John 18

Betrayal and Arrest

When he had said these things,
When he had said these things appears to be a natural transition at the end of the Farewell Discourse (the farewell speech of Jesus to his disciples in John 13:31–17:26, including the final prayer in 17:1–26). The author states that Jesus went out with his disciples, a probable reference to their leaving the upper room where the meal and discourse described in chaps. 13–17 took place (although some have seen this only as a reference to their leaving the city, with the understanding that some of the Farewell Discourse, including the concluding prayer, was given en route, cf. 14:31). They crossed the Kidron Valley and came to a garden, or olive orchard, identified in Matt 26:36 and Mark 14:32 as Gethsemane. The name is not given in Luke’s or John’s Gospel, but the garden must have been located somewhere on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives.
Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley.
Grk “the wadi of the Kidron,” or “the ravine of the Kidron” (a wadi is a stream that flows only during the rainy season and is dry during the dry season).
There was an orchard
Or “a garden.”
there, and he and his disciples went into it.
(Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, knew the place too, because Jesus had met there many times
Or “often.”
with his disciples.)
This is a parenthetical note by the author.
So Judas obtained a squad of soldiers
Grk “a cohort.” The word σπεῖραν (speiran) is a technical term for a Roman cohort, normally a force of 600 men (one tenth of a legion). It was under the command of a χιλίαρχος (chiliarchos, v. 12). Because of the improbability of an entire cohort being sent to arrest a single man, some have suggested that σπεῖραν here refers only to a maniple, a force of 200. But the use of the word here does not necessarily mean the entire cohort was present on this mission, but only that it was the cohort which performed the task (for example, saying the fire department put out the fire does not mean that every fireman belonging to the department was on the scene at the time). These Roman soldiers must have been ordered to accompany the servants of the chief priests and Pharisees by Pilate, since they would have been under the direct command of the Roman prefect or procurator. It is not difficult to understand why Pilate would have been willing to assist the Jewish authorities in such a way. With a huge crowd of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover, the Romans would have been especially nervous about an uprising of some sort. No doubt the chief priests and Pharisees had informed Pilate that this man Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, or in the terms Pilate would understand, king of Israel.
and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees.
The phrase “officers of the chief priests and Pharisees” is a comprehensive name for the groups represented in the ruling council (the Sanhedrin) as in John 7:32, 45; 18:3, 12, 18, 22; 19:6. They are different from the Levites who served as “temple police” according to K. H. Rengstorf (TDNT 8:540). In John 7:32ff. these officers had made an unsuccessful attempt to arrest Jesus, and perhaps this is part of the reason why their leaders had made sure they were accompanied by Roman soldiers this time. No more mistakes were to be tolerated.
See the note on Pharisees in 1:24.
They came to the orchard
The words “to the orchard” are not in the Greek text but are repeated from v. 1 for clarity.
with lanterns
These were lamps that had some sort of covering to protect them from wind and rain. In earlier usage the word meant “torch” but by NT times it apparently meant a lamp designed to be used outdoors, so “lantern” is a good contemporary English equivalent.
Mention of the lanterns and torches suggests a detail remembered by one who was an eyewitness, but in connection with the light/darkness motif of John’s Gospel, it is a vivid reminder that it is night; the darkness has come at last (cf. 13:30).
and torches and weapons.

