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John 18:38-40

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?” 18:40 Then they shouted back, 8  “Not this man, 9  but Barabbas!” 10  (Now Barabbas was a revolutionary. 11 ) 12 

John 19:4-8

Context

19:4 Again Pilate went out and said to the Jewish leaders, 13  “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no reason for an accusation 14  against him.” 19:5 So Jesus came outside, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. 15  Pilate 16  said to them, “Look, here is the man!” 17  19:6 When the chief priests and their officers saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify 18  him! Crucify him!” 19  Pilate said, 20  “You take him and crucify him! 21  Certainly 22  I find no reason for an accusation 23  against him!” 19:7 The Jewish leaders 24  replied, 25  “We have a law, 26  and according to our law he ought to die, because he claimed to be the Son of God!” 27 

19:8 When Pilate heard what they said, 28  he was more afraid than ever, 29 

John 19:12-16

Context

19:12 From this point on, Pilate tried 30  to release him. But the Jewish leaders 31  shouted out, 32  “If you release this man, 33  you are no friend of Caesar! 34  Everyone who claims to be a king 35  opposes Caesar!” 19:13 When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus outside and sat down on the judgment seat 36  in the place called “The Stone Pavement” 37  (Gabbatha in 38  Aramaic). 39  19:14 (Now it was the day of preparation 40  for the Passover, about noon. 41 ) 42  Pilate 43  said to the Jewish leaders, 44  “Look, here is your king!”

19:15 Then they 45  shouted out, “Away with him! Away with him! 46  Crucify 47  him!” Pilate asked, 48  “Shall I crucify your king?” The high priests replied, “We have no king except Caesar!” 19:16 Then Pilate 49  handed him over 50  to them to be crucified.

The Crucifixion

So they took Jesus,

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.

8 tn Or “they shouted again,” or “they shouted in turn.” On the difficulty of translating πάλιν (palin) see BDAG 753 s.v. 5. It is simplest in the context of John’s Gospel to understand the phrase to mean “they shouted back” as a reply to Pilate’s question.

9 tn Grk “this one.”

10 sn The name Barabbas in Aramaic means “son of abba,” that is, “son of the father,” and presumably the man in question had another name (it may also have been Jesus, according to the textual variant in Matt 27:16, although this is uncertain). For the author this name held ironic significance: The crowd was asking for the release of a man called Barabbas, “son of the father,” while Jesus, who was truly the Son of the Father, was condemned to die instead.

11 tn Or “robber.” It is possible that Barabbas was merely a robber or highwayman, but more likely, given the use of the term ληστής (lhsth") in Josephus and other early sources, that he was a guerrilla warrior or revolutionary leader. See both R. E. Brown (John [AB], 2:857) and K. H. Rengstorf (TDNT 4:258) for more information. The word λῃστής was used a number of times by Josephus (J. W. 2.13.2-3 [2.253-254]) to describe the revolutionaries or guerrilla fighters who, from mixed motives of nationalism and greed, kept the rural districts of Judea in constant turmoil.

12 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.

13 tn Grk “to them.” The words “the Jewish leaders” are supplied from John 18:38 for clarity.

14 tn Or “find no basis for an accusation”; Grk “find no cause.”

15 sn See the note on the purple robe in 19:2.

16 tn Grk “He”; the referent (Pilate) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

17 sn Look, here is the man! Pilate may have meant no more than something like “Here is the accused!” or in a contemptuous way, “Here is your king!” Others have taken Pilate’s statement as intended to evoke pity from Jesus’ accusers: “Look at this poor fellow!” (Jesus would certainly not have looked very impressive after the scourging). For the author, however, Pilate’s words constituted an unconscious allusion to Zech 6:12, “Look, here is the man whose name is the Branch.” In this case Pilate (unknowingly and ironically) presented Jesus to the nation under a messianic title.

