Lecture 30: Trial
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The trial of Jesus involved a hearing in the Jewish court conducted by the high priest and the Sanhedrin, and a hearing in the Roman court conducted by Pilate.
The Life of Jesus
XIII. The Trial of Jesus
A. Order of Events
1. Jesus is taken to Annas.
2. Jesus is taken to Caiaphas with Sanhedrin in attendance.
a. False witnesses brought in (Mark 14:56)
b. Jesus silent until placed under oath (Matthew 26:63; Leviticus 5:1)
c. Jesus replies affirmatively
d. High priest tears clothing
e. Jesus mocked and abused
f. Peter denies Jesus
3. Morning meeting of Sanhedrin to draw up charges (Mark 15:1)
4. Jesus appears before Pilate (Mark 15:2)
a. Since Jews did not possess privilege of capital punishment, they bring Jesus to Pilate.
b. Pilate seeks to pass responsibility to Herod Antipas
5. Jesus appears before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-12)
6. Jesus brought back to Pilate (Luke 23:13)
a. Pilate convinced of innocence and seeks to release Jesus
b. Reluctance overcome when loyalty to Rome and privileged title questioned (John 19:12-13). This is the turning point.
c. Washes hands - gives Jesus over to Roman soldiers for crucifixion (Mark 15:15)
B. The Historicity of the Trial
1. Objections - Trial violates numerous rules in the Mishnah
a. A verdict of condemnation could not be reached on the same day as the trial.
b. Trials involving capital punishment could not be held at night.
c. Trials could not be held on the eve of the Sabbath or a festival day.
d. An attempt had to be made to find witnesses for a person's defense.
e. Jewish people had the right of capital punishment, and since the Romans crucified Jesus there was no Jewish involvement.
a. The rules of the Mishnah date from A.D. 200.
b. The Mishnah disagrees on these issues in places with Josephus.
c. Was this a trial that followed the rules of a kangaroo court?
d. Would the high priest and Sadducees run Sanhedrin trials according to Pharisaic rules found in the Mishnah?
e. Why should one choose the Mishnah over the Gospel accounts?
f. There are references in the Mishnah that speak of the Jews not having the right for capital punishment in the time of Jesus.
Course: New Testament Survey - Gospels
Lecture: Life of Jesus: Trial
What I want to do is to work with you as to a maybe possible order of the events. Now one of the things you have to realize is that we have four different accounts. And not all of them tell the story in the same order. Also, two different accounts introduce materials not found in the others. For instance, in Luke you have a story about Jesus appearing before Herod Antipas, not found in Matthew, Mark and John.
John has a story about Jesus appearing at the beginning of his trial before the High Priest Anis, not found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. So when you try to put all these together it’s not as easy as we’d want it. And I want you to realize that what we are doing is perfectly legitimate. But, on the other hand, we need to be open about the possibility that the- some of these events may be in a slightly different order.
The first thing in Jesus’ trail, after he is arrested at the garden of Gethsemane, is he’s brought into the presence of Herod Antipas. In the 18th chapter of John, verse 12 and 13, page 301. You have in verse 12 on top of page 301, John 18, so the van of soldiers and their captain of the officers sees Jesus and bound him. Alright, the next verse 18:13, first they lead him to Anis, for he was the father in law of Caiaphas who was the High Priest of that year.
Now Caiaphas is referred to as-uh- the High Priest, but Anis is also referred to as the High Priest. And that’s very confusing. And you say why don’t they do things more like we do? Well, you know, we aren’t that easy either. If you have present James Carter and two people named George Bush, which one do you call President? All of them because the title stays with them until their death. The acting president is George W. Bush, Jr. The acting High Priest was Caiaphas, but Anis was the early High Priest.
Whose children followed him into the High Priesthood and Caiaphas was his son in law. So when you talk about Anis he is the High Priest and the Gospel writers referred to that in a way that quite indicates they understand both of them as being High Priest at the same time.
In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caser, Pontius Pilot, being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region Ituraea and Trachonitis and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.
Luke 3:2 now, “and the High Priesthood of Anis and Caiaphas,” they are both High Priests that way, but he is the retired High Priest and they are –he has brought - Jesus is brought there probably to allow for time for the Sanhedrin to meet together. They’re scattered throughout the city. Word has to go out. They have to be brought together and what we are going to have to do is have some time before Jesus is brought to the High Priest when Caiaphas is their leader.