Then Jesus, because he knew everything that was going to happen to him,
Grk “knowing all things that were coming upon him.”
came and asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
Grk “Whom do you seek?”
They replied,
Grk “They answered.”
The author does not state precisely who from the group of soldiers and temple police replied to Jesus at this point. It may have been the commander of the Roman soldiers, although his presence is not explicitly mentioned until 18:12. It may also have been one of the officers of the chief priests. To the answer given, “Jesus the Nazarene,” Jesus replies “I am [he].”
“Jesus the Nazarene.” He told them, “I am he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was standing there with them.)
This is a parenthetical note by the author. Before he states the response to Jesus’ identification of himself, the author inserts a parenthetical note that Judas, again identified as the one who betrayed him (cf. 18:2), was standing with the group of soldiers and officers of the chief priests. Many commentators have considered this to be an awkward insertion, but in fact it heightens considerably the dramatic effect of the response to Jesus’ self-identification in the following verse, and has the added effect of informing the reader that along with the others the betrayer himself ironically falls down at Jesus’ feet (18:6).
So when Jesus
Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
said to them, “I am he,” they retreated
Grk “moved back” (but here a fairly rapid movement is implied).
and fell to the ground.
When Jesus said to those who came to arrest him “I am,” they retreated and fell to the ground. L. Morris says that “it is possible that those in front recoiled from Jesus’ unexpected advance, so that they bumped those behind them, causing them to stumble and fall” (John [NICNT], 743–44). Perhaps this is what in fact happened on the scene; but the theological significance given to this event by the author implies that more is involved. The reaction on the part of those who came to arrest Jesus comes in response to his affirmation that he is indeed the one they are seeking, Jesus the Nazarene. But Jesus makes this affirmation of his identity using a formula which the reader has encountered before in the Fourth Gospel, e.g., 8:24, 28, 58. Jesus has applied to himself the divine Name of Exod 3:14, “I AM.” Therefore this amounts to something of a theophany which causes even his enemies to recoil and prostrate themselves, so that Jesus has to ask a second time, “Who are you looking for?” This is a vivid reminder to the reader of the Gospel that even in this dark hour, Jesus holds ultimate power over his enemies and the powers of darkness, because he is the one who bears the divine Name.
Then Jesus
Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
Jesus replied,
Grk “Jesus answered.”
“I told you that I am he. If you are looking for
Grk “if you are seeking.”
me, let these men
The word “men” is not in the Greek text but is implied. The translation uses the word “men” here rather than a more generic word like “people” because in context Jesus referred only to the eleven remaining disciples who were loyal to him and were present at his arrest.
A second time Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he,” identifying himself as the one they are seeking. Jesus also added, “If you are looking for me, let these men go.” Jesus successfully diverted attention from his disciples by getting the soldiers and officers of the chief priests to admit (twice) that it is only him they were after. Even in this hour Jesus still protected and cared for his own, giving himself up on their behalf. By handing himself over to his enemies, Jesus ensured that his disciples went free. From the perspective of the author, this is acting out beforehand what Jesus will actually do for his followers when he goes to the cross.
He said this
The words “He said this” are not in the Greek text, but are implied. There is an ellipsis in the Greek text that must be supplied for the modern English reader at this point.
to fulfill the word he had spoken,
This expression is similar to John 6:39 and John 17:12.
“I have not lost a single one of those whom you gave me.”
Grk “Of the ones whom you gave me, I did not lose one of them.” The order of the clauses has been rearranged to reflect contemporary English style.
This action of Jesus on behalf of his disciples is interpreted by the author as a fulfillment of Jesus’ own words: “I have not lost a single one of those whom you gave me.” Here it is Jesus’ own words, rather than the OT scriptures, which are quoted. This same formula will be used by the author again of Jesus’ words in 18:32, but the verb is used elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel to describe the NT fulfillment of OT passages (12:38, 13:18, 15:25, 17:12, 19:24, and 19:36). It is a bit difficult to determine the exact referent, since the words of Jesus quoted in this verse are not an exact reproduction of a saying of Jesus elsewhere in John’s Gospel. Although some have identified the saying with John 6:39, the closest parallel is in 17:12, where the betrayer, Judas, is specifically excluded. The words quoted here in 18:9 appear to be a free rendition of 17:12.

10  Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, pulled it out and struck the high priest’s slave,
See the note on the word “slaves” in 4:51.
cutting off his right ear.
The account of the attack on the high priest’s slave contains details which suggest eyewitness testimony. It is also mentioned in all three synoptic gospels, but only John records that the disciple involved was Peter, whose impulsive behavior has already been alluded to (John 13:37). Likewise only John gives the name of the victim, Malchus, who is described as the high priest’s slave. John and Mark (14:47) both use the word ὠτάριον (ōtarion, a double diminutive) to describe what was cut off, and this may indicate only part of the right ear (for example, the earlobe).
(Now the slave’s name was Malchus.)
This is a parenthetical note by the author.
11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
Grk “The cup that the Father has given me to drink, shall I not drink it?” The order of the clauses has been rearranged to reflect contemporary English style.
Jesus continues with what most would take to be a rhetorical question expecting a positive reply: “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” The cup is also mentioned in Gethsemane in the synoptics (Matt 26:39, Mark 14:36, and Luke 22:42). In connection with the synoptic accounts it is mentioned in Jesus’ prayer; this occurrence certainly complements the synoptic accounts if Jesus had only shortly before finished praying about this. Only here in the Fourth Gospel is it specifically said that the cup is given to Jesus to drink by the Father, but again this is consistent with the synoptic mention of the cup in Jesus’ prayer: It is the cup of suffering which Jesus is about to undergo.

