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A recent question about the securing of a tomb on the Sabbath made me wonder whether the guards posted at Jesus' tomb in Matthew 27:62-66 are Roman guards (which I guess I'd always assumed) or Jewish guards (which the grammar in the quote "You have a guard" seems to imply).

Are the Pharisees merely asking permission to guard the tomb? Or are they requesting that Pilate post a Roman guard as well?

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Answers may also want to consider the exchange between the guards and the priests when the tomb is found empty. Matt 28:14 The priests pay off the guards to lie and promise they will smooth things over with the governor and keep them out of trouble. Why would temple guards be in trouble with the governor? –  Joshua Bigbee Mar 9 at 1:53

3 Answers 3

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The translators of the KJV seemed to translate the Greek verb ἔχετε (echete) in the indicative mood. The indicative mood is used to "make factual statements or pose questions."1

However, there's a peculiarity one must understand, and this is not something you would know unless you're familiar with Koine Greek.

While ἔχετε is a verb conjugated in the

  • 2nd person
  • plural number
  • present tense
  • active voice
  • indicative mood

it is also a verb conjugated in the

  • 2nd person
  • plural number
  • present tense
  • active voice
  • imperative mood

(Note: the difference occurs in the mood: indicative v. imperative.)

I don't have a Greek parsing sheet available to scan, but a simple plug of the verb into Perseus' Greek Word Study Tool will also demonstrate this fact:

ἔχετε verb 2nd pl pres ind act

ἔχετε verb 2nd pl pres imperat act

Yes, it is spelled exactly the same way, but the meaning changes depending on whether the original author intended to use it in the indicative mood or the imperative mood.

This doesn't occur in other persons (e.g., 1st person, 3rd person), or other moods (e.g., subjunctive). It's a peculiarity between these two conjugations.

In Matt. 27:65, when Pilate says, «ἔχετε κουστωδίαν», I don't think he meant, "You have a watch..." (indicative mood), because if they already had a watch, they wouldn't have asked him for one! Rather, it should be translated in the imperative mood, viz. "Have a watch!" That is, "You want a watch? Have one!" So, the Roman guards, at Pilate's command, went and secured the sepulcher.

John Gill astutely notes, "...the words may be read imperatively..." He's right; they can, since that particular conjugation can be translated into English in either the indicative mood or imperative mood.

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Indicative is also the unmarked, default mood. It's difficult to find much value in building a case for an answer based primarily on this mood so I appreciate you drawing out the morphological overlap of this form. However, I'd also like to see you draw out more of the Greek grammar in the immediate context of this passage and expand the study beyond a local word study that focuses on the mood. You clearly have a bit more knowledge in the realm of linguistics-please share it a bit more expansively. –  swasheck Mar 23 '13 at 4:44
    
I think you're answered well that Pilate's words are an imperative, but to whom is the command directed? On what basis do you think it's a Roman guard? –  Schuh May 1 at 20:50
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81 - (A.) I believe you are mistaken to apply the argument: "because if they already had a watch, they wouldn't have asked him for one!"; (B.) Perhaps consider removing, or rewording? The Jews certainly had their own guard, Herod's, (Luke 23:11), and the Temple Guards, (Acts 5:23); (C.) I added an opposing answer, not that I believe a conclusive answer is possible, but because another view may provide more insight; (D.) Caveat -- I am quite exhausted, and afraid I didn't edit well enough. Be gentle! :) –  e.s. kohen May 8 at 8:58

Question Restatement, part 1: Were the Guards that guarded Jesus' tomb Pilate's Guards, or the Jews? (Conclusion at Bottom.)

Question Restatement, part 2: Is there an indication, in the Greek Syntax, that Pilate may have said, "Have a guard", (Imperative Mood), rather than "You already have a guard", (Indicative Mood)? To show that Pilate sent his own Guards?


Why Did the Jews Ask Pilate for a Guard?

Although the Jews certainly had a guard of their own, (Herod's, (Luke 23:11), and the Temple Guards, (Acts 4:1, Acts 5:23)), they probably would have asked Pilate for the help anyway because it was a High Holy Day, a Sabbath--Passover.

NOTE: The day that the Passover Lamb is Sacrificed, and then eaten later that night--is always a Sabbath, (Ex. 12:6), no matter what day of the week it falls on. That is why it reasonable to conclude that Jesus was Crucified during the day on Thursday--because any day would be a Sabbath, a high day, (John 19:31), if it was when the Passover was to be Sacrificed and eaten.


"Have" is Certainly Indicative, and not in the Imperative Mood

It has already been noted in another proposed answer that the word "Have" in Greek, "Ἔχετε", can be either Second Person Indicative, (a statement of fact), or Imperative, (a command).

So then, "How do you tell the difference in the text?" By the Context of course ...

