At Luke 13: 1-2 we see:

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?"

We do not see the Evangelist leaving a footnote to describe the unfortunate incident. Are there some teachings outside the Gospels available to bring out the nature of sin that the Galileans were punished for by Pilate? Inputs from any denomination are welcome.

2 Answers 2


Here is the fuller version of the passage:

At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply: "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!

Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!

(this and all other Scripture quotes from the New American Bible, Revised Edition)

From the way the first incident is described, it doesn't sound like Pilate was punishing them for some sin; from what little we know about Pilate, it would be surprising if he even recognized the concept of sin. Philo of Alexandria describes him as "a man of inflexible, stubborn and cruel disposition ... [known for] his venality, his violence, his thefts, his assaults, his abusive behavior, his frequent executions of untried prisoners, and his endless savage ferocity." The first thing he did on arrival in Jerusalem was to set up "the effigies of Caesar which are called standards" (Josephus, The Jewish Wars, idem), which reportedly was an intentional violation of Jewish law.

That being the case, how can we understand this saying of Jesus? Consider John 9:1–2:

As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Similarly, in John 5:14 Jesus tells a man he has healed,

Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.

These and other quotes illustrate a Jewish belief that sinfulness could cause actual physical punishment (disease, hardship, or even death)—and by extension, that the worse someone was suffering, the worse their sins had been. In this passage from Luke, Jesus appears to be denying this idea; but he does assert that sin without repentance does have consequences.

  • To get one's blood mingled with sacrifice could mean that one got murdered while offering sacrifice. I feel that the Galileans were trying to get rid of the Romans by way of some special sacrifice, when they were caught by the Romans and murdered on the spot.
    – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 16:21
  • That might be possible, although Cyril of Alexandria (quoted in St Thomas' Catena Aurea) disagrees - but it would not explain Jesus' further saying about the eighteen at Siloam, who are obviously meant to be thought of in the same way as the Galileans. Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 16:49

The idea of blood being mingled with their sacrifices should be understood as the Galileans being killed when they came to Jerusalem and made offerings at the Temple, whether or not they were actually killed in the Temple precincts. Indeed, Galileans may have come to Jerusalem for political purposes as well as religious ones.

Josephus relates an episode in which Jews of Caesarea (most of whom would be Galileans) confronted Pilate in a life-risking demonstration opposing his having brought Roman ensigns of Caesar (golden eagles) to Jerusalem. Following this, Pilate brutally suppressed a related demonstration in Jerusalem itself.

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After this he raised another disturbance, by expending that sacred treasure which is called Corban upon aqueducts, whereby he brought water from the distance of four hundred furlongs (50 miles). At this the multitude had indignation; and when Pilate was come to Jerusalem, they came about his tribunal (court), and made a clamour at it... Now the Jews were so sadly beaten, that many of them perished by the stripes they received, and many of them perished as trodden to death by themselves...

Galileans already stirred up because of Pilate's bringing Roman standards to the holy city, would certainly have joined or even led these demonstrations. So this may be the episode that the OP refers to. However, there are other possibilities. Acts 5 tells of the Zealot leader Judas the Galilean.

Acts 5:36-37

Some time ago, Theudas appeared... After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered.

Although this Galilean's rebellion took place earlier than Pilate's reign, his sons continued to act against Roman rule. According to Josephus, two of his sons, Jacob and Simon, were crucified by Tiberius Alexander, a later Roman procurator of Jewish birth. Another son, Menahem, became the leader of the Sicarii. Josephus does not report that Pilate was involved in putting down these rebellions but this would be a logically possibility since the Galilean's sons continued his work until well after Pilate left the scene.

It should also be mentioned that Pilate was finally removed from office for reacting too harshly to a possibly messianic movement among the Samaritans.

Pilate's last deed of cruelty, and the one which brought about his downfall, was the massacre of a number of Samaritans who had assembled on Mount Gerizim to dig for some sacred vessels which an impostor had led them to believe Moses had buried there.

Conclusion: Pilate brutally suppressed what he perceived as threats to Roman rule in Judea, sometimes involving factions that must have included substantial numbers of Galileans. It is not possible to say with certainty which of these Luke 13 refers to. However, the deaths of Jews protesting his use of temple treasure for the system of Roman aqueducts is a likely candidate. The repression of the movement begun by Judas the Galilean is another possibility.

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