The Life of Jesus in Harmony
The fifth Roman procurator of Judea
(ruled 26-36 AD), who issued the official order sentencing Jesus
to death by crucifixion (Mt 27; Mk 15; Lk 23; Jn 18-19).
The Jewish historian Josephus provides what little information is known about
Pilate's life before A. D. 26, when Tiberius
appointed him procurator of Judea. The sketchy data suggests that Pilate was
probably an Italianborn Roman citizen whose family was wealthy enough for him
to qualify for the middle class. Probably he held certain military posts before
his appointment in Judea.
He was married (Mt 27:19), bringing his wife, Claudia Procula, to live with
him at Caesarea, the headquarters of the province. Pilate governed the areas of
, and the area south as far as the Dead Sea to Gaza. As procurator he had
absolute authority over the non-Roman citizens of the province. He was responsible
to the Roman governor who lived in Syria
to the north (Lk 2:2).
Pilate never became popular with the Jews. He seemed to be insensitive to
their religious convictions and stubborn in the pursuit of his policies. But when
the Jews responded to his rule with enraged opposition, he often backed down,
demonstrating his weakness. He greatly angered the Jews when he took funds from
treasury to build an aqueduct to supply water to Jerusalem
. Many Jews reacted violently to this act, and Pilate's soldiers killed many
of them in this rebellion. In spite of this, Pilate continued in office for ten
years, showing that Tiberius considered Pilate an effective administrator.
Pilate's later history is also shrouded in mystery. Josephus tells of a bloody
encounter with the Samaritans, who filed a complaint with Pilate's superior,
Vitellius, the governor of Syria. Vitellius deposed Pilate and ordered him to
stand before the emperor in Rome and answer for his conduct. Legends are confused
as to how Pilate died. Eusebius reports that he was exiled to the city of
Vienne on the Rhone in Gaul (France) where he eventually committed suicide.
Pilate's Encounter with Jesus. Since the Jews could not execute a person
without approval from the Roman authorities (Jn 18:31), the Jewish leaders brought
Jesus to Pilate to pronounce the death sentence (Mk 14:64). Pilate seemed
convinced that Jesus was not guilty of anything deserving death, and he sought to
release Jesus (Mt. 27:24; Mk 15:9-11; Lk 23:14; Jn 18:38-40; 19:12). Neither did
he want to antagonize the Jews and run the risk of damaging his own reputation
and career. Thus, when they insisted on Jesus' crucifixion, Pilate turned Jesus
over to be executed (Mt. 27:26; Mk 15:12-15; Lk 23:20-25; Jn 19:15-16).