Rather than ride that "Bandwagon" of relying on traditional translations, consider tackling the question from scratch, and doing the research ourselves:

Of the ~51 occurrences of "Have", (A.) in the New Testament, (B.) in the second person, Present, and Plural; (C.) and at first glance could either be Indicative or Imperative; --Only just FOUR passages express "Have" in the Imperative, and we KNOW these cases are in the Imperative mood, rather than Indicative, because the Context CLEARLY demands and requires it. There is no such requirement in Matthew 27:65, and to force an Imperative sense in this passage is not well-ground upon any linguistic basis :

Clear Illustrations of "Have" in the "Imperative" case.

Mark 9:50 V-PMA-2P

GRK: αὐτὸ ἀρτύσετε ἔχετε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς

NAS: will you make it salty [again]? Have salt

Mark 11:22 V-PMA-2P

GRK: λέγει αὐτοῖς Ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ

NAS: saying to them, Have faith

Philippians 2:29 V-PMA-2P

GRK: τοιούτους ἐντίμους ἔχετε

NAS: joy, and hold men like

James 2:1 V-PMA-2P

GRK: ἐν προσωπολημψίαις ἔχετε τὴν πίστιν

NAS: My brethren, do not hold your faith

ἔχετε: "You all - have" 51 Occurrences in the NT 8 Occurrences in Matthew

ἔχει: "He - have" 104 Occurrences in the NT 13 Occurrences in Matthew

ἔχεις: "You - Have" 28 Occurrences in the NT 1 Occurrence in Matthew


So, Whose Guard were They?

Conclusion: In the end, the Guard clearly belonged to the Jews, either because Pilate assigned the Guard to them, or because the Jews already had them.

The origin of where the Guard came from cannot be argued conclusively, as the text does not clarify the origin of the Guard, just the end result.

Personally, from the Narrative, I am persuaded that it was probably a Temple Guard, or Herod's own.

Authority Over the Guards:

Regardless of where the guards came from, the Jews were ordered to secure the Tomb, and exercised authority over the guards:

Matt. 27:65, NASB - Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how."

The Guard Remained During the Sabbath

As Passover is always a Sabbath, no matter the day of the week it falls on, it is likely the guards remained Thursday afternoon/evening until Sunday morning.

It could be argued that Jewish Guards would not have done this, and would have asked Pilate to use his guards -- but even this isn't "conclusive", because there were obvious exceptions to Sabbath "work" in view of military service, etc, (i.e., 2 Kings 11:5, etc.).

**Matt. 28:4 - ** The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.

The Guard Reported to the Chief Priests--Not Pilate

The idea that Roman Guards would have reported to the Jews first, rather than Pilate, and only "some" of them, is compelling. Whether they were from Pilate, or the Jews, they risked dying either way, (Jewish authority killing incompetent guards: Acts 12:19).

Matt. 28:11 - Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened.

The Guard was Bribed, affirming they were not Roman Guards

Speculating that the guards, if Roman, feared Pilate finding out about a "stolen body/resurrection", more than they feared Pilate finding out about being bribed -- makes no sense, at all. However, Jewish guards being paid to give false testimony about Jesus' disciples, makes a lot more sense. Though, still inconclusive.

No matter whose guards they were, Pilate probably would have been upset because his orders were disobeyed. But, because Pilate was reluctant to kill Jesus anyway, Pilate would not have likely cared if his body was stolen.

Matt. 28:12 - And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.”

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But, in Matt. 27:65, when Pilate says, «ἔχετε κουστωδίαν», I don't think he meant, "You have a watch..." (indicative mood), because if they already had a watch, they wouldn't have asked him for one! Rather, it should be translated in the imperative mood, viz. "Have a watch!" That is, "You want a watch? Have one!" So, the Roman guards, at Pilate's command, went and secured the sepulcher.

I do not agree with this version: First, the Jewish Temple Guard was under Roman control. They could not do anything but what the Roman Procurator would allow. The temple guard was supposed to stay around the temple not doing anything else especially outside of Jerusalem. So they would have to ask for a special permission for this.

Second, you can easily understand that it was even NOT the first intent of the Jews to provide their own temple guard to watch the tomb of whom they considered so lowly. Hence, they certainly made their request for a Roman guard. But why would Pilate accept such a request? Did they not have their own guard? "You have a watch!" he said. Then the Jews were fairly much COMPELLED to set their own watch, the temple guard which did watch around the body of Christ, against their very first intent.

Third, for the record, would really God allow an unclean Gentile guard to be around the Lord's body awaiting the resurrection occuring 3 days and 3 nights later? Or would He rather have the guard of the Temple of the Lord doing this service? They were a military order already set centuries ago for that very purpose. Think a minute about it...

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