In the last post, I began an examination of Pilate’s verdict. I started with Mark and Matthew because they are almost the same in both the order of events and how they report them. They also provide present the most basic accounts of how the trial unfolded, so it’s good to have that foundation before considering the added details in Luke and John. With that in mind, I will turn my attention to Luke.
Luke tells specifically what the Sanhedrin charged him with. Mark and Matthew do not tell the specific charges, but you can easily guess they were along these lines. Luke’s particular order of events does not make sense, though.
- The Sanhedrin has just charged Jesus with forbidding to pay taxes and calling himself Messiah and king, both of which could carry the death penalty.
- When Pilate asks if he is the king of the Jews, Jesus says, “You say so.”
- Pilate says, “I find no basis for accusation against him” (Luk 23:2-4 NRS).
No basis for accusation? He’s been accused of forbidding Jews from paying taxes and calling himself king and Messiah. His answer does not even come close to denying it. But Pilate is like, he didn’t say yes. That’s good enough for me.
It’s impossible to think a Roman governor would be that cavalier about such flagrant disregard for Caesar’s authority.
Luke adds a noteworthy detail that’s missing in Mark and Matthew: Pilate learns Jesus is from Galilee. He does the next legal and logical step, send him to Herod the tetrarch of Galilee. This is not Herod the Great of the Christmas story but his son Herod Antipas. It’s such an obvious thing for Pilate to do you wonder why Matthew and Mark do not report it. I can only guess that Luke had access to a source Matthew and Mark did not.
The time with Herod is unremarkable. Herod questions him at length, the chief priests and the elders vehemently accuse him, and Jesus does not answer any of them. Herod and his soldiers treat him contemptuously, put a fancy robe on him (apparently to mock his “regal” status), and send him back to Pilate without making any charges (verse 11).
If Pilate is truly convinced of Jesus’ innocence, he just got a boost from Herod. Now he’s able to tell the Sanhedrin and the people gathered outside in effect, “I found no reason to put him to death and neither did Herod.” Incidentally, Luke tells us this made Pilate and Herod friends where they had been enemies before (verse 12). It seems Herod appreciated Pilate deferring to him, and Pilate appreciated Herod backing up his initial judgment.
What follows is very similar to Mark and Matthew, with some slight differences.
- In Matthew and Mark, Pilate asks the crowd who they want him to release. In Luke, he does not ask. He simply says he will release Jesus (after flogging him).
- In all three, the crowd calls for him to release Barabbas. Matthew and Mark connect this with a custom of releasing one prisoner on Passover. Some manuscripts of Luke mention this custom, but some do not.
- In Matthew and Mark, Pilate protests twice. In Luke, he protests three times before acquiescing.
- In Matthew and Mark, he does not say he will flog Jesus until after he decides to hand him over to the crowd. In Luke, he wants to flog Jesus then release him.
Are any of these differences significant? Possibly.
- More protesting from Pilate is in keeping with Luke’s emphasis on the political innocence of Jesus and the Christian movement. Matthew and Mark also made this point, but it is more explicit in Luke overall, not just here.
- The way Luke presents it, the judgment to flog Jesus could be seen as an attempt to pacify the crowd without executing him.
The differences between Mark, Matthew, and Luke are relatively minor. They agree on these key points:
- The Sanhedrin – chief priests, scribes, and elders – try to convince Pilate to sentence Jesus to death.
- Pilate is suspicious of their motives and reluctant to do it.
- Jesus is almost completely silent while he is accused – except when Pilate asks if he is the Messiah and/or the King of the Jews. Then he says, “You say so.”
- Pilate wants to release Jesus, but the people gathered outside his court (at the urging of the Sanhedrin) want him crucified.
- Instead, they call for him to release a man named Barabbas, who is in prison for murder and/or insurrection. Jesus is then handed over to be flogged and crucified.
Luke adds a scene where Jesus is interrogated by Herod. Luke is the only one of the Gospels that reports this. Because Galilee is where Jesus is from, it makes sense that Pilate would do this.
When we read John, he agrees on all these points except the third. Jesus is not silent to or about his accusers, and the exchanges between Jesus and Pilate are quite interesting. In my next post, I will look at John’s take on Jesus and Pilate with special focus on the contrast between Jesus’ silence in the Synoptics and his more outspoken defense in John.