The Jewish Leaders Ask Pilate to Mutilate Jesus' Body (19:31)
Death by crucifixion could take a very long time, but the Romans did not mind this because it added to the deterrent value. But sometimes the Romans would smash the victim's legs with a heavy hammer, which prevented the person from pushing up in order to breathe and thereby caused death from suffocation within minutes (Edwards, Gabel and Hosmer 1986:1461). The Jewish opponents ask Pilate to have the soldiers speed up the dying process in this way in order to get the bodies disposed of before the next day, which was a special Sabbath. In the law it says the body of a person put to death and hung on a tree must not be left on the tree overnight. "Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance" (Deut 21:23). This law applies to any day of the year, so how much more to a special feast day. These Jewish leaders continue to be greatly concerned with ritual purity (cf. 18:28), but more may be involved as well. They might intend that such mutilation would emphasize the point already made clear by the crucifixion itself—that Jesus was accursed (Beasley-Murray 1987:354).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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