Now after this he then is brought before Caiaphas and Sanhedrin and they begin to give a trial in which witnesses are sought for the prosecution. So, the home of Anis serves primarily I think as a time period -uh- for which it allows Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin to meet. He is then taken when the Sanhedrin are together with their High Priest, who is the leader of the council of the seventy, the Sanhedrin. And then he comes at this point. As the trail begins they look for witnesses against him.
Excuse me for being repetitious.
But no one comes up saying anything about the triumphal entry. No one comes up about any cleansing of the temple as a revolutionary act. No one comes up saying Judas told us that he is claiming to be the Messiah. None of those issues come up. Uh- Jesus is silent during this time. Up till he is placed under an oath.
And here you have in Matthew 26:63, that would be page 304, top of 304, “but Jesus was silent and the High Priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell me if you are the Christ, the son of God.’” And it’s at this point, Jesus now will end his silence and answer.
And the reason for that is because he is placed under the oath found in Leviticus 5:01. Reads this way, “when any of you sin, in that you have heard a public adjuration to testify and thou able to testify as one who has seen or learn the matter does not speak, you are subject to punishment.” So, here he is placed under an oath, which says that if you don’t speak you are guilty and now he will respond.
And so Jesus answers and here the answer varies in Mark and in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew you have line 120, Jesus saying after –er- “’I adjure you by the living God, tell me you are Christ, the son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘you have said so.’” Mark has, “Are you the Christ, the son of the blessed,’ and Jesus said, ‘I am.’” Luke has, “’if you are the Christ tell us,’ but he said to them, ‘I tell you- if I tell you, you will not believe me and if I ask you, you will not answer, but from now on the son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’” And he said to him then, “‘are you the son of God, then?’” And he said to them, “‘you say that I am.’” So Matthew has you have said so. Luke says you say that I am. Mark has I am.
It’s clear unless you want to say that Jesus answered three times, that we simply have three Gospel writers wording differently the affirmative answer of Jesus. My understanding would be that Mark is not interested in-uh- showing the Roman readers of his Gospel anything but the fact that Jesus has acknowledged that he was the son of God. Yeah, yeah he said so. He said I am.
Where as Matthew and Luke probably have a closer understanding of the words that he used where Jesus said you have said so and I won’t deny, you said so. There have been attempts to say you have said so indicates that Jesus really was not accepting this and that he was denying that he was the Messiah. That it be understood as a negative, that’s not possible, that’s not possible.
In- on page 283, in Matthew 26 go down to line 34 in Matthew, Matthew 26:24 line 34 on page 283, “Jesus says ‘the son of man, goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the son of man is betrayed, it would have been better for that man if he had never been born.’” Judas, who betrayed him said, “’ is it I Master?’” Now you have he said to him, “’you have said so.’” The exact same words, identical Greek words, for the reply of Jesus to Judas’ question and it has to be affirmative. That you have in the other instance, so it has to be affirmative, there is no question about it; just a different way of wording it.
At this point, the High Priest tears his clothing and what we should not see here is that he is enraging he is frothing at the mouth and he is tearing his clothes off. This is a very carefully regulated act. Where he picks up the hem of his garment and tears it, which means he is guilty. And the situation is now judged. The rendering of clothes, Vincent Taylor remarks became in the case of the High Priest a formal judicial act minutely regulated in the Talmud. So we have this very careful-uh- act.
We then have the mockery and the abuse and sometime during this period Peter denies Jesus.
Now look at your order of events in your notes. And notice in the parallel of events going there I have the arrest Matthew, Mark and Luke taken to Caiaphas or the High Priest following all three. Then Peter’s denial, but please note that in Luke I have placed- so that we would have something of an order here, taken to the High Priest before the account of Peter’s denial even though in Luke it comes after it. Alright?
So actually in Luke you have the order the arrest, Peter’s denial 22:54, taken to the High Priest verse 57 and the trail. I just wanted to show that they all had this in common, but the order is very clearly different. Luke has first the denial, and then taken Jesus to the High Priest.
