Friday, May 17, 2013

Jesus Is My Co-Pilate

Judas left Jesus and the other Disciples to enact his betrayal. After meeting with the authorities, he led them back to where Jesus was. Judas then identified Jesus to the authorities by kissing Him (Matthew, Mark), unless Jesus stopped the kiss from happening (Luke), or instead Jesus identified Himself and for arrest as soon as the authorities arrived (John).

After the arrest, the Priests struggled to find any charges against Jesus, but they ultimately decided that Jesus had blasphemed by calling Himself the Son of God. So they bound Him up, and sent Him to Pilate. (Before {Luke 22:63-65} and/or after {Matthew 26:67, Mark 14:65}, that trial, Jesus was mocked and beat by the soldiers who had custody of Him.)

Meanwhile, Peter, who had been waiting outside the High Priest's house, ended up denying three times that he had known Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:56-62, John 18:17-27). That happened just as Jesus had predicted.

Jesus Is My Co-Pilate
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Besides the more mundane administrative affairs of state, one crucial role is ensuring that the rule of law is enforced. Without law, you have chaos. You might as well be ruling cats. Law requires some form of justice. Let us take a look at the justice rendered by arguably the most infamous prefect in history; Pontius Pilate.

The Priests had bound Jesus, and delivered Him to Pilate for ultimate justice. Like any good minister of justice, Pilate questioned Jesus about His crimes. Well, not really. In this post, we will cover that inquisition captured in Matthew 27:1-14, Mark 15:1-5, Luke 23:1-16, and John 18:28-38.

We will start with the source, Mark. According to Mark, right after Jesus was handed over to Pilate (Mark 15:1), in Mark 15:2 we see this question and answer:
"Are you the King of the Jews?" asked Pilate.
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. NIV
This leaves us with the question of how Pilate came to think that Jesus should be called the "King of the Jews". As we know from last time, blaspheme was the charge against Jesus, so when did it come up that Jesus was a King?

Plus, there is the even bigger question of how this little snippet of dialog is recorded! There were no Disciple eye-witnesses here.

Anyway, after that question, the Chief Priests accused Jesus of "many things", and Pilate was amazed that Jesus gave no reply to these multiple charges against Him (Mark 15:3-5). What are these "many" accusations, when there was only the charge of blaspheme against Him? Who knows? Of course, again, we should also ask who knows that there were actually "many" accusations, given the lack of Jesus-aligned eye-witnesses?

That is it. With that paltry investigation, Pilate was allegedly able to discern both that Jesus had been arrested out of jealousy (Mark 15:9-10) and that Jesus was innocent (Mark 15:14). That would make for a pretty shoddy episode of CSI!

Seriously though, while we should not assume that all of the pertinent information about the investigation is recorded here, we do have a lack of details which are critical to Pilate reaching a judgement on Jesus, which is odd, to say the least. It is as though the story-teller could not think of a crafty way to reasonably resolve the dialog in Jesus' favor, and so chose to leave a gap instead.

Matthew 27:1-14, with some clarifying word changes, is essentially identical to Mark's account, except that Matthew aggregated into that passage the parallel account of Judas repenting his act of betrayal, throwing his money back to the Priests, and then hanging himself in shame.

Luke, of course, was a better editor than Matthew. While Luke missed the lack-of-eye-witnesses issue, he fixed the issue with the out-of-nowhere question from Pilate about Jesus being a King by having the Priests make their accusations first, as Luke 23:2 shows:
And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king." NIV
So now we know why Pilate asked Jesus about being a King, but Luke created some other problems. For starters, where is the blaspheme charge? Next, why are the Priests accusing Jesus of opposing taxes when He did not oppose taxes? Of course, this does paint the Priests as being all the more evil, as they were willing to distort the truth in order to have Jesus killed by appealing to Roman law as opposed to God's Law.

Yet with that fix, it makes Pilate's investigation appear all-the-more inadequate, as Pilate goes straight from asking Jesus if He is King (Luke 23:3) to declaring Jesus' innocence (Luke 23:4).