Jesus Before Annas

12  Then the squad of soldiers
Grk “a cohort” (but since this was a unit of 600 soldiers, a smaller detachment is almost certainly intended).
with their commanding officer
Grk “their chiliarch” (an officer in command of a thousand soldiers). In Greek the term χιλίαρχος (chiliarchos) literally described the “commander of a thousand,” but it was used as the standard translation for the Latin tribunus militum or tribunus militaris, the military tribune who commanded a cohort of 600 men.
and the officers of the Jewish leaders
Or “the Jewish authorities”; Grk “the Jews.” In NT usage the term ᾿Ιουδαῖοι (Ioudaioi) may refer to the entire Jewish people, the residents of Jerusalem and surrounding territory, the authorities in Jerusalem, or merely those who were hostile to Jesus. (For further information see R. G. Bratcher, “‘The Jews’ in the Gospel of John,” BT 26 [1975]: 401-9.) Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders, who were named as “chief priests and Pharisees” in John 18:3.
Or “seized.”
Jesus and tied him up.
Or “bound him.”
13 They
Grk “up, and brought.” Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.
brought him first to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.
Jesus was taken first to Annas. Only the Gospel of John mentions this pretrial hearing before Annas, and that Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who is said to be high priest in that year. Caiaphas is also mentioned as being high priest in John 11:49. But in 18:15, 16, 19, and 22 Annas is called high priest. Annas is also referred to as high priest by Luke in Acts 4:6. Many scholars have dismissed these references as mistakes on the part of both Luke and John, but as mentioned above, John 11:49 and 18:13 indicate that John knew that Caiaphas was high priest in the year that Jesus was crucified. This has led others to suggest that Annas and Caiaphas shared the high priesthood, but there is no historical evidence to support this view. Annas had been high priest from a.d. 6 to a.d. 15 when he was deposed by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus (according to Josephus, Ant. 18.2.2 [18.34]). His five sons all eventually became high priests. The family was noted for its greed, wealth, and power. There are a number of ways the references in both Luke and John to Annas being high priest may be explained. Some Jews may have refused to recognize the changes in high priests effected by the Roman authorities, since according to the Torah the high priesthood was a lifetime office (Num 25:13). Another possibility is that it was simply customary to retain the title after a person had left the office as a courtesy, much as retired ambassadors are referred to as “Mr. Ambassador” or ex-presidents as “Mr. President.” Finally, the use of the title by Luke and John may simply be a reflection of the real power behind the high priesthood of the time: Although Annas no longer technically held the office, he may well have managed to control those relatives of his who did hold it from behind the scenes. In fact this seems most probable and would also explain why Jesus was brought to him immediately after his arrest for a sort of “pretrial hearing” before being sent on to the entire Sanhedrin.
14 (Now it was Caiaphas who had advised
Or “counseled.”
the Jewish leaders
Grk “the Jews.” Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders, specifically members of the Sanhedrin (see John 11:49–50). See also the note on the phrase “Jewish leaders” in v. 12.
that it was to their advantage that one man die for the people.)
This is a parenthetical note by the author.