Now what’s happening here is a common way of Luke making his account more orderly. We have, for instance, -uh- when he tells a story of John the Baptist in Luke 3:19 to 20. He then places the arrest of John the Baptist at that point to give the whole story about John. John was doing this and he later was arrested. But if you follow in Mark and Matthew that later comes quite a bit later. What Luke has simply done is to bring the account right up and-not-uh- now that we’re talking about John the Baptist let me point out that he’s also going to be arrested and put to death by Herod Antipas.
And then he talks about Jesus. It’s just a different way of telling the story. It’s not meant to be taken chronologically. It’s meant to be taken as telling of the entire story at one setting.
You have a similar account in Luke 4:16 to 20. Which is the first sermon. Turn with me to Luke 4:16 here and let’s look at that. Page 31. In the account of Luke here you have Jesus having been baptized, having been tempted in the wilderness, he returns back to the Gali-uh- returns back to Galilee and now you have “and he came to Nazareth where he was brought up and he went into the synagogue and he had this first sermon.” But notice Luke places it here not because this is the very first thing that happens.
If you look at verse 23, notice what’s said in his what they say to him in this sermon, “‘and he said to them doubtless you will quote me this proverb. Physician you yourself.’ ‘What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.’” This- in Luke there is no earlier account of Jesus having done anything in Capernaum. So this is not in chronological order.
Luke wants to do is get the sermon at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry because this is a paradigm to –a paradigm to understand the whole ministry of Jesus. In the same way you have a sermon by Peter at the beginning of Acts. To help explain a form of paradigm for the rest of the book of Acts. So what Luke does here is to place things in an order that’s easy to follow. So what he does is have Jesus arrested and then Peter follows. And rather than switching scenes and coming back to Peter, he says let’s stay with Peter for a minute. Let me tell you what happens and he tells about the denial of Peter. Then he switches the scene to the trial and he has-deal- dealt with the whole Peter emphasis completely now and you don’t have to come back to it. You don’t have to switch back and forth.
Just different ways of saying the account. It’s not a matter of chronological error, because it’s not intended to be a chronological account on the part of Luke. He is just simply trying to arrange things for [foreign word] in an orderly fashion that will make it easier for him to understand. Okay.
I think I gave you the example of the various vignettes that you find in the longest day. This epic about World War II, the invasion of Normandy, where you have scenes switching, but you don’t switch in the middle of them. You complete the scene and then you go to another scene, which may have occurred earlier, but you don’t want to break it up. Because if you do it minute by minute it’ll just be absolutely nonsense. You have 8 or 7- 8 or 9 different stories going on and you can’t just switch back every minute from one to the other; you tell the one story and then go to the other one. And you follow that because it helps you to understand it. That’s what Luke’s doing here, in my understanding of it.
Now, in the morning, apparently, the Sanhedrin gathers to bring up the charges that are going to be leveled against Jesus because what he’s accused of will not make a lot of concern on the part of Pontius Pilot. He is accused of political-of a religious grounds, which as far as Roman is concern is rather irrelevant. To say Jesus said he believes is the son of God, Pilot would say something like ‘have you ever been to Rome, there’s all sorts of crazy out there who think they are sons of God.
-Uh- If you got rid of all of them half the population would be gone. Or something like that. What he needs to have is something that is a threat to the well being of Rome-that’s a political issue. And so in the morning- after having condemned him on religious charges they must now go and change that to political charges.
And you find in the account of Peter’s- Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem in the temple where the crowds want to have Paul put to death for religious grounds -when he is brought to Caesarea under the the Roman governor now the charges are switched to political grounds because, again, the Roman governor is not interested in religious issues. So what has to happen now is the issue of a switch from religious to political grounds. Now one of the questions that has really stumped scholars is the question of exactly what is it that Jesus said that caused the High Priest and the Sanhedrin to condemn him? Condemn him to death. Although we will find out they didn’t have the right to do that and that’s why they go to Rome.
Some has suggested well when Jesus suggested I am he was blaspheming because that’s the way God refers to himself. “He is the great I am,” Exodus 3:14. But there’s a problem in that kind of an argument. What’s the problem? According to Mark he said, “I am.” But according to Matthew and Luke, “you have said so.” And if, as we-as I’ve- tried to argue the ‘I am’ is simply Mark’s abbreviated summary that Jesus acknowledged this and that in reality he had something more like Matthew and Luke, which is a more word for word interpretation. Then you can’t argue this way.
