Does the "detachment of soldiers" refer to a Roman guard? If so, how large of a group? Or is it a different group of soldiers, perhaps a temple guard or Jewish soldiers if there were any at the time?

John 18:3 (NIV)

So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.


5 Answers 5


I don't know Greek but I checked some other translations and that helped a lot. NASB (the most literal* of all English translations) refers to that band of soldiers as a "Roman cohort"; NLV describes them as "contingent of Roman soldiers". Here are some other translations.

I read up in Nelsons New Illustrated Dictionary and found this on Cohort/Regiment:

"One of ten divisions of ancient Roman Legion. The traditional Roman legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. A regiment or cohort, consisted of about 600 men, although this number varied. The Book of Acts mentions the Italian Regiment (Acts 10:1; band, KJV; cohort, NRSV, REB, NASB) and the Augustan Regiment (Acts 27:1; band, KJV; Imperial Regiment, NIV)"

So we know that the band of soldiers were roman for sure, most likely the High Priests wanted to secure Jesus because they had been waiting so long to finally capture him in a situation that wouldn't stir up any trouble, so they could quickly kill Jesus and nobody would remember him. Ironically, things didn't go as planned for them because God's plan was that through Jesus' death and ressurection God would be glorified and our sins would be forgiven. The High Priests and Pharasies didn't realize that killing Jesus would make him even more famous and give them even more problems.

Obviously they didn't bring 600 men to arrest Jesus, I'm assuming that a selection of the Roman cohort was asked by the high priests probably decaalring to their (Roman) rulers that the situation required such extreme measures. At this time under Roman rule the arrests where performed by roman government and officials, including their army and special forces. In modern day terms it would be like taking the SWAT to arrest Jesus. You wouldn't take the entire team but a good amount becuase they new Jesus always had his disciples with him.

I hope that helps, my advice is to research it on Biblios.com, a great resource! Praise God that he used mans' hatred towards Jesus to put him on a cross where he took the wrath of our sins and waved victory over our bonds to sin!

* Here is a good chart to see the most literal to least literal of all English translations.


The Greek word translated as "cohort" in this scripture is σπεῖραν - "spira" or "speira".

This word can refer to "any band, company, or detachment, of soldiers" (Thayer). In it's primary use, it refers to something "coiled up", like a rattlesnake.

It is very highly doubtful that Jesus was arrested by Romans; Pontius Pilate had no idea who he was, nor were the charges brought upon Jesus Roman charges - they were Jewish charges. It is also highly doubtful that 600 Roman soldiers would have been put under Jewish command for the sake of arresting one man. And the logistics of getting 600 soldiers from Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives (and Gethsemane) makes for a coordinated, full-fledged military action - something that would have had to have been coordinated with a half-dozen Centurions. And, the thing is this: they didn't even know exactly where Jesus was; Judas had to lead them there.

  • So who are the soldiers? You have provided a reasonable argument for who they aren't. Hint, the Temple Guard.
    – user17080
    Oct 8, 2017 at 5:25

σπεῖρα is used both John 18:3 & 12. The commander is mentioned in v. 12. The commander is Jewish. No mention of a Roman commander. The Synoptic Gospels do not mention σπεῖρα at all. Even the NASB puts Roman cohort in italics to remind us they made this up. The KJV doesn't mention Roman soldier in any arrest record. The Greek-ENglish Lexicon of The New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature says it "probably means Roman cohort" because it means that everywhere else σπεῖρα is used.About half of the versions in BibleGateway.com do not use the term "Roman cohort" in their translations.

  • 1
    Paul - The way this is written makes it seem that you are saying "because the commander was Jewish, then the cohort must have been Jewish", but is that true? Otherwise, I think perhaps John 18:12 would be very helpful: 12 So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him May 25, 2018 at 18:58

When the apostle Paul heard of the plot to ambush him when he was in custody and about to be transported elsewhere, he got his family member to tell the Romans and they dispatched 470 soldiers to protect him from 40 Jews who were in hiding ready to kill him:

Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. (Acts 23:23)

Being so near the timeline of Christ this gives us an idea of how many soldiers may have been present at Christ's arrest.

  • Hi Seb, welcome to BH.SE! Please take the Site Tour to learn more about how the site functions and what kinds of Questions and Answers to expect here. I've given your first answer a tidy up to include its reference and remove the advertisement from the end of it, as it wasn't really relevant to the answer itself.
    – Steve Taylor
    Aug 24, 2020 at 8:20

It may very well have been a cohort (600) Roman soldiers who were called out to arrest Jesus. During the early years of the first century CE there were multiple messianic pretenders as well as roaming bandits whom the Romans called brigands and criminals. Judas the Galilean,(Josephus) Athronges,(Josephus), the Egyptian (Josephus and Acts) and Theudas (Acts) are examples of what we would call religio-political agitators. However in order for nascent Christianity to appeal to a Roman audience, Jesus's story is reinterpreted by his supporters after his capture and crucifixion. Sociology has described how difficult it is for disappointed members of a sect to accept reality, when their expectations are not met.


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