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John 18:28-32

Context
Jesus Brought Before Pilate

18:28 Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s residence. 1  (Now it was very early morning.) 2  They 3  did not go into the governor’s residence 4  so they would not be ceremonially defiled, but could eat the Passover meal. 18:29 So Pilate came outside to them and said, “What accusation 5  do you bring against this man?” 6  18:30 They replied, 7  “If this man 8  were not a criminal, 9  we would not have handed him over to you.” 10 

18:31 Pilate told them, 11  “Take him yourselves and pass judgment on him 12  according to your own law!” 13  The Jewish leaders 14  replied, 15  “We cannot legally put anyone to death.” 16  18:32 (This happened 17  to fulfill the word Jesus had spoken when he indicated 18  what kind of death he was going to die. 19 )

1 tn Grk “to the praetorium.”

sn The permanent residence of the Roman governor of Palestine was in Caesarea (Acts 23:35). The governor had a residence in Jerusalem which he normally occupied only during principal feasts or in times of political unrest. The location of this building in Jerusalem is uncertain, but is probably one of two locations: either (1) the fortress or tower of Antonia, on the east hill north of the temple area, which is the traditional location of the Roman praetorium since the 12th century, or (2) the palace of Herod on the west hill near the present Jaffa Gate. According to Philo (Embassy 38 [299]) Pilate had some golden shields hung there, and according to Josephus (J. W. 2.14.8 [2.301], 2.15.5 [2.328]) the later Roman governor Florus stayed there.

2 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.

3 tn Grk “And they.” The conjunction καί (kai, “and”) has not been translated here in keeping with the tendency of contemporary English style to use shorter sentences.

4 tn Grk “into the praetorium.”

5 tn Or “charge.”

6 sn In light of the fact that Pilate had cooperated with them in Jesus’ arrest by providing Roman soldiers, the Jewish authorities were probably expecting Pilate to grant them permission to carry out their sentence on Jesus without resistance (the Jews were not permitted to exercise capital punishment under the Roman occupation without official Roman permission, cf. v. 31). They must have been taken somewhat by surprise by Pilate’s question “What accusation do you bring against this man,” because it indicated that he was going to try the prisoner himself. Thus Pilate was regarding the trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin as only an inquiry and their decision as merely an accusation.

7 tn Grk “They answered and said to him.”

8 tn Grk “this one.”

9 tn Or “an evildoer”; Grk “one doing evil.”

10 tn Or “would not have delivered him over.”

11 tn Grk “Then Pilate said to them.”

12 tn Or “judge him.” For the translation “pass judgment on him” see R. E. Brown (John [AB], 2:848).

13 sn Pilate, as the sole representative of Rome in a troubled area, was probably in Jerusalem for the Passover because of the danger of an uprising (the normal residence for the Roman governor was in Caesarea as mentioned in Acts 23:35). At this time on the eve of the feast he would have been a busy and perhaps even a worried man. It is not surprising that he offered to hand Jesus back over to the Jewish authorities to pass judgment on him. It may well be that Pilate realized when no specific charge was mentioned that he was dealing with an internal dispute over some religious matter. Pilate wanted nothing to do with such matters, as the statement “Pass judgment on him according to your own law!” indicates. As far as the author is concerned, this points out who was really responsible for Jesus’ death: The Roman governor Pilate would have had nothing to do with it if he had not been pressured by the Jewish religious authorities, upon whom the real responsibility rested.

14 tn Or “the Jewish authorities”; Grk “the Jews.” Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders, especially members of the Sanhedrin. See the note on the phrase “Jewish leaders” in v. 12.

15 tn Grk “said to him.”

16 tn Grk “It is not permitted to us to kill anyone.”

sn The historical background behind the statement We cannot legally put anyone to death is difficult to reconstruct. Scholars are divided over whether this statement in the Fourth Gospel accurately reflects the judicial situation between the Jewish authorities and the Romans in 1st century Palestine. It appears that the Roman governor may have given the Jews the power of capital punishment for specific offenses, some of them religious (the death penalty for Gentiles caught trespassing in the inner courts of the temple, for example). It is also pointed out that the Jewish authorities did carry out a number of executions, some of them specifically pertaining to Christians (Stephen, according to Acts 7:58-60; and James the Just, who was stoned in the 60s according to Josephus, Ant. 20.9.1 [20.200]). But Stephen’s death may be explained as a result of “mob violence” rather than a formal execution, and as Josephus in the above account goes on to point out, James was executed in the period between two Roman governors, and the high priest at the time was subsequently punished for the action. Two studies by A. N. Sherwin-White (Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, 1-47; and “The Trial of Christ,” Historicity and Chronology in the New Testament [SPCKTC], 97-116) have tended to support the accuracy of John’s account. He concluded that the Romans kept very close control of the death penalty for fear that in the hands of rebellious locals such power could be used to eliminate factions favorable or useful to Rome. A province as troublesome as Judea would not have been likely to be made an exception to this.

17 tn The words “This happened” are not in the Greek text but are implied.

18 tn Or “making clear.”

19 sn A reference to John 12:32.



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