Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah,
v.1, Act 3 - #29. The Roman Trial, Part Four: Condemnation of Jesus, pp 821-861

(detailed summary)

The Roman Trial, Part Four: Condemnation of Jesus
(Mk 15: 12-15; Mt 27: 22-26; Lk 23: 20-25; Jn 19: 1.4-16a)


In this section, the four Gospels present us with a similar structure: two outcries from the crowd demanding the death of Jesus, and Pilate's decision to yield to this pressure in the end. But each evangelist presents this tradition in his own way.

Mark portrays a crowd, the same one that cried out to acclaim Jesus as the Messiah at his triumphant entrance to Jerusalem, and now cries out for his death. In the face of Pilate's resistance, which finds no cause for guilt, this crowd shouts even stronger, so that the governor decides to satisfy their desire, releases Barabbas, and gives Jesus over to be crucified, after having had him flogged.

Matthew does not focus on the title "King of the Jews" but on the title of the Messiah. Above all, he emphasizes the responsibility of the Jewish people for the innocent blood that was shed, and which now rests on this people, inviting punishment, a theme from the Old Testament. Then he presents us with a Pilate who behaves like a Jew who knows the customs of Deuteronomy and washes his hands in front of the crowd, in order to deny his responsibility for the death of Jesus, a gesture which is in fact futile, just like that of Judas who throws away the money he received. But he introduces a group ready to assume this responsibility: the Jewish people, not only Jesus' contemporaries, but all future generations.

Luke shares with John a tradition in which three times Pilate proclaims Jesus' innocence. Luke's Pilate is the one who resists the crowd the most and offers the option of disciplining Jesus with the whip rather than killing him. Overall, he tries to present a trial that follows the customs of the Roman trials, with an explicit charge at the beginning and a formal judgment at the end.

John offers us the most elaborate account. When Pilate has Jesus scourged and presents him to the Jews in a miserable state, still dressed in his royal robes, with the expression, "Behold the man," the equivalent of, "Look at your poor fellow", he hopes in vain to convince the crowd to drop the charge. But John reveals the real reason for the accusation: he has made himself the son of God. Moreover, when he mentions Pilate's great fear, he means to point out his fear before the truth revealed in Jesus. Pilate's decision to kill Jesus comes at the same time as the lambs are slaughtered in the temple for the Passover meal. Beyond the historical elements, John brings us into his theological world. The scene ends with the sad realization that these Jews, who had claimed the sovereignty of God alone over their lives, now accept to become Caesar's subjects.

  1. Translation
  2. Comment
    1. First Outcry for Crucifixion and Pilate's Response (Mark 15: 12-14a; Matthew 27: 22-23a; Luke 23: 20-22; John 19: 1.4-8)
      1. Mark 15: 12-14a
      2. Matthew 27: 22-23a
      3. Luke 23: 20-22
      4. John 19: 4-8
    2. Synoptic Second Outcry for Crucifixion; Mattew's Pilate Washes His Hands (Mark 15: 14b; Luc 23: 23; Matthieu 27: 23b-25)
      1. Mark 15: 14b and Luke 23: 23
      2. Matthew 27: 23b-25
    3. John's Pilate Speaks to Jesus; Second Outcry for Crucifixion (John 19: 9-15)
    4. Jesus Given Over to (Flogging and) Crucifixion (Mark 15: 15; Matthew 27: 26; John 19: 16a + 19:1)
      1. The Flogging
      2. Condemnation of Jesus
      3. Assignment of Jesus to Whom
  3. Analysis

  1. Translation

    Words of Mark shared by the other evangelists are underlined. Words in blue indicate what is common to Matthew and Luke, in red words of John shared by other evangelists.

