MATTHEW 27:1-2
Pp Mark 15:1, Luke 22:66-71

Harmony of Matthew 27:1-31 with the other three Gospel records

I’ve dealt with comparisons of the three Jewish hearings on my previous web page where I’ve noticed the difficulty in any attempt at defining the difference between the structure and format of the second and third hearings but the necessity of seeing an early morning trial taking place within the Temple Courts in the Chamber of Hewn Stone where the official Great Sanhedrin met to decide on cases which involved a false prophet (Sanhedrin 1:5) and, probably, blasphemy, though death sentences could be decided upon by a court of twenty-three (Sanhedrin 1:4).

Although the differences of the court structures are impossible to determine (but a meeting of twenty-three Jewish officials at the second of the three hearings seems to be the most logical), the purpose for which this third of the Jewish hearings had been convened seems to be in no doubt. Luke 22:66-71 which gives the fullest account of what takes place early in the morning (Luke infers that the sun had risen when they came together to meet) records the words spoken but not the purpose for which it was called. The Jewish authorities seem to be concerned to make sure that the charges which they’d presumably heard as being proven by the second hearing before Caiaphas were justified, but Luke says no more than this and it’s down to Mark 15:1 which speaks of a ‘consultation’ being held and Mtw 27:1 which notes that the court ‘took put Him to death’ to convey to the reader that this meeting seems to have been for the sole purpose of determining what charges they might be able to bring against Jesus when they brought Him before the Roman governor later that morning.

I’ve already noted on my web page dealing with the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane that the presence of Roman soldiers amongst the party is a good indication that Pilate was already aware that a renegade insurrectionary leader may be brought before him in the next few hours for sentencing, so it would have been something which was expected.

But, for now, the Jews know that a charge of blasphemy would carry no weight before Pilate (John 18:30-31) and a charge had to be formulated that would put Pilate into a position whereby he would be forced to sentence Him to death. Judging from the frequent use of the word ‘King’ in connection with Jesus - a title which, incidentally, He’d never taken upon Himself though others had put it on Him (for example, John 6:15, 12:13) - the Jewish leaders seem to have been attempting to condemn Him through the charge of setting up a Kingdom in opposition to Roman sovereignty with Himself as ruler. Excluding the derogatory words of bystanders at the crucifixion, Matthew uses the word for ‘king’ three times, Mark five, Luke three and John twelve and these are usually on the lips of either Pilate or the Jewish religious leaders.

Notice especially John 18:33,37 where Pilate asks the question

‘Are you the King of the Jews?’

John 19:12 where the Jews make the statement

‘...everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar’

and Luke 23:2 where the Jews accuse Jesus of

‘...saying that He Himself is Christ, a king’

There are three accusations in this last verse, incidentally, but it’s only this theme of being a king that’s developed at the trial before Pilate probably because it’s the one which they felt was the most certain to be proven and for which they were expecting that Jesus would give Pilate evidence.

If Pilate fully understood the Jewish expectations of a future Messiah who would take back the right of self-determination for the Jewish people and, if Jesus could be shown to be claiming to be such a person, the sentence of death couldn’t be avoided. What actually happens when Pilate questions Him, however, is not what the religious leaders were hoping for.

But it’s in the morning meeting that the charges are brought together with which to present Him before the Roman governor. As I’ve said above, the meeting took place in the Chamber of Hewn Stone within the Temple Courts. Middoth 5:3-4 notes that

‘There were six chambers in the Temple Court, three to the north and three to the south. Those to the north were the Salt Chamber, the Parwah Chamber and the Rinsing Chamber...Those to the south were the Wood Chamber, the Golah Chamber and the Chamber of Hewn Stone...The Chamber of Hewn stone - there used the Great Sanhedrin of Israel to sit and judge the priesthood’

and the reader will note that the map places its location in this general area along the southern retaining wall. There’s a passage in this place which I found humourous (but you’re probably aware by now that I have a strange sense of humour) and, even though it doesn’t add to the information needed in a discussion of this hearing, I’ll mention it here. When one reads above of the existence of the ‘Wood Chamber’, the reader will probably have automatically envisaged a storehouse for timber which was, perhaps, used either on the altar or for repairs to the Temple. Middoth 5:3 (my italics), however, notes

‘The Wood Chamber - R Eliezer ben Jacob said: I forget what was its use...’

a statement which seems to be as bad as saying that one had no idea what was sold at the Hamburger place down the road. Until, that is, the next line is read where

‘Abba Saul [ben Batnith] said: It was the chamber of the high priest and it lay behind the other two...’

and shows that, although the chambers had specific names, they appear to have either changed use or have been named for the material they were predominantly built with. If this was the high priest’s chamber, however, it meant that he could have kept a close eye on the proceedings without having to take part in the morning hearing.

