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SANHEDRIN Summary and Overview

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SANHEDRIN in Easton's Bible Dictionary

(Gr. synedrion), meaning "a sitting together," or a "council." This word (rendered "council," A.V.) is frequently used in the New Testament (Matt. 5:22; 26:59; Mark 15:1, etc.) to denote the supreme judicial and administrative council of the Jews, which, it is said, was first instituted by Moses, and was composed of seventy men (Num. 11:16, 17). But that seems to have been only a temporary arrangement which Moses made. This council is with greater probability supposed to have originated among the Jews when they were under the domination of the Syrian kings in the time of the Maccabees. The name is first employed by the Jewish historian Josephus. This "council" is referred to simply as the "chief priests and elders of the people" (Matt. 26:3, 47, 57, 59; 27:1, 3, 12, 20, etc.), before whom Christ was tried on the charge of claiming to be the Messiah. Peter and John were also brought before it for promulgating heresy (Acts. 4:1-23; 5:17-41); as was also Stephen on a charge of blasphemy (6:12-15), and Paul for violating a temple by-law (22:30; 23:1-10). The Sanhedrin is said to have consisted of seventy-one members, the high priest being president. They were of three classes (1) the chief priests, or heads of the twenty-four priestly courses (1 Chr. 24), (2) the scribes, and (3) the elders. As the highest court of judicature, "in all causes and over all persons, ecclesiastical and civil, supreme," its decrees were binding, not only on the Jews in Israel, but on all Jews wherever scattered abroad. Its jurisdiction was greatly curtailed by Herod, and afterwards by the Romans. Its usual place of meeting was within the precincts of the temple, in the hall "Gazith," but it sometimes met also in the house of the high priest (Matt. 26:3), who was assisted by two vice-presidents.

SANHEDRIN in Smith's Bible Dictionary

(from the Greek sunedrion, "a council-chamber" commonly but in correctly Sanhedrim), the supreme council of the Jewish people in the time of Christ and earlier. 1. The origin of this assembly is traced in the Mishna to the seventy elders whom Moses was directed, #Nu 11:16,17| to associate with him in the government of the Israelites; but this tribunal was probably temporary, and did not continue to exist after the Israelites had entered Israel. In the lack of definite historical information as to the establishment of the Sanhedrin, it can only be said in general that the Greek etymology of the name seems to point to a period subsequent to the Macedonian supremacy in Israel. From the few incidental notices in the New Testament, we gather that it consisted of chief priests, or the heads of the twenty-four classes into which the priests were divided, elders, men of age and experience, and scribes, lawyers, or those learned in the Jewish law. #Mt 26:57,59; Mr 15:1; Lu 22:66; Ac 5:21| 2. The number of members is usually given as 71. The president of this body was styled nasi, and was chosen in account of his eminence in worth and wisdom. Often, if not generally, this pre-eminence was accorded to the high priest. The vice-president, called in the Talmud "father of the house of judgment," sat at the right hand of the president. Some writers speak of a second vice-president, but this is not sufficiently confirmed. While in session the Sanhedrin sat in the form of half-circle. 3. The place in which the sessions of the Sanhedrin were ordinarily held was, according to the Talmad, a hall called Gazzith, supposed by Lightfoot to have been situated in the southeast corner of one of the courts near the temple building. In special exigencies, however, it seems to have met in the residence of the high priest. #Mt 26:3| Forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, and consequently while the Saviour was teaching in Israel, the sessions of the Sanhedrin were removed from the hall Gazzith to a somewhat greater distance from the temple building, although still on Mount Moriah. After several other changes, its seat was finally established at tiberias, where it became extinct A.D. 425. As a judicial body the Sanhedrin constituted a supreme court, to which belonged in the first instance the trial of false prophets, of the high priest and other priests, and also of a tribe fallen into idolatry. As an administrative council, it determined other important matters. Jesus was arraigned before this body as a false prophet, #Joh 11:47| and Peter, John, Stephen and Paul as teachers of error and deceivers of the people. From #Ac 9:2| it appears that the Sanhedrin exercised a degree of authority beyond the limits of Israel. According to the Jerusalem Gemara the power of inflicting capital punishment was taken away from this tribunal forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. With this agrees the answer of the Jews to Pilate. #Joh 19:31| The Talmud also mentions a lesser Sanhedrin of twenty-three members in every city in Israel in which were not less than 120 householders.

SANHEDRIN in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

SAN'HEDRIN , incorrectly but commonly SAN'HEDRIM. The word is a Hebrew transliteration from the Greek word synedrion, which means "council." The Sanhedrin was the highest council of the Jews. When it was founded is uncertain. The Jews trace back to the time of Moses, and see its beginning in the elders. Others see the germ in the tribunal established by Jehoshaphat. 2 Chr 19:8-11. But much more likely the Sanhedrin dates from the extinction of the Great Synagogue, and therefore is after the Captivity and Return; some put it down so low as b.c. 107. We must distinguish between two kinds of Sanhedrin - the provincial, which was composed of twenty-three members in every town of 120, and of three where there was a smaller, population, and the Great Sanhedrin, which numbered seventy-one and was governed by a nasi, or president, and two vice-presidents; besides, there were secretaries and other officers. It met in a room adjoining the temple, and the seats were arranged in the form of a semicircle. After the destruction of Jerusalem it removed to Tabneh, and finally to Tiberias, where it became extinct, a.d. 425. It had greatly changed its character before it ended. It appears, from the statements in the Talmud, that Herod put all the Great Sanhedrin to death except one. But, although this be false, the complexion of the body was altered for the worse. Indeed, some say that the Sanhedrin really did not exist in Christ's day, but the council which arrogated to itself this name was "an arbitrary, incompetent, and special gathering." But in its glory it was the supreme privy council of the Jews - not only their court of final appeal and last resort, but also an executive and legislative assembly, shaping the general polity of the nation. Its power in matters civil and religious was practically unlimited. It decided all cases brought upon appeal from the lower courts; it had authority over kings and high priests; in it was vested the trial of heresy, idolatry, false prophets; and it alone had power to pronounce the sentence of death. When the Jews came under the Roman government the range of its jurisdiction was decreased. The death power, according to Talmudic tradition, was taken from it three years before the death of Christ. Owing to its altered character, it declined in influence until its extinction was no loss. The Sanhedrin consisted of the three classes, the priests, the elders, and the scribes. The confirmation and execution of a capital sentence rested with the Roman procurator. The Gospels truthfully, therefore, relate that, while Christ was condemned by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy, he was accused by the Jews of treason, and thus brought under Roman judgment. Cf. Matt 26:65-66; John 19:12; also John 18:31; "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." The stoning of Stephen, Acts 7:57-59, was either tumultuous or else, if ordered by the Sanhedrin, illegal, as Josephus (Ant. XX. 9'1) expressly declares was the execution of James, "the Lord's brother," a.d. 62, during the absence of Albinus, the Roman procurator. See Council.

SANHEDRIN in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Sanhedrin formed from the Greek sunedrion. Sanhedrin is the Chaldee form. (See COUNCIL.)