What Charges Were Brought Against Jesus Before Pilate?


This article is adapted from The Mystery of the Crucifixion: The Attempt to Kill Jesus in the Qur’an, the New Testament, and Historical Sources

All four Gospels agree that after his trial or interrogation by the Sanhedrin and high priest, Jesus was brought before Pilate to be punished. According to Mark and Matthew, Pilate asked Jesus whether he was the king of Jews, to which Jesus answered vaguely “you say so” (Mark 15:2; Matt. 27:11). Pilate’s question implies that the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of claiming to be the king of the Jews, which is how they perceived their awaited Messiah. This highly charged political accusation was bound to raise the interest of the Roman governor. The chief priests and the elders then brought many unspecified charges against Jesus, but he did not respond to any of them.

Luke elaborates more on the accusation:

“We found this man subverting our nation, forbidding us to pay the tribute tax to Caesar and claiming that he himself is Christ, a king” (Luke 23:2).

He then reports the same question and answer between Pilate and Jesus about the kingship of the Jews that Mark and Matthew have. Later passages assert that Jesus was accused of “inciting” and “misleading” people:

They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man subverting our nation, forbidding us to pay the tribute tax to Caesar and claiming that he himself is Christ, a king.” (Luke 23:5)

[Pilate said to them:] “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. When I examined him before you, I did not find this man guilty of anything you accused him of doing.” (Luke 23:14)

John’s account differs yet further. When Pilate asks the people about Jesus’ charge, their reply was simply to stress his guilt:

If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you. (John 18:30)

Upon the Jews’ insistence that Jesus must be killed, Pilate asked him whether he was the king of the Jews. Unlike in the Synoptics, Jesus replies by explaining that his kingdom is heavenly and not from this world:

My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here. (John 18:36)

This should have allied Pilate’s concerns. John also states that the Jews told Pilate that Jesus had to die because of his claim to the sonship of God:

The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a law, and according to our law he ought to die, because he claimed to be the Son of God!” (John 19:7)

However, I have explained in my article The Unhistorical Meaning of “Son of God” in the Gospels, claiming to be a the son of God was not a religious crime in Judaism.

Despite their differences about what charges were brought against Jesus before Pilate, all four Gospels agree that at the crucified Jesus was mocked by having a titulus with the inscription “the king of the Jews” put on his cross. This agreement highlights the charge that was of significance for the Roman governor, which is the claim to kingship. Since the Jews believed that the Christ would become their king, this mocking of Jesus ridiculed his claim to messiahship.

The titulus is one example that shows that even when the Gospels are consistent, they do not completely agree with each other. This is the inscription according to the four Evangelists:

  • Mark (15:26): “The king of the Jews.”
  • Matthew (27:37): “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.”
  • Luke (23:38): “This is the king of the Jews.”
  • John (19:19): “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.”

Bible translations are from the New English Translation (NET) Bible.

Copyright © 2011 Louay Fatoohi
Blog: http://www.louayfatoohi.com
Website: http://www.quranicstudies.com
All Rights Reserved.


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