Ethialbird Stofiar’s [spelling of name] attempt to argue that he was claiming to be the great I am doesn’t make sense if Luke and Matthew are more quote-unquote authentic in that regard. Another attempt to argue is that it when Jesus said he was the Messiah that was a capital offense. But is it a capital offense to say you’re the Messiah? Pointed out that later it isn’t when Barkopis is on the scene and he claims that no one says this is a capital offense to put him to death.
Others have suggested that the Messiah couldn’t ever have personally claimed to be that-the Messiah. That this would have to be deduced by the crowds and by the people and, therefore, Jesus could not have personally said this. He would have to say what is your judgment or something in that regard. The question you have to ask is, do the authorities really have to have legitimate grounds for wanting to put him to death? What kind of a trial is this? One gets the impression that it’s a kangaroo court. In which the issue is not are we going to find him guilty and seek his death or what are we going to try to find - to-to- base his death on?
And you say wait a minute – uh- that’s- that’s not legal. There are a lot of people who could say this is not legal and yet still put to death. This is kind of a lynch mob more than anything else. And therefore, some in their minds he said something that was-uh- worthy of death- that they disagreed with - that there foe and enemy that they wanted to-uh- find fault with whether it was legal or not, whether it was-uh-charge that really had great grounds to it. That is not the issue. This is a kind of a trial that does not base on cool calculated Supreme Court ruling. What are we going to find him guilty of? And that’s the issue.
When the morning - they meet. The charges are drawn up. And let’s look now at those charges. Uh- That’d be Luke 23:02, page 308. In verse 1, the whole company of the Jewish officials a rose and brought him before Pilot.
And now in verse 2, “and they began to accuse him before the Roman governor,” and these are the charges now. “‘We found this man perverting our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caser and saying that he himself is Christ the King.’” So now what we have here are the political grounds. He’s saying that –er- we should not pay our taxes, which would be a revolutionary act, Jesus never said this, he said, “‘give to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s; to God the things that are God’s.’” To say he is Christ the King, he was very careful as to how he worded that. But if Rome thought that he was claiming a political kind of kingship then that would be insurrection and they would find him sufficiently guilty for this.
So that the charges here- that are raised are heard by Pilot. And Pilot for various reasons-a dream from his w-on a part of his wife and other things by seeing Jesus and seeing what’s going on here does not want him to be put to death. He does not think that he is fitting of –of-death what charges he’d done. He does not see anything clear and he begins to try to seek the release of Jesus, in this regard.
Luke tells us that one of the attempts of Pontius Pilot is to say well really the person who should decide on this issue is the Rome- is the governor, not the Roman governor, but the governor of or the tetrarch Herod Antipas of Galilee. This is his area. This is his area- uh- of authority. We should send him to Herod Antipas. Let him decide the issue. The technical term is passing the buck. Alright. Why should I get involved in this? I will pass him on to Herod Antipas, who rules Galilee where Jesus comes from. Let him take care of the issue.
This is unsuccessful, however, and the reason for that is that Herod is already done something stupid in this area. What did he do? He had put to death John the Baptist. Now he is encountering someone far more popular than John the Baptist. Why in the world would he want to do something now? And so he eventually sends him back to Pilot saying-uh- Pontius, baby, he is yours. You deal with it. And Pilot has the issue thrown upon him now.
He continues to seek Jesus’ release, says what I’ll do is I’ll punish him I’ll beat him and do some things like that, but this is not satisfying to the crowd or to the leadership. And then, finally, the leadership appeals to their trump card and here we have on page 314, uh- the deciding moment in which Pontius Pilot is really now really placed in a situation where he must choose his career or putting Jesus to death.
At- at the very top of 314 in John 12- uh- 19:12, “upon this Jesus- uh- Pilot sought to release him but the Jews cried out, ‘if you release this man you are not Cesar’s friend.’” Apparently, that was some sort of a technical terminology. It was not just a- you’re his buddy or something like that, but you have a ranking in the political establishment- being a friend of Cesar and so forth. If you release this man you are not Cesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Cesar. And now they are saying if you let him go you are actually supporting insurrection against the emperor and that’s dangerous for a governor.
