Why does Jesus say "You say I am" and "You say so", when they haven't?

Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am. [Luke 22:70 KJV]


And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it. [Luke 23:3 KJV]

  • You need to cite the second quotation as I cannot find it. In asking the question, there is a presumption of truth. To ask 'Art thou ...' assumes the possibility of it being so.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 15:45
  • 3
    Does this answer your question? What does Jesus mean in Matthew 26:64 with "You have said so"?
    – Korosia
    Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 7:35
  • Korosia, Thank you for the link, however, it's difficult for me to have full confidence in cross-referencing to a different Gospel writer. In the Luke account, it seems that NEITHER Pilate or Herod find Jesus particularly guilty. Pilate says so explicitly. Luke 23:6, 14-15, 22. So the Matthew explanation you cite doesn't work. Luke is a different writer drawing from some similar and different sources, it seems, but with a different agenda in his telling of the Jesus/Apostles account. But THANK YOU for the reply.
    – Jim H
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 19:27

5 Answers 5


Trial before the Sanhedrin

The context of Luke 22:70 is Jesus's trial before the Sanhedrin, so we need to consider the whole passage: Luke 22:66-71 (ESV):

⁶⁶ When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, ⁶⁷ “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, ⁶⁸ and if I ask you, you will not answer. ⁶⁹ But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” ⁷⁰ So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” ⁷¹ Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”

We can see how the trial focused on Jesus's identity, which in fact one of the main themes of the whole book of Luke. Thus Luke's main task was to show through Jesus's dialogues, parables, teachings, miracles, etc. how key OT prophecies which pointed to Jesus (from where Jesus's many titles and roles came from) were not simply attributions by His followers but affirmed by Jesus Himself. These trials before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate are just one example of the narrative and dramatic vehicle he used.

Pulpit Commentary on Luke 22:66-70 explained how in v. 67 Jesus confronted the questioner that He already answered them in previous encounters, and with His healings and miracles the answer should have been accepted (see earlier chapters of Luke). Furthermore, Jesus already engaged them in OT disputation (see Matt 22:41-45) but they refused to "play ball", so Jesus reminded them of this (v. 68). Then in v. 69 Jesus volunteered the critical information that His interrogators were trying to find to frame him. Then in v. 70 they followed up on Jesus's voluntary self-identification as "Son of Man", asking Him for a clearer identity as "Son of God", to which Jesus simply answered "YES", but in a Rabbinic style response which the interrogator understood right away, proven by their response in v. 71.

You asked:

Why does Jesus say "You say I am" and "You say so", when they haven't?

Answer: To the contrary, they understood the "Yes" that Jesus was saying, although they did not believe the answers.

Quote from the Pulpit commentary on verse 70:

Now bringing forward the loftier title formerly suppressed (in ver. 67). "And art thou, then, dost thou, poor Man, vain in thy imagining, dost thou assert thyself to be the Son of God?" So Stier. "And he said unto them, Ye say that I am." This form of reply is not used in Greek, but is frequent in rabbinic. By such an answer the one interrogated accepts as his own affirmation the question put to him in its entirety. We have, then, here, in the clearest possible language:

  1. A plain assertion by our Lord of his Divinity.

  2. The reply of the Sanhedrists, showing that they for their part distinctly understood it as such, but to make it quite clear they asked him if that was his meaning, i.e. the assertion of his Divinity.

  3. We have the Lord's quiet answer, "Yes, that was his meaning." The next verse (71) shows that they were satisfied with the evidence which they proceeded without delay to lay before the Roman governor, Pilate.

Trial before Pilate

Luke 23:1-5, ESV:

¹Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. ² And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” ³ And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” ⁴ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” ⁵ But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”

Joel Green's New International Commentary on the book of Luke noted the irony underlying both Pilate's question and the Sanhedrin's question in that both questioners had in fact identified Jesus correctly, but refused to believe Him:

  • In the Sanhedrin's case it was hardness of heart (because they are Jews and unlike Pilate they knew precisely what Jesus's claim of identity meant for the Jewish religion).
  • In Pilate's case, he thought Jesus was "a harmless eccentric", so not worth crucifying, because the punishment doesn't fit the "crime".