Luke also added in more detail. After Pilate (miraculously?) found no basis for charges against Jesus, the Priests mentioned how Jesus had been stirring up people all the way from Galilee. Galilee was Herod's district, who just happened to be in Jerusalem, so Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for investigation. Herod asked Jesus "many" questions, and the Priests accused Jesus in front of Herod, but Jesus gave no replies. So Herod sent Jesus (with an elegant robe) back to Pilate (Luke 23:5-11). Pilate gathered the Priests and the people together (Luke 23:12-13) to make the public (and therefore witness-able) declaration we find in Luke 23:13-15:
and [Pilate] said to them, "You brought me this man (Jesus) as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined Him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against Him. Neither has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; as you can see, He has done nothing to deserve death." NIV
It is strange that this public declaration, including the mention Herod's judgement, is not covered by any of the other three Gospels. (In fact, Herod is not mentioned at all in John; not for the Massacre of the Innocents, for the beheading of John the Baptist, or for his role in examining Jesus.)

Even more strange is how Luke later spun Herod's involvement in Jesus' death. Referencing the first couple of verses of Psalm 2 as "prophesy", in Acts 4:25-28 we see:
"You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your servant, our father David:
    ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against His anointed one.
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed. They did what Your power and will had decided beforehand should happen." NIV
So somehow Pilate and Herod finding Jesus to be innocent adds up to conspiring against Jesus! That is ludicrous! This is yet another instance were we find the truth stretched to fulfill a prophesy.

If Luke is ludicrous, John is laughable. There, Pilate's investigation of Jesus happens inside the palace with no eye-witnesses, because the Jews did not want to sully themselves on the holiday (John 18:28). So Pilate went out and asked the Priests what charges they had against Jesus, to which they responded that Jesus was a criminal, without giving any specific charge (John 18:29-30).

Pilate then did what any Roman law keeper would do: he told the Priests to judge Jesus according to Jewish Law (John 18:31)! Ha! That seems extremely unlikely, but it certainly is possible, especially if Pilate was just trying to get rid of this annoyance so early in the morning. Anyway, the Priests objected because they did not have the authority to conduct executions (John 18:32).

So Pilate went back inside the palace to question Jesus. And his first question? You guessed it. From out of nowhere, Pilate asked Jesus if He was the King of the Jews (John 18:33). Instead of Jesus essentially answering "yup" as in the other Gospels, we get more dialog (recorded without eye-witnesses) of Jesus explaining that His Kingdom was "not of this world" and "from another place", and that people "on the side of truth" listen to Him (John 18:34-37).

Based on that, ahem, painstakingly thorough line of questioning, Pilate asked "What is truth?" and then went out to tell the Priests that he finds that Jesus is innocent (John 18:38).

Lacking any sense of jurisprudence, in all four of the Gospels, Pilate is portrayed as absolutely inept at getting to the truth of the matter and thereby rendering effective justice. Jesus is declared innocent with only the most superficial and indirect line of questioning. Although many Christians like to vilify Pilate, in a way, he is a model of Jesus. Not that Pilate was a sin-free self-offering of God, but that it is Jesus who will allegedly serve as the mediator of God's wrath, and His ultimate qualifying question determining your guilt or innocence will be of the most superficial nature: did you believe in Me?


  1. "we should not assume that all of the pertinent information about the investigation is recorded here"

    I kept thinking this as well. In fact, I've been thinking this type of thing a lot in my readings lately, the bible is often quite light on details, which seems to give the Christians an out for contradictions of omission. If one book says something happened and the other doesn't, they can always just say that one writer didn't record it.

    Of course that leaves the question of why. If something is important enough, you would think it would be written down. And several things here do seem to fall into that category.

    It is one more thing that I have been trying to keep in mind.

  2. That is a trap I fall into as well, Hausdorff. Arguing from silence can seem like a strong argument, but it is really without a solid foundation because of the large assumption involved. About the best you can really say is "that is odd" and "that seems unlikely". :-)

  3. Exactly, even just a whole bunch of "that is odd" can add up in someone's mind. That's basically what got me started, not some huge realization, those were too big and scary for me when I was deep into religion. but the small things that just made me go "hmmm" seemed okay to consider, and when enough of them built up I started asking harder questions.

  4. Fun evaluation of the process. Thanx