When Pilot heard these words he brought Jesus out and set him down on the pavement-judgment seat at a place called the pavement- and in Hebrew [Hebrew word] and he said what should we do? Away with him and so forth. And so Pilot now gives the whole issue up.-uh- He washes his hand. He had tried one other thing and that was to release a prisoner of their own choice. Never expecting that this popular -uh- prophet from Galilee would be turned down by the –the- mob that’s there that they would choose instead of him a revolutionary and murder named Barabbas.
But the Gospel writers say that the crowds had been stirred up by the-uh- the leadership. They had been placed people in a strategic place. And when-if- you- you have 500 people there and 450 of them want Jesus- but-the- when he says who should I release Jesus or Barabbas the 50 shout at the top of their voice that are opposed to the majority and say give us Barabbas the others are just shocked into silence. And you can have a small group leading the crowd in that regard.
I think that’s something what happened, because I think the majority of the people according to the Gospel writers were very positive toward Jesus. At this point, however, the crowd is negative. When the last attempt to release him fails, he washes his hands symbolically and he turns Jesus over to the soldiers for crucifixion. And the trial at that point ends and what happens now is the judicial act of execution. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Again, I’m saying this as a something like what no doubt took place, but I’m not arguing it’s the only way things could have taken place.
Alright, let’s look now at the historicity of the trial. There are a number of objections that have been raised with regard to this. And most of them are objections that are based on the Talmudic accounts of how Sanhedrin trials would take place.
Years ago in “Newsweek” magazine there was this central article on Easter time on the Gospel truth, quote, unquote, “there are major inconsistencies in the Evangelists’ reports. Matthew and Mark mention two trials before the Sanhedrin: the first at night the second on the Sabbath morning of the Passover. Luke mentions only one. More important, Lutheran scholar Edward Losa [spelling of name] finds in the various versions of the trial 27 violations of the later Jewish code of the law governing Sanhedrin procedures, the Talmud. Thus casting doubt on the accuracy of the Biblical account. According to the Sanhedrin code, those that argues, capital cases could be tried only during the day, not at night. Losa [spelling of name] also points out that no court proceedings of any kind were permitted on the Sabbath because they would violate the commanding concerning the day of rest.”
Um- some of the more common ones the- uh- objections raised was that a verdict of condemnation couldn’t be reached on the same day as the trial. That’s what the Jewish tractate Sanhedrin in the Talmud says. That trials involving capital punishment could not be held at night. The trials could not be held on the eve of a Sabbath or a festival day. That an attempt had to be made to find witnesses for a person’s defense. Nothing was done there.
And the Jewish people really had the right of capital punishment. And therefore, the whole argument that they were responsible is false. If they wanted to put him to death they simply would have done it themselves. The fact that the Romans put him to death indicates that it was the Romans who did it.
And the Jews had nothing-and the Jewish leadership had nothing to do with that. So these are some of the objections. There are many more that are raised in this regard. And-uh- again when you recognize the anti-Semitism over the- over the centuries and you, especially, realize what happened in World War II, in the Holocaust, where 6 million Jews were put to death, as well as 6 million Slavs in the gas chambers and firing squads and one realizes the seriousness of the problem.
Now the result of this is that there’s – there tends to be a strong movement in which people arguing against any Jewish leadership responsibility in the death of Jesus. If you take your Bible seriously-uh- you can’t do that. You have to give up something. Either the Bible is wrong in this area or there is a responsibility of the Jewish leadership, in this regard. You can’t simply eliminate what you’d like from the Bible or what you don’t like in the Bible and make that into history. Recently a work was written by Raymond Brown, the- the work on the death of Jesus, two large volumes and it’s the basic source anybody would read from now on for the next 40/50 years concerning the death of Jesus.
Raymond Brown was an outstanding Roman Catholic scholar and wrote some really great works. But in his book he argues that the Jewish leadership had a major role, in fact was the impetuous, of bringing Jesus not only to trial but to death. And when his book was written, a lot of criticism came up. A lot of books criticized him for his anti-Semitic stance and so forth.
