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John 18:38-39

Context
18:38 Pilate asked, 1  “What is truth?” 2 

When he had said this he went back outside to the Jewish leaders 3  and announced, 4  “I find no basis for an accusation 5  against him. 18:39 But it is your custom that I release one prisoner 6  for you at the Passover. 7  So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?”

1 tn Grk “Pilate said.”

2 sn With his reply “What is truth?” Pilate dismissed the matter. It is not clear what Pilate’s attitude was at this point, as in 18:33. He may have been sarcastic, or perhaps somewhat reflective. The author has not given enough information in the narrative to be sure. Within the narrative, Pilate’s question serves to make the reader reflect on what truth is, and that answer (in the narrative) has already been given (14:6).

3 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. The term also occurs in v. 31, where it is clear the Jewish leaders are in view, because they state that they cannot legally carry out an execution. Although it is likely (in view of the synoptic parallels) that the crowd here in 18:38 was made up not just of the Jewish leaders, but of ordinary residents of Jerusalem and pilgrims who were in Jerusalem for the Passover, nevertheless in John’s Gospel Pilate is primarily in dialogue with the leadership of the nation, who are expressly mentioned in 18:35 and 19:6.

4 tn Grk “said to them.”

5 tn Grk “find no cause.”

6 tn The word “prisoner” is not in the Greek text but is implied.

7 sn Pilate then offered to release Jesus, reminding the Jewish authorities that they had a custom that he release one prisoner for them at the Passover. There is no extra-biblical evidence alluding to the practice. It is, however, mentioned in Matthew and Mark, described either as a practice of Pilate (Mark 15:6) or of the Roman governor (Matt 27:15). These references may explain the lack of extra-biblical attestation: The custom to which Pilate refers here (18:39) is not a permanent one acknowledged by all the Roman governors, but one peculiar to Pilate as a means of appeasement, meant to better relations with his subjects. Such a limited meaning is certainly possible and consistent with the statement here.



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