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NASB, Luke 23:3 - So Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.”

After this, Pilate said, "I find no fault in him."

But later, Pilate writes "King of the Jews" as his accusation.

  • Did Pilate acknowledge Jesus as the King of the Jews - challenging Herod's own claim?
  • Was Pilate's final verdict an actual Roman acknowledgment that Jesus was their king?
  • Why would this have been considered "Lawful" for Jesus to claim this - and Pilate not to "find a fault"?
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Pilate was a skilled politician, and typical Roman tactics were to be unconcerned with the internal politics of vassal regions. As long as tributes were paid and there were no uprisings, the Roman empire was typically unconcerned. In fact, the Roman empire actually preferred drama in their vassal states as this divided and conflicted the region. So long as the vassal was preoccupied with internal politics and worried about each other, they were not a risk against the rulership by Empire.

As it turns out, it does not appear that claiming to be King of the Jews was considered to be illegal (though claiming to be king of the Roman empire might be another matter entirely) This can be seen in a few episodes. For example, Herod the Great was concerned that his brother-in-law Aristobulus III might attempt to overthrow his throne to claim the title "King of the Jews" in his place and has him assasinated. Presumably, were it illegal for Aristobulus III to make this claim, Herod would have simply reported him to Roman authorities.

On the other hand, Herod the Great later had his sons executed for treason after a trial.

Similarly, however, Herod Antipas was overthrown by Herod Agrippa and his reign was recognized by Roman authority - so it seems that most often the claim of "King of the Jews" was not illegal, or if it was, these laws were often not enforced.

It seems that Jesus' accusers knew this and for this reason, they do not begin the charges against him to Pilate with the claim that Jesus was claiming to be King of the Jews, but instead that he is leading an insurrection and opposing tribute to Caesar in 23:1:

We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar...

These activities clearly are illegal and we see this from the note regarding Barabbas in 23:25 which tells us Barabbas actually had been imprisoned for insurrection.

He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder

Furthermore, Jesus never actually unambiguously and legally admitted to being King of the Jews. While some version report that Jesus said

It is as you say

The emphasis should be

It is as you say

and accordingly some translations like the NIV and ESV reflect this by translating this passage as

You have said so

Or

You say so (NET, NRSV, ISV)

With older translations rendering it as

Thou sayest it (KJV, YLT, DRA, ASV)

The NCV and CEV actually goes so far to translate as

Those are your words.

In greek, the phrase is

Σὺ λέγεις

Which literally translates as "you say". The NASB prefers to delineate the actual statement from the editorial implication using typography by italicizing "it is as" in some versions of the text (typography is really important!) rendering the phrase

It is as you say.”

In other words, Jesus never actually unambiguously admits to being King of the Jews before Pilate. This is akin to responding "allegedly" with a coy smile. Was Jesus admitting this, or denying it? It could be interpreted either way, and Jesus, also being skilled in politics intentionally answers this way - simultaneously denying and confirming the claim.

In fact, this is seen in two later points. First, when it seems that Pilate is going to release Jesus, stating that he finds no basis for charges in 4, Jesus' accusers protest and re-iterate their charge in verse 5

He stirs up the people all over Judea...

Notice that they do not reiterate the claims that are not illegal and cannot be proven - that Jesus opposes payment of Taxes to Caesar (expressly disproven by Luke 20:25 - all three synoptic gospels note this scene) and that Jesus claims to be King of the Jews.

In fact, Pilate explicitly states his understanding of the charges against Jesus in 13-14, stating

Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.

So it seems that either Pilate A) did not understand Jesus to be making the claim that Jesus was King of the Jews or B) that this claim was not illegal so long as it did not interfere with Roman rule. Having claimed no less than three times that there was no basis for charges against Jesus as noted in 22

For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.

Mark records that Pilate even regarded Jesus response as a non-response noting 14:2-5 (NET):

So Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He replied, “You say so.” Then the chief priests began to accuse him repeatedly. So Pilate asked him again, “Have you nothing to say? See how many charges they are bringing against you!” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

and made a big show of washing his hands in Matthew, the final verdict was "Not Guilty". This means that Pilate was expressly not acknowledging Jesus as a king - either of the Jews or the Roman Empire.

It is also worth stating that nowhere is it noted that pilate placed the charges above Jesus accusing him of being "King of the Jews" but instead, this appears to be a liberty taken by his executioners with the text stating:

The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews.

This is also not a formal charge, but is meant to be ironic - "this dying, naked prisoner is King of the Jews. Haha. Isn't that hilarious Bob? Me too hahaha!"

