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First Published 1659

[see original PDF file text at Project Canterbury for extensive footnotes]


Under Pontius Pilate.

1.—AFTER the substance of this part of the Article, consisting in our Saviour's passion, He suffered, followeth the circumstance of time, declared by the present governor, under Pontius Pilate.  Which though the name of a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel and the Church of Christ, is well preserved to eternal memory in the sacred articles of our Creed.  For as the Son of God by his determinate counsel was sent into the world to die in the fulness of time, so it concerns the Church to be assured of the time in which he died.  And because the ancient custom of the world was to make their computations by their governors, and refer their historical relations to the respective times of their government, therefore, that we might be properly assured of the actions of our Saviour which he did, and of his sufferings, (that is, the actions which others did to him,) the present governor is named in that form of speech which is proper to such historical or chronological narrations, when we affirm that he suffered under Pontius Pilate.


2.—And because he not only suffered under him as the present governor, but also was arraigned and condemned by him as a judge; therefore it will be necessary for the illustration of the manner, and confirmation of the truth, of our Saviour's sufferings, to declare what hath been left and derived to our knowledge, both concerning his person and his office.


For the first, we find him described by two names: nor is any other name of his extant, although according to the general custom of the Romans, he should have three.  The first of these two is Pontius, the name descending to him from the original of his family, which was very ancient; the second Pilatus, as a cognominal addition distinguishing from the rest descending from the same original.


3.—He was by birth a Roman, by degree of the Equestrian order, sent by Tiberius the emperor to be a governor in Judaea.  For about threescore years before our Saviour's birth, the Jews by Pompey the Great were made tributary to the Romans.  And although during the life of Hyrcanus the high priest, the reign of Herod, and his son Archelaus, the Roman state suffered the Jews to be ruled by their own laws and governors; yet when Archelaus was banished by Augustus, they received their governors from the Roman emperor, being made a part of the province of Syria belonging to his care.  In the life of Augustus there was a succession of three, Coponius, Ambivius, and Rufus.  At the beginning of the reign of Tiberius they were governed by Valerius Gracchus, and at his departure by Pontius Pilate.


4.—The office which this Pilate bare was the procuratorship of Judaea, as is most evident out of the history both of the Romans, from whom he received his authority, and of the Jews, over whom he exercised his dominion.  But what was the office of a procurator in those times, though necessary for our present purpose, is not so easy to determine, because it was but newly introduced into the Roman government.  For before the dominion of that city was changed from a commonwealth into an empire, there was no such public office in any of the provinces, and particularly in Judaea none till after the banishment of Archelaus, some years after our Saviour's birth.  When Augustus divided the provinces of the empire into two parts, one of which he kept for his own care, and left the other to the inspection of the senate, he sent, together with the president of each province, as the governor in chief of the province, a procurator, whose office was, to take an account of all the tribute, and whatsoever else was due to the emperor, and to order and dispose of the same for his advantage.  Neither was there at the first institution of this office any other act belonging properly to their jurisdiction, but such a  care and disposal of the imperial revenue: which they exercised as inferior and subordinate to the president, always supreme provincial officer.


5.—Now Judaea being made a part of the province of Syria, and consequently under the care of the president of that province, according to this institution, a particular procurator was assigned unto it for the disposing of the emperor's revenue.  And because the nation of the Jews were always suspected of a rebellious disposition against the Roman state, and the president of Syria, who had the power of the sword, was forced to attend upon the other parts of his province; therefore the procurator of Judaea was furnished with power of life and death, and so administered all the power of the president, which was, as to the Jews, supreme.  Which is very observable, as an eminent act of the providence of God, by which the full power of judicature in Judaea was left in the hands of the resident procurator.


6.—For by this means it came to pass that Christ, who by the determinate counsel of God was to die, and by the prediction of the prophets was to suffer in a manner not prescribed by the Law of Moses, should be delivered up to a foreign power, and so suffer death after the customs of that nation to whose power he was delivered.  The malice of the obstinate Jew was high to accuse and prosecute him, but the power of the Jews was not so high as judicially to condemn him.  For although the chief priests and the elders and the scribes condemned him to be guilty of death; yet they could not condemn him to die, or pronounce the sentence of death upon him, but delivered him up unto Pilate: and when he refusing said unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your Law, they immediately returned, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.  The power of life and death was not in any court of the Jews, but in the Roman governor alone as supreme; and therefore they answered him, it was not lawful: not in respect of the Law of Moses, which gave them both sufficient power and absolute command to punish divers offenders with death; but in relation to the Roman empire, which had taken all that dominion from them.  Forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem the Jews themselves acknowledge that they lost their power; which is sufficient to shew that they had it not when our Saviour suffered: and it is as true that they lost it twenty years before, at the relegation of Archelaus, and the coming of Coponius the procurator with full power of life and death.  Wherefore our Saviour was delivered unto Pilate as the supreme judge over the nation of the Jews, that he might pronounce the sentence of death upon him.   


