John 18:31
Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:
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(31) Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.—Pilate takes them at their word. They claim the judicial right; let them exercise it. Their law gave them power to punish, but not the right of capital punishment. If they claim that the matter is wholly within their own power of judgment, then the sentence must also be limited to their own power. He can only execute a sentence which is pronounced by himself after formal trial.

It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.—Their words admit that they did not possess the power of life and death, while they imply that they had sentenced Jesus to death. They verbally give up the power, but in reality claim it, and regard the procurator as their executioner. The Jews had lost this power since the time that Archelaus was deposed, and Judæa became a Roman province (A.D. 6 or 7). The Talmud speaks of the loss of this power forty years or more before the destruction of Jerusalem. (Comp. Lightfoot’s Note here, and in Matthew 26:3.)

On the stoning of Stephen, which was an illegal act, comp. Notes on Acts 7:57 et seq.

18:28-32 It was unjust to put one to death who had done so much good, therefore the Jews were willing to save themselves from reproach. Many fear the scandal of an ill thing, more than the sin of it. Christ had said he should be delivered to the Gentiles, and they should put him to death; hereby that saying was fulfilled. He had said that he should be crucified, lifted up. If the Jews had judged him by their law, he had been stoned; crucifying never was used among the Jews. It is determined concerning us, though not discovered to us, what death we shall die: this should free us from disquiet about that matter. Lord, what, when, and how, thou hast appointed.Judge him ... - The Jews had not directly informed him that they had judged him and pronounced him worthy of death. Pilate therefore tells them to inquire into the ease; to ascertain the proof of his guilt, and to decide on what the law of Moses pronounced. It has been doubted whether this gave them the power of putting him to death, or whether it was not rather a direction to them to inquire into the case, and inflict on him, if they judged him guilty, the mild punishment which they were yet at liberty to inflict on criminals. Probably the former is intended. As they lied already determined that in their view this case demanded the punishment of death, so in their answer to Pilate they implied that they had pronounced on it, and that he ought to die. They still, therefore, pressed it on his attention, and refused to obey his injunction to judge him.

It is not lawful ... - The Jews were accustomed to put persons to death still in a popular tumult Acts 7:59-60, but they had not the power to do it in any case in a regular way of justice. When they first laid the plan of arresting the Saviour, they did it to kill him Matthew 26:4; but whether they intended to do this secretly, or in a tumult, or by the concurrence of the Roman governor, is uncertain. The Jews themselves say that the power of inflicting capital punishment was taken away about 40 years before the destruction of the temple; but still it is probable that in the time of Christ they had the power of determining on capital cases in instances that pertained to religion (Josephus, Antiq., b. 14: John 10, Section 2; compare Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 2, Section 4). In this case, however, it is supposed that their sentence was to be confirmed by the Roman governor. But it is admitted on all hands that they had not this power in the case of seditions, tumults, or treason against the Roman government. If they had this power in the case of blasphemy and irreligion, they did not dare to exert it here, because they were afraid of tumult among the people Matthew 26:5; hence, they sought to bring in the authority of Pilate. To do this, they endeavored to make it appear that it was a case of sedition and treason, and one which therefore demanded the interference of the Roman governor. Hence, it was on this charge that they arraigned him, Luke 23:2. Thus, a tumult might be avoided, and the odium of putting him to death which they expected would fall, not on themselves, but upon Pilate!

30. If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee—They were conscious they had no case of which Pilate could take cognizance, and therefore insinuate that they had already found Him worthy of death by their own law; but not having the power, under the Roman government, to carry their sentence into execution, they had come merely for his sanction. Take ye him, and judge him according to your law; I will judge no man before myself first hear and judge of his crime; you have a law amongst yourselves, and a liberty to question and judge men upon it, proceed against him according to your law. They reply,

It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. We are assured by such as are exercised in the Jewish writings, that the power of putting any to death was taken away from the Jews forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. Some say it was not taken away by the Romans, but by their own court. They thought it so horrid a thing to put an Israelite to death, that wickedness of all sorts grew to such a height amongst them, through the impunity, or too light punishment, of criminals, that their courts durst not execute their just authority. And at last their great court determined against the putting any to death; nor (as they say) was any put to death by the Jews, but in some popular tumult, after their court had prejudiced the person by pronouncing him guilty of blasphemy, or some capital crime; which seemeth the case of Stephen, Acts 7:1-60.