    Mark 15Matthew 27Luke 23John 19
    1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.
    12a But in answer again, Pilate22a Pilate20a But again Pilate4 And again Pilate
    12b kept saying to them:22b says to them:20b cried out in addressing them, wishing to release Jesuswent outside and says to them,
    12c "What therefore shall I do with him whom you call ’the King of the Jews’?"22c "What therefore shall I do with Jesus called the Messiah?""Look, I lead him out to you so that you may know that I find no case at all [against him]." 5 Therefore, Jesus went outside bearing the thorny crown and the purple robe; and he [Pilate] says to them, "Behold the man."
    13 But they shouted back, "Crucify him"22d All say, "Let him be crucified."21 But they kept crying out in return saying, "Crucify, crucify him."6a So when the chief priests and the attendants saw him, they yelled out saying, "Crucify, crucify."
    14a But Pilate kept saying to them, "For what has he done that is bad?"23a But he said, "For what that is bad has he done?"22 But he said to them a third time, "For what that is bad has this fellow done? I have found nothing in him (making him) guilty of death. Having chastised him (by whipping), therefore, I shall release him."6b Pilate says to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify, for I do not find a case against him."
    7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to the law he ought to die, because he has made himself God’s Son." 8 So when Pilate heard this statement, he was more afraid. 9 And he went back into the praetorium and says to Jesus, "From where are you?" But Jesus did not give him an answer. 10 So Pilate says, "Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and power to crucify you?" 11 Jesus answered, "You have no power over me at all except what was given to you from above. Therefore the one who gave me over to you has the greater sin." 12 From this Pilate was seeking to release him. But the Jews yelled out saying, "If you release this fellow, you are not a friend of Caesar. Anyone who makes himself a king contradicts Caesar." 13 Now Pilate, having heard these words, led Jesus outside and sat on the judgment seat in the place called Lithostrotos, but in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14 Now it was preparation day for Passover; it was the sixth hour. And he says to the Jews, "Look, your king."
    14b But they shouted even more, "Crucify him."23b But they kept shouting even more, saying, "Let him be crucified".23 But they were pressing with loud cries, demanding him to be crucified; and their cries were getting stronger.15a So they yelled out, "Take (him), take (him), crucify him."
    24 But Pilate, having seen that nothing was of use, but rather a disturbance was taking place, having taken water, washed off his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this man. You must see to it".15b Pilate says to them, "Shall I crucify your king?"
    25 And in answer all the people said, "His blood on us and on our children".15c The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."
    15a But Pilate, desiring to satisfy the crowd, 24 And Pilate made the judgment that their demand should be put into effect;
    15b released to them Barabbas;26a Then he released to them Barabbas.25a so he released the one who had been thrown into prison for riot and murder whom they had been demanding,
    15c and he gave over Jesus, having had him flogged, in order that he be crucified.26b but having had Jesus flogged, he gave (him) over in order that he be crucified.25b but Jesus he gave over to their will.16a So then he gave him over to them in order that he be crucified.

  2. Comment

    Pilate's desire to release Jesus leads to a first outcry from the crowd, then a second outcry when he resists their request, and it is then that Pilate gives in to their desire. John gives us a longer and more dramatic account, but we can still detect the two outcries and Pilate's acquiescence at the end to Jesus' crucifixion. This is the plan we are going to follow. But the part about the second outcry will have some subdivisions because of the length of the story caused by Pilate's washing of hands in Matthew and the Pilate-Jesus dialogue in John.

    1. First Outcry for Crucifixion and Pilate's Response (Mark 15: 12-14a; Matthew 27: 22-23a; Luke 23: 20-22; John 19: 1.4-8)

      1. Mark 15: 12-14a

        v. 12

        • "Pilate kept saying to them". By "them" Mark refers to the crowd that was excited by the chief priests and asked for Barabbas' release.
        • "Again" refers to the previous question in v. 9 where Pilate asked about the release of Jesus.
        • When Pilate asked the question "What therefore shall I do with him?", he gave us the clue that he would be influenced by them.
        • "the King of the Jews". Pilate knows Jesus only by his accusation, and he never utters the name of Jesus.

        v. 13

        • "they shouted back". Why "back" when the crowd has not yet screamed? The adverb probably has the meaning of "answering" Pilate's question.
        • "Shouted (krazein)" is ironically the same verb used at Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem where he was acclaimed by the crowd.

        v. 14a

        • "Pilate kept saying" The imperfect of the verb expresses the continuity, and therefore the persistence of the governor with a third attempt to deal correctly with the situation of Jesus.
        • "For what has he done that is bad (kakos)?". This sentence of Mark is Mark's way of proclaiming the innocence of Jesus which is affirmed three times in Luke and John. The word kakos also appears in John 18:23.30 and seems to come from an ancient tradition about the innocence of Jesus, an echo of Isaiah 53:9.

      2. Matthew 27: 22-23a

        • Matthew's account is almost the same as Mark's, and shorter, but it has taken the suspense out of Pilate's question, since we already know that the chief priests excited the crowd to ask for Jesus' death (see v. 20).
        • Matthew prefers "Messiah" to "King of the Jews", and therefore claims that it is the Messiah that the crowd wants to kill.
        • "All say". Matthew prepares us for v. 25 where it is all the people who take responsibility for this death.

      3. Luke 23: 20-22

        • The evangelist takes up the structure of Mark, but he rewrites the story in his own way.
        • While Mark uses the verb "to shout" (krazein) and John "to shout out" (kraugazein), Luke prefers the verbs "to cry toward" for Pilate (prosphōnein) and "to cry out against" (epiphōnein) for the crowd, then the nouns "cries" (phōnē) in v. 23; the use of the same root puts Pilate and the crowd on the same level.
        • The doublet "Crucify him! Crucify him!" is similar to that found in John 19:6, an indication that the two evangelists draw from a similar source.
        • V. 22 is a combination of Mark ("For what has he done that is bad?") and a source that Luke shares with John ("I do not find a case against him").
        • Luke's Pilate, with his "Having chastised him (by whipping), therefore, I shall release him", is the one who resists the pressure of the crowd the most.