Peter’s First Denial

15  Simon Peter and another disciple followed them as they brought Jesus to Annas.
The words “them as they brought Jesus to Annas” are not in the Greek text, but are supplied to clarify who Peter and the other disciple were following. Direct objects were often omitted in Greek when clear from the context.
(Now the other disciple
Grk “that disciple.”
Many have associated this unnamed other disciple with the beloved disciple, that is, John son of Zebedee, mainly because the phrase the other disciple which occurs here is also used to describe the beloved disciple in John 20:2, 3, 4, and 8. Peter is also closely associated with the beloved disciple in 13:23-26, 20:2-10, 21:7, and 21:20-23. But other identifications have also been proposed, chiefly because v. 16 states that this disciple who was accompanied by Peter was known to the high priest. As C. K. Barrett (St. John, 525) points out, the term γνωστός (gnōstos) is used in the LXX to refer to a close friend (Ps 54:14 LXX [55:14 ET]). This raises what for some is an insurmountable difficulty in identifying the “other disciple” as John son of Zebedee, since how could the uneducated son of an obscure Galilean fisherman be known to such a powerful and influential family in Jerusalem? E. A. Abbott (as quoted in “Notes of Recent Exposition,” ExpTim 25 [1913/14]: 149-50) proposed that the “other disciple” who accompanied Peter was Judas, since he was the one disciple of whom it is said explicitly (in the synoptic accounts) that he had dealings with the high priest. E. A. Tindall (“Contributions and Comments: John xviii.15,” ExpTim 28 [1916/17]: 283-84) suggested the disciple was Nicodemus, who as a member of the Sanhedrin, would have had access to the high priest’s palace. Both of these suggestions, while ingenious, nevertheless lack support from the text of the Fourth Gospel itself or the synoptic accounts. W. Wuellner (The Meaning of Fishers of Men” [NTL]) argues that the common attitude concerning the low social status and ignorance of the disciples from Galilee may in fact be a misconception. Zebedee is presented in Mark 1:20 as a man wealthy enough to have hired servants, and Mark 10:35-45 presents both of the sons of Zebedee as concerned about status and prestige. John’s mother appears in the same light in Matt 20:20-28. Contact with the high priestly family in Jerusalem might not be so unlikely in such circumstances. Others have noted the possibility that John came from a priestly family, some of which is based upon a statement in Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3) quoting Polycrates that John son of Zebedee was a priest. For further information on possible priestly connections among members of John’s family see L. Morris (John [NICNT], 752, n. 32). None of this is certain, but on the whole it seems most probable that the disciple who accompanied Peter and gained entry into the courtyard for him was John son of Zebedee.
was acquainted with the high priest, and he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard.)
This is a parenthetical note by the author.
16 But Simon Peter was left standing outside by the door. So the other disciple who was acquainted with the high priest came out and spoke to the slave girl who watched the door,
Grk “spoke to the doorkeeper”; her description as a slave girl is taken from the following verse. The noun θυρωρός (thurōros) may be either masculine or feminine, but the article here indicates that it is feminine.
and brought Peter inside.
17 The girl
Grk “slave girl.” Since the descriptive term “slave girl” was introduced in the translation in the previous verse, it would be redundant to repeat the full expression here.
who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You’re not one of this man’s disciples too, are you?”
Questions prefaced with μή () in Greek anticipate a negative answer. This can sometimes be indicated by using a “tag” at the end in English (here the tag is “are you?”).
He replied,
Grk “He said.”
“I am not.”
18 (Now the slaves
See the note on the word “slaves” in 4:51.
and the guards
That is, the “guards of the chief priests” as distinguished from the household slaves of Annas.
were standing around a charcoal fire they had made, warming themselves because it was cold.
Grk “because it was cold, and they were warming themselves.”
Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.)
This is a parenthetical note by the author.

Jesus Questioned by Annas

19  While this was happening,
The introductory phrase “While this was happening” is not in the Greek text. It has been supplied in the translation to clarify the alternation of scenes in the narrative for the modern reader.
the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.
The nature of this hearing seems to be more that of a preliminary investigation; certainly normal legal procedure was not followed, for no indication is given that any witnesses were brought forth at this point to testify against Jesus. True to what is known of Annas’ character, he was more interested in Jesus’ disciples than in the precise nature of Jesus’ teaching, since he inquired about the followers first. He really wanted to know just how influential Jesus had become and how large a following he had gathered. This was of more concern to Annas that the truth or falsity of Jesus’ teaching.
20 Jesus replied,
Grk “Jesus answered him.”
“I have spoken publicly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues
See the note on synagogue in 6:59.
and in the temple courts,
Grk “in the temple.”
where all the Jewish people
Grk “the Jews.” Here the phrase refers to the Jewish people generally, for whom the synagogues and the temple courts in Jerusalem were important public gathering places. See also the note on the phrase “Jewish religious leaders” in v. 12.
assemble together. I
Grk “And I.” The conjunction καί (kai, “and”) has not been translated here in keeping with the tendency of contemporary English style to use shorter sentences.
have said nothing in secret.
21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said.
Grk “Ask those who heard what I said to them.” The words “to them” are not translated since they are redundant in English.
Grk “Look, these know what I said.”
know what I said.”
22 When Jesus
Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
had said this, one of the high priest’s officers who stood nearby struck him on the face and said,
Grk “one of the high priest’s servants standing by gave Jesus a strike, saying.” For the translation of ῥάπισμα (rhapisma), see L&N 19.4.
“Is that the way you answer the high priest?”
23 Jesus replied,
Grk “Jesus answered him.”
“If I have said something wrong,
Or “something incorrect.”
Grk “testify.”
what is wrong.
Or “incorrect.”
But if I spoke correctly, why strike me?”
24 Then Annas sent him, still tied up,
Or “still bound.”
to Caiaphas the high priest.
Where was Caiaphas the high priest located? Did he have a separate palace, or was he somewhere else with the Sanhedrin? Since Augustine (4th century) a number of scholars have proposed that Annas and Caiaphas resided in different wings of the same palace, which were bound together by a common courtyard through which Jesus would have been led as he was taken from Annas to Caiaphas. This seems a reasonable explanation, although there is no conclusive evidence.

