19:31 Then, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not stay on the crosses on the Sabbath 1 (for that Sabbath was an especially important one), 2 the Jewish leaders 3 asked Pilate to have the victims’ legs 4 broken 5 and the bodies taken down. 6
1 sn The Jewish authorities, because this was the day of preparation for the Sabbath and the Passover (cf. 19:14), requested Pilate to order the legs of the three who had been crucified to be broken. This would hasten their deaths, so that the bodies could be removed before the beginning of the Sabbath at 6 p.m. This was based on the law of Deut 21:22-23 and Josh 8:29 that specified the bodies of executed criminals who had been hanged on a tree should not remain there overnight. According to Josephus this law was interpreted in the 1st century to cover the bodies of those who had been crucified (J. W. 4.5.2 [4.317]). Philo of Alexandria also mentions that on occasion, especially at festivals, the bodies were taken down and given to relatives to bury (Flaccus 10 ). The normal Roman practice would have been to leave the bodies on the crosses, to serve as a warning to other would-be offenders.
2 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.
4 tn Grk “asked Pilate that the legs of them might be broken.” The referent of “them” (the three individuals who were crucified, collectively referred to as “the victims”) has been supplied in the translation for clarity.
5 sn To have the legs…broken. Breaking the legs of a crucified person was a way of speeding up his death, since the victim could no longer use his legs to push upward in order to be able to draw a breath. This breaking of the legs was called in Latin crurifragium, and was done with a heavy mallet.
6 tn Grk “asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and they might be taken down.” Here because of the numerous ambiguous third person references it is necessary to clarify that it was the crucified men whose legs were to be broken and whose corpses were to be removed from the crosses.