Then said Pilate unto them,.... Either ironically, knowing that they did not, or it was not in their power, to judge in capital causes; or seriously, and with some indignation, abhorring such a method of procedure they would have had him gone into, to condemn a man without knowing his crime, and having evidence of it:

take ye him, and judge him according to your law; this he said, as choosing to understand them in no other sense, than that he had broken some peculiar law of theirs, though they had otherwise suggested; and as giving them liberty to take him away to one of their courts, and proceed against him as their law directed, and inflict some lesser punishment on him than death, such as scourging, &c. which they still had a power to do, and did make use of:

the Jews therefore said unto him, it is not lawful for us to put any man to death; thereby insinuating, that he was guilty of a crime, which deserved death, and which they could not inflict; not that they were of such tender consciences, that they could not put him to death, or that they had no law to punish him with death, provided he was guilty; but because judgments in capital cases had ceased among them; nor did they try causes relating to life and death, the date of which they often make to be forty years before the destruction of the temple (i); and which was much about, or a little before the time these words were spoken: not that this power was taken away wholly from them by the Romans; though since their subjection to the empire, they had not that full and free exercise of it as before; but through the great increase of iniquity, particularly murder, which caused such frequent executions, that they were weary of them (k); and through the negligence and indolence of the Jewish sanhedrim, and their removal from the room Gazith, where they only judged capital causes (l): as for the stoning of Stephen, and the putting of some to death against whom Saul gave his voice, these were the outrages of the zealots, and were not according to a formal process in any court of judicature. Two executions are mentioned in their Talmud; the one is of a priest's daughter that was burnt for a harlot (m), and the other of the stoning of Ben Stada in Lydda (n); the one, according to them, seems to be before, the other after the destruction of the temple; but these dates are not certain, nor to be depended upon: for since the destruction of their city and temple, and their being carried captive into other lands, it is certain that the power of life and death has been wholly taken from them; by which it appears, that the sceptre is removed from Judah, and a lawgiver from between his feet; and this they own almost in the same words as here expressed; for they say (o) of a certain man worthy of death,

"why dost thou scourge him? he replies, because he lay with a beast; they say to him, hast thou any witnesses? he answers, yes; Elijah came in the form of a man, and witnessed; they say, if it be so, he deserves to die; to which he answers, "from the day we have been carried captive out of our land, , we have no power to put to death".''

But at this time, their power was not entirely gone; but the true reason of their saying these words is, that they might wholly give up Christ to the Roman power, and throw off the reproach of his death from themselves; and particularly they were desirous he should die the reproachful and painful death of the cross, which was a Roman punishment: had they took him and judged him according to their law, which must have been as a false prophet, or for blasphemy or idolatry, the death they must have condemned him to, would have been stoning; but it was crucifixion they were set upon; and therefore deliver him up as a traitor, and a seditious person, in order thereunto.

(i) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 15. 1. Sanhedrin, fol. 41. 1. T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 18. 1. & 24. 2. Juchasin, fol. 51. 1. Moses Kotsensis pr. affirm. 99. (k) T. Bab. Avoda Zara fol. 8. 2. Juchasin, fol. 21. 1.((l) Gloss. in T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 8, 2.((m) T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 24. 2.((n) Ib. fol. 25. 4. (o) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 58. 1.

Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, {b} It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:

(b) For judgments of life and death were taken from them forty years before the destruction of the temple.

John 18:31. Since they bring forward no definite charge, Pilate refers them to their own tribunal (the Sanhedrim). As he, without such an accusation, from which his competency to act must first arise, could take no other course than at once refer the matter to the regular Jewish authority, he also incurred no danger in taking that course; because if the κρίνειν, i.e. the judicial procedure against Jesus, should terminate in assigning the punishment of death, they must nevertheless come back to him, while it was at the same time a prudent course (φθόνον ὀξὺ νοήσας, Nonnus); because if they did not wish to withdraw with their business unfinished, they would, it might be presumed, be under the necessity of laying aside their insolence, and of still coming out with an accusation. If κρίνειν, which, according to this view, is by no means of doubtful signification (Hengstenberg), be understood as meaning to condemn, or even to execute (Lücke, de Wette, who, as already Calvin and several others, finds therein a sneer), which, however, it does not in itself denote, and which sense it cannot acquire by means of the following ἀποκτεῖναι, something of a very anticipatory and relatively impertinent character is put in the procurator’s mouth.

ὑμεῖς] With emphasis.

The answer of the Jews rests on the thought that this κρίνειν was, on their part, already an accomplished fact, and led up to the sentence for execution, which they, however, were not competent to carry out. They therefore understood the κρίνειν not as equivalent to ἀποκτεῖναι, but regarded the latter as the established result of the former. Any limitation, however, of ἡμῖν οὐκ ἔξεστιν, κ.τ.λ. (to the punishment of the cross, as Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euth. Zigabenus, Calovius, and several others think; or to the feast day, as Semler and Kuinoel suppose; or to political crimes, so Krebs), is imported into the words; the Jews had, since the domination of the Romans (according to the Talmud, forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem; see Lightfoot, p. 455, 1133 ff.), lost the jus vitae et necis generally; they could, indeed, sentence to death, but the confirmation and execution belonged to the superior Roman authority. See generally Iken, Diss. II. p. 517 ff.; Friedlieb, Archäol. p. 96 f. The stoning of Stephen, as also at a later period that of James, the Lord’s brother (Josephus, Antt. xx. 9. 1), was a tumultuary act. Comp. also Keil, Archäol. II. p. 259.