Peter’s Second and Third Denials

25  Meanwhile Simon Peter was standing in the courtyard
The words “in the courtyard” are not in the Greek text. They are supplied for the benefit of the modern reader, to link this scene to the preceding one in John 18:15–18.
warming himself. They said to him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”
Questions prefaced with μή () in Greek anticipate a negative answer. This can sometimes be indicated by using a “tag” at the end in English (here the tag is “are you?”).
Grk “That one denied it and said”; the referent of the pronoun (Peter) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
denied it: “I am not!”
26 One of the high priest’s slaves,
See the note on the word “slaves” in 4:51.
a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off,
This incident is recounted in v. 10.
said, “Did I not see you in the orchard
Or “garden.”
with him?”
This question, prefaced with οὐκ (ouk) in Greek, anticipates a positive answer.
27 Then Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
It seems most likely that this refers to a real rooster crowing, although a number of scholars have suggested that “cockcrow” is a technical term referring to the trumpet call which ended the third watch of the night (from midnight to 3 a.m.). This would then be a reference to the Roman gallicinium (ἀλεκτοροφωνία, alektorofōnia; the term is used in Mark 13:35 and is found in some mss37vid,45 f1] in Matt 26:34) which would have been sounded at 3 a.m.; in this case Jesus would have prophesied a precise time by which the denials would have taken place. For more details see J. H. Bernard, St. John (ICC), 2:604. However, in light of the fact that Mark mentions the rooster crowing twice (Mark 14:72) and in Luke 22:60 the words are reversed (ἐφώνησεν ἀλέκτωρ, efōnēsen alektōr), it is more probable that a real rooster is in view. In any event natural cockcrow would have occurred at approximately 3 a.m. in Palestine at this time of year (March-April) anyway.
No indication is given of Peter’s emotional state at this third denial (as in Matt 26:74 and Mark 14:71) or that he remembered that Jesus had foretold the denials (Matt 26:75, Mark 14:72 and Luke 22:61), or the bitter remorse Peter felt afterward (Matt 26:75, Mark 14:72, and Luke 22:62).

Jesus Brought Before Pilate

28  Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s residence.
Grk “to the praetorium.”
The permanent residence of the Roman governor of Palestine was in Caesarea (Acts 23:35). The governor had a residence in Jerusalem which he normally occupied only during principal feasts or in times of political unrest. The location of this building in Jerusalem is uncertain, but is probably one of two locations: either (1) the fortress or tower of Antonia, on the east hill north of the temple area, which is the traditional location of the Roman praetorium since the 12th century, or (2) the palace of Herod on the west hill near the present Jaffa Gate. According to Philo (Embassy 38 [299]) Pilate had some golden shields hung there, and according to Josephus (J. W. 2.14.8 [2.301], 2.15.5 [2.328]) the later Roman governor Florus stayed there.
(Now it was very early morning.)
This is a parenthetical note by the author.
Grk “And they.” The conjunction καί (kai, “and”) has not been translated here in keeping with the tendency of contemporary English style to use shorter sentences.
did not go into the governor’s residence
Grk “into the praetorium.”
so they would not be ceremonially defiled, but could eat the Passover meal.
29 So Pilate came outside to them and said, “What accusation
Or “charge.”
do you bring against this man?”
In light of the fact that Pilate had cooperated with them in Jesus’ arrest by providing Roman soldiers, the Jewish authorities were probably expecting Pilate to grant them permission to carry out their sentence on Jesus without resistance (the Jews were not permitted to exercise capital punishment under the Roman occupation without official Roman permission, cf. v. 31). They must have been taken somewhat by surprise by Pilate’s question What accusation do you bring against this man,” because it indicated that he was going to try the prisoner himself. Thus Pilate was regarding the trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin as only an inquiry and their decision as merely an accusation.
30 They replied,
Grk “They answered and said to him.”
“If this man
Grk “this one.”
were not a criminal,
Or “an evildoer”; Grk “one doing evil.”
we would not have handed him over to you.”
Or “would not have delivered him over.”

