Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah,
v.1, Act 2, scene 2 - #23. End of the Sanhedrin Proceedings; Transfer to Pilate, pp 627-635

(detailed summary)

End of the Sanhedrin Proceedings; Transfer to Pilate
(Mk 15: 1; Mt 27: 1-2; Lk 23: 1; Jn 18: 28a)


We are witnessing the early hours of the morning of the end of the Jewish trial that took place at night. The decision is taken by the representatives of the Jewish authorities to condemn him to death, and therefore to hand him over to the pagan Pilate. One may be surprised that one goes to Pilate's house so early in the morning, but this is in accordance with Roman custom. So Mark, followed by Matthew, tells that they then bind Jesus, which Luke ignores out of respect for him. With John, since the Jewish trial had taken place several days before, Jesus was bound as soon as he was arrested. By mentioning that Jesus was handed over to Pilate, the Gospels evoke the fulfillment of the last part of Jesus' prediction, that of being handed over to the Gentiles. Finally, John is the only one to specify that the interrogation of Jesus takes place in the praetorium, Herod's palace on the western hill of Jerusalem.

  1. Translation
  2. Comment
    1. Time
    2. The Meeting
    3. The Participants
    4. Transfer to Pilate

  1. Translation

    Words of Mark shared by the other evangelists are underlined. In red are words of John shared by other evangelists.

    Mark 15Matthew 27Luke 23John 18
    1 And immediately, early, having made their consultation, the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Sanhedrin, having bound Jesus, took him away and gave him over to Pilate.1 And when the early hour had come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took a decision against Jesus that they should put him to death. 2 And having bound him, they led him away and gave him over to Pilate the governor.1 And the whole multitude of them, having stood up, led him to Pilate.28a Then they lead Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. Now it was early.

  2. Comment

    1. Time

      When was Jesus brought to Pilate? Mark writes, "And immediately". This term does not necessarily express simultaneity with the above, but rather means: "As soon as it was daylight". The word prōi sometimes refers to the 4th watch of the night (3-6am), but most often it means "early (in the morning)". The feminine form prōia in Matthew means: "the early hour". Luke has no indication of the time for the reference to Pilate, but earlier he had told us that the session of the Sanhedrin began when it was daylight (Lk 22:66). In the Gospel of John we have the same expression as Mark: prōi (early in the morning).

      It must be recognized that the Gospels do not agree on the place where Jesus was at certain specific times. For example, at noon Jesus was still before Pilate with John, while with Mark he was on the cross. In referring to Pilate, tradition seems to have associated him with the "early morning" form. Thus, Peter's denial would have taken place during the period from 3 to 5 a.m. (crowing of the cock). Shortly afterwards, Jesus would have been brought to Pilate. It may come as a surprise that Pilate could start his working day so early, but this seems to be a widespread practice in the Roman world (see Seneca, De ira, 2.7.3; Emperor Vespasian finishing his office work before dawn, Pliny finishing his office work before 10 a.m., and Agrippa I going to the theatre show at Caesarea before the first sun's rays).

    2. The Meeting

      Here are the three main readings to describe the meeting.

      • Symboulion hetoimasantes (a consultation having prepared): Codex Sinaiticus, Ephraemi Rescriptus
      • Symboulion poiēsantes (a consultation having made): Codex Vaticanus, Alexandrinus and Koine texts;
      • Symboulion epoiēsan (a consultation they made): Codex Bezae, Koridethi, Old Latin, Origen

      Before determining which reading is the oldest, we must agree on the meaning of symboulion. On the one hand, it means: council, consultation, meeting. On the other hand, it also means the result of this meeting: counsel, plan, decision. Sometimes it is difficult to choose between the two meanings, as in Mk 3:6, which can be translated as "the Pharisees held a council against him with the Herodians" as well as "the Pharisees made a decision against him with the Herodians".

      But when the translation "council" is chosen, does this imply that the Sanhedrin held a second meeting in the early morning after the night meeting? Many biblical scholars think so, referring in particular to Mishna Sanhedrin 4.1 which required a second meeting in a capital case; such an option would help to harmonize Mark's version with Luke's where the Sanhedrin meeting is held in the morning. Unfortunately, this option must be rejected for a number of reasons:

      • The Sanhedrin meeting in Luke is identical to Marc's night meeting, and we must attribute to his editorial work the fact that it was moved to the early morning.

      • The rule of the Mishna (2nd century) does not apply to the time of Jesus as we have already shown (see background of the Jewish trial); moreover, the rule required that the 2nd meeting be held on a different day, which is not the case in the passion narrative.

      • Biblical scholars who try to explain the need for a 2nd meeting, whatever their motive, make the mistake of confusing history with Mark's account; in the latter, it is clear that the decision to execute Jesus is taken at the beginning of the meeting, and never does it speak of a need to examine further the legality of the gesture or the need to write a charge against Jesus to be passed on to Pilate.