      4. John 19: 4-8

        Here we find the same basic elements as Mark, but in a broader and more dramatic setting.

        v. 1-3 "Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged"

        • While Mark places the flogging and the Roman mockery at the end of the trial, John places them right in the middle. And for him it was not a matter of flogging, but of scourging, a lesser punishment in Pilate's hope of satisfying the Jews and making them want to release the man who had become so miserable.
        • Let us note that Pilate of Luke comes with a similar proposal (v. 22), that of chastising Jesus (with the whip), but in John there is a description of the blows given (v. 3).

        v. 4 "so that you may know that I find no case at all [against him]"

        • This is Pilate's second assertion of Jesus' innocence, a roughly verbatim repetition of 18:38.

        v. 5 "Jesus went outside bearing the thorny crown and the purple robe... Behold the man"

        • The very fact that Jesus keeps his royal clothes is a sign of how little credibility Pilate gives to the accusation of "King of the Jews".
        • What is the meaning of the expression "Behold the man"? Biblical scholars have tried to give every possible meaning to the word "man" (anthrōpos): "poor fellow", a way of ridiculing his claim to kingship; "here is a (real) man", a way of describing Jesus' strong impression of Pilate; "man" as a representative of the original man; man in the expression "son of man"; man whose name is the Seed (Zechariah 6:12), a reference to the Davidic messiah. None of these propositions are necessary, and the simplest solution is to see them as a gesture by Pilate to show the pathetic state of Jesus, a being incapable of defying Rome or the Jews.

        v. 6 "they yelled out saying, 'Crucify, crucify'... Take him yourselves"

        • Here are the high priests and the guards, in the next verse it will be the Jews, a way for John to affirm that the whole community participates unanimously in this action.
        • "Take him yourselves" expresses Pilate's exasperation.

        v. 7 "We have a law, and according to the law he ought to die, because he has made himself God's Son"

        • What law is this? Some people think it is Leviticus 24:16: "One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer". Indeed, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is reproached for calling God his father (5:18), or for being God's equal (10:3).
        • Here, by putting the title "Son of God" in the mouths of the Jews, John affirms that it is the very Son of God that they reject. Let us not forget that the evangelist writes in the last third of the first century, after the destruction of the temple, when the Law acquired a primordial importance in the Jewish world, and for Christians, the divinity of Jesus gradually imposed itself at the very heart of their faith in the oneness of God. Also, behind the Roman trial, John describes the Jewish-Christian conflict.

        v. 8 "Pilate was more afraid"

        • This is the first time John mentions the fear of Pilate. Therefore "more" means "very".
        • What fear is it? A political fear that affects his career is possible. But from John's perspective, it is rather the fear of making a decision between light and darkness, between truth and falsehood. Jesus told him that he came to bear witness to the truth (18:37). Pilate is afraid, because it is becoming clearer and clearer that he will be unable to escape the obligation to speak the truth.

    2. Synoptic Second Outcry for Crucifixion; Mattew's Pilate Washes His Hands (Mark 15: 14b; Luke 23: 23; Matthieu 27: 23b-25)

      This second outcry is present in all four Gospels, but Pilate reacts to it differently: in Mark and Luke he responds immediately, in Matthew he takes the time to wash his hands and forces the people to take responsibility for it, in John he enters into a dialogue with Jesus and the Jews.

      1. Mark 15: 14b et Luke 23: 23

        • In Mark, the crowd shouts stronger (perissōs, "even more"), and this seems to explain Pilate's decision to acquiesce to their request.
        • Luke 23: 23 describes the second crucifixion outcry by using the verb aiten. When Mark 15:8 used this verb to describe the action of the crowd, we translated it as "to request", because there was no heightened antagonism between the crowd and Pilate; but here it should be translated as "to demand" because of the atmosphere where the clamour is becoming more violent.

      2. Matthew 27: 23b-25

        • Verse 25 ("His blood on us and on our children") has a long and tragic history that has fueled a sense of hatred towards the Jews and has been mistakenly perceived as a curse that they have called upon themselves.

        • In the context of Matthew's community, persecuted by the Jewish authorities, it is understandable that Christians interpreted the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the destruction of the temple as an expression of God's anger at the crucifixion of Jesus. Ezekiel 9:8-11 witnesses to a similar reaction to the destruction of the first temple in about 587 BC, which he attributes to the perversity of Israel. Josephus (The Jewish War, 4.6.3: #386-388), a contemporary of Matthew, for his part, attributes the fault to the brutality of Jewish groups against each other and their ungodliness.

        • Origen (about 240 AD) seems to be the first to insist on the responsibility of the entire Jewish people: "For this reason the blood of Jesus is not only on those who lived at that time, but on all the generations of Jews who followed until the end of time" (On the Gospel according to Matthew, 27, 22-26, #124). He will be followed by several great names in Christianity.

