Some scholars wonder why the Gospels' accounts of Jesus' trial (possibly a brief hearing) seem to contradict later Jewish laws. But in the first place, it is unlikely that these first-century aristocrats were as concerned with legal procedure as later rabbis were. It is also unlikely that they would have agreed with all the careful stipulations of later rabbinic legal theories. Perhaps most important, the Gospel writers probably intended to convey breach of procedure, not to pretend that the mock trial and abuse they depict were standard Jewish custom (see Hooker 1983:86; Rhoads and Michie 1982:120-21). Based on what we know of first-century Jerusalem leaders' practice, the Gospels' portrait of Jesus' trial actually fits quite well (see E. Sanders 1992:487). The Romans usually executed only those brought to them as condemned by the local aristocracies.
The people respected the law teachers, elders and priests as their spiritual leaders (representatives of these groups constituted the Sanhedrin), but here most of these spiritual leaders prove too hostile to Jesus to concern themselves with legal ethics. Although exceptions historically existed (Mk 15:43), the overwhelming picture of religious leaders in the Gospels provides a warning to us today. Many follow those in eminent positions, and if we in authority positions in the church dare forget whose servants we are, we can easily become enemies of our own Lord, vying for the power and honor that rightfully belong to him alone (Mt 21:38).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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