Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to those who are bitter of heart.  —Proverbs 31:6

We see confirmation in the use of the word gall as bitterness from an Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah found in Psalms 69:21. David wrote that when the Messiah is given wine at His crucifixion, it will be mixed with gall. The translators could have chosen either gall or myrrh here, in which both mean the same thing: “bitterness.”

Vinegar to Drink: At the crucifixion of the Messiah, He will be given wine mixed with gall.

“They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”  —Psalms 69:21

  • Myrrh is known to have analgesic or pain-relieving effect.
  • Wine contains alcohol, which can also ease pain.

The effects of mixing the sour wine of the Roman soldiers with the bitter myrrh, acted as a pain killer for those who were dying.

On this first occasion, when the soldiers offered Jesus soured wine with myrrh; He would not drink from it. At this point, Jesus had not completed the full payment that was required for our sins. For this reason, He would allow nothing to diminish His suffering. Jesus would bear the full wrath of God for all of us, and He would do so while fully sober and conscious of every affliction placed upon His body. Had Jesus taken the wine mixed with myrrh, some might have claimed later that He did not take the full punishment that our sins required, and thereby His sacrifice was not compete.

Sidebar: The fact that these details are included in the gospels of the New Testament, is an internal evidence of authenticity. There were many specific details that the men who wrote the narrative of Jesus life and death, were unaware of—regarding their significance in fulfilling the prophecies of the Messiah. It would not be until many years later that these facts that Mark 15:23, and Matthew 27:33-34, record; would be understood as fulfillments of Hebrews Prophecies that Jesus accomplished. These men did not understand, at the time they wrote their narrative, that Jesus would be offered a drink that would ease His suffering on two occasions. The first, Jesus would refuse, because He had not complete His sacrifice for our sins; the second, He would accept—after our sins were fully paid.
On the second and later occurrence—when Jesus said from the cross, “I thirst,”—He knew that “all things were now accomplished.” It was at this point that He accepted the wine mixed with myrrh.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. 30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.   –John 19:28-30

Notice that immediately after Jesus received the wine mixture; He dismissed His Spirit and died. There would not have been sufficient time for the effects of wine and myrrh to have diminished any of His suffering on the cross. It is my opinion that this is an important difference between Jesus’ rejection of the wine on the first occasion and His acceptance of the wine on the second occasion. Jesus was fully in control over everything that happened during His crucifixion and death.

…I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.  —John 10:17

We learn, in this example, why these Old Testament prophecies are so crucial to our understanding of the events that are described in the New Testament. The chapter; Vinegar to Drink, speaks of the Messiah being given “gall” and “wine” to drink in anticipation of the Crucifixion. Since myrrh was commonly added to the sour wine that the Roman soldiers drank, it is certain that when Jesus “tasted” the wine that was first offered to Him before He finished His sacrifice—He determined that this mixture was not proper for Him at that juncture, while still dying for our sins on the cross. He may have tasted it to see if it was water, which He could have drank. The fact that He refused the wine with the myrrh and would not drink—is a significant point. Jesus would not diminish His suffering by the effects of the wine and myrrh, while He was bearing the horrors of the cross. Jesus wanted to take all the pain and suffering that the cross would bring and receive the full wrath of God that was deserved for all the sins of the world. He did this so that He could proclaim from the cross: “It is finished,” our debt for sins have been fully paid.