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Q & A

What do the letters INRI above the head of Jesus on the cross mean?

They were not on the cross in that form. In John 19:19,20 we read: “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. … And the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek” (NIV).

The Latin for what was written is IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEORVM. The Latin uses “I” where we use “J” and “V” where we use “U.” The Roman church took the first letter of each Latin word in the inscription and used them for the inscription INRI in their pictures of Jesus on the cross. 

Jesus had declared himself in His triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1-3) in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. He explained to Pilate, however, that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36,37). Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent three times, but gave in to the demands of the Jewish leaders. Then he had the inscription put on the cross to deride them. But we know Jesus is more than king of the Jews. He is KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:16).

— Stanley M. Horton, Th.D., is distinguished professor emeritus of Bible and theology, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Mo.

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