Easter. The Passion of Jesus XIII. Luke and John on the Jewish Trial.

Part 14, here.
Part 12, here.

You can read the whole series here.

The Trial. Luke and John.

Luke doesn’t have a trial at night, whereas Mark and Matthew have one at night. All three have Peter’s denials at night however. In Luke the trial is in the morning. Luke does have a Sanhedrin meeting at night, but the High Priest plays no role, and he also has mocking at night. Luke’s sequence is better from a legal standpoint. Luke’s rearrangement of events probably comes from a desire for a better sense of order. Trials at night suggest some kind of secretive hurried kangaroo court atmosphere, Luke doesn’t like that sort of thing.

On the questioning, Luke has “if you are the Christ, tell us.” Luke splits Mark’s question in two. He’s emphasizing the dual role of Jesus: Christ, Son of God. Jesus responds in a strange way: “if I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.” It’s incredibly ambiguous. Maybe this is Luke’s way of saying that Messiah has become a complicated term that means something different to Christians of his era than it did to Jews of Jesus’s time. Then he has Jesus go into the “right hand of the Power” thing.

Now the court asks about being the Son of God. This is the blasphemy preparation. And Jesus does this ambiguous thing again: “you say that I am.” Luke doesn’t tell us about a sentence at this point. It’s hard to even call this a trial, there are no witnesses, no decision. It’s basically interrogation. John does the same thing. Mark and Matthew sort through what is definitely a trial. Luke and John seem only to have questioning. For them the only trial is the Roman one. That may be the more historically accurate version, since it’s supposed to be a capital offense, and only the Roman Prefect could declare the death penalty in a province for a non-citizen (except in special circumstance). Roman law didn’t really apply to residents who weren’t citizens, and while we don’t have specific instructions in evidence for Pilate, it appears that the usual instruction for a Roman Imperial province was that the Prefect kept the death penalty to himself. Sometimes for very specific kinds of things a local government might exercise the death penalty, but for Judea, the granted exception was entering the inner precincts of the temple. Jesus was never accused of that.

John has an interrogation at night, but no trial, day or night. In John the fear about Jesus is insurrection. And this links to his famous statement by Caiaphas, it’s better for one man to perish than a nation (Laban!). In John 11, there is a Sanhedrin session over the raising of Lazarus from the dead. “So the chief priests and Pharisees gathered the council and they said, what are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” John reinterprets Caiaphas from one man dying instead of the nation to one man dying for the nation, giving a kind of atonement sense to it, even calling it prophecy (John’s odd inclusion of Pharisees here is perhaps his prejudice about the Jewish synagogue in his era, ca. 110AD). John’s only session of the Sanhedrin is this one in chapter 11. It’s typical John, compared to the Synoptics. He’s (relatively) all over the place.

At the arrest, John has Jesus go before Annas, then to Caiaphas, but there’s no Sanhedrin (John says nothing of any conversation with Caiaphas though he is taken there). It’s apparent that there is a tradition of a trial before the Sanhedrin but historically it’s timing is unclear. On the other hand, there is also a tradition of Jesus encountering the High Priest on the night of his arrest. The questions in John are quite different however. Annas asks “what about your disciples and your teaching?” Jesus: “don’t ask me, ask those who heard me. I’ve spoken openly, I always taught in a synagogue or the temple precincts where all the Jews come together.” There is something similar in Gethsemane in Mark. One of the police/guards strikes Jesus: is that how you answer the High Priest? In John, Jesus is putting Annas on trial, it’s the sovereign character of Jesus always in evidence in John.


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