Jesus is arrested in a garden and brought before the emeritus high priest Annas. Then he is led to the serving high priest Caiaphas. Next, Pilate questions him, finds no basis for an accusation against him, and intends to release him because of a Jewish custom. The Jewish establishment and their allies shout for the insurrectionist Barabbas to be released, instead.
As I write in every introduction:
This translation and commentary are for everyone who needs an online reference, but the commentary is mainly for readers in developing and persecuting countries, where Christians cannot afford or do not have access to excellent printed Study Bibles or commentaries. The main goal is missional.
The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.
Readers can go to biblehub.com and use the interlinear link to look up every Greek word, and then the links go to every occurrence of the word. They can also visit biblegateway.com for many translations.
A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Is Arrested and Brought before Annas (John 18:1-14)
1 After saying these things, Jesus left with his disciples beyond the Kidron ravine where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered. 2 Judas, the one who handed him over, also knew of the place, because Jesus and his disciples often went there. 3 Then Judas, taking a cohort and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, because he knew everything coming upon him, went out and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am he.” Judas, the one betraying him, was also standing with them. 6 So when he said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 8 Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. Since then you are looking for me, let these go.” 9 This was to fulfill his word which he said, “I lost none of those whom you have given me.” 10 Then Simon Peter, because he had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The name of the servant was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword in its sheath. The cup which the Father has given me—will I not drink it?”
12 Then the cohort and the commander and officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who counseled the Jews that it was advantageous that one man should die for the people.
Since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean. I repost this word study here, as I do in nearly every chapter because this online, so cost per page is not a factor.
The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. Now let’s study them more formally. The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us.
A true acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
One has to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” Instead, everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son.
Now let’s move on.
Jesus said these things—this refers to the words in the upper room, mare particularly the prayer of consecration in John 17, but also all the way back to the words in John 13 through 17.
Kidron is mentioned in the Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah gent and abbreviated LXX for seventy and is a third to second century, BC, translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek.) One sample verse: 2 Sam. 15:23). The name literally means the stream that flows in the winter. It goes toward the Dead Sea on the east.
The garden must refer to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus and his disciples spent their time during Passover Week (Mark 14:32 // Matt. 26:36; Luke 21:37). The Synoptics call it Gethsemane. Jesus and the twelve spent the night there during his other visits to Jerusalem, which John records. Judas knew of the place as well, so he is leading the arresting party to the Lord and the eleven.
I admire the health and robustness of Jesus and the disciples. I wonder if I would have been comfortable sleeping out in the open for a week and at other times. I need my comfort.
As for the cohort, Bruce, who was educated in the classics and was a mighty fine historian, says that the word cohort is proof positive that the Romans sent a contingent of soldiers to arrest Jesus and the eleven. On paper, the cohort added up to 1000 men (760 infantry, 240 cavalry), but no doubt just a slice of these men went with the officers of the temple—the police force overseen by the chief priests and Pharisees. Some commentators estimate a “maniple” (a part of a cohort) of about 200, but then this number needs to be reduced. The point is that the authorities believed they were dealing with a dangerous revolutionary.
As for who these religious groups were, please see this post:
So we have two separate groups in the arresting party: the Roman and Jewish authorities. Judas, as their guide, took them to the garden and Jesus and the eleven, since he knew where they had often stayed.
Mounce points out that some commentators see a connection between Jesus’s victorious struggle in the garden with Adam’s failure in his Garden of Eden. Insightful, but you can make of this what you will.
Klink (comment on v. 2) emphasizes the connection because of the garden here in v. 2 and the garden implied in 19:15 and stated in 19:41. “As we will soon understand, both gardens saw the production of life and death but the second reversed the order of the first: the first garden [Eden] was the place where death was born out of life, and the second garden was the place where life was born out of death” (emphasis original). … “A garden is even a fitting description of the new creation (Rev. 21-22),”
This section of the pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) teaches us that Jesus is in command of the tense situation. The temple officers and police call him Jesus the Nazarene, which equals “Jesus of Nazareth.”
In v. 6, as soon as Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. At the end of this pericope I have pasted the Scriptures supporting the “I am he,” which in Greek literally reads “I am.”
Many Renewalists use this verse to defend being “slain in the Spirit,” which means that people, when they come under the power of the Spirit, fall to the ground. I have seen this up close, and I have even prayed for people who collapsed without my pushing or even touching them, in a healing context. However, this verse is talking about taking command of enemies, not healing. So I am cautious about using this verse as a proof-text. At the time of this writing, I am challenging the Lord (in prayer) to show me where people fell back or down when he healed them and power flowed out of him (e.g. Luke 5:17; 6:19; 8:46). There is no verse. However, I recognize that the glory and power and voice of God appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration and the three disciples fell to the ground (Matt. 17:6). And the glory cloud filled the temple, so that the priests could not stand in the temple and minister (1 Kings 8:9-10). Daniel fell to the ground and went into a deep sleep the moment he saw a divine man (10:9). Ezekiel fell to the ground when he saw the glory of the Lord (1:28). Saul (later Paul) fell to the ground when Jesus, from heaven, shone a light around him (Acts 9:4). John fell to the ground as though dead when he saw the risen Son of Man (Rev. 1:17).
But I am still puzzled about the Scriptural support for people falling to the ground when prayer for healing takes place—specifically in the context of healing. So far, I have no answer.
Jesus had enough presence of mind to tell the arresters to allow the eleven to go. “Provided his disciples’ safety was assured, he would not seek his own” (Bruce, comment on vv. 10-11). John says that Jesus did this, not only to protect his disciples, but also to fulfill his word. “Fulfill” is used of Scripture being fulfilled (v. 32), which indicates Jesus’s words are on the same level of Scripture. The verses where Jesus predicted that he did not lose any of the disciples (except Judas are these: John 6:39; 17:12. Go to these links and scroll down to the verse to read them in context:
As promised, here are the Scriptures (all NIV and emphasis added):
Who has done this and carried it through,
calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord—with the first of them
and with the last—I am he.” (Is. 41:4)
10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?” (Is. 43:10-13, see v. 25)
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Is. 46:4)
“Listen to me, Jacob,
Israel, whom I have called:
I am he;
I am the first and I am the last.
13 My own hand laid the foundations of the earth,
and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I summon them,
they all stand up together. (Is. 48:12-13)
12 “I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
human beings who are but grass,
13 that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretches out the heavens
and who lays the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction? (Is. 51:12-13)
Verse 9: “fulfill his word”: the word is logos again, which reminds me of John 1:1. Jesus is the Logos. Further, the “fulfill” word speaks of putting Jesus’s word on the same level of Scripture, since often the verb is used of fulfilling the OT (Klink, comment on v. 9).
Malchus was a servant of the high priest. How did John know his name? Probably because Malchus joined the earliest Messianic community, when thousand converted (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7 [many priests]; 21:20). But unfortunately we can never know for sure with our available information.
In any case, John calls him a servant. Let me take a little time to review what I have said elsewhere when the term comes up. The word servant here is doulos (pronounced doo-loss) and could be translated as slaves, but I chose servant because in Jewish culture a Hebrew man who sold himself into servitude to his fellow Jew was like an indentured servant whose term of service had a limit; he was freed in the seventh year. But then the indentured servant could stay with his family, if he liked his owner (Exod. 21:2-6; Lev. 25:38-46; Deut. 15:12-18). So there was a lot of liberty even in servitude, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). And no doubt Malchus occupied a prominent place in a powerful and prestigious household, so he enjoyed his servitude.
It is a sure thing, however, that John’s Greek-speaking audience, knowledgeable about Greek culture, would have heard “slave” in the word doulos. So if you wish to interpret it like that, then that’s your decision. But culturally at that time slavery had nothing to do with colonial or modern slavery.
The cup of suffering comes up in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Here is a sample verse: “He said, ‘Abba Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. However, not what I want, but what you want’” (Mark 14:36). The Old Testament’s imagery of the cup speaks of divine wrath (Ps. 11:6; 75:7-8; Is. 51:17-19, 22; Jer. 25:15-16, 27-29; 49:12; 51:57; Lam. 4:21; Ezek. 23:31-34; Hab. 2:16; Zech. 12:2; Rev. 14:9-10; cf. Job 21:20; Ps. 60:3; Is. 63:6; Ob. 16;). God was about to pour out his wrath on his Son. And His was about to absorb it. But God’s wrath is not about losing his temper; it is judicious and evaluative.
Finally, when Peter took action as he did, the Roman cohort stepped forward and helped with the arrest. Apparently they really did let the eleven go. Or maybe Peter was left alone, while the other ten fled when Jesus requested that the authorities let them go. If son, Peter does get credit for standing his ground. He was ready—only at that moment—to die with Jesus, as he predicted (13:37). The problem was—he lost his nerve when he was separated from Jesus, as the rest of this chapter will show.
Jesus was bound and led him to Annas.
You can read about Caiaphas’s unwitting prophecy in John 11:49-53.
“Annas and Caiaphas”: They were the high priests and were from the ruling class of the priestly families, overseeing the temple and sacrifices and offerings. They also belonged to the Sanhedrin, the highest court and council of Israel. Annas (Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24; Acts 4:6) ruled from A.D. 6-15 and succeeded in getting his five sons appointed chief priests and son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas (high priest from A.D. 18-36/37). Some have criticized Scripture because Luke 3:2 says because Annas and Caiaphas were joint high priests. In reply, however, the Romans deposed Annas, even though the high priest ruled for life. So it is best way to answer the question is that Annas was the power behind his son-in-law. Another explanation is that Annas was given the title of high priest out of respect, since he should have ruled for life. Finally, Ananias, one of Annas’s sons, was the high priest when Paul was brought before the him (Acts 23:2; 24:1). Family connections had their privileges, and these families ruled over the lucrative temple (Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary).
Once again, please read this post to find about more about this high priestly family.
“for the people” indicates that Jesus’s death takes our place or stands in for us or substitutes for us.
There are other theories on the atonement, and each has its place, but the one about Christ being our substitute is essential to our salvation. The entire Day of Atonement ritual shows that the animal dies in place of the high priest.
Go to John 11 and scroll down vv. 49-53 to see a discussion on limited atonement and how this doctrine is shortsighted.
GrowApp for John 18:1-14
A.. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus took charge of the situation. Do you allow him to take charge of your life during your trials?
Peter’s Denial of Jesus (John 18:15-18)
15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. That disciple was known to the chief priest. Jesus entered the courtyard of the high priest. 16 But Peter was standing at the door, outside. Then the other disciples, known to the high priest, spoke to the doorkeeper, and let Peter enter. 17 Then the servant girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You’re not also one of the disciples of that man, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now some slaves and officers standing there, after they made a charcoal fire because it was cold, were warming themselves. Peter was standing with them, warming himself.
Peter showed courage to follow Jesus, so let’s give him partial credit. In this pericope, he will deny Jesus, so the credit can go only so far. The more interesting question is—who was the other disciple? We will never know for sure. Bruce says it was probably not the beloved disciple, who leaned on Jesus’s chest in the upper room and asked who the betrayer was (13:23). If it were the beloved disciple, John may have mentioned him. Evidently, he was a follower in Jerusalem who had entered the top level of society, and the author of the Gospel (John) got some of this information from him. His being known to the high priest indicates more than just a casual acquaintance we all have of a clerk at our usual grocery store. In Luke 2:44 the word “known” is used of kinfolk. In any case, he was able to walk in unquestioned. Peter had remained outside because he did not want to be presumptuous. The other disciple went back and spoke to the doorkeeper who was a female servant. One word from the other disciple, and Peter was brought inside the courtyard.
Who was the high priest? It was Annas at this time, though he was not the officially reigning high priest; Caiaphas was. In Luke 3:2 and Acts 4:6, Annas is afforded the title “high priest” in association with Caiaphas. The point: Annas was high priest emeritus and was the father-in-law of Caiaphas.
Bruce says it was probably not the Beloved Disciple or John the Son of Zebedee. However, other commentators find a different answer. John uses the term “other disciple” in 20:2, 3, 4, 8 and the race with Peter to the tomb. Most likely this was John, the son of Zebedee, in those verses in Chapter 20, and here in v. 15. So the question now becomes: how could John, a fisherman from Galilee, be known in the highest levels of priestly society? Mounce and Morris (their comments on v. 15) suggest that John was connected to the priestly families in this way. Salome was John’s mother (Matt. 20:20) and sister to Mary (John 19:25), the mother of Jesus (Matt. 27:55-56 // Mark 15:40-41); and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, was a relative of Mary (Luke 1:36), as well and was of Aaronic lineage (Luke 1:5). Therefore, John may have regularly gone up to Jerusalem before following Jesus and kept up the priestly and family connections and from his fishing business brought salted fish to the priestly families.
For me, this line of evidence is stretched, but I cannot rule it out.
Others have suggested that the other disciple could be Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea (see Carson, comment on vv. 15-16, though he is in favor of John son of Zebedee).
Morris mentions another theory which omits John’s priestly connection by family. Instead it is more of a lucky business connection. A brisk fishing trade took place between the Galilean fishermen and Jerusalemites, and John sold to the highest level of priestly families, including to Annas and Caiaphas (comment on v. 15, note 30). The class structure was not rigid back then as it was in Victorian times. So John was well known to the household staff. Carson agrees.
You can take this debate as you will.
Bruce speculates that the servant-girl knew that the other disciple was a disciple of Jesus. She asked her question with words that expect a negative answer. Peter got the hint and said he was not a disciple. However, I’m not sure the other disciple would reveal that he was follower of Jesus to the high priest’s household. Too risky. If he did, then he definitely showed more courage than Peter did!
The surroundings of high society must have intimidated Peter, so he was on his slide downwards to denying Jesus. He lost his nerve.
The image of the charcoal fire was etched in the memory of the early disciples: Mark 14:54 and Luke 22:55 mention it. Bruce correctly says that that this night-time denial indicates that the high priest’s examination of Jesus initially happened at night. The Roman procurator Pilate, as did all governors, began his examination from dawn to around 10:00 or 11:00. The other Gospels, particularly Mark, also include a snap examination before the Sanhedrin, the highest court and council of Judaism. There was definitely time for all of the quick mini-trials.
As for Peter’s sequence of denials collating with the other Gospels, they can be reconciled, once we realize that the Gospel writers compress and expand time and the sequence and omit and include data, per their own sources or their own purposes. But let’s discuss this in vv. 25-27.
GrowApp for John 18:15-18
A.. Peter was in high society, outside of his comfort zone, and lost his nerve. What about you? Would you lose your nerve and deny Jesus in certain circumstances? How do you strengthen your faith so that you can affirm your faith in him, no matter what?
The High Priest Questions Jesus (John 18:19-24)
19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have been speaking publicly to the world. I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews gather and I have spoken nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have been listening to what I have saying to them. See, they know what I have been saying.” 22 When Jesus said these things, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a slap, saying, “Do you answer the high priest in this way?” 23 Jesus replied to him, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong, but if rightly, why do you hit me?”
24 Then Annas sent him, bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.
Annas was not an intelligent examiner—at least in this passage. A defendant was not supposed to incriminate himself, yet Annas was fishing around for Jesus to speak of his own public teaching. Then Annas asked about his disciples because he wanted to learn how big the movement was, and whether it was subversive.
Jesus’s reply was brilliant. The high priest should call witnesses to testify against him. He was not going to testify against himself. In other words, this snap cross-examination was in shambles because Annas had no witnesses. (Later, according to the Synoptics, witnesses will step forward, but apparently not at this early stage.)
Jesus spoke publicly to the world means to everyone, as in 7:4 and 12:19, yet John may intend it to mean the world on a deeper level, the place of darkness and opposition to the ways of God, in contrast to the kingdom of God. He spoke in private to his disciples, so the word “in secret” must not be over-interpreted. The private teaching would not influence the larger world; the main thing was Jesus’s public teaching, which could stir up trouble. Mounce says Jesus’s words do not contradict the fact that he did teach in private. Rather, Jesus is simply saying that he did not have two kinds of teachings—a private revolutionary version and a public peaceful version.
The one of the officers gave Jesus a slap on the face. This reminds me of Paul’s situation when he stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, as follows:
1 Paul stared down the high council and said: “Men, brothers! With an entirely good conscience I live as a citizen to God to this day. 2 The high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike his mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is about to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit judging me by the law, and breaking the law, you order me to be struck?” 4 The ones standing nearby said, “You insult the high priest of God?” 5 And Paul said, “I had not known, brothers, that he is the high priest. For it is written, ‘You shall not verbally abuse the ruler of the people.’” [Exod. 22:28] (Acts 23:1-5)
Paul had not realized that the man he had called a white-washed wall was the high priest. Here, however, Jesus used no insulting language in insulting the emeritus high priest, so Jesus offered no apology. He simply appealed to fairness. If he really did say something wrong, the officer should testify about it; if not, then don’t strike him. The injustice was on the court’s side. The slap was an unjustifiable assault. Jesus followed his own teaching: “But I tell you not to resist evil; instead, whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39). This slap occurred in a courtroom setting. He did not intend that his principles have unlimited application. The Sermon on the Mount offered general principles with various applications, not a one-size-fits-all application.
Annas appeared to give up, not getting anywhere with his inept line of questioning. So he sent him to his son-in-law, Caiaphas, who, according to the Synoptics, also hastily assembled the Sanhedrin or part of it.
In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Darrell l. Bock lists the irregularities of Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin. The tractate in the Mishnah is in fact called the Sanhedrin (the Mishnah is a book of oral law and traditions compiled in about AD 200):
Irregularities at Jesus’ Trial
|A||Proceedings in high priest’s house, instead of the temple (m. Sanh. 11.2)|
|B||Jesus was tried without a defense council (m. Sanh. 4.1)|
|C||By pronouncing the divine name, Jesus was accused of blasphemy without actually blaspheming in the technical sense (m. Sanh. 7.5) (but see more on blasphemy, below)|
|D||Verdict came in one day, instead of the required two days (m. Sanh. 4.1)|
|E||Jesus was tried on a feast day (though which exact time the Last Supper was held is debated)|
|F||Contradictory testimony can nullify evidence (m. Sanh. 5.2)|
|G||Pronouncement of guilt by high priest contradicts normal order, which starts with the least senior member (m. Sanh. 4.2)|
|Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 2. (Baker 1996), p. 1792, slightly edited, comment on Luke 22:66.|
Let’s see what Peter is up to.
GrowApp for John 18:19-24
A.. Jesus spoke the words of justice in the face of injustice and mistreatment. How much courage do you have when you are unjustly picked on for your faith?
Peter Denies Jesus Again (John 18:25-27)
25 Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. Then they said to him, “Aren’t you also one of his disciples?” He denied it and said, “I am not!” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” 27 The Peter again denied it. Instantly the rooster crowed.
Peter’s first denial appears in vv. 15-18, and then his storyline is intercalated with Jesus’s storyline. This shows some skillful literary technique.
Peter cut off Malchus’ ear, and Malchus’ relative was there in the Garden of Gethsemane and was now exposing Peter in Annas’ courtyard. No doubt the “other disciple” conveyed this information to John or some else who conveyed it to John. Peter may have put two and two together,
Poor Peter! I pity him. I doubt I could have done much better. He confidently declared that he would never abandon or deny Jesus (13:38), yet the environment of the courtyard of the highest level of society unnerved him. And he did deny Jesus.
Mounce insightfully writes:
Sin binds the human spirit with cords that can be broken only by confession and a genuine return to truthfulness. The joy of the Christian life is often restored only by returning to that moment of untruthfulness and openly acknowledging that the intervening moths or years have been marred by hypocrisy. How many lived have been rendered powerless by an unwillingness to repent and humbly endure the consequences! (comment on v. 25)
As for the sequence of Peter’s denial here and in the Synoptic Gospels, Morris says that all John does is interpose an examination by the high priest Annas between the first and second denials. Matthew and Mark do not have strict time markers, yet Luke says “a little later” between the first and second denial, and the third denial about an hour later than the second. So sandwiching in the examination of Annas here poses no problem, particularly when his large house was probably connected to his son-in-law Caiaphas’ house. Annas just took the first “shot” at Jesus, which the Synoptics do not record, but then the Synoptics focus on Caiaphas’ and the hurriedly assembled Sanhedrin, and John does not mention the details of the trial before Caiaphas (see the table under v. 28).
I have already dealt with harmonizing the four Gospels and the sequence of Peter’s denials and the rooster crowing in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Here are the relevant links:
Matthew 26 (scroll down to vv. 69-70)
Mark 14 (scroll down to vv. 66-68)
Luke 22 (scroll down to vv. 54-65)
My point is that the rhetorical license or freedom exercised by the four Gospel writers should not count against the veracity of their reports. Fair-minded readers laugh at such pretzel-like gymnastics to make the four accounts fit perfectly and precisely. The Gospel writers, God-inspired, gave themselves permission not to quibble about the precise sequence in his own version. Their story-telling or rhetorical purpose was simply to show the intense drama of Peter denying his Lord just in the nick of time to fulfill Jesus’s prediction. Better still, Peter denied Jesus early in the morning at the time when the roosters announce the breaking dawn. That’s the main point of this whole episode in Peter’s life. So what will happen next? Jesus predicted his own death at least three times. If his prediction about Peter was accurate, then so will his prediction about the end be.
Let me finish with simple equations. If you get it, great. If not, scroll past it.
An account having information, while another account covering the same topic (Peter’s denial) does not have the same information, does not add up to a contradiction. A difference, yes, but not a contradiction, particularly when the differences can be possibly reconciled. Mark has two crows, while Matthew and Luke have one. They streamlined the scene and never said “one crow and only one crow, not two of them.” Next, Matthew and Mark have Peter moving away from the fire, while Luke is silent about that. All throughout the four Gospels, some accounts include tidbits of information, while another account omits them.
Information in one account + Silence in another account ≠ Contradiction
Information + Silence ≠ A Contradiction
Information + Silence = A Difference
Information + An omission = A Difference
A Difference ≠ A Contradiction
Differences are guided by the purpose of the biblical authors. Or we may not know why an author omits or includes bits of information. Whatever the case, we should not get panicky about them or deny the truthfulness of the accounts. This mindset does not recognizing the texts as they present themselves but unwisely imposes our post-Enlightenment (c. 1600-1800+) and Postmodern concerns on them.
If those equations help, then good. If not, move on to the next chapter.
See Carson’s commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, pp. 623-24, for how the differences can be sorted out. Or there is probably by now a nice youtube video on the topic. You can look it up (I have not).
In any case, our faith in God and his written Word should not be brittle. It should not break when these differences emerge. Call it the dramatist’s art. All four biblical writers took small liberties to tell their stories, their own way. Please relax a lot more about this. Keep the plain thing the main thing. The plain thing is Peter’s three denials, whether they happened before, during or after the rooster crowed once or twice, or whether Peter was standing just inside or just outside the courtyard of the high priest. The lesson to be learned from the denial: Would we deny Jesus under pressure? If so, God will restore us on our repentance.
Begin a series on the reliability of the Gospels. Start with the Conclusion which has quick summaries and links back to the other parts:
The Gospels have a massive number of agreements in their storylines:
Celebrate the similarities!
See this part in the series that puts differences in perspective (a difference ≠ a contradiction):
But the bigger picture is, as noted, to not allow your faith to become so brittle that it snaps in two because of these puzzles. It’s time to stop demanding no discrepancies or else you will leave the Christian faith. Slow down and relax.
Bottom line: in my opinion, there are no contradictions in the synoptic Gospels covering Peter’s denial–just differences. Don’t allow the post-Enlightenment or the Postmodern critics to mislead you, when they claim that the Gospel writers were plagiarists or deceivers. The critics read these two-thousand-year-old documents in bad faith. Instead the Gospel writers told one united story about Peter’s three denials, regardless of the minutiae.
Evidently, commentator Borchert agrees about the gist of the story being the most important thing for us to learn from.
The point of all the narratives, however, is virtually the same. Peter failed at this stage of his discipleship. He was merely a fallible human whom the church must not remake into something more than a human. Clearly, sometimes he was a miserable failure as a follower of Jesus. But that fact helps us as human failures to realize that we do not have to be perfect to become followers of Jesus or to be accepted by God. Jesus knew Peter’s good intentions, but he also recognized his human insecurities and his resistance to full commitment, even after the resurrection (cf. John 21:21–22). That reality ought to help us find acceptance when we like Peter hear the trumpet blow or the cock [rooster] crow and we are alerted to our failures. (comment on vv. 25-27)
GrowApp for John 18:25-27
A.. Peter finally did it. He denied the Lord. But he will be restored. How has God restored you after your biggest blunder?
Jesus Tried before Pilate (John 18:28-40)
28 Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the governor’s residence. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the residence so that they would not be defiled but they may eat the Passover. 29 Pilate came outside to them and said, “Which accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 In reply, they said to him, “If this man had not committed a crime, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31 So Pilate said to them, “You yourselves take him and judge him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to kill anyone.” 32 (This was said so that the word of Jesus would be fulfilled, which he spoke, indicating which kind of death he was about to die. [John 12:32-33]) 33 Pilate then went back into the residence and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own, or have others spoken to you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your own people and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my subjects would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But as a matter of fact my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate then said to him, “So then you are a king.” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. I have been born for this and have come into the world, so that I should testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
And on saying this, he went back to the Jews and said to them, “I discover no basis for a charge in this case. 39 But there is your custom that I release someone to you at Passover. So do you counsel that I release to you the king of the Jews?” 40 They then shouted again, saying, “Not him, but Barabbas instead!” Barabbas was an insurrectionist.
John includes the quick examination before the emeritus high priest Annas, and the Synoptics omit it. The Synoptics include the examination by Caiaphas, while John omits it. So their narrative are complementary.
Evening and Morning Jewish and Roman Examination of Jesus
|1||Inquiry before Annas (John 18:13)|
|2||Evening meeting with Caiaphas presiding (Mark 14:55 = Matt. 26:59-66)|
|3||Morning confirmation before an official Jewish body, probably Sanhedrin (Mark 15:1b-5 = Matt. 27:1, 2-11 = Luke 23:1-5 = John 18:29-38)|
|4||Initial Meeting with Pilate (Luke 23:6-12)|
|5||Meeting with Herod (Luke 23:6-12)|
|6||A second, more public meeting with Pilate and the people (Luke 23:13-16), and the consequence is to condemn him and release Barabbas: Matt. 27:15-23 = Mark 15:6-14 = Luke 23:17-23 = John 18:39-40|
|Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, Vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 1996), p. 1793, slightly edited, comment on Luke 22:66.|
The chronology of the Synoptics places the major Passover meal on the previous evening, so the meal referred to in v. 28 is another meal during the seven-day Feast of Passover (Mounce, comment on v. 28).
To coordinate the timeline between the Synoptic Gospels and John, see my summary of Carson’s analysis at John 13:1 and 27:
There are two extremes in the battle for the Bible. One is “total inerrancy,” a term that devout theologians and Christian philosophers came up with in 1974 to describe the Bible. Then they and others wrote up a document called “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” (1978) (It is available online). The problem is that the Statement’s drafters attached so many exceptions in their articles that it is difficult to believe that “total” means much. The other extreme is seen in the post-Enlightenment (≈1600-1800+), postmodern (today) hyper-critics who gleefully make too much of unanswered questions. Both extremes place unreasonably heavy demands on documents that are two thousand years old (at least), before the Gutenberg press was invented in the mid-1400s.
I urge a more balanced and realistic approach to the authority and inspiration and infallibility of Scripture. For salvation and faith in Christ and discipleship in him, the Bible is absolutely infallible and inspired and authoritative. On incidental matters and history, it is highly reliable and accurate (e.g. Jerusalem is in the south and Galilee is in the north; ancient civilizations like Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon really existed and struggled with and influenced ancient Israel; Baal really was a pagan deity; Rome dominated first-century Israel, and thousands of other examples). So let’s learn deep, life-changing truths from Scripture and apply them to our lives. Let’s be confident in Scripture in its historical and cultural data. But let’s not place heavy, anachronistic, and modern demands on it. And our faith must not snap in two when tiny, nonessential details don’t quite add up.
My view of Scripture. It’s very high, but I don’t believe in “total” inerrancy or “hyper-inerrancy”:
The Battle for the Bible is an American issue. I encourage all Christians outside of America not to get involved with it.
Now let’s move on.
The temporary residence, called the praetorium here in v. 19, the temporary headquarters of the Roman military governor. Pilate was in Jerusalem during the Passover to keep order in the overflow crowds. The praetorium could be two buildings: (1) Herod’s place on the western wall (the tower Phasael survives as the northeastern tower of the Citadel, south of the Jaffa Gate. (2) The Antonia fortress northwest of the temple, connected to the temple by the steps of Acts 21:35, 40). This website is not equipped with Bible maps, so you can google these places on your own.
It was early in the morning, when the governor began to hear cases. However, the Jews were about to eat the official Passover, for which the lambs were slaughtered in the afternoon of this day, which had just dawned. So entering a Gentile house would have defiled them or made them ritually unclean. Bruce points out that the chief priest’s care not to be ritually unclean for the Passover is ironic. They had no such concern about pushing for the execution of Jesus, the innocent lamb of God (John 1:29).
Pontius Pilate: The Christian creeds remember him as the governor under whom Jesus Christ suffered (1 Tim. 6:13) (see the Apostles Creed). The NT calls him governor while other sources call him prefect (his official title). Pontius was his nomen (tribal name) and Pilate was his cognomen (family name). His praenomen (personal name) is nowhere recorded. He came to power in A.D. 26. He was an anti-Semite. He brought into Jerusalem the insignia of the Roman military bearing the image of Caesar. He planted armed Roman soldiers, disguised as civilians, among the populace. This may have been the historical occasion for Luke 13:1, which says that Pilate mingled Galilean blood with their sacrifices. It is surprising then that he felt pressure from the Jewish authorities to put Jesus to death. However, he could have believed his position in the empire was precarious; John 19:12 says that if he released Jesus he would be no friend of Caesar. The NT writers were eager to show that he was innocent in regards to Roman law. Yet the only way the Jewish Council could convict Jesus was to accuse him of claiming to be king. Pilate’s name does not appear in Judea after A.D. 36/37, and this indicates he was removed shortly after he slaughtered Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim (Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary).
He can be looked up online now.
When they said that Jesus had committed a crime (literally “did evil,”), they meant that he committed a crime deserving death. Jews could punish people by their own law, but they could not execute people. This had to be done by the Romans. However, the Romans granted the religious authorities the right to execute someone instantly, when he violated the sanctity of the temple. This is why in Mark’s narrative they tried to charge him with violating the sanctity of the temple (14:57-59). Stephen was stoned to death for supposedly speaking against the temple (Acts 6:49-50; 54-60).
Jesus predicted what kind of death he would die—crucifixion. Normally, under Jewish law, people were stoned to death or hanged on a tree (Deut. 21:22-23). However, Jesus had said that he would be “lifted up” and draw all men to himself (12:32-33). He was to be lifted up on the cross.
So bottom line for these four verses: Pilate and the Jewish accusers were fulfilling the will of the Father, despite their being evil and committing an injustice on a human level. God can use even unredeemed and obtuse and unaware men to accomplish his purposes. Jesus would not be stoned to death or hanged by Jewish law, but crucified under Roman law, especially for sedition.
Pilate asked Jesus directly whether he was the king of the Jews: guilty or not guilty. Mounce suggests that the pronoun you in v. 33, placed in the emphatic position up front, indicates that the accusers’ claim that Jesus was the king of the Jews was preposterous. “You—you?!—are the king of the Jews? Preposterous! Clearly Pilate was trying to sort these things out.
The Messiah could be regarded as the king over Israel (John 1:49), and if anyone claimed to be king in a Roman province (Judea was annexed in A.D. 6), he was denying Caesar’s sovereignty and thus guilty of sedition, a capital offense. However, Jesus will be ambiguous in vv. 37-38a. In John 19:7, we will read that the Jews accused him of calling himself the Son of God. In the synoptic Gospels Jesus affirmed that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, in front of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:63-64). This was blasphemy by Jewish understanding at that time. Click on over to Matt. 26:
Matt. 26 (scroll down to vv. 63-64) and read how blasphemy was much more broadly defined, four decades before the destruction of the temple, than it was in later Talmudic times.
But Pilate did not know the intricacies of Jewish law. He wanted to know whether Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews without any ambiguity and by the standard definition of kingship, as understood by the Romans: a political, sovereign king over a kingdom.
“Where this is smoke, there is fire.” That saying, in effect, is what Pilate tells Jesus. The chief priests must have found something guilty in him. They cannot be so whimsical and capricious that they make up accusation of crimes. Instead of answering at that moment (he will answer in the next verse) Jesus is probing Pilate. How does he understand kingship? Who told him about Jesus’s kingship? Jesus seems to turn the tables and asks for Pilate’s opinion.
Now Jesus answers the question directly, but too ambiguously for Pilate. “King” is your word, and I partly confirm it, but not in the way you think. Carson says that Jesus is unambiguous in his reply and endorses NIV translation “You are right in saying I am a king.” This makes sense because Jesus will admit that he has a kingdom, but not a worldly kingdom.
Bruce translates the last sentence in v. 36 as “My kingdom proceeds from another source.” Excellent. So you are a king, then, Pilate states, with a hint of confusion. Jesus answer has been used by many Bible interpreters to separate off the kingdom of God and his Son and the kingdoms of the world, and this separation is the right way. So, yes, Jesus is a king, but over an invisible kingdom, which is no real threat to Rome. Jesus did not resist his arrest and even healed Malchus’ ear. He was no insurrectionist, nor a threat to imperial majesty.
I really like how Jesus proclaims his purpose: He was born for this purpose and came into the world for this purpose: to testify about the truth. Pilate abruptly ends his investigation
Recall these words: “and you will know the truth, and the truth will free you” (John 8:32). “Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, the truth and the life’” (14:6). Jesus’s Messiahship and proclamation are now universal—for everyone and for all times. They cannot be confined to Judaism or Israel.
Let’s go for a general definition of truth.
Biblical truth is not only an abstract truth floating out there but makes no impact on us. It is the truth that we know. We can know this proposition theoretically: “God exists.” (Or, better, we can believe it.) But in Christ, we can know God personally. “I know God.” So knowledge of God, the highest and greatest being in the universe, is personal, according to the Bible.
“truth”: Let’s focus on the Greek noun. It is alētheia (pronounced ah-lay-thay-ah and is used 109 times). Truth is a major theme in the Johannine literature: 45 times.
BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and the lexicon defines the noun in these ways:
(1).. “The quality of being in accord with what is true, truthfulness, dependability, uprightness.”
(2).. “The content of what is true, truth.”
(3).. “An actual state or event, reality.”
So truth gained from the world around us is possible. Our beliefs must correspond to the outside world (outside of you and me). But it goes deeper than just the outside world. We must depend on God’s character and his Word. That is the meaning of the first definition. God is true or truthful or dependable, or upright. Everything else flows from him.
For good measure, let’s look at some definitions from the larger Greek world. The noun alētheia means I.. truth; 1.. truth as opposed to a lie; 2.. truth, reality as opposed to appearance. II.. truthfulness, sincerity, frankness, candor (Liddell and Scott). So I.2 says that truth goes more deeply than appearances. And the second definition (II) links truth with character. It is interesting, however, that frankness and candor is a synonym of truth. This fits the apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. Maybe we could call it boldness and fearlessness.
However, this general definition must give way that Jesus’ mission was to proclaim the truth—and he was that truth. Truth was personal, in the person of Jesus himself. But Pilate wanted a philosophical discussion. Evidently, Jesus did not give him one.
Klink: “The personal nature of Jesus’s arrival and presence in the world must set the context for the nature of his work of truth telling. That is, the truth about which Jesus witnesses is overtly personal. His purpose was to speak truth or better, to make manifest what is true” (comment on v. 37). Then the result of Jesus truth telling is that everyone who hears or listens to (obeys) his voice is from the truth.
Finally, the “subjects” is the same noun for “officers” or police of the temple (John 7:32, 45-46; 18:3, 12, 18, 22). Jesus’s kingdom “officers” are servants.
The last clause could be translated as “I discover in him no basis for a charge.”
According to Roman law, a man could be found guilty when he admitted it, but did Jesus really admit that he was a king who threatened Roman authority? No. He was no threat. Luke agrees:
13 Then Pilate summoned the chief priests, the rulers and the people 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as someone misleading the people. And look! I have examined him before you and found in this man no legal cause of which you have accused him! (Luke 23:13-14)
All four Gospels report this custom of releasing someone from prison at Passover. Carson says that the Mishnah, a collection of opinions on the Torah, written down in about A.D. 200, may allude to the custom in Pesahim 8:6, indicating they may slaughter the Passover lambs for conditions is uncertain (e.g. invalids), including ‘one whom they have promised to bring out of prison.’ Carson says that the prisoner was not under restraints by a Jewish court, because the Jewish court could make a decision about the prisoner, one way or another at Passover season. The restraint was done by a foreign court (e.g. Roman). Legislation was required, which was in the authority of the Sanhedrin. So it seems we have a mixture of Roman law and Jewish influence on this custom.
A certain segment of the population called out for the release of Barabbas the insurrectionist (or just plain robber or bandit). But Pilate annoyed the Jewish establishment and called Jesus “king of the Jews.” He was being ironical. Or he may have been insulting them, implying that this title was so insignificant that he was no imperial threat in the backwater province of Judea. But Pilate must have backed off, because it was his job to administer Roman law. So he fixed on a custom which could solve his difficulty. Jesus could be considered guilty of being “king of the Jews,” but then released because of the custom. Instead, some in the crowd shouted out for Barabbas. Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:19 says that there had been a recent uprising and someone had been murdered, so Barabbas was thrown in prison. Matt. 27:16 says that he was infamous.
The Jews shouted again indicates they had been shouting before. John had omitted the detail but picks it up with the word again.
So Barabbas was accused of being an insurrectionist, and now Jesus was accused of being an insurrectionist. The irony must not have eluded Pilate.
Borchert summarizes Pilate’s scheme and how it backfired.
So Pilate offered a choice that seemed obvious, yet even the choice contained a hook that clearly would have irritated the Jewish establishment. The choice was either to release Jesus, whom he knowingly called “the King of the Jews,” or the scoundrel and thief, Barabbas. Mark goes further in 15:7 and identifies Barabbas as a murderer and an insurrectionist. This Barabbas was hardly the kind of person Pilate thought the Jews would desire to have loosed on their society. The obvious alternative from his point of view was the healer, wonder worker, and prophet-type king. He must have smirked at the choice he gave to the people. But Pilate had not calculated on the scheming way in which the Jewish leadership had readied the group outside the Praetorium to answer him. Pilate’s shrewd plan was undone by the leadership when the people chose the scoundrel and rejected the King. (comments on vv. 39-40)
GrowApp for John 18:28-40
A.. You have joined the kingdom of God by being born again. What was your new birth like?
B.. Jesus said he was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. What is your purpose?
C.. Everyone who is of the truth listens to his voice. Which truth has the voice of God by his Spirit spoken to your heart?
Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.
Borchert, Gerald L. John 12-21. New American Commentary. Vol. 25b. Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.
Novakovic, Lidija. John 11-21: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.
Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.
Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.