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John 19:31-35


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  19:32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who had been crucified 7  with Jesus, 8  first the one and then the other. 9  19:33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced 10  his side with a spear, and blood and water 11  flowed out immediately. 19:35 And the person who saw it 12  has testified (and his testimony is true, and he 13  knows that he is telling the truth), 14  so that you also may believe.

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 [83]). 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.

3 tn Or “the Jewish authorities”; Grk “the Jews.” Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders. See also the note on the phrase “Jewish leaders” in v. 7.

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.

7 sn See the note on Crucify in 19:6.

8 tn Grk “with him”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

9 tn Grk “broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him.”

10 sn If it was obvious to the soldiers that the victim was already dead it is difficult to see why one of them would try to inflict a wound. The Greek verb pierced (νύσσω, nussw) can indicate anything from a slight prod to a mortal wound. Probably one of the soldiers gave an exploratory stab to see if the body would jerk. If not, he was really dead. This thrust was hard enough to penetrate the side, since the author states that blood and water flowed out immediately.

11 sn How is the reference to the blood and water that flowed out from Jesus’ side to be understood? This is probably to be connected with the statements in 1 John 5:6-8. In both passages water, blood, and testimony are mentioned. The Spirit is also mentioned in 1 John 5:7 as the source of the testimony, while here the testimony comes from one of the disciples (19:35). The connection between the Spirit and the living water with Jesus’ statement of thirst just before he died in the preceding context has already been noted (see 19:28). For the author, the water which flowed out of Jesus’ side was a symbolic reference to the Holy Spirit who could now be given because Jesus was now glorified (cf. 7:39); Jesus had now departed and returned to that glory which he had with the Father before the creation of the world (cf. 17:5). The mention of blood recalls the motif of the Passover lamb as a sacrificial victim. Later references to sacrificial procedures in the Mishnah appear to support this: m. Pesahim 5:3 and 5:5 state that the blood of the sacrificial animal should not be allowed to congeal but should flow forth freely at the instant of death so that it could be used for sprinkling; m. Tamid 4:2 actually specifies that the priest is to pierce the heart of the sacrificial victim and cause the blood to come forth.

12 tn The word “it” is not in the Greek text but is implied. Direct objects were often omitted in Greek when clear from the context.

13 tn Grk “and that one.”

14 sn A parenthetical note by the author.

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