        • But one cannot deny Matthew's hostility towards the synagogue in the way he determines responsibility for Jesus' death, when he uses the expressions "all the people," "upon us," and "upon our children". And if we add to this scene the guilt of Judas who shed innocent blood and the dream of Pilate's wife about the righteous man, we get a drama that is surpassed only by John's masterpiece.

        • It is important to realize that we are facing a theological dramatization. For the episode is a composition of Matthew using a popular tradition around the theme of the innocent blood of Jesus and the responsibility that comes from it, a tradition that also gave us the episode of Judas and the dream of Pilate's wife. However, there is a small historical nucleus at the origin of this tradition, as we can see in Acts 5:28 ("You (the apostles) desire to bring upon us (the chief priests) the blood of this man!").

        • By presenting us with a Pilate who takes water and washes his hands in front of the crowd, Matthew gives the impression that the governor has read the Old Testament and follows Jewish legal customs. The fact remains that this scene must have been intelligible to both Jews and Gentiles, for parallels are known in Greco-Roman literature on washing as a protective purification.

        • Pilate's gesture has its source in Deuteronomy 21:1-9, which specifies the procedures to be followed when a man is found murdered in the countryside without knowing the culprit, and more particularly vv. 6-8:
          All the elders of that town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi, 7 and they shall declare: "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor were we witnesses to it. 8 Absolve, O Lord, your people Israel, whom you redeemed; do not let the guilt of innocent blood remain in the midst of your people Israel." Then they will be absolved of bloodguilt.
          The Gospel of Peter (middle 2nd c.), an apocryphal Christian anti-Jewish writing, notes that neither the Jews nor Herod washed their hands (1:1), nor even wished to do so. In any case, Pilate responds to his wife's request.

        • "You must see to it". It is the same expression that we had in the mouths of the high priests and elders when Judas handed over the money for betrayal (27:4). But this sentence is in vain, for Pilate cannot avoid taking responsibility for the death of Jesus, just as Judas did. For the latter, God's punishment is his suicide. In the same way, for the chief priests in this sequence with Judas, they are all the more responsible since they are the ones who pronounced this death sentence against Jesus. In the case of Pilate, his attempt to avoid responsibility for the death of Jesus can only be effective according to Deuteronomy if the elders are innocent, which is not the case.

        • While Pilate refuses to take responsibility, there is one group that agrees to take responsibility, "all the people". This group includes the chief priests and the elders. But why use the expression "all the people" and not just "the crowd"? Leviticus 24:10-16 gives us an insight into the procedure to follow in case of blasphemy: "all the people" must stone the blasphemer. Now, Jesus was accused of blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, so it is all the people who participate in the judgment for blasphemy, and in the eyes of Matthew, it is all the people who are responsible for innocent blood.

        • But there is probably an even more important reason for Matthew to refer to "all the people", and it is suggested to us by Deuteronomy 27:14-26, which is a series of curses for infamous acts, to which all the people react by saying : Amen (e.g., v. 17: "Cursed be he who moves his neighbor's landmark. -- And all the people will say: Amen". This is about the Jewish people as an ethnic group. Matthew has the same approach throughout his Gospel when he quotes the Old Testament, for example 2:6 ("And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah ... for out of you shall come forth a leader who shall be a shepherd of my people Israel"), 13:14-15 ("For the spirit of this people has grown thick.... ", 15, 8-9 ("This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me..."). Let us remember that Matthew writes his Gospel after the year 70, and for him those who claim the death of Jesus are the representatives of all the Jewish people who suffer God's punishment through the repression of Jewish revolt.

        • "His blood on us and on our children". Let us note that there is no verb in the Matthean formula. For the sake of understanding, it is not bad to add the verb to be ("His blood (be) on us"), provided that one avoids the interpretation of a prophecy or a call to shed blood. For this formula comes from the holy Israelite law dealing with responsibility in the event of death, and the penalty associated with it. It is the idea that shedding blood is a violation of God's authority and must be accounted for. For example, Leviticus 20:9: "All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them"; by his action, that person has made himself responsible for his own blood shed as punishment (see also Ezekiel 18:13; 2 Samuel 1:16; Jeremiah 26:15; 51:35).

        • What happens if you punish someone who is later found to be innocent? The Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5, considers that in situations of capital punishment the blood of the one who has been wrongly condemned, as well as that of his children if he had lived, will fall on the false witnesses who had him condemned, as well as on their household. It will have been noted that the responsibility includes the whole family and descendants.

        • Let's go back to Pilate who said, "You must see to it" i.e. take responsibility for this action. From Matthew's perspective, the acceptance of responsibility on the part of all the people does not come from their desire to see bloodshed or their cruelty, but from their deep belief that Jesus is a blasphemer. The fact remains that Jesus is innocent, and for Matthew, all the people will have to account for his blood before God.