Well, what’s interesting is that Raymond Brown, and I’ve gotten this from a friend of his, -uh- John Donahue who was very good friends, and he told it to and I got it directly from John, -uh- John said Raymond Brown before he ever printed his section on the death of Jesus in which he talks about the leadership role of Jewish leaders in that area, he had sent out something like seven copies of that chapter to Jewish friends that he had that were Biblical scholars, and he asked them to read that chapter, and let him know if –he- they found anything problematic in the chapter. Uh- they all reported back to Brown don’t see anything wrong with it, that’s way it happened. So here you have these Jewish scholars who were willing to accept his presentation that the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day had a responsibility here, but Catholic scholars of a liberal bend where not willing to and Protestant scholars were not willing to.
But the Jewish scholars that looked at it said yeah, yeah, that’s what happened. Now, having said that, I think there has to be a clear distinction between what certain leaders at one time did and what Jews 2000 years have- with regard to that event. I’d hate to think that I, born in America, bare all the sins of the German nation over the centuries. You know that’s kind of hard to carry all that. Especially since I wasn’t even born most of this time. And I think it’s far more biblical to say you’re responsible for the sins you do not the sins of your parents or your grandparents or your great great great great great great great grandparents that way.
And so somewhat sarcastically I once said that I had a particular problem because being white in America I was being blamed by some for all the crimes of slavery in America. But then they turned around and condemned me for all the crimes the Germans did over in Europe. And I- I can’t handle all of this. I said you’re going to have to make me guilty of one continent. That’s all the sins I can handle. And one century and by the luck of the draw I came out with the 14th century Antarctica to-uh- be condemned for.
Now I don’t want to make light of that but I want to say if you blame the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day that has nothing to do with what- what Jews today are experiencing. It’s nothing to do with their involvement in this. You don’t blame people 2000 years later for something done by someone else 2000 years earlier. So these attempts we have to deal with in some way.
And one of the kinds of arguments we want to look at are as follows. The Mishna in which all these rules are to be found was written at the earliest in 2000 and the Talmud, which is the commentary of that, -200 excuse me, written in 400 for the Jerusalem Talmud, 500 later. So what we’re dealing with are accounts that are a century and a half, almost, removed from the earliest New Testament accounts.
On what grounds should you accept something as being more historical being written 1500 years or so later than the earliest account available? Um- Furthermore, the Mishna disagrees at times with the writings of Josephus as to trial regulations and things of this nature. In addition, what you have to remember is that we’re not strictly following the rules of a court here. Uh- these are rules of a kangaroo court. And therefore, whatever the rules might have been doesn’t assure they took- they were followed.
For instance, how do you respond to somebody who- who would say, “well, you know I’ve heard things about the lynching’s of blacks during the 19th and 18th century in the South. But I don’t believe that because that was against the law.” Wouldn’t people just say “what? Are you saying there was no lynches because the law forbade it? There were lynching’s and it meant the law was not kept.” And so you’d simply say here that the rules that were going on were simply not kept.
Furthermore, notice these rules were written by the Pharisees. they’re the ones who wrote down the Mishna and these rules of the Sanhedrin. But the Sanhedrin was not lead by the Pharisees, but by the Sadducees. And on what grounds are we going to say well the Pharisees just would agree with anything the Pharisees said and would follow their rules and regulations. You have to remember there was great antagonism between them.
So whether the Sadducees leadership would follow the rules of the Mishna, the Pharisees, and that these rules written down 1500 to 300 years later were exactly what was going on at the time of Jesus is very questionable. Furthermore, then, suppose you ultimately come down to say well you know the Mishna says one thing and the Gospels say another. And you have to make your choice-uh- what grounds should you choose the Mishna and its’ account over the Gospel accounts. Well someone says yeah the Gospel accounts are pretty prejudicial by Christians who are having an axe to grind. Do you think the Babylonian Talmud is a neutral work? Not written by people who have an axe to grind, of course they do.
Finally, there are references in the Mishna which explicitly state that the Jews did not have the right of capital punishment. For instance, -uh- in the Talmud in the tractate Sanhedrin and the tractate Shabbat we read “40 years before the destruction of the temple, the Sanhedrin went to exile and took its seat in the trade halls. They did not adjudicate in capital cases.” Another reference- Capital punishment was abolished 40 years before the destruction of the temple. So what you have here now is that the biblical claim that the Jews did not have the right for capital punishment, which is found in the the Gospel of John. Page 308, line 7, where Pilot says to the leadership, “’take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’ The Jews said to him, ‘it is not lawful for us to put any man to death.’” So here you have in the account that the Jewish leaders did not have the right to practice capital punishment.