The way Jesus answered "yes" to them could then be construed as ironic affirmation because Jesus knew how both of them didn't believe the answers anyway. Luke included the dialog for the readers's benefit (including us) who do not have access to Jesus in person.

Here's a quote from Joel Green's commentary on Luke 23:3-4:

3-4 Although he will return to the primary charge brought against Jesus in v 14, in the Lukan narration Pilate now seizes on this last issue, formulating the charge in terms of Jesus’ royal status. Given the opportunity to answer the question whether he was “king of the Jews,” Jesus replies in a way that is reminiscent of his answer to the sanhedrin in 22:70. Here, as there, Jesus turns the question posed to him into an ironic affirmation about him—ironic because even though the question assesses Jesus’ identity correctly, it is an identity not granted by those who ask it. Why Pilate’s response is to dismiss the charges—for example, because he regards Jesus as innocent (in the judicial sense) or, say, a harmless eccentric—is not evident at this juncture.³⁵ In either case, neither Pilate nor the Jerusalem authorities regard Jesus as the one who rules God’s people.³⁶

  • GratefulDisciple, thank you for your time in answering my question. I find it difficult to use much cross-referencing from writer to writer in considering the question. For the most part, it seems to me, the writer of Luke goes out-of-his-way to keep Jesus as human as Adam, and no more a son of God than you or I. Son of Man literally "Adam". In terms of "irony", while I love the thought, I would have to ASSUME it ironic as nothing in the text really supports what is simply a point-of-view . . . Or wishful thinking. At least to my mind.
    – Jim H
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 19:35
  • @JimH When Jesus referred to himself as "Son of Man", the Sanhedrin would immediately associate it to the eschatological figure in Daniel 7. ESV titled the Dan 7:13-14 pericope "The Son of Man Is Given Dominion". This is a title quite different than Adam, and this title we definitely do not share with Jesus. You are correct in wanting to let Luke speak from his perspective independent of other writers, so I encourage you to let Luke informs you by his 25 total usage of "Son of Man" what he means by that title. Commented Feb 24, 2020 at 3:12

There is a similar question on Bible Hermeneutics, which asks about the equivalent passage in Matthew. One of the top answers cites the same incident in Mark 14, where Jesus' words are recorded differently.

But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. [Mark 14:61-62 KJV]

It seems that Jesus' word are intended to answer "yes" to the question. Matthew and Luke record his actual words, whereas Mark records his intent.

John does not record the interaction with the High Priests, but he does record the extended conversation with Pilate where Jesus also answers with this question. At the end of the conversation, Pilate comes away believing that Jesus has claimed he is "King of the Jews".

  • If Luke got the 'ergo' right in the first case, it might elucidate Jesus' answer.
    – user21676
    Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 0:17
  • Just saying 'I am' is only a confession to existing. If he were confessing to the question would he not say 'I am he.' ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 9:32
  • Thanks for the reply. Generally while cross-referencing the Gospel writers has its pluses, the writers seem to have quite different agendas in the telling of their accounts. So citing Matthew, Mark or John when asking about Luke, for me, often muddles the question.
    – Jim H
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 19:48

There are two titles given to Jesus by the people that he was asked to confirm here. It’s important to note that he has claimed neither of these titles himself, up to this point.

The first question was asking him to confirm the title given to him of ‘Son of God’. It’s important here to distinguish between ‘Son of God’, which is inferred by his continual reference to God as ‘my Father’, and ‘the Son of Man’, which Jesus often used to refer to his mission in the third person. Jesus expressly invited anyone to refer to God as ‘our Father’ - he never claimed to BE God, but to be one with God as his Father and ours.

So when he replies ‘You say that I am’, he’s not claiming the title, but merely confirming that the title has been attributed to him by others.