        • What does "on us and our children" mean? In at least 3 of the 14 occurrences of the word tekna (child) in Matthew, it refers to descendants, including those who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, a period called "the great tribulation" (24:21) (see a similar reference in Luke 23:28, when Jesus says: "Daughters of Jerusalem.... weep rather for yourselves and for your children!"). But, given that the destruction of Jerusalem took place 40 years after the death of Jesus, why did the punishment take so long to come? The theme that brings an element of response in Jewish-Christian milieu is that of the replacement of the old Israel by the new, which now includes the nations of the world (see 21:28-32.33-41; 22:1-10); it was necessary to give time for this new community to be formed. Thus the Jesus who tells his disciples to restrict their mission to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (10:6) is the same Jesus who says at the end of the Gospel, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (28:19). Has the people of Israel then been rejected forever? Matthew seems to think so. But for him, as for the whole Bible, when a punishment is attributed to God, God always has the sovereignty to forgive and break the chain of guilt.

    3. John's Pilate Speaks to Jesus; Second Outcry for Crucifixion (John 19: 9-15)

      • "From where are you?". Why does Pilate ask this question? It is understandable, because did Jesus not say earlier: "My kingdom is not from here"? In the Middle Eastern world, the question of where someone comes from is a question of identity; we know someone by where he or she comes from (for example, Jesus of Nazareth). In the beginning, Pilate took up the title given to Jesus: Are you the King of the Jews? Now, with this second interrogation in which the Jews accuse him of making himself the son of God (v. 7), the question points to his identity as the son of God; Pilate has evolved since the beginning of the trial.

      • "But Jesus did not give him an answer". In Mark/Matthew, Jesus' silence before Pilate expresses his contempt for the various accusations. In John, Jesus' silence is the acknowledgement that Pilate could never understand that he is from above.

      • "'Do you not know that I have power to release you and power (exousia) to crucify you?' Jesus answered, 'You have no power (exousia) over me at all except what was given to you from above'". How can Pilate have power over Jesus, according to John, since Jesus said: "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again." (10:18). Therefore, there must be an agreement between Pilate's decision to take Jesus' life and his decision to give it; thus, Pilate's role in the trial was given to him from above, and Jesus is one with his Father. The prophetic role of the opponents of Jesus is not new (see 11:51 on Caiaphas).

      • "Therefore the one who gave me over to you has the greater sin". For John, Jesus is the light that came into the world, and people are judged by their stand to him. The same is true of Pilate who, despite his position as judge, is judged because he does not choose the truth. However, a greater fault against the truth lies with the one who handed Jesus over. The latter is a representative of the Prince of this world, so Pilate is a secondary figure next to the titanic battle between Jesus and the world.

      • "From this Pilate was seeking to release him". Pilate is now outside. Even though we have no word from the governor, we must understand that his effort to release Jesus is visible to the Jews, which explains their reaction that follows.

      • "But the Jews yelled out (kraugazein) saying, "If you release this fellow (houtos), you are not a friend of Caesar". John takes up the verb kraugazein used in v. 6 to ask for the crucifixion of Jesus, and the pronoun houtos (which could be translated as "that poor fellow") used at the beginning of the trial in 18:30. We have a parallelism in the form of chiasm. Here, unique among all the evangelists, John specifies the reason why he yields to the Jews: the fear of being seen as disloyal to the emperor. This portrait of Pilate in John resembles that of Philo of Alexandria (Ad Gaium 38: #301-302) who presents him as a naturally inflexible and stubborn being when the Jews accuse him of not respecting local customs, but who fears above all the sending of an embassy to Rome denouncing his conduct as governor.

      • "Anyone who makes himself a king contradicts (antilegein) Caesar". Here we return to the original accusation, that of "King of the Jews". Jesus is presented in competition with the emperor, especially in the Middle East where the emperor is seen as a king. The verb antilegein (to speak against someone) describes a hostile attitude.

      • "Pilate... sat on the judgment seat in the place called Lithostrōton, but in Hebrew Gabbatha". John thus marks the solemnity of the moment as Pilate sits on the sella curulis, or bench of the court, to make his decision official (see analysis in Appendix III). This place seems to come from an ancient tradition. It is called lithostrōton, which literally means: stone pavement. Gabbatha is an Aramaic (not Hebrew) word derived from the root gbh or gh' (to be raised, to protrude). It describes well the place where we previously located the court, in front of the royal palace, on the highest part of the western hill of Jerusalem.

      • "Now it was preparation day (paraskeuein) for the Passover". Paraskeuein probably refers to the Hebrew 'ereb, in Aramaic ‛ărûbā’, which refers to 'a vigil the day before'. And paraskeuein refers not only to the previous day, but also to the activity of preparation for the next day, an important day. Some biblical scholars have tried to harmonize this passage with the Synoptics which speak rather of Sabbath vigil, not Passover vigil, and have made Jesus' death coincide with the Passover. Yet our passage is clear and is the equivalent of ‛ereb pesaḥ, the eve of the Passover.