18 sn Crucifixion was the cruelest form of punishment practiced by the Romans. Roman citizens could not normally undergo it. It was reserved for the worst crimes, like treason and evasion of due process in a capital case. The Roman statesman and orator Cicero (106-43 b.c.) called it “a cruel and disgusting penalty” (Against Verres 2.5.63-66 §§163-70); Josephus (J. W. 7.6.4 [7.203]) called it the worst of deaths.

19 tn The word “him” is not in the Greek text. Direct objects were often omitted in Greek when clear from context.

20 tn Grk “said to them.” The words “to them” are not translated because they are unnecessary in contemporary English style.

21 sn How are Pilate’s words “You take him and crucify him” to be understood? Was he offering a serious alternative to the priests who wanted Jesus crucified? Was he offering them an exception to the statement in 18:31 that the Jewish authorities did not have the power to carry out a death penalty? Although a few scholars have suggested that the situation was at this point so far out of Pilate’s control that he really was telling the high priests they could go ahead and crucify a man he had found to be innocent, this seems unlikely. It is far more likely that Pilate’s statement should be understood as one of frustration and perhaps sarcasm. This seems to be supported by the context, for the Jewish authorities make no attempt at this point to seize Jesus and crucify him. Rather they continue to pester Pilate to order the crucifixion.

22 tn On this use of γάρ (gar) used in exclamations and strong affirmations, see BDAG 190 s.v. γάρ 3.

23 tn Or “find no basis for an accusation”; Grk “find no cause.”

24 tn Or “the Jewish authorities”; Grk “the Jews.” In NT usage the term ᾿Ιουδαῖοι (Ioudaioi) may refer to the entire Jewish people, the residents of Jerusalem and surrounding territory, the authorities in Jerusalem, or merely those who were hostile to Jesus. (For further information see R. G. Bratcher, “‘The Jews’ in the Gospel of John,” BT 26 [1975]: 401-9.) Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders, especially members of the Sanhedrin, and their servants (mentioned specifically as “the chief priests and their servants” in John 19:6).

25 tn Grk “answered him.”

26 sn This law is not the entire Pentateuch, but Lev 24:16.

27 tn Grk “because he made himself out to be the Son of God.”

28 tn Grk “heard this word.”

29 tn Grk “became more afraid.”

30 tn Grk “sought.”

31 tn Or “the Jewish authorities”; Grk “the Jews.” Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders, especially members of the Sanhedrin, and their servants (mentioned specifically as “the chief priests and their servants” in John 19:6). See the note on the phrase “Jewish leaders” in v. 7.

32 tn Grk “shouted out, saying.”

33 tn Grk “this one.”

34 sn Is the author using the phrase Friend of Caesar in a technical sense, as a title bestowed on people for loyal service to the Emperor, or in a more general sense merely describing a person as loyal to the Emperor? L. Morris (John [NICNT], 798) thinks it is “unlikely” that the title is used in the technical sense, and J. H. Bernard (St. John [ICC], 2:621) argues that the technical sense of the phrase as an official title was not used before the time of Vespasian (a.d. 69-79). But there appears to be significant evidence for much earlier usage. Some of this is given in BDAG 498-99 s.v. Καῖσαρ. E. Bammel (“φίλος τοῦ καίσαρος (John 19:12),” TLZ 77 [1952]: 205-10) listed significant and convincing arguments that the official title was indeed in use at the time. Granting that the title was in use during this period, what is the likelihood that it had been bestowed on Pilate? Pilate was of the equestrian order, that is, of lower nobility as opposed to senatorial rank. As such he would have been eligible to receive such an honor. It also appears that the powerful Sejanus was his patron in Rome, and Sejanus held considerable influence with Tiberius. Tacitus (Annals 6.8) quotes Marcus Terentius in his defense before the Senate as saying that close friendship with Sejanus “was in every case a powerful recommendation to the Emperor’s friendship.” Thus it is possible that Pilate held this honor. Therefore it appears that the Jewish authorities were putting a good deal of psychological pressure on Pilate to convict Jesus. They had, in effect, finally specified the charge against Jesus as treason: “Everyone who makes himself to be king opposes Caesar.” If Pilate now failed to convict Jesus the Jewish authorities could complain to Rome that Pilate had released a traitor. This possibility carried more weight with Pilate than might at first be evident: (1) Pilate’s record as governor was not entirely above reproach; (2) Tiberius, who lived away from Rome as a virtual recluse on the island of Capri, was known for his suspicious nature, especially toward rivals or those who posed a political threat; and (3) worst of all, Pilate’s patron in Rome, Sejanus, had recently come under suspicion of plotting to seize the imperial succession for himself. Sejanus was deposed in October of a.d. 31. It may have been to Sejanus that Pilate owed his appointment in Judea. Pilate was now in a very delicate position. The Jewish authorities may have known something of this and deliberately used it as leverage against him. Whether or not they knew just how potent their veiled threat was, it had the desired effect. Pilate went directly to the judgment seat to pronounce his judgment.