John 18:31. This does not suit Roman ideas of justice; and therefore Pilate, ascribing their reluctance to lay a definite charge against the prisoner and to have the case reopened to the difficulty of explaining to a Roman the actual law and transgression, bids them finish the case for themselves, λάβετε αὐτὸν ὑμεῖςcf. Acts 18:14.

31. Then said Pilate] Pilate therefore (John 18:3) said. If they will not make a specific charge, he will not deal with the case. Pilate, impressed probably by his wife’s dream (Matthew 27:19) tries in various ways to avoid sentencing Jesus to death. (1) He would have the Jews deal with the case themselves; (2) he sends Jesus to Herod; (3) he proposes to release Him in honour of the Feast; (4) he will scourge Him and let Him go. Roman governors were not commonly so scrupulous, and Pilate was not above the average: a vague superstitious dread was perhaps his strongest motive. Thrice in the course of these attempts does he pronounce Jesus innocent (John 18:39, John 19:4; John 19:6).

Take ye, &c.] Literally, Take him yourselves, and according to your law judge Him. ‘Yourselves’ and ‘your’ are emphatic and slightly contemptuous. The ‘therefore’ which follows is wanting in most of the best MSS.

It is not lawful, &c.] These words are to be taken quite literally, and without any addition, such as ‘at the Passover’ or ‘by crucifixion,’ or ‘for high treason.’ The question whether the Sanhedrin had or had not the right to inflict capital punishment at this time is a vexed one. On the one hand we have (1) this verse; (2) the statement of the Talmud that 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem the Jews lost this power; (3) the evidence of Josephus (Ant. xx. ix. 1; comp. xviii. i. 1; xvi. ii. 4, and vi.) that the high priest could not summon a judicial court of the Sanhedrin without the Procurator’s leave; (4) the analogy of Roman law. To this it is replied (Döllinger, First age of the Church, Appendix II.); (1) that the Jews quibbled in order to cause Jesus to be crucified at the Feast instead of stoned after all the people had dispersed; and Pilate would not have insulted the Jews from the tribunal by telling them to put Jesus to death, if they had no power to do so; (2) that the Talmud is in error, for the Roman dominion began 60 years before the destruction of Jerusalem; (3) that Josephus (xx. ix. 1) shews that the Jews had this power: Ananus is accused to Albinus not for putting people to death, but for holding a court without leave: had the former been criminal it would have been mentioned; (4) that the analogy of Roman law proves nothing, for cities and countries subject to Rome often retained their autonomy: and there are the cases of Stephen, those for whose death S. Paul voted (Acts 26:10), and the Apostles, whom the Sanhedrin wished to put to death (Acts 5:33); and Gamaliel in dissuading the council never hints that to inflict death will bring trouble upon themselves. To this it may be replied again; (1) that Pilate would have exposed a quibble had there been one, and his dignity as judge was evidently not above shewing ironical contempt for the plaintiffs; (2) that the Talmud may be wrong about the date and right about the fact; possibly it is right about both; (3) to mention the holding of a court by Ananus was enough to secure the interference of Albinus, and more may have been said than Josephus reports; (4) autonomy in the case of subject states was the exception; therefore the burden of proof rests with those who assert it of the Jews. Stephen’s death (if judicial at all) and the other cases (comp. John 5:18; John 7:1; John 7:25; John 8:37; John 8:59; Acts 21:31) only prove that the Jews sometimes ventured on acts of violence of which the Romans took little notice. Besides we do not know that in all these cases the Sanhedrin proposed to do more than to sentence to death, trusting to the Romans to execute the sentence, as here. Pilate’s whole action, and his express statement John 19:10, seem to imply that he alone has the power to inflict death.

John 18:31. Ὑμῶν, your) Pilate seems to have said this not without contempt: comp. John 18:35, “Am I a Jew?” and not to have considered the charge brought against Jesus a capital offence, as the Jews were accounting it.—οὐκ ἔξεστιν, it is not lawful) It is not very easy to interpret the feeling of a tumultuous crowd. Pilate speaks of himself (by virtue of his own authority), with whom the power rests: John 18:39. Certainly, when he granted the permission, they had it in their power to kill Jesus: but they are unwilling to avail themselves of that concession, and therefore appeal to the fact of the power of life and death having been taken from them. And Jewish history accordingly tells us that on that very year, the fortieth before the overthrow of the city, the power was taken from them. See also ch. John 19:31, [The Jews beg leave from Pilate that the bodies be taken down, thus acknowledging his authority; so also they ask leave to watch and seal the tomb,] Matthew 27:62.

John 18:31Take ye him (λάβετε αὐτὸν ὑμεῖς)

The A.V. obscures the emphatic force of ὑμεῖς, you. Pilate's words display great practical shrewdness in forcing the Jews to commit themselves to the admission that they desired Christ's death. "Take him yourselves (so Rev.), and judge him according to your law." "By our law," reply the Jews, "he ought to die." But this penalty they could not inflict. "It is not lawful," etc.

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