      • " it was the sixth hour (noon)". Some biblical scholars have tried in vain to reconcile this time with that of Mark 15:15, who writes that at the third hour (9:00 am) Jesus was crucified: if at noon Jesus has not yet been condemned, how can he already be on the cross? It is forgetting that for both Mark and John this chronological note has a theological purpose. According to rabbinic literature (see Mishna Pesaḥim 1.4; 4.1.5), after noon the priests began the slaughter of the lambs for the Passover meal. And the Johannine community, recently ejected from the synagogue, had to understand the symbolism perfectly. Moreover, John refers to the symbolism of the Feast of Tents (water and light ceremonies, 7: 37-39; 9: 5; 10: 36) and the Dedication or Hanukkah (consecration of the temple altar) without feeling the need to explain it. Moreover, on several occasions he evokes the motif of the Paschal Lamb (1:29.30; 19:29.36). Thus, at the very hour when the paschal lamb is killed, Jesus is condemned to become the new paschal lamb.

      • "Look, your king... Shall I crucify your king?". Contrary to what some biblical scholars think, this is not a scene of mockery. Pilate has made his choice, he gave in to the pressure of the Jews and will condemn Jesus. At the same time, in the form of a dialogue, John arrives at the same conclusion as Mt 27:25: Pilate succeeded in identifying those who were really responsible for Jesus' death, the Jews. Thus, they will answer Pilate: "Take him, take him, crucify him!".

      • "We have no king but Caesar". This statement must be read in the context of several passages in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 26:13: "O Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but we acknowledge your name alone" or the 11th blessing of Shemoneh Esreh : "May you alone reign over us". In John, the affirmation of the Jews means the rejection of the lordship of God in Jesus. By this, the high priests rejected all hope of a messiah king sent by God, and preferred to be satisfied with a Roman civil lordship. And so the Jews became a nation like all the other nations of the world, subjects of Rome, and no longer God's chosen people. Within the setting of the Mishna, Roš Haššana 1.2, which presents Passover as a time when the world is judged, the Jews take responsibility for the greatest sin.

    4. Jesus Given Over to (Flogging and) Crucifixion (Mark 15: 15; Matthew 27: 26; John 19: 16a + 19:1)

      • (Mk 15:15) "But Pilate, desiring to satisfy the crowd released to them Barabbas; and he gave over Jesus, having had him flogged, in order that he be crucified". Mark is the only one who gives an explanation for Pilate's decision: to satisfy the crowd. The verb boulesthai (desiring) expresses a very strong desire. And in this verse, Mark uses two Latinisms, first to hikanon poiēsai (literally: to do enough), the Greek equivalent of the Latin verb satisfacere (to satisfy), then phragelloun (from the Latin flagellare, to flagellate). Why these Latinisms? It is probably a deliberate effort by Mark to create a setting for a legal decision by the Roman governor.

      • (Lk 23:25) "so he released the one who had been thrown into prison for riot and murder whom they had been demanding but Jesus he gave over to their will" (Lk 23:25). Luke emphasizes the contrast between a criminal who is released and an innocent who is handed over.

      • The Gospels are not clear about why Jesus was crucified. The biblical scholars speak of Lex Iulia de maiestate (crime of lese-majesty). But one should not imagine that a prefect in a province like Judea would often consult the law book, especially when dealing with someone who was not a Roman citizen. Extra ordinem procedures were used, which allowed a great deal of latitude, and if it was necessary to avoid reprimands from Rome, it was better to show an excess of severity than of clemency.

      1. The Flogging

        • Only Mark (and Matthew) mentions that Jesus was scourged at the end of his trial. But his formulation is awkward ("he gave over Jesus, having had him flogged, in order that he be crucified"), since Jesus would have been flogged between the moment he was handed over and his crucifixion. Matthew modifies the sequence in a more logical way: "having had Jesus flogged, he gave (him) over in order that he be crucified". In fact, a delinquent was stripped naked and then bound to a low pole or thrown to the ground. So rods were used for a free man, sticks for military personnel, and scourges (leather thongs with pieces of bone or lead or spikes) for others. These flails were made of leather strips with pieces or spikes of bone or tin.

        • For the types of punishment, the following distinctions can be made.

          1. Punishment for minor crimes. This case is illustrated by Lk 23: 16 when Pilate offers to discipline (paideuein) Jesus, probably with a whip. Note that Luke does not offer any scene where Jesus is really whipped.

          2. The punishment of investigative torture to get information from a prisoner or to get him to confess his crime. This case is illustrated by Josephus (The Jewish War, 6.5.3: #304) who tells how Jesus, the son of Ananias, was torn to the bones by whips (mastix) without asking for mercy or crying. Acts 22:24-25 tells how a Roman commander was preparing to whip (mastizein) Paul until he learned that he was a Roman citizen.

          3. The punishment which was part of the crucifixion sentence, adding to the suffering of the condemned man and controlling his survival time. This is the scene presented to us by Mark/Matthew. Josephus also offers us an example around the year 60, at the time of the procurator Florus, when he had people whipped (mastix) and crucified.

