19:19 Pilate also had a notice 1 written and fastened to the cross, 2 which read: 3 “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” 19:20 Thus many of the Jewish residents of Jerusalem 4 read this notice, 5 because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the notice was written in Aramaic, 6 Latin, and Greek. 19:21 Then the chief priests of the Jews 7 said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The king of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am king of the Jews.’”
1 tn Or “an inscription.”
sn Mention of the inscription is an important detail, because the inscription would normally give the reason for the execution. It shows that Jesus was executed for claiming to be a king. It was also probably written with irony from the executioners’ point of view.
2 tn Grk “Pilate also wrote a notice and placed it on the cross.” The two verbs should be read as causatives, since it is highly unlikely that the Roman governor would perform either of these actions himself. He ordered them to be done.
sn John says simply that the notice was fastened to the cross. Luke 23:38 says the inscription was placed “over him” (Jesus), and Matt 27:37 that it was placed over Jesus’ head. On the basis of Matthew’s statement Jesus’ cross is usually depicted as the crux immissa, the cross which has the crossbeam set below the top of the upright beam. The other commonly used type of cross was the crux commissa, which had the crossbeam atop the upright beam. But Matthew’s statement is not conclusive, since with the crux commissa the body would have sagged downward enough to allow the placard to be placed above Jesus’ head. The placard with Pilate’s inscription is mentioned in all the gospels, but for John it was certainly ironic. Jesus really was the King of the Jews, although he was a king rejected by his own people (cf. 1:11). Pilate’s own motivation for placing the title over Jesus is considerably more obscure. He may have meant this as a final mockery of Jesus himself, but Pilate’s earlier mockery of Jesus seemed to be motivated by a desire to gain pity from the Jewish authorities in order to have him released. More likely Pilate saw this as a subtle way of getting back at the Jewish authorities who had pressured him into the execution of one he considered to be an innocent man.
3 tn Grk “Now it was written.”
5 tn Or “this inscription.”
6 tn Grk “in Hebrew.”
7 tn Or “the Jewish chief priests.” Nowhere else in the Fourth Gospel are the two expressions οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς τῶν ᾿Ιουδαίων (Joi arcierei" twn Ioudaiwn) combined. Earlier in 19:15 the chief priests were simply referred to as οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς. It seems likely that this is another example of Johannine irony, to be seen in contrast to the inscription on the cross which read ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾿Ιουδαίων (Jo basileu" twn Ioudaiwn). For this reason the phrase has been translated “the chief priests of the Jews” (which preserves in the translation the connection with “King of the Jews”) rather than “the Jewish chief priests.”