31  Pilate told them,
Grk “Then Pilate said to them.”
“Take him yourselves and pass judgment on him
Or “judge him.” For the translation “pass judgment on him” see R. E. Brown (John [AB], 2:848).
according to your own law!”
Pilate, as the sole representative of Rome in a troubled area, was probably in Jerusalem for the Passover because of the danger of an uprising (the normal residence for the Roman governor was in Caesarea as mentioned in Acts 23:35). At this time on the eve of the feast he would have been a busy and perhaps even a worried man. It is not surprising that he offered to hand Jesus back over to the Jewish authorities to pass judgment on him. It may well be that Pilate realized when no specific charge was mentioned that he was dealing with an internal dispute over some religious matter. Pilate wanted nothing to do with such matters, as the statement “Pass judgment on him according to your own law!” indicates. As far as the author is concerned, this points out who was really responsible for Jesus’ death: The Roman governor Pilate would have had nothing to do with it if he had not been pressured by the Jewish religious authorities, upon whom the real responsibility rested.
The Jewish leaders
Or “the Jewish authorities”; Grk “the Jews.” Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders, especially members of the Sanhedrin. See the note on the phrase “Jewish leaders” in v. 12.
Grk “said to him.”
“We cannot legally put anyone to death.”
Grk “It is not permitted to us to kill anyone.”
The historical background behind the statement We cannot legally put anyone to death is difficult to reconstruct. Scholars are divided over whether this statement in the Fourth Gospel accurately reflects the judicial situation between the Jewish authorities and the Romans in 1st century Palestine. It appears that the Roman governor may have given the Jews the power of capital punishment for specific offenses, some of them religious (the death penalty for Gentiles caught trespassing in the inner courts of the temple, for example). It is also pointed out that the Jewish authorities did carry out a number of executions, some of them specifically pertaining to Christians (Stephen, according to Acts 7:58–60; and James the Just, who was stoned in the 60s according to Josephus, Ant. 20.9.1 [20.200]). But Stephen’s death may be explained as a result of “mob violence” rather than a formal execution, and as Josephus in the above account goes on to point out, James was executed in the period between two Roman governors, and the high priest at the time was subsequently punished for the action. Two studies by A. N. Sherwin-White (Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, 1–47; and “The Trial of Christ,” Historicity and Chronology in the New Testament [SPCKTC], 97–116) have tended to support the accuracy of John’s account. He concluded that the Romans kept very close control of the death penalty for fear that in the hands of rebellious locals such power could be used to eliminate factions favorable or useful to Rome. A province as troublesome as Judea would not have been likely to be made an exception to this.
32 (This happened
The words “This happened” are not in the Greek text but are implied.
to fulfill the word Jesus had spoken when he indicated
Or “making clear.”
what kind of death he was going to die.
A reference to John 12:32.

Pilate Questions Jesus

33  So Pilate went back into the governor’s residence,
Grk “into the praetorium.”
summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
It is difficult to discern Pilate’s attitude when he asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Some have believed the remark to be sarcastic or incredulous as Pilate looked at this lowly and humble prisoner: “So youre the king of the Jews, are you?” Others have thought the Roman governor to have been impressed by Jesus’ regal disposition and dignity, and to have sincerely asked, “Are you really the king of the Jews?” Since it will later become apparent (v. 38) that Pilate considered Jesus innocent (and therefore probably also harmless) an attitude of incredulity is perhaps most likely, but this is far from certain in the absence of clear contextual clues.
34 Jesus replied,
Grk “Jesus answered.”
“Are you saying this on your own initiative,
Grk “saying this from yourself.”
or have others told you about me?”
35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I?
Many have seen in Pilate’s reply “I am not a Jew, am I?” the Roman contempt for the Jewish people. Some of that may indeed be present, but strictly speaking, all Pilate affirms is that he, as a Roman, has no firsthand knowledge of Jewish custom or belief. What he knows of Jesus must have come from the Jewish authorities. They are the ones (your own people and your chief priests) who have handed Jesus over to Pilate.
Your own people
Or “your own nation.”
and your chief priests handed you over
Or “delivered you over.”
to me. What have you done?”

