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John implies Jesus was scourged before sentence while Matthew and Mark say after. Or was it both?

From Matthew 27:

24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.

...

26 Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

From John 19:

1 Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.

...

6 When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.

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  • The question supposes one sentencing despite the differences in context(Mat/Mrk/Jhn 18:39-40 vs Jhn 19:15-16).
    – user21676
    Aug 2 at 22:13
  • @Roy Draper Hi Roy, welcome to BH-Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please be sure to take the site tour and read our code of conduct. Thanks! Aug 3 at 8:17
  • John's narrative has everything different than the Synoptic gospels.
    – Michael16
    Aug 3 at 16:23
  • Gospels sent to apostles inspired by God and free from inaccuracies/ contradictions, however, it is very unlikely that John was written by Jesus disciple John. the Prologue of the Gospel of John, 1:1-18 was clearly added later. Many issues about John some highlighted in the link. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/63568/33268 Aug 9 at 15:06
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Matthew 27:26 English Standard Version

Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

having scourged
φραγελλώσας (phragellōsas)
Verb - Aorist Participle Active - Nominative Masculine Singular
Strong's 5417: To flagellate, scourge. From a presumed equivalent of the Latin flagellum; to whip, i.e. Lash as a public punishment.

The aorist participle does not pin down that the scourging must happen after the release of Barabbas. It merely points out that the scourging had happened before the delivery.

The main verb in this clause is
delivered
παρέδωκεν (paredōken)
Verb - Aorist Indicative Active - 3rd Person Singular
Strong's 3860: From para and didomi; to surrender, i.e yield up, intrust, transmit.

OP: John infers Jesus was scourged before sentence and Matthew and Mark after.

According to Greek grammar, Matthew and Mark have not made this inference.

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There are numerous chronological variations in the Gospels. Some see this as evidence of fabrication; others see this as evidence of authenticity & independent authorship. A useful survey of what we should expect to find in eyewitness evidence is found in detective J. Warner Wallace's Cold Case Christianity. Wallace concludes the Gospels provide sometimes-overlapping and sometimes-complementary eyewitness testimony.

--

Gospel Chronology in General

None of the synoptic authors intend to present a strictly chronological account of Jesus' ministry. Matthew's Gospel is largely organized by topic; Luke's is largely sequenced by geography. For Mark, it depends on your solution to the Synoptic Problem (mine has Mark drawing from the order of his sources, Matthew & Luke).

The variations in order have been known and discussed for more than 19 centuries. Luke 1:3 indicates that Luke is writing "in order" (i.e. he thinks other accounts are not in order?), but doesn't specify in what order--we're tempted to assume chronological order but Luke doesn't say that. In the early 2nd century Papias of Hieropolis quoted a first generation Elder who explained:

Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely. (as quoted in HE 3.39.15)

The fact that Papias had to share this information indicates that this question was already being asked at his time.

John offers a wealth of chronological details not found in the synoptics (e.g. calling out visits to Jerusalem for Passover feasts), but I am not persuaded that his account is intended to be entirely chronologically sequential.

It is when we read these documents with modern eyes that we expect everything to be chronologically continuous. These documents were not written by modern writers and the original recipients did not read them with modern eyes. I've recently been reading Dio Cassius and I find it interesting that he's quite willing to do flashbacks and flash-forwards and go off on asides that are related to the subject at hand...but are not chronologically continuous.

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The specifics of the Passion Narrative

Pilate vacillated in the decision to have Jesus executed. Per Luke 23:22, Pilate tried at least 3 times to have Jesus released. My channel has a video discussing why Pilate finally gave in; but the long and the short of it is that Pilate did not want to execute Jesus and only stopped fighting that decision when the Sanhedrin used Pilate's violent past to politically box him in.

Thus, it is quite consistent to read John's narrative and see that Pilate reaches a point where he agrees to have Jesus crucified (John 19:6), only to change his mind (John 19:12), and then change his mind again (John 19:16). John's account of the last few hours of Jesus' life is far more detailed than that of Matthew or Mark. I propose the most likely sequence (focusing only on the OP's question) is this:

  • Pilate doesn't want to kill Jesus, so he proposes a prisoner release (Matt. 27:17, John 18:39)
  • Prisoner release backfires--Barabbas is chosen (Matt. 27:21, John 18:40)
  • Pilate initially agrees to sentence Jesus...but he's not all in yet (Matt. 27:24); Luke 23:16 makes it clear Pilate has a plan
  • Jesus is scourged (Matt 27:26a, John 19:1)
  • Pilate presents the wounded Jesus to the people to appeal to their pity--Pilate's still trying to get Jesus off (John 19:4-5)
  • Additional back and forth recorded only by John (John 19:6-15)
  • Under threat of an appeal to Rome, Pilate finally backs down, and after having reversed himself at least twice, sends Jesus to be crucified (John 19:16)

There are yet further details provided only by Luke. In fairness to Matthew, he's running out of space on his scroll at this point, and had to leave things out. If John wrote last (as Irenaeus attested--see Against Heresies 3.1.1), he had the advantage of being able to supplement what other authors had recorded.