35 tn Grk “who makes himself out to be a king.”

36 tn Or “the judge’s seat.”

sn The judgment seat (βῆμα, bhma) was a raised platform mounted by steps and usually furnished with a seat. It was used by officials in addressing an assembly or making official pronouncements, often of a judicial nature.

37 sn The precise location of the place called ‘The Stone Pavement’ is still uncertain, although a paved court on the lower level of the Fortress Antonia has been suggested. It is not certain whether it was laid prior to a.d. 135, however.

38 tn Grk “in Hebrew.”

sn The author does not say that Gabbatha is the Aramaic (or Hebrew) translation for the Greek term Λιθόστρωτον (Liqostrwton). He simply points out that in Aramaic (or Hebrew) the place had another name. A number of meanings have been suggested, but the most likely appears to mean “elevated place.” It is possible that this was a term used by the common people for the judgment seat itself, which always stood on a raised platform.

39 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.

40 sn The term day of preparation (παρασκευή, paraskeuh) appears in all the gospels as a description of the day on which Jesus died. It could refer to any Friday as the day of preparation for the Sabbath (Saturday), and this is the way the synoptic gospels use the term (Matt 27:62, Mark 15:42, and Luke 23:54). John, however, specifies in addition that this was not only the day of preparation of the Sabbath, but also the day of preparation of the Passover, so that the Sabbath on the following day was the Passover (cf. 19:31).

41 tn Grk “about the sixth hour.”

sn For John, the time was especially important. When the note concerning the hour, about noon, is connected with the day, the day of preparation for the Passover, it becomes apparent that Jesus was going to die on the cross at the very time that the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple courts. Exod 12:6 required that the Passover lamb be kept alive until the 14th Nisan, the eve of the Passover, and then slaughtered by the head of the household at twilight (Grk “between the two evenings”). By this time the slaughtering was no longer done by the heads of households, but by the priests in the temple courts. But so many lambs were needed for the tens of thousands of pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast (some estimates run in excess of 100,000 pilgrims) that the slaughter could not be completed during the evening, and so the rabbis redefined “between the two evenings” as beginning at noon, when the sun began to decline toward the horizon. Thus the priests had the entire afternoon of 14th Nisan in which to complete the slaughter of the Passover lambs. According to the Fourth Gospel, this is the time Jesus was dying on the cross.

42 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.

43 tn Grk “And he”; the referent (Pilate) has been specified in the translation for clarity, and the conjunction καί (kai, “and”) has not been translated here in keeping with the tendency of contemporary English style to use shorter sentences.

44 tn Or “the Jewish authorities”; Grk “the Jews.” Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders, especially members of the Sanhedrin, and their servants (mentioned specifically as “the chief priests and their servants” in John 19:6). See the note on the phrase “Jewish leaders” in v. 7.

45 tn Grk “Then these.”

46 tn The words “with him” (twice) are not in the Greek text. Direct objects were often omitted in Greek when clear from the context.

47 sn See the note on Crucify in 19:6.

48 tn Grk “Pilate said to them.” The words “to them” are not translated because it is clear in English who Pilate is addressing.

49 tn Grk “Then he”; the referent (Pilate) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

50 tn Or “delivered him over.”



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