      So if we opt for a single meeting, the night meeting, what does Mark's statement that the Sanhedrin "prepared/made a council/counsel" in the morning mean? First of all, an impressive number of biblical scholars opt for the "having prepared" (hetoimasantes) reading, understood in the sense of "having prepared their decision". In this case, the expression recalls that the Sanhedrin has already held its meeting. On the other hand, some biblical scholars prefer the review "having made or held a council" because it is better attested and is the most difficult reading, and it avoids the ambiguity that there has been a second meeting. In this case, Mark would present us with a recapitulation of what happened, a recapitulation all the more necessary since the meeting of the Sanhedrin was interrupted by Peter's denial (and the recapitulation belongs to Mark's style, e.g., see 14:66-67 after 14:54).

      On Matthew's side, Matthew 27:1 offers no objection to seeing Mk 15:1 as a recapitulation. Here again Matthew does not present a second meeting, but concludes the first one: they held a council (symboulion elabon)... in order to put him to death, i.e. they made a decision against Jesus, an expression equivalent to Mark 14: 64 which speaks of katekrinan (they condemned). His account is smoother than Mark's and allows him to introduce the following, the story of Judas, which refers to katakrinein (to condemn) against Jesus. As for Luke's story, it is hard to understand his decision to move the meeting to the early morning.

    3. The Participants

      1. Mark

        Much of the account of Jesus' trial in Mk 14 comes from an earlier tradition, even though Mark modified and reinterpreted it, placing it on the eve of Jesus' death. Mk 15:1, on the other hand, is totally one of his creations. We find his vocabulary with the list of participants (high priests, elders, scribes and the whole Sanhedrin). Adding the Sanhedrin at the end of this list may seem like a tautology, but it is a way for him to insist, not on individual participation, but on the fact that these individuals represent the Jewish religious government.

      2. Matthew

        In speaking of "all" the chief priests and the elders "of the people", Matthew translates the same idea of representatives of the Jewish community, but avoiding the appearance of tautology. In the background, there is the biblical evocation of the righteous man who stands alone before all his adversaries.

      3. Luke

        If we remember correctly, the Sanhedrin session ended with the phrase, "What more testimony do we need? For we ourselves have heard it from his mouth" (22:71). No explicit decision was made. It is by the fact that they stand up and lead Jesus to Pilate that we can guess that a decision has been made. Standing up in court probably has a legal nuance, indicating a decisive moment. Those who make this decision are the elders of the people, the chief priests and the scribes (Lk 22:66), who will be joined a little further on by the crowds (Lk 23:3).

      4. John

        Participants are named by "they". They are the guards present during the interrogation by Annas (18: 22), then Annas himself when he sends Jesus bound to Caiaphas. Thus, under the expression "they" the reader sees the guards and the high priests.

    4. The Transfer to Pilate

      1. Jesus Is Bound

        Mark mentions abruptly "having bound Jesus". By adding "and", Matthew presents a smoother transition. This is the first time that Jesus has been bound in both evangelists, since he is now declared a criminal. Luke, on the other hand, refuses this presentation of a bound Jesus, which would be unworthy of him, especially since he insists that Jesus moves freely throughout his passion. In John, since there is no formal trial on the night of his arrest, as it actually took place earlier (11:47-53), Jesus is bound as a criminal from the moment of his arrest.

      2. They took him away / led him away / led him

        While Mark speaks of taking away (apopherein) and Matthew speaks of leading away (apagein), Luke and John use the simple form: leading (agein). The latter case is not unusual in the context of a criminal being handed over, since Josephus uses it (Jewish War, 6.5.3; #303).

      3. He Is Given Over (paradidonai)

        In Mark, the fact that Jesus was given over fulfils the prediction of 10:33 ("The Son of Man will be given over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and give him over to the Gentiles"). The account of the trial before the Sanhedrin has fulfilled the first part of the prediction, and it is now the fulfillment of the second part, that of being given over to the Gentiles. Matthew here follows Mark perfectly. John does not speak of "giving over", but he does it with Judas as the subject (18: 2.5), and further with the Jews who gave over Jesus to Pilate (18: 30.35), and also with Pilate as the subject who gives Jesus over to be crucified (19: 16). Luke restricts this verb to Judas and Pilate as subject, and does not use it with the Jewish authorities.

      4. To Pilate

        It's our first Pilate reference. Mark introduces this name without attributes, assuming it is well known. Matthew specifies that he is a governor (hēgemōn), a title that seems equivalent to the title of procurator or prefect used by Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.1; #55). Luke already mentioned earlier that Pilate ruled (hēgemoneuein) Judea (2: 2). John only mentions it later (18: 29), and like Mark he does it without introduction.

      5. Praetorium

        John is the only one who specifies where Pilate is: in the praetorium. For this place plays an important role in his story because of its scenario around the interior and exterior of the building. In the Synoptics, there is no indication of the place before the moment when Jesus is handed over to the soldiers for crucifixion, who will take him to the praetorium; it seems that Jesus' interrogation took place outside the praetorium, a scenario very different from that of John. It should be noted that this praetorium is probably Herod's palace, with its three great towers on top of the western hill of Jerusalem, and not the fortress Antonia on the medieval and modern "Way of the Cross" (see the map of Jerusalem).

Next chapter: Judas, the Chief Priest, and the Price of Innocent Blood

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