Now there’d been some attempts to say they did. But the whole argument is based on if the Jewish leadership has the write for capital punishment, which they’re claiming they did, they would never of bothered bringing him to Rome. The fact that Rome put him to death indicates that Rome did it. Not the Jewish leadership, but here the account says they did not have the right for capital punishment. And arguments to the contrary that the well, look at what they did to Steven, but Steven was put to death that was a mob rule. Later in 62 James, the brother of our Lord is put to death by the Jewish leadership. But what’s interesting to note there is there’s no Roman governor in Palestine. And the roman governor had left and his replacement had not yet arrived. When his replacement arrived the first thing that he did was to remove the High Priest from office because of what he did- because he did not have the right for capital punishment.
And here now you have the Gospel of John saying this right for capital punishment did not exist for the Jewish people. And you have the Mishna saying the same thing. So here you have an example, for instance, where if the Mishna disagrees with the Gospel accounts then the Mishna is right and the Gospel accounts are wrong. On the other hand, if they both agree, then the conclusion is they are both wrong. And you realize that the argument is not going to be won very –very easily in that regard. So what we have then is the understanding both in the Gospels and in the Mishna there is no right for capital punishment, it seems to fit the Gospel accounts real well.
Now, please be very sensitive to the issue. I don’t say you should rewrite history you can’t do that. But be very careful when you talk about the death of Jesus and you don’t just paint with a black brush and say- a broad black brush, yep, the Jews put Jesus to death. That’s a silly thing to say. It’s a dumb thing to say. Which Jews are you talking about? Mary? The disciples? Jesus’ friend in Galilee, they’re all Jews. Are you saying something else? Are you saying the Jewish leadership? Well, that’s something else. I can handle that.
But even then you have to start saying theologically could he not have had a legion of angels come and rescue him? Unless the death of Jesus is not simply do to human experience or expediencies or quote fate, but because he is going to be the sacrifice of the world. And that means he dies for the elect. For you and me. Above all for you and me. If you have a limited atonement it’s very specific. If you have a universal atonement it’s still for his love of the lost that he dies. It’s not some sort of requirement.
Now, there is a great book that I’ve recommended several times and it’s called “Pontius Pilot” by Paul Maier. M-a-i-e-r, it’s in the bibliography. It’s a great book to kind of get a feel for the trial and other things like this. But unfortunately, the book is what we call historical fiction. And you’re not always sure where history ends and fiction begins. And in this book Pontius Pilot is really a-a- very, very sympathetic person who’s forced to do something he doesn’t want to. He’s really a nice guy. He’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time kind of person. And he writes in this book and has some nice things to say about Pontius Pilot, he’s really not a bad guy after all.
Well, I think there’s not much room to do that. There was an old movie -uh- years ago called “Trial at Nuremberg.” It was about the Nuremberg trials after World War II. And this particular aspect of it was not on the leadership as much as on the judges of Germany in World War II. And one of the judges is being tried and the man characters are Burt Lancaster who’s the German judge and Spencer Tracey who’s the American judge. And at the end of his trial he is condemned to death for having sentenced innocent people to death.
And at the end, after the trial, he asked the American judge, Spencer Tracy, to come into his prison cell and when he comes in- you have this very interesting scene- he has this- all his records in books and he hands them over and says, “I’d like you to take these. I think you’d read them more sympathetically than others. And he looks at Spencer Tracy and he says, “you know, I want you to know I never thought that it would ever come to all that.” And Spencer Tracy looks at him in the eye and he says, “it came to that the first time you sent an innocent man to death.”
You can romanticize about Pontius Pilot. Say he’s under great pressure. The evil of Pilot is he knows there’s an innocent man that he sends to death. You can’t explain that away. Your real character comes into pressure like that. What you do is you resign, if you have character. But you do not put an innocent man to death. And so, Pilot will always have associated with him crucified under Pontius Pilot. You can’t romanticize that.
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