But why do we place the hearing in this Chamber of Hewn Stone? Weren’t there other courts in which Jesus could have been sentenced? Sanhedrin 11:2 notes the existence of three main courts in Jerusalem

‘ used to sit at the gate of the Temple Mount [at the east gate in front of the Court of the Women - Danby], one used to sit at the gate of the Temple Court [the entrance to the Court of the Gentiles - Danby] and one used to sit in the Chamber of Hewn Stone [Danby’s footnote is incorrect here for he places it north of the Court of the Israelites]’

where the order in which they’re mentioned is the order in which they were approached - if the court of the Temple Mount couldn’t answer the problem, the court of the Temple Court was referred to and, finally, the court in the Chamber of Hewn Stone. But why couldn’t one of the other two have been the place where Jesus was sentenced? Sanhedrin 11:4 states that

‘He [who was found guilty of death] was not condemned to death either by the court that was in his own city or by the court that was in Jabneh [which sat there from 70-118AD - Danby] but he was brought up to the Great Court that was in Jerusalem’

where the title ‘Great Court’ can only realistically refer to the one in the Chamber of Hewn Stone. There’s an interesting appendix to this command, however, for Sanhedrin 11:4 notes that the condemned was

‘...kept in guard until one of the [three] Feasts and he was put to death on one of the [three] Feasts...’

that all Israel might see the execution and stand in fear. However, Rabbi Judah disagreed with this - he said that the person should be put to death immediately and that a declaration of such should be taken to every place within the land of Israel.

In one sense, this only represents the ‘perfect’ scenario for we’ve already seen on a previous page that the giving of the death penalty was taken away from the Jewish people around forty years before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD (John 18:31).

Matthew and Mark move Jesus very quickly away from that early morning hearing to a meeting before Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Judea and the reader will notice from the map that I’ve placed his presence in the Antonia Fortress which abutted the northern end of the Temple Mount. This is the traditional place for the series of hearings before Pilate and the one I’ll be using throughout the remaining pages dealing with the hearing, but there’s an alternative view which sees the Governor’s residence as being to the west of the city where I’ve placed Herod’s Palace and where there’s also evidence that the praetorium was located - this is the significance of the Greek word employed in John 18:28,33 which is rendered by ‘praetorium’ in the RSV.

Vines comments on this word that it

‘...signified originally a general’s (praetor’s) tent. Then it was applied to the council of army officers; then to the official residence of the Governor of a Province; finally to the imperial bodyguard’

That the word is used correctly to denote the official residence of the Jerusalem Governor, Pilate, is not in doubt - but as to the precise location of that residence, there’s a range of opinion. Good cases can be made out for both the Antonia Fortress and Herod’s Palace.

A consideration of even some logical arguments as to the practicalities of the events which have just transpired - or which are about to - are inconclusive. For one may reason against Antonia Fortress that Pilate would have been hardly likely to have risked transporting Jesus across the city to Herod’s Palace when He was being charged as an insurrectionary leader but, at the same time, realise that, if a rebellion was to start at the festival, Antonia Fortress was the place to be to control it and to quickly bring it to nothing.

Johnmor points out that both Philo and Josephus record incidents associated with the Roman Governor within Herod’s palace but, as the residency would have only been temporary - his main quarters being at Caesarea - where he actually stayed could have been different on occasions as the need arose. Besides, the ancient historians are also cited to note that the cohort of troops were stationed within Antonia during the Festivals and the word employed to denote a cohort in John 18:12 before which Jesus is mocked (see here) is the same as that used in Mtw 27:27.

Archaeology also seems to be unable to shed light on this at the present time but the point is hardly an important one - whether we locate the praetorium east or west of the city, the distances are still sufficiently small to allow enough time for all the events to have taken place within the timescale mentioned.

Early in the morning, then, the Jewish Sanhedrin met to formalise their charges against Jesus which would represent the main thrust of their submission before Pilate. The Roman Governor would have already been expecting some sort of approach that morning due to the request for a large body of troops the following evening to secure the arrest of an insurrectionary leader on the western side of the city and their approach would certainly not have taken him by surprise.

What will be a surprise to him, however, is that the Person they’ve arrested is nothing like the sort of Man he’d imagined Him to be.

Harmony of Matthew 27:1-31 with the other three Gospel records

With only a few explanatory comments, the chronology of the time Jesus spent in Jerusalem from the time of the Triumphal entry to this point has been fairly straightforward. From now on, however, there are a multiplicity of witnesses that need some attempt at reconciliation that the reader might have in his own mind a framework in which they might be understood.

Here, we’ll look at the chronology of Mtw 27:1-31 which deals with the time from early morning to the point at which Jesus is taken out from the Antonia Fortress to be crucified and attempt a harmonisation with the other three Gospel narratives.

  Matthew Mark Luke John
1 - The morning trial 27:1-2 15:1 22:66-71  
2 - Judas' remorse 27:3-10      
3 - The first hearing and accusation before Pilate 27:11-14 15:1-5 23:1-5 18:28-32
4 - Herod     23:6-12  
5 - Pilate calls together the Jewish leaders     23:13-17  
6 - The first private trial before Pilate       18:33-38
7 - Barabbas 27:15-23 15:6-14 23:18-23 18:38-40
8* - The scourging 27:26 15:15   19:1
9† - The first mocking       19:2-3
10 - Pilate and the crowd       19:4-7
11 - The second private trial before Pilate       19:8-11
12 - Pilate washes his hands 27:24-25      
13 - Pilate's decision 27:26 15:15 23:24-25 19:12-16
14† - The second mocking 27:27-31 15:16-20    

* Scourging took place during the trial, Matthew and Mark including it in the narrative after the trial, however. Johnmor quoting Lenski notes that ‘...Jesus was not scourged in order to be crucified but in order to escape crucifixion’. The scourging could only have taken place once due to its severity and was one of Pilate’s efforts to have Christ released.

† The mocking took place in two parts, one during the trial and the other before crucifixion, as the end verses of each event show the impossibility of a harmonisation of the records being a reference to one and the same event.