How many crucified thieves reproached Jesus?
Here is what the four gospels tell us about the thieves who were crucified together with Jesus.
Mark 15:27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.29 And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,30 Save thyself, and come down from the cross.31 Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.32 Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.
Luke 23:32 And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.33 And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.—39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
John 19:31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.32 Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
Matt. 27:38 Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.39 And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,40 And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.44 The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
Matt. 27:44 with the same also the robbers, who were crucified with him, were reproaching him. (Young’s Literal)
“Cast” in Matt. 27:44 (KJV) is a translation from the Greek word oneidizō (Strong’s 3679) and could also have the meaning of reproach, revile and upbraid.
So is it a contradiction that Matthew and Mark claim that the thieves (plural) reproached Jesus when Luke tells us another story in 23:39 – about one thief rebuking the other for his behavior and for not fearing God? Not necessarily. The easiest explanation is of course that the “good thief” REPENTED after that he joined the crowd (soldiers, priests, people who passed by and the other thief) by making at least one negative comment which would include him among those who reproached him. The bad thief might have been much more condescending and active in his railing on Jesus, and when the good thief finally repented he rebuked the other thief by saying “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.” Some suggest that there may have been further thieves crucified in the same area, apart from those mentioned on each of his sides. Maybe this cannot be completely ruled out, but the text does not seem to suggest there were any more.
It is not uncommon to use the story with the good thief on the cross, to support the ideas that neither works nor water baptism are necessary for salvation – with the argument that the thief accomplished neither. When it comes to works (good fruit) he did confess his sins and showed evidence of true repentance (which was also the view of Jesus who promised him a place in paradise), which means that all his sins were rightly removed. On top of this he also defended Jesus (a good deed) before the other thief. As a totally cleansed person he would qualify for salvation, and apparently he did not sin again for the remaining of his brief life. It is sin that separates us from God. When it comes to water baptism of course the thief had no possibility to go through with one, and most importantly he died before Jesus so therefore still “in the old testament”. We are indeed asked to get water baptized based on the Bible, but I do not believe a man will end up in hell if he happens to get killed on his way to do just that.