For a number of years, and heightened by the film, The Passion of Christ, something has nagged me about the common depictions of the way Christ was treated between the time of his arrest and the crucifixion. Like Lt. Columbo, there was something bothering me.
Having done my share of laundry over the years, I am very aware that blood is one of the hardest stains to remove. (One of the awesome things about God is that, contrary to the blood of people and animals, the blood of Jesus removes all the stains of sin.)
So I was trying to harmonize three things: that the back of Jesus was torn apart over and over by the scourging of Roman soldiers, using whips with sharp objects embedded in them; that sometime after the scourging, they put Jesus’ garments back on him again; that his garments were divided amongst the Roman soldiers. Maybe it is just me, but I would have no interest in a blood-soaked garment that had been pressed against the gory results of the severe scourging of Jesus, as is commonly believed.
What was done physically to Jesus after His arrest? In general:
1) The Jewish leaders order Him to be struck. In various accounts, He is slapped, punched or spit upon. Some of the punches might have swelled and disfigured His face. But it was done by the Jews, not the Roman soldiers.
2) He is led to the judgment hall to be delivered to Pilate.
3) In Luke’s account only, He is sent to Herod because Jesus is from Galilee. The Jewish leaders accompany and accuse Him there. Herod’s soldiers are the ones who mock Him and put the purple robe on Him, not the Roman soldiers. In Luke, when Pilate pronounces final sentence, he releases Barabbas and he sends Jesus to Golgotha with Simon being required to carry the cross.
4) In the other three gospels, it is the Roman soldiers who mock Jesus. But the only physical action taken against Him by them is putting the crown of thorns on His head, spitting on Him and hitting Him with a thin reed (like they were knighting Him).
Specifics of the Gospel accounts:
Matthew and Mark are fairly consistent parallel accounts after He has been tried and convicted by the Jewish council. They bring Him before Pilate. Pilate questions Jesus. He seeks to release Jesus as the prisoner he was accustomed to release at Passover. The crowd asks Barabbas to be released and demand that Jesus be crucified. Pilate scourges Him. Jesus is delivered to the soldiers. The soldiers mock Him, put His own clothes back on Him and lead Him away to Golgotha with Simon carrying the cross.
In Luke, they bring Him before Pilate, who briefly questions Jesus. Pilate then sends Him to Herod. Herod questions Him and He does not answer. Herod’s soldiers mock Him and put the purple robe on Him