7.—But how this judge could be persuaded to an act of so much injustice and impiety, is not yet easy to be seen.  The numerous controversies of the religion of the Jews did not concern the Roman governors, nor were they moved with the frequent quarrels arising from the different sects.  Pilate knew well it was for envy that the chief priests delivered him; and when he had examined him, he found no fault touching those things whereof they accused him.  Three times did he challenge the whole nation of the Jews, Why? what evil hath he done? three times did he make that clear profession, I have found no cause of death in him.  His own wife, admonished in a dream, sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: and when he heard that he made himself the Son of God, he was more afraid: and yet, notwithstanding these apprehensions and professions, he condemned and crucified him.   


8.—Here we must look upon the nature and disposition of Pilate, which inclined and betrayed him to so foul an act.  He was a man of an high, rough, untractable, and irreconcilable spirit, as he is described by the Jews, and appeareth from the beginning of his government, when he brought the bucklers stamped with the pictures of Caesar into Jerusalem (which was an abomination to the Jews), and could neither be moved by the blood of many, nor persuaded by the most humble applications and submiss entreaties of the whole nation, to remove them, till he received a sharp reprehension and severe command from the emperor Tiberius.  After that, he seized on the Corban, that sacred treasury, and spent it upon an aqueduct: nor could all their religious and importunate petitions divert his intentions, but his resolution went through their blood to bring in water.  When the Galileans came up to Jerusalem to worship God at his own temple, he mingled their blood with their sacrifices.  Add to this untractable and irreconcilable spirit, by which he had so often exasperated the Jews, an avaricious and rapacious disposition, which prompted him as much to please them, and we may easily perceive what moved him to condemn that Person to death whom he declared innocent.  The Evangelist telleth us that Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus to be crucified.  They accused him at Rome for all the insolences and rapines which he had committed, and by this act he thought to pacify them.   


9.—It was thus necessary to express the person under whom our Saviour suffered, first, that we might for ever be assured of the time in which he suffered.  The enemies of Christianity began first to unsettle the time of his passion, that thereby they might at last deny the passion itself; and the rest of their falsehood was detected by the discovery of their false chronology.  Some fixed it to the seventh year of the reign of Tiberius; whereas it is certain Pontius Pilate was not then procurator in Judaea; and as certain that our Saviour was baptized eight years after, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.  Some of the Jews, lest the destruction of Jerusalem might seem to follow upon, and for our Saviour's crucifixion, have removed it near threescore years more backward yet, placing his death in the beginning of Herod's reign, who was not born till toward the death of the same king.  Others have removed it farther yet near twenty years, and so vainly tell us how he died under Aristobulus, above fifty years before his birth in Bethlehem.  This do they teach their proselytes, to this end, that they may not believe so much as the least historical part of the blessed Evangelists.  As therefore they deny the time of our Saviour's passion, in design to destroy his doctrine; so, that we might establish the substance of the Gospel depending on his death, it was necessary we should retain a perfect remembrance of the time in which he died.  Nor need we be ashamed that the Christian religion, which we profess, should have so known an epocha, and so late an original.  Christ came not into the world in the beginning of it, but in the fulness of time.


Secondly, it was thought necessary to include the name of Pilate in our Creed, as of one who gave a most powerful external testimony to the certainty of our Saviour's death, and the innocency of his life.  He did not only profess, to the condemnation of the Jews, that he found nothing worthy of death in Christ; but left the same written to the Gentiles of the Roman empire.  Two ways he is related to have given most ample testimony to the truth: first, by an express written to Tiberius, and by him presented to the senate; secondly, by records written in tables of all things of moment which were acted in his government.


Thirdly, it behoved us to take notice of the Roman governor in the expression of our Saviour's passion, that thereby we might understand how it came to pass that Christ should suffer according to the Scriptures.  The Prophets had foretold his death, but after such a manner as was not to be performed by the Jews, according to whose law and custom no man amongst them ever so died.  Being then so great a Prophet could not die but in Jerusalem, being the death he was to suffer was not agreeable to the laws and customs of the Jews: it was necessary a Roman governor should condemn him, that so the counsel of the will of God might be fulfilled, by the malice of the one, and the customs of the other.


10.—And now the advantage of this circumstance is discovered, every one may express the importance of it in this manner.  I am fully persuaded of this truth, as beyond all possibility of contradiction, that in the fulness of time God sent his Son, and that the eternal Son of God so sent by him did suffer for the sins of men, after the fifteenth year of Tiberius the Roman emperor, and before his death, in the time of Pontius Pilate, the Caesarean procurator of Judaea, who, to please the nation of the Jews did condemn him whom he pronounced innocent, and delivered him, according to the custom of that empire, and in order to the fulfilling of the prophecies, to die a painful and shameful death upon the cross.  And thus I believe in Christ that suffered under Pontius Pilate.


for the next chapter in Pearson: Was Crucified.