If we grant traditional attributions of authorship, John is the only evangelist who was present for Jesus' trial. John's essentially saying "I was there, let me tell you a little more about what happened."

--

Conclusion

Chronological variation is common among the Gospels; much of it is easily attributable to the way they structured their writings.

Pilate vacillated in his decision to kill Jesus, and so the "decision" to have Jesus executed was a process more than a single moment in time.

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    (+1) Loving the quality of research and references on this answer. Thanks for contributing.
    – Steve Taylor
    Sep 22 at 11:05
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John seems to be more exact and consistent: Pilate was not a sadist to scourge a man who was to be definitively put to death and, moreover, whom he believed to be innocent. The purpose of beating was to rescue the Lord from execution, for the one who was beaten and survived that, usually, was spared. That’s why after beating he showed the Lord to Jews saying “here the man”, that is to say, “look how severely I have already punished him, so be now content and let me release him”. But he immediately saw that even such beating was not sufficient for the murderous Jews incited by the leaders of the Sanhedrin. Thus, Pilate gave the final order only after that.

It is possible that in Matthew it is implied that after Pilate could not release the Lord according to a usual judicial proceeding of questioning and establishing the guilt, because even after officially finding Him blameless, the Jews still demanded His crucifixion by blackmailing him that they would tell the Emperor that he released the enemy of Rome; so, then Pilate tried to release Him through the remaining supra-judicial, customary means:

  1. Initially, by allowing them to release any criminal due to a feast day, hoping that they would rather choose the Lord, for the others were outright murderers and robbers.
  2. When this failed, he scourged Him and wounded Him bitterly, hoping that perhaps the hearts of Jews would be filled with a pity and they would renounce their murderous intent.
  3. Since both of those means failed, for nothing could soften the murderers' hearts, then the third and final means remained for Pilate to save the Lord: to risk his own life and refuse to crucify Him. But for this he had not enough courage and dignity, so the Lord was finally sentenced to death.

In Matthew, thus, it is implied that those two last means - 1) release of a prisoner for the sake of the feast day and 2) scourging a person with iron-made hooked rods - were his final means to save the Lord, so to say, extra-judicially, that is to say, by means of an established legal custom, that would not take into consideration the actual guilt or innocence of a convicted person, but release him notwithstanding anything, given the accusers would desire it.

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  • Assuming you mean Pilate, not pilates :) Edited!
    – Steve Taylor
    Sep 22 at 11:08
  • 1
    @SteveTaylor Indeed, thanks! Since in both Greek and Latin "s" stands in the end, thence my mistake Sep 22 at 11:15
  • @SteveTaylor Oh, I see you did much more corrections and amendments, thanks for them, my post looks better now! Sep 22 at 12:26
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This instance of Jesus being scourged by the Roman soldiers was the same instance as the one recorded by John in John 19:1-3.

Matthew started this verse with the word “then,” putting this occurrence of Jesus being mocked by the Roman soldiers after He had been condemned to be crucified. John also began his account of this incident with the word “then” and followed it with further attempts of Pilate to release Jesus. This looks like a discrepancy between the two accounts.

It must be remembered that Luke was the only Gospel writer to state that he was setting forth events in chronological order (see Introduction to Luke). There are many examples of when the other Gospel writers varied the order of events, as it was not their purpose to present events in the proper order. Luke did not record this event of the soldiers mocking Jesus, so we do not have his input as to the proper sequence.

Any differences in the listing of this event would only amount to a matter of minutes. It is also possible that this scourging by the soldiers could have happened simultaneously with some of Pilate’s efforts to free Jesus.

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  • Being mocked and being scourged are two very different things. The question was about the latter (Pilate's responsibility), which you seem not to have addressed.
    – Polyhat
    Aug 2 at 21:28
  • @Polyhat Thanks for highlighting this. I took this answer from older notesI have, where I had used the word ‘mocked’. But as the texts I noted (Matthew 27/John 19) use the Greek word ‘mastigoō’, and ‘phragelloō’, which both translate to ‘scourged’, I have edited the answer appropriately.
    – Dave
    Aug 3 at 4:20

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