The second question is asking him to confirm the title given to him of ‘King of the Jews’. Again, he’s not claiming the title, but confirming that the title given by others has been used to refer to him.

There’s a subtle distinction here between claiming to be the King of the Jews and recognising that he’s the one that people have named ‘King of the Jews’. He’s aware that he is ‘the Christ’, the anointed one, charged with a specific task - but he never claimed the political title of ‘king’.

He might have tried to explain that he never claimed to BE either of these, but I would imagine he would be dead either way. People don’t take too kindly to being led to believe something as powerful as these two titles. The ambiguity in Jesus’ response reflects his awareness that the questions themselves are loaded, and that both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ answer in either case would mean his death.

  • Possibility, I like your answer AND your user name. I think at this point I am unworthy to thumbs up your answer. You answer DOES have me wondering if part of Judas's role in all of this was to tell those in charge that Jesus had said so in private . . . How exactly Judah's betrayed Jesus we don't really know, right?
    – Jim H
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 19:43

The trial before the Sanhedrin and the trial before Pilate are quite different. If we look at Mat 26:64, Mark 14:62 and Luke 22:70 we find:

Σὺ εἶπας - You have said it.

Ἐγώ εἰμι - I am the one (you mentioned)

Ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι - You are (now) saying that I am.

The question was: Are you the Messiah, the Son of God. And the answer is a clear "Yes, I am". I think it is most likely that Matthew has kept a direct translation of the Hebrew words and the others have given the sense in their own words with a different emphasis. Mark is a simple Greek Yes, I am. Luke may be implying: So, you have finally understood that I am the Messiah (even if you do not believe it).

Before Pilate we need to look at Mat 27:11, Mark 15:2 and Luke 23:3:

Σὺ λέγεις. - YOU are saying (it)

Σὺ λέγεις. - YOU are saying (it)

Σὺ λέγεις. - YOU are saying (it)

It was an entirely different question. Jesus was not asked to confirm that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, but whether he was "The king of the Jews". All four gospels use a present tense of the verb here, but the corresponding Σὺ εἶπας above was an aorist. The difference is that an aorist points to a completed event or statement. The matter is settled. But the present tense in an imperfective aspect, meaning that the event is still in process. The statement is not complete. More could be said. The reason probably is that Jesus was the King of the Jews in a spiritual sense, but not in the political sense that Pilate was thinking of. So, Jesus almost had to give a yes and no answer. John gives us a much more detailed account of the discussion Jesus had with Pilate:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. (John 18:33-37 ESV)

Here we read Σὺ λέγεις ὅτι βασιλεύς εἰμι (YOU are saying that I am a king) which is probably the fuller answer that is shortened in the other gospels.


Also, in Luke 9:20-22, after breaking bread with a crowd of followers, he had prophesied of his death and resurrection, telling his apostles to tell no one that he is the "Christ of the Lord." This confirms that he did think so, in communication to his chosen fellowship. This was after he had given them powers to heal and rumors had spread as to who he was.

His philosophy seemed to be that people could be content and sustained with what little was enough, dividing 5 loaves of bread among 100 groups of 50 men, from 5000 that made up the crowd. So 5 loaves into 20ths, then divided into 50ths, and all were satisfied. Consider this in the light of his responses about himself, saying very little but responding, in truth and as a comment. He too, saving us of our sins, only does so through our faith and pursuit of the value of the covenant of peace, that God's love is enough to help us to be mindful and at peace with our lives. He was able to plan as well, demonstrating this with his ability to break bread in such a plan. Then in his responses which did eventually get him killed, as he had told his apostles, he had a plan which was to be resurrected after three days.

  • Hi Tristan, welcome to BHSE! Please do take the Site Tour when you get a chance, to learn more about our scope and how the site may differ from other StackExchange sites you're familiar with. I've down-voted this answer as it doesn't directly engage with the Question's subject, though there are some good reflections here on the wider topic. Have a great week.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 10:27
  • Ok, thank you Steve. Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 0:19

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