        • If we'd stuck to tradition, there would have been one flogging session. For theological reasons, John places it in the middle of the different sequences of the trial, and inside the praetorium. In Mark (15:15-16), followed by Matthew, it would have taken place outside the praetorium, perhaps in the presence of Pilate, in front of bēma (court bench), just like a scene told by Josephus (The Jewish War, 2.14.9: #308).

      2. Condemnation of Jesus

        • The four evangelists use the verb paradidonai (to give over), which is a theological, not a judicial, term. In the Roman trials that resulted in a crucifixion, the sentence was probably pronounced in the form: Ibis in crucem (You shall go on the cross), or Abi in crucem (On the cross with you). In Greek, the common term for the death penalty is katakrinein. It is exactly this term found in the third proclamation of Jesus' death: "The Son of Man will be given over to the chief priests and scribes; they will condemn him (katakrinein) to death and give him over to the Gentiles" (Mk 10:33; Mt 20:18). However, at Jesus' trial, Luke is the only evangelist to use an equivalent term: "And Pilate made the judgment (epikrinein) that their demand should be put into effect" (23:24). Note that epikrinein can have the meaning of an official sentence, as we see in 2 Maccabees 4:47: "...and that he (the king) condemned (epikrinein) to death the unfortunate ones who, if they had pleaded their case even before Scythians, would have been dismissed innocent". Thus Luke intends to describe a formal judgment and make Jesus' trial conform to the familiar standards of Roman trials.

        • Because of the lack of technical vocabulary for a death sentence in Mark, Matthew and John, some biblical scholars wanted to see Jesus' Roman trial not as a real trial, but as a mere coercitio, a demonstration of the ability to punish. It is completely forgetting the intention of these evangelists who have Pilate sit on the bēma (the bench of the tribunal), it is forgetting that we are in front of popular accounts, not a record, it is forgetting that the theological language of "handing someone over" assumes a sentence, it is forgetting that the expression: so that he may be crucified, is the equivalent of: you shall go on the cross (Ibis in crucem). Moreover, when Josephus refers to Jesus' condemnation to death (see Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3: #64), he uses the non-technical term epitimein (punish/condemn).

        • Because Mark, Matthew and John do not present an explicit death sentence, some biblical scholars have seen this as an effort to exonerate Pilate. But one would look in vain for a sentence to this effect. On the contrary, in the chain of those who gave over (paradidonai) Jesus, Judas to the Jewish authorities, the Jewish authorities to Pilate, Pilate is part of it since he gives him over to the crucifixion. The washing of Pilate's hands in Matthew cannot take away his responsibility, just as with Judas who hands over the money. When John writes that Judas has the greatest sin (19:11), it is no less true that Pilate has a sin.

        • Beyond all this language, we must not forget that there is something odious about the fate of Jesus. Horace (Satire, 1.3.119) speaks of scourging as something horrible: horribile flagellum. Origen (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 27, 22-26, #124) describes death on the cross as the most hideous thing (turpissima) there is. And yet, it is with one sentence that we describe the sending of Jesus to suffer the most hideous death known in antiquity.

      3. Assignment of Jesus to Whom

        • Not all the Gospels have the same clarity on this question
          Mc 15: 15 he gave over Jesus... in order that he be crucified.Mt 27: 26 he gave (him) over in order that he be crucified.Lc 23: 25 he gave over to their will.Jn 19: 16 he gave him over to them in order that he be crucified

          Mark/Matthew avoids any ambiguity by introducing the Roman soldiers in the next verse: it is they who will take care to crucify him.

        • It is less clear in John 19:16: who is this "them" in the expression: "he gave him over to them"? In the previous verse, the subject is: the high priests. This is an example of careless narrative style. For further on, in 19:23, it is clearly the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus. And this is how the listeners of the Gospel must have understood v. 16.

        • It is a little more complicated with Lk 23:24-26: "Pilate released the one who had been thrown into prison for riot and murder, whom they had been demanding, but Jesus he gave over to their will. And as they led him away, having taken hold of Simon, a certain Cyrenian coming in from the field, they put upon him the cross to bring behind Jesus". The pronoun "their" would refer to the chief priests, the rulers and the people, mentioned in 23:13, thirteen verses earlier. So Luke would have the equivalent here of Mk. 15:15 where Pilate wants to satisfy the crowd. But in the next verse, Luke writes: "And as they led him away (to the place of the crucifixion)". Logically, the pronoun "they" in v. 26 should be the same group as "their" in the previous verse, i.e. the chief priests, the rulers and the people. But does Luke really mean to say that the physical execution of Jesus was carried out by them? If we analyze the whole picture of Luke, it is rather probable that he meant, and his audience understood this, that Pilate consented to the Jewish wishes about Jesus, and it was the Roman soldiers who seized him and crucified him in 23:36-38. Three arguments support this view.

