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John 18:28-38

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 )

Pilate Questions Jesus

18:33 So Pilate went back into the governor’s residence, 20  summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 21  18:34 Jesus replied, 22  “Are you saying this on your own initiative, 23  or have others told you about me?” 18:35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? 24  Your own people 25  and your chief priests handed you over 26  to me. What have you done?”

18:36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being 27  handed over 28  to the Jewish authorities. 29  But as it is, 30  my kingdom is not from here.” 18:37 Then Pilate said, 31  “So you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world – to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to 32  my voice.” 18:38 Pilate asked, 33  “What is truth?” 34 

When he had said this he went back outside to the Jewish leaders 35  and announced, 36  “I find no basis for an accusation 37  against him.

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.

20 tn Grk “into the praetorium.”

21 sn It is difficult to discern Pilate’s attitude when he asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Some have believed the remark to be sarcastic or incredulous as Pilate looked at this lowly and humble prisoner: “So youre the king of the Jews, are you?” Others have thought the Roman governor to have been impressed by Jesus’ regal disposition and dignity, and to have sincerely asked, “Are you really the king of the Jews?” Since it will later become apparent (v. 38) that Pilate considered Jesus innocent (and therefore probably also harmless) an attitude of incredulity is perhaps most likely, but this is far from certain in the absence of clear contextual clues.

22 tn Grk “Jesus answered.”

23 tn Grk “saying this from yourself.”

24 sn Many have seen in Pilate’s reply “I am not a Jew, am I?” the Roman contempt for the Jewish people. Some of that may indeed be present, but strictly speaking, all Pilate affirms is that he, as a Roman, has no firsthand knowledge of Jewish custom or belief. What he knows of Jesus must have come from the Jewish authorities. They are the ones (your own people and your chief priests) who have handed Jesus over to Pilate.

25 tn Or “your own nation.”

26 tn Or “delivered you over.”

27 tn Grk “so that I may not be.”

28 tn Or “delivered over.”

29 tn Or “the Jewish leaders”; 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. In the translation “authorities” was preferred over “leaders” for stylistic reasons.

30 tn Grk “now.”

31 tn Grk “said to him.”

32 tn Or “obeys”; Grk “hears.”

33 tn Grk “Pilate said.”

34 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).

35 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.

36 tn Grk “said to them.”

37 tn Grk “find no cause.”



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