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John 19:19-22 KJV

19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews. 20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. 21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. 22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

The impulsive-looking reply of Pilate would have come from either of the two mindsets: "I am sorry, but I can't do anything about it now" or "You Jews, how do you dare question what your Governor has written in public?" Unfortunately, John does not elaborate on how the reply of Pilate was interpreted by the Jewish leaders.

What are the possible interpretations of Pilate's words "Quod scripsi, scripsi" in John 19:22?

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  • Thanks, agarza for beautifully editing the question. I wish my Android allowed for good formating ! Dec 9, 2023 at 4:34
  • Interesting/intriguing question. + 1. Dec 10, 2023 at 12:28
  • Why did you quote Latin? They must have talked in Greek originally.
    – Michael16
    Dec 11, 2023 at 4:29
  • Micael16, the saying of Pilate has since become a phrase in Latin . Please see Wikipedia write-up by the same topic. Not sure if Pilate himself was quoting from a Greek phrase ! Dec 11, 2023 at 8:25

3 Answers 3

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The original Greek of John 19:22 is:

Ὃ γέγραφα, γέγραφα = "What I have written, I have written".

[This is accurately translated by the equivalent Latin, Quod scripsi, scripsi.]

There have been various interpretation of Pilate's outburst; these include:

  1. Stubbornness

This is best expressed by Ellicott:

This was a mere piece of obstinacy. Pilate knew that he had prostituted his office in condemning Jesus, and he revenged himself for weak compliance by ill-timed mulishness. A cool-headed governor would have humoured his difficult subjects in such a trifle, as a just one would have been inflexible in a matter of life and death. But this man’s facile yielding and his stiff-necked obstinacy were both misplaced. ‘So I will, so I command. Let my will suffice for a reason,’ was what he meant. He had written his gibe, and not all the Jews in Jewry should make him change.

  1. Pricked Conscience

For all his (many) faults, Pilate at least (partially?) recognized in Jesus a vastly different character from the usual run of criminals and felons that paraded through his court-room. He appears to see that Jesus is no mere man, and something greater than a man and certainly not guilty. In this action of the cross titulus, perhaps Pilate is attempting to both recognize Jesus for who He is and thus rebuke His accusers.

Bengel succinctly says this:

Pilate’s thought was to consult for the honour of his own authority: he really hereby subserved the Divine authority.

However, Bengel then ventures an even greater opinion:

In the person of the Procurator (Governor) himself something of a prophetical character was in this instance vouchsafed, as in the case of the High Priest, ch. John 11:51, Caiaphas: “One man should die for the people. This spake he not of himself; but being High Priest that year, he prophesied.

  1. Exercise of Authority

Pilate's outburst was a snub to the Jews whom he clearly disliked and "stamp of the foot" for his own Roman authority

  1. An Insult to the Jews

The pulpit commentary expresses this view:

Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. And he curtly dismissed them. Pilate no longer dreaded their making his apparent favor to Jesus into a complaint to the emperor, and he gave way to the indomitable temper of which Philo accuses him. He found grim satisfaction in insulting and browbeating them for a moment, {Ο γέγραφα γέγραφα. "I said it, and I meant it; I have crucified your King; yes, true King in his own sense, but not in yours. You have falsely charged him with rebelling against Caesar, and you know that you have lied to my face. Let be; he is your King, and so perish all your futile attempts to shatter the arm that holds you now in its grasp." That and more was condensed in this haughty and obstinate reply. While this was going on in the Praetorium, the tragedy was proceeding at Golgotha; and St. John now returns thither, and describes an event of intense interest which occurred, as all synoptists say, at the very time of the elevation of the cross. John, however, has further facts and symbolic detail to append which were omitted by them. John 19:22

For what it is worth, I am of the opinion that Pilate's motives were a combination of all of the above.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary offers this:

Stung by this, the Jewish ecclesiastics entreat that it may be so altered as to express, not His real dignity, but His false claim to it. But Pilate thought he had yielded quite enough to them; and having intended expressly to spite and insult them by this title, for having got him to act against his own sense of justice, he peremptorily refused them. And thus, amidst the conflicting passions of men, was proclaimed, in the chief tongues of mankind, from the Cross itself and in circumstances which threw upon it a lurid yet grand light, the truth which drew the Magi to His manger, and will yet be owned by all the world!

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  • Thanks, Dottard, for the well-researched answer. I wish to add another perspective , that the signboard in fact was a prophecy from Pilate , which he was not mandated to change at a later stage. A prophecy similar to what we see from Caiaphas. Jn 12 :51-52: "He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life." Dec 10, 2023 at 2:59
  • Another good answer, for sure. Your inclusion of not just one but several of the old school commentators is quite commendable. + 1. Dec 10, 2023 at 12:23
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I think there was a probably substantive issue at stake. Pilate could have felt that merely saying "I am the King of the Jews" was insufficient grounds for crucifixion. But Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem to shouts of "Hosanna son of David" - which means he had mobilized his followers to march into the nation's capital and loudly support his attempt to actually become the Messiah - a term synonymous with "King of the Jews." Moreover, this was immediately followed by his somewhat violent disruption of commerce in the Temple area. To Pilate this put Jesus in the same category as the followers of Barabbas (Mark 15:7), described as rebels or insurrectionists. So for Pilate, this was not just a matter of what Jesus said but what he did in furtherance of his messianic claim. Otherwise, Pilate would have no basis to even consider setting Barabbas free in place of Jesus.

At the same time, it was also too late for Pilate to change what he had written. If if the sign had been written but not posted, a change could be easily made. But the text says that the title had been placed on the Cross and many people had already read it in three languages. Only after this do the leading priests appeal to Pilate that he should change the title. So the text rather clearly implies that it was too late to change the writing, as this would require taking down the title and replacing it after large numbers of people had seen it. Pilate may or may not have been irked by the request. The text is not clear on that point.

Conclusion: There may have been a substantive issue at stake for Pilate, because merely saying "I am King of the Jews" was much less of a threat to the Roman state than apparently taking public political action to realize that goal. But in any case, it was too late for Pilate to change the sign once it had been publicly posted.


Addendum: Another fact supporting the idea that Pilate would not act on a mere than claim to be the messiah is that he was later recalled to Rome for being too harsh in suppressing a messianic demonstration in Samaria. He was not a law unto himself but was supervised by his superiors in Rome, who demonstrably disapproved of overly harsh repression of would-be messiahs and their followers.

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  • Good answer. I had never contemplated this before. Liked your substantive position. + 1. Dec 10, 2023 at 12:16
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I believe that Pilate believed Jesus after Jesus told Pilate that “all who are of the truth hear my voice,” and therefore rebuked the Jews for being against Him. It shows that Pilate knew who Jesus was, and to change the sign to “I am King of the Jews” would be to change it from an objective statement or assertion to a subjective exclamation or claim, which would impact the viewers by giving them the impression that Jesus was not who He was, but only who He claimed He was. Pilate certainly knew how the sign would affect viewers and kept it that way because He believed.

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