Comment: (a rather long comment, followed by a response from John Oakes)
You give a poor answer to the question: If you place so much faith on the reliability of the synoptic Gospels and refuse to accept that they are not plain eyewitness statements, how do you account for the blatant contradiction between John 19:17 and Matt. 27:32 ? A little summary of the gospel accounts is in order here: Matthew Mark and Luke say Simon carried the cross, no reported collapses while cross-bearing and no transitions of the cross from one bearer to another. John says Jesus carried the cross, no reported collapses and no transitions of the cross from one bearer to another. Probability theory tells us that it’s long odds-on that the cross was borne by one person, but you have it likely ( as in >50% , please show your working for this, you can’t ) that not only was the cross carried by 2 people, Jesus collapsed while cross-bearing, that all the gospel writers did a pretty poor job of chronicling the details of this particular scene, and you have also fabricated a story that isn’t recorded. Why would you do this?
Consider this possibility: The accounts are the same if you remember that the human eye cannot differentiate between two people if they are sufficiently far away. Most people cannot pick out faces on the opposite side of a football ground for example although you can tell they are there from the ‘sea of faces’ effect.So it’s a public execution, Simon carries the cross, Jesus walks just in front. Luke tell us there’s a large number of people following, women wailing etc, you’d want to stand a good way from that if you were there. Luke notes people ‘stood at a distance’. Suppose that’s you, what can you see from where you are. You can only see the action from shoulder height and above. There’s Roman soldiers there around Jesus and Simon, two other dudes heading to be executed too, with their friends and followers if they have any. They probably did considering how much the Jews seemed to appreciate Barrabas, and suppose you don’t know that in the middle of this fairly large throng heading to the place of the Skull that Simon was seized earlier to do cross-carrying duty. You have to expect that one unwashed hairy male Israeli looks pretty much like another if you’re far enough away, but you know that Jesus is in the middle of the throng and you can see a cross-piece being moved forward just next to him. It’s going to look like Jesus is carrying the wood if you don’t know otherwise. When they get to the Skull, the story moves on, who carried the cross is now a minor detail to you but what you remember is how you saw it. All the gospel accounts are true here as the tellers are telling it how they saw it, no reported collapses ( as per the gospels ) and no reported transitions ( as per the gospels ).
You certainly have a right to express your opinion that I did a poor job of explaining what happened on the way to Golgotha. I definitely do not agree with you. that this is a poor explanation. First of all, anyone who claims that this is a blatant contradiction is simply just plain wrong. A blatant contradiction is a pair of statements which cannot be harmonized in any reasonable way. This is simply not the case. Period. There is a perfectly reasonable way to harmonize John 19 and Matthew 27. This does not mean that this is what happened, but it is perfectly reasonable.
Notice that John says "They took Jesus away, carrying his cross." Inother words John says clearly that, at least at the outset, Jesus was carrying the cross beam. My description is in clear agreement with this. John was an eyewitness, so I will happily agree with his information rather than accept the statements of someone almost 2000 years later who was not there that day.
Matthew 27 says "As they were going out [to Golgotha] they found a Cyrenian man named Simon. They forced this man to carry his cross." Notice says that this happened while they were traveling to the execution scene. Matthew is also an eyewitness to the events: either that or possibly he was not actually at the scene, and he heard it from his good friends who were. The natural interpretation when we hear from one eyewitness that they forced Jesus to carry the crossbeam when leaving for Golgotha and that Matthew reports that Simon was forced to carry it sometime after they left, is that Jesus carried it part way and Simon the rest. Unless you can show that these men who were actually there that day are mistaken or are lying for some reason, I will go with what they said.
At this point, I will absolutely admit that it is a bit of speculation to envision Jesus collapsing on the way and the soldiers forcing Simon because Jesus was literally unable to carry it further. This is far from unreasonable speculation. We know that it was the tradition for the one to be crucified to carry his cross. We know that part of the way there, Simon was asked to carry it. It is not a large leap to conclude that Jesus had collapsed, but anyone saying such a thing should acknowledge that there is some speculating here.
You say the the gospel writers did a poor job of chronicling the events of the day, but you provide absolutely no justification based on actual information in this case for your statement. We know that there were oral traditions the first 20-30 years after Jesus’ death. We also know that when the gospel of Matthew was written, there were still thousands of eye-witnesses still alive. This makes it rather unlikely that he could have produced a "poor chronicle" as you say and unless you can give me some evidence to back up this charge, I will dismiss it. As for your theory, I will have to say that I cannot absolutely rule it out. It is not an irrational explanation, but I would say it is quite a bit less likely to be the correct explanation for a few reasons. I say this not to "prove" your explanation wrong, but just to say why I think it is rather unlikely (but not impossible!). First of all, we know that John, for one, stayed close to the procession. Surely he never forgot what happened. Second, all or virtually all of the people in Jerusalem that day knew Jesus quite well. He was a major public figure by this time, even if he was rejected by many. Again, I do not claim to be proving you wrong, but it seems quite unlikely to me that John, who was almost certainly in the crowd accompanying Jesus to the cross that day, would get this wrong. Surely someone in the throng knew who Jesus was. Probably most of them did. Besides, the eye-witness, Matthew reports that Simon was called to duty while on the way, so someone was carrying it before. I hope this helps.