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CAIAPHAS (kā'ya-făs). In the hundred years from 168 b.c., when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple, to 66, when the Romans took over, the high priesthood was almost a political office, the priests still coming from the descendants of Aaron but being generally appointed for worldly considerations.

To assure their control over the total affairs of Judea, the Romans reserved the right to appoint not only the civil ruler but also the religious leader of the Jews, the high priest. Josephus relates that “Joseph who was also called Caiaphas” was made high priest by the Procurator Valerius Gratus (a.d. 18) and that he was deposed by the Procurator Vitellius (a.d. 36). His successor was “Jonathan the son of Ananus,” commonly identified with the Annas of the NT (Antiq. XVIII. ii. 2; iv. 3). Thus the high-priesthood of Caiaphas lasted some eighteen years, standing in marked contrast to the rapid changes in the office both before and after him. It indicates that he was shrewd and adaptable enough to conciliate the Romans. According to John 18:13 he was the son-in-law of Annas, who had been deposed as high priest in a.d. 15 by Valerius Gratus. Neither Caiaphas nor his father-in-law is named in the gospel of Mark.

Caiaphas is first named in the NT in Luke’s six-fold dating of the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry (Luke 3:1, 2). The form of Luke’s statement is arresting, “in the highpriesthood [sing.] of Annas and Caiaphas” (v. 2). The expression indicates an irregularity. The conjecture that “and Caiaphas” is an interpolation receives no MS support. Creed (Gospel According to Luke [1930], p. 49f.) thinks the expression reflects Luke’s lack of exact information on the priesthood, for he does not name Caiaphas in connection with the trial, and in Acts 4:6 writes “Annas the high priest.” Bultmann (Das Evangelium des Johannes, 12th ed., pp. 496, 497) suggests that it is due to Luke’s careless blending of two traditions, one familiar to him, naming Annas as high priest, with another making Caiaphas the high priest. Accepting the accuracy of Luke’s statement, conservative scholars hold that it aptly reflects the real situation. As high priest emeritus and head of a powerful family, Annas continued to exert great influence through his son-in-law who was the official high priest. That Annas did continue to exert great influence after he was deposed seems evident from the fact that he was able to procure appointment to the office for five of his sons. Manson says that Annas “exercised unofficial powers which were practically equivalent to full status” (“Luke,” Moffatt NT Commentary [1930], p. 25).

Following the raising of Lazarus, the Sanhedrin met to discuss what to do about Jesus (John 11:47-53). “Caiaphas, who was high priest that year,” advised that “it is expedient...that one man should die for the people.” His proposal was adopted by the Sanhedrin. John remarks that the words of Caiaphas were prophetic; they had a higher meaning than he realized. The suggestion to sacrifice Jesus to save the nation expressed the gist of God’s plan of salvation for all men through Christ’s death. John’s thrice repeated statement that Caiaphas was high priest “that year” (11:49, 51; 18:13) does not imply that he supposed an annual appointment of the high priest, a practice foreign to the Jews, but rather points to that memorable year when these things were done.

The policy of Caiaphas was put into effect with the arrest of Jesus. The arrested Jesus was “first” taken “to Annas; for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year” (John 18:13). John 18:19-23 seems clearly to relate to a preliminary examination before Annas, since v. 24 says that “Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” But difficulty is evident since the officer in v. 22 then calls Annas “the high priest.” (The altered v. arrangements in Sinaitic Syriac and in minuscule 225 are attempts to relieve the difficulty.) Clearly the officer continued to call Annas the high priest, although John recorded (v. 13) that Caiaphas was the high priest.

John’s gospel does not relate the night trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (cf. Matt 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65). When witnesses failed to incriminate Jesus, the scheming high priest adjured the prisoner to declare whether or not He was the Messiah and then hypocritically professed shock at the answer.

As a Sadducee opposed to the teaching of the resurrection, Caiaphas took a leading part in the persecution of the Early Church. In Acts 4:6 he is named second among the Sadducean leaders who assembled to try Peter and John. That Annas rather than Caiaphas is here called “the high priest” is problematic, but seems to be further evidence of the continued power of the former high priest. Caiaphas is prob. the “high priest” mentioned in Acts 5:17-21, 27; 7:1; 9:1 as the bitter persecutor of the Christians.


J. H. Bernard, “Gospel According to John,” ICC, II (1929), 404; 591f.; 599-602; K. Lake, BC, IV (1932), 41, 42; E. Hoskyns, The Fourth Gospel, F. N. Davey, ed. (1940), 409-413; 513, 514; N. Geldenhuys, “Commentary on Luke,” The New International Commentary on NT (1956), 142; F. F. Bruce, “Commentary on the Book of Acts,” New International Commentary on NT (1954), 97, 98; W. Hendriksen, “Gospel of John,” NT Commentary, II (1954), 162-165; 384-398; C. K. Barrett, Gospel According to John (1960), 338f.; 436-442.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ka’-a-fas, ki’-a-fas (Kaiaphas; Caiaphas = Kephas (compare Dods in Expositor’s Greek Test, I, 803), and has also been interpreted as meaning "depression"): Caiaphas was the surname of Joseph, a son-in-law of Annas (compare Joh 18:13), who filled th e post of high priest from about 18-36 AD, when he was deposed by Vitellius (compare Josephus, Ant, XVIII, ii, 2; iv, 3). He is mentioned by Luke as holding office at the time of John the Baptist’s preaching in the wilderness (Lu 3:2).