Instead, the reason Pilate has Jesus executed is not because he is found guilty, but because the situation places Pilate in a tough political position. So first, he tries to pass the buck. If the Jews execute him, then the Roman Empire cannot be blamed for his death and there is no risk of insurrection. But obviously, that doesn't pan out for Pilate, so he is faced with a new dilemma. On the one hand, if he doesn't execute Jesus, he risks letting go the leader of an insurrection, which could be bad. On the other hand, if he kills him, this could be considered draconian and cause a revolt by the Jews. So his best option was to execute Jesus while disavowing the action and placing the blame for it on the Jews.

  • @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim - Revised – James Shewey May 18 '17 at 16:04
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    James - +1. But, I don't understand why you say it was the solider's that wrote that above Jesus, rather than Pilate - who says, "I have written what I have written", (John 19:22). There a bunch of other questions I have about this, but will post them in separate questions. – elika kohen May 18 '17 at 20:07
  • @elikakohen - I not sure what you mean by "interpreting the 'charge against Jesus' on the cross sarcastically" as I never intended any sarcasm and don't seem to see any sarcasm in the post. I think it is clear that the author of Luke was leading the readers to the conclusion that the charges were manufactured and groundless. They were in fact very real charges as he was executed as a result, but they were nonetheless baseless and trumped up in the Mind of Luke. James Douglas' answer is a good one, but it isn't based solely on Luke - It uses John to interpret Luke. – James Shewey May 23 '17 at 1:57
  • The thing is, this gospel was written later and I intentionally did not read the Johanian account for this reason which helped me to view Luke in a manner closer to the original context which lacked John. John may have found the need for correctives, finding Luke's account to be insufficient or wrong in cases, but these are John's additional points, not Luke's. Many people find a need to resolve any and all conflicts in the texts. I do not. Sometimes the texts sit in an uncomfortable and incongruous or even contradictory tension. I am happy to let my answer sit divergent to James Douglas' – James Shewey May 23 '17 at 2:02
  • because I think the texts do. I am glad to see @JamesDouglas answer because I think it provides a good counterpoint and helps people to consider that perhaps Luke is portraying Pilate as convinced of the divinity of Jesus and my interpretation is wrong, but I think that changing my answer would lose sight of the possibility that Pilate does not recognize the divinity of Jesus completely, so I am intentionally leaving it as-is. You will note with one exception I quoted only Luke and I only quoted Mark to support what I think is implied in Luke. I did so only because I think that can be – James Shewey May 23 '17 at 2:10
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"Did Pilate acknowledge Jesus as the King of the Jews - challenging Herod's own claim?"

Have a look at this:

John 19:10-12 ESV
So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

And then:

John 19:16-17 ESV
They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

In other words, I think yes.

"Was Pilate's final verdict an actual Roman acknowledgment that Jesus was their king?"

Again, the first two passages seem to imply another yes. Also,

John 19:21-22 ESV
So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

And finally:

"Why would this have been considered 'Lawful' for Jesus to claim this - and Pilate not to 'find a fault'?"

Well, being a Roman, Pilate wouldn't have understood the importance to the Jews of Jesus's claim, and wouldn't have cared either.

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The Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. Matt. 26:64-64:

64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 65 Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy."

This was judgment language Jesus pronounced against Caiaphas, which the Sanhedrin recognized from all OT prophesy. The Sanhedrin knew that only God could pronounce judgment, and as they did not recognize Jesus as the son of God, then their charge against Him was blasphemy which carried the death penalty under their laws.

However, at that time, Judea was a province occupied and controlled by Rome. They, themselves, could not carry out a death sentence and had to appeal to the Roman governors to do so. (John 18:31) Hence all of the trumped up charges presented to Pilate to try to make a case for a trespass of Roman law.

Excerpt from enter link description here

"It has to be appreciated, however, that practically all this material comes from a time when the right to impose the death penalty had been taken away from the Jewish courts by the Roman authorities. According to one report in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 41a) the power of the Jewish courts to the death penalty ceased around the year 30 BCE;"

Pilate did not issue a verdict. He acceded to the political will of a madding crowd. Having found no fault under Roman law, Pilate wrote the accusation made against Jesus by the Jews.

  • Pilate wrote the accusation he wanted. They wanted the accusation to be: "claimed to be the king of the Jews" but he wrote: "King of the Jews" – James Douglas May 20 '17 at 11:24
  • Agreed. That is correct. – Gina May 20 '17 at 11:33

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