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Supplemental Note on the Sanhedrin “Trial”

As was discussed in the recent daily note in this series, there are three different versions of the “Trial” (or examination/interrogation) of Jesus before the ruling authorities of the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin). In each of these versions there is a distinct order and arrangement of traditional material:

In Mark/Matthew, there is a night session of the Council, assembled quickly, it would seem (Mk 14:53), soon after Jesus’ arrest on the evening beginning the Passover (Nisan 15). It is presented as a formal trial, with witnesses and announcement of sentence. The central scene has the High Priest (identified as Caiaphas by Matthew, 26:57) questioning Jesus directly (Mk 14:60-62). A second session (consultation) is mentioned in 15:1, after which Jesus is sent to the governor Pilate, where the Council would present their case (and the criminal charge) against Jesus.

In Luke, by contrast, there is only one session of the Council recorded, corresponding to the night session of Mk 14:53-65 par, but Luke has it set specifically in the morning (“as it came to be day”, 22:66). This fits with the Lukan order of events, which has the session take place after Peter’s denial.

The Gospel of John has nothing corresponding to the Synoptic episode, but instead records a separate interrogation of Jesus (by the Chief Priest Annas, described as the father-in-law of Caiaphas, 18:13). There is very little in common between this scene and the Synoptic account, except a general similarity of outline with Mark/Matthew—questioning, Jesus’ response, mistreatment (striking) of Jesus. Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene, indicating that they are taking place simultaneously.

For those concerned with harmonizing the Gospel accounts, it is relatively simple to blend Luke’s version together with that of John, but extremely difficult to reconcile either Luke or John with the order/arrangement in Mark/Matthew. Consider how the events in Luke and John might be put together:

  • NIGHT-TIME
    • Jesus is bound and taken to the house of the Chief Priest Annas where he is held in custody—Jn 18:12-14
    • Peter is waiting the Chief Priest’s (Annas, not Caiaphas) courtyard outside—Jn 18:15-16; Lk 22:54-55
    • Peter’s First denial, while he waits—Jn 18:17-18; Lk 22:56-57
    • Jesus is interrogated by Annas—Jn 18:19-21
    • While this is going on(?), Peter’s second and third denials take place outside—Jn 18:25-27; Lk 22:58-62
    • Mistreatment/abuse of Jesus by the “police” holding him in custody—Jn 18:22-23; Lk 22:63-65 (details differ between the two at this point)
    • Jesus is bound and sent to Caiaphas—Jn 18:24
  • MORNING
    • Jesus is question by the Council, led by the High Priest Caiaphas (to be inferred, cf. the Synoptic account)—Lk 22:66-70
    • [This may include witnesses/testimony as in the Synoptic account, cf. the wording in Lk 22:71]
    • Determination that Jesus is worthy of being sentenced to death—Lk 22:71
    • Jesus is bound and taken to the governor Pilate where the Council will present its case—Lk 23:1; Jn 18:28a

Insofar as it is possible to get back to the historical level of the tradition, in an objective sense, this would probably be a fair reconstruction. The problem lies in evaluating the Synoptic evidence of the Council session held at night (which Luke sets in the morning). Most critical scholars would hold that the Lukan order is almost certainly more accurate, and that, in many respects, John’s account, with its wealth of unique local detail (cf. Jn 18:10b, 12-13, 15b-16, 26, 28b, etc) may be closest to the original historical tradition. The reasons for preferring John’s chronology, in which all these events occur on the day before Passover (Nisan 14), rather than on Passover itself, have been discussed in an earlier note. At the same time, it is hard to explain the curious inclusion of the Synoptic Temple-saying report if it were not part of the historical tradition regarding an accusation/charge brought against Jesus by the Council. If Luke were aware of this tradition—which would be the case if he made use of the Gospel of Mark (cf. also Acts 6:14)—one can only guess as to why it was left out in his account. Perhaps the similarity of language and thought with portions of the speeches by Stephen (7:48-50) and Paul (17:24-25) in Acts prompted him to omit the “false” report of the saying (= a false saying by Jesus?) in Mk 14:58 par.

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