The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Trial of Jesus

All the four gospels seem to agree that Jesus was first tried by Jewish authorities and then by a Roman court before being sentenced to death by crucifixion. On closer examination, these agreements can be seen to be very superficial. We have, in effect, three different sequence of events.

The first sequence is given in Mark who, in this event, is followed very closely by Matthew. According to this sequence, Jesus was taken to the high priest's house immediately after his arrest. There, in the middle of the night, the whole Sanhedrin was already assembled waiting to try him (Mark 14:53-54; Matthew 26:57). He was questioned by the high priest, confronted with supposed witnesses and finally condemned to death for blasphemy (Mark 14:55-65; Matthew 26:59-68). The next morning, a Friday and the 15th of Nisan, the Sanhedrin had another meeting where they decided to hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilate the procurator (governor) of Judea (Mark 15:1; Matthew 27:1-2). He was tried before the procurator who, at the instigation of the crowd, reluctantly handed Jesus the sentence of death by crucifixion (Mark 15:2-15; Matthew 27:11-16).

The second sequence is given by Luke. Luke agreed with Mark and Matthew by stating that Jesus was taken to the high priest's house after he was arrested (Luke 22:54). However, there is no mention in this gospel of the night time trial of the Sanhedrin. According to Luke the Sanhedrin only met at day break on Friday. Furthermore, no witnesses were mentioned as being called. According to the council Jesus had confessed his blasphemy (Luke 22:66-71). They than handed him over to Pilate (Luke 23:1-2). After a short interrogation Pilate told the representatives of the Sanhedrin that he can find no basis for their charge (Luke 23:3-5). After finding out that he was a Galilean, Pilate handed Jesus over to Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee who was in Jerusalem, presumably for the passover festival (Luke 23:6-7). Herod ridiculed and mocked Jesus but he too found nothing in Jesus' actions that deserved the death penalty (Luke 23:8-15).

The third sequence is given in the gospel of John. In this version Jesus was taken, after his arrest, to the house of the Annas, father-in-law of the high priest, Caiaphas (John 18:12-14). No mention is made of the presence of the Sanhedrin in this house or any night time trial. Annas then sent Jesus over to Caiaphas (John 18:19-24). From here, Jesus was taken to the residence of Pilate (John 18:28). Pilate, as in the other versions, could not find Jesus guilty but gave in at the insistence of the crowd and sent Jesus to be crucified. (John 18:28-19:16).

All there versions are equally incompatible. No mention is made in John of any trial or interrogation by the Sanhedrin. The whole "trial" in John was really just an informal interrogation by Annas alone. Trying to reconcile Mark's (and Matthew's) and Luke's versions is also impossible. In the first place Luke makes the Sanhedrin interrogate Jesus on Friday morning in exactly the same way the gospels of Mark and Matthew made the council do the night before. Given below are the two interrogations:

Mark 14:61-64
[On Thursday night]
Again the high priest asked him, "are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed one?" "I am." said Jesus...The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. "You have heard the blasphemy."

Luke 22:66-71
[On Friday morning]
At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together and Jesus was led before them...They all asked, "Are you the Son of God?" He replied, "You are right in saying that I am." Then they said, "Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his lips."

In the second place Luke did not give any hint that there was a meeting the night before.

The table below shows the three differing and contradictory sequences.

Mark's ChronologyLuke's ChronologyJohn's Chronology
Thursday Night
(14th/15th Nisan)
  • Taken to high priest's house
  • Night trial of the Sanhedrin
Thursday Night
(14th/15th Nisan)
  • Taken to high priest's house
  • No mention of trial at night.
Thursday Night
(13th/14th Nisan)
  • Taken to the high priest's father-in-law's house.
  • Informal interrogation by the high priest.
Friday Morning
(15th Nisan)
  • "consultation" with scribes, elders and the whole council
  • Handed Jesus to Pilate
  • Trial before Pilate
Friday Morning
(15th Nisan)
  • Trial before the Sanhedrin
  • Handed Jesus to Pilate
  • Trial before Pilate
Friday Morning
(14th Nisan)
  • Handed Jesus to Pilate
  • Trial before Pilate

In conclusion we have three separate and mutually incompatible accounts of the trial of Jesus. [1] Obviously at least two of these accounts must be false. There is no logical reason why all three cannot be wrong as well.

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References

1.Guignebert, Jesus: p461-463

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