36  Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being
Grk “so that I may not be.”
handed over
Or “delivered over.”
to the Jewish authorities.
Or “the Jewish leaders”; Grk “the Jews.” Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders, especially members of the Sanhedrin. See the note on the phrase “Jewish leaders” in v. 12. In the translation “authorities” was preferred over “leaders” for stylistic reasons.
But as it is,
Grk “now.”
my kingdom is not from here.”
37 Then Pilate said,
Grk “said to him.”
“So you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world – to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to
Or “obeys”; Grk “hears.”
my voice.”
38 Pilate asked,
Grk “Pilate said.”
“What is truth?”
With his reply “What is truth?” Pilate dismissed the matter. It is not clear what Pilate’s attitude was at this point, as in 18:33. He may have been sarcastic, or perhaps somewhat reflective. The author has not given enough information in the narrative to be sure. Within the narrative, Pilate’s question serves to make the reader reflect on what truth is, and that answer (in the narrative) has already been given (14:6).

When he had said this he went back outside to the Jewish leaders
Or “the Jewish authorities”; Grk “the Jews.” Here the phrase refers to the Jewish leaders, especially members of the Sanhedrin. See the note on the phrase “Jewish leaders” in v. 12. The term also occurs in v. 31, where it is clear the Jewish leaders are in view, because they state that they cannot legally carry out an execution. Although it is likely (in view of the synoptic parallels) that the crowd here in 18:38 was made up not just of the Jewish leaders, but of ordinary residents of Jerusalem and pilgrims who were in Jerusalem for the Passover, nevertheless in John’s Gospel Pilate is primarily in dialogue with the leadership of the nation, who are expressly mentioned in 18:35 and 19:6.
and announced,
Grk “said to them.”
“I find no basis for an accusation
Grk “find no cause.”
against him.
39 But it is your custom that I release one prisoner
The word “prisoner” is not in the Greek text but is implied.
for you at the Passover.
Pilate then offered to release Jesus, reminding the Jewish authorities that they had a custom that he release one prisoner for them at the Passover. There is no extra-biblical evidence alluding to the practice. It is, however, mentioned in Matthew and Mark, described either as a practice of Pilate (Mark 15:6) or of the Roman governor (Matt 27:15). These references may explain the lack of extra-biblical attestation: The custom to which Pilate refers here (18:39) is not a permanent one acknowledged by all the Roman governors, but one peculiar to Pilate as a means of appeasement, meant to better relations with his subjects. Such a limited meaning is certainly possible and consistent with the statement here.
So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?”
40 Then they shouted back,
Or “they shouted again,” or “they shouted in turn.” On the difficulty of translating πάλιν (palin) see BDAG 753 s.v. 5. It is simplest in the context of John’s Gospel to understand the phrase to mean “they shouted back” as a reply to Pilate’s question.
“Not this man,
Grk “this one.”
but Barabbas!”
The name Barabbas in Aramaic means “son of abba,” that is, “son of the father,” and presumably the man in question had another name (it may also have been Jesus, according to the textual variant in Matt 27:16, although this is uncertain). For the author this name held ironic significance: The crowd was asking for the release of a man called Barabbas, “son of the father,” while Jesus, who was truly the Son of the Father, was condemned to die instead.
(Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.
Or “robber.” It is possible that Barabbas was merely a robber or highwayman, but more likely, given the use of the term ληστής (lēstēs) in Josephus and other early sources, that he was a guerrilla warrior or revolutionary leader. See both R. E. Brown (John [AB], 2:857) and K. H. Rengstorf (TDNT 4:258) for more information. The word λῃστής was used a number of times by Josephus (J. W. 2.13.2–3 [2.253–254]) to describe the revolutionaries or guerrilla fighters who, from mixed motives of nationalism and greed, kept the rural districts of Judea in constant turmoil.
This is a parenthetical note by the author.

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