          1. We are in a world where stories are transmitted orally, and these stories were heard more in assemblies than read personally. If the biblical scholar can search for the subject of Lk 23:26 by going back thirteen verses earlier, no listener sitting in a church can do this exercise. The audience, who had already heard the passion narrative in many ways, knew in advance that it was the Romans who crucified Jesus, and spontaneously understood this "they" as referring to the Roman soldiers.

          2. But what about the writer himself, Luke? Even the best writers make careless mistakes. We saw this above for John 19:16. Remember that Luke usually copies Mark. However, after his v. 25 ("Pilate gave Jesus over to their will"), he decides to skip the scene of the scourging of Mark 15:15, to reconnect to his account in 15:20 when Mark writes: "They lead him out in order that they might crucify him". Now, the "they" in Mark is clear, since it was the Roman soldiers who scourged Jesus in the previous verses, but not so in Luke, where his "they led him away" is linked to "Pilate gave Jesus over to their will"; Luke probably did not notice that by omitting the scene of the scourging, his "they" no longer had the same meaning as Mark's "they". There are other instances of carelessness, such as in 18:31-33 where he copies Mk 10:33-34 as Jesus announces his passion, specifying that he will be scourged, but skips Mark's scourging scene in his passion narrative. Or he takes over from Mark the sequence that goes from the trial before the Sanhedrin, followed by the mocking scene, and ends with Peter's denial, but reverses this sequence: As it all begins in Luke with Peter's denial, where Peter goes out at the end and weeps bitterly, Luke continues with the scene of Mark's mocking, writing: "the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him" (22:63). Grammatically, the pronoun "him" refers to Peter, of whom we have just spoken. But we know from Mark that it is Jesus. A careless mistake.

          3. Elsewhere in his work Luke has made it very clear that it was the Gentiles (Romans) who crucified him. First there are Acts 4:25-28. But there are also 18:31-33 with the last proclamation of the passion: "For he will be given over to the Gentiles, scorned, reviled, spit upon, and scorned, and after they have scourged him they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again". He must have expected his audience to understand this.

  3. Analysis

    1. 1 The PreGospel Tradition

      Long before the Gospels were written, stories about the passion of Jesus were circulated. The elements of this tradition can be summarized as follows.

      1. Jesus was handed over to the Roman prefect by the authorities of the Jewish Sanhedrin, especially the chief priests.
      2. The main charge concerned his claim to be the King of the Jews, a title from the 2nd and 1st century BC, when kings ruled over Judea.
      3. Jesus did not bother to deny this title, remaining silent, except for a vague: You say (it)
      4. The Prefect acknowledged that this title was not the real source of the antagonism between Jesus and the Jewish authorities, but under orchestrated pressure, he preferred to give in rather than face a public uproar on an issue in which he had no interest.
      5. The pressure of the crowd was dramatized to make them shout several times for crucifixion.
      6. Pilate is presented as a figure who knows that the accusations against Jesus are false, and this figure is stylized in one of the known traditions of Luke and John by the repetition of a statement of not guilty.
      7. There was also the memory of a certain Barabbas who was allegedly released at a feast with the support of the crowd, but was contrasted with Jesus by referring to a customary procedure of releasing someone on the occasion of a feast.

    2. The Rewriting by the Evangelists

      1. Matthew

        When he receives this tradition through Mark, Matthew gives an expansion to some of the motifs already there. This is the case of the real responsibility for the death of Jesus, a responsibility that the Old Testament expresses with the symbolism of innocent blood on someone. For Matthew, this guilt affects all those who were involved: Judas, the Jewish authorities, Pilate and the people. He added a popular reflection on this theme, which gave us the suicide of Judas and the story of the thirty pieces of silver, the dream of Pilate's wife and the washing of hands.

      2. Luke

        He adds to the trial a dramatic work taken from scenes of Herod's opposition to Jesus. By declaring Jesus not guilty, Herod becomes another witness to his innocence. In addition, Luke structures the trial to give it the usual form of the Roman trials, the same structure he will use for Paul's trials: the charge is explained and the final sentence is given.

      3. John

        The fourth evangelist has access to a tradition similar to the one that reached Mark, but with many more geographical and temporal details that could well be historical: the praetorium, the Lithostrōtos, the day before the Easter meal. Above all, he profoundly rearranges the passion narrative into a drama in seven episodes where he brings us into his theological analysis. In this way he develops a dialogue between Pilate and Jesus in which, fundamentally, it is Pilate who undergoes his trial, unable to take a stand in the face of the truth revealed in Jesus. The dialogue he develops on the other hand between Pilate and the Jews demonstrates that the chosen people are ready to renounce God's sovereignty over them in order to embrace the kingship of Caesar. Through his editorial work in which he adds these dialogues, just as Matthew did by adding action scenes instead, John intends to reflect the contemporary conflict of Christians with the leaders of the Jewish synagogues in the first century.

Next chapter: The Roman Mockery and Abuse of Jesus

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