Posted by: mattcolvin | January 30, 2012

Jesus Defense at His Trial (Matthew 27:11-26)


Tuesday of the Fourth Week after Epiphany: Matthew 27:11-26.

Some Greek notes on Jesus’ trial before Pilate:

27:11 – Pilate’s question is phrased as a statement, without even the benefit of an interrogative particle like ἆρα. He asks, “Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων;” The wording is contemptuous, with the pronoun at the beginning for emphasis: “You (of all people!) are the king of the Jews?”

Jesus’ response is an interesting one. It is not a mere admission, a copping to the charge. Instead, he says “σὺ λέγεις,” “Thou sayest.” As a Jewish idiom, this is a disavowal of responsibility for the statement, but without any denial of the truth of it. (I blogged five years ago about David Daube’s thoughts on this idiom in a guest post on Alastair Roberts’ blog.)

If Jesus’ reply does not contest the truth of Pilate’s statement, then why does He not simply affirm it? I would submit that Jesus’ response is consistent with His statement John 5:31: “If I testify of myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies concerning me…”

As confirmation of this reading, notice that Pilate himself does not take Jesus’ reply as an admission of the charge, so that he prompts Him again for an answer: “Do you not hear how many things they charge you with?” And Matthew’s narrative also confirms it: (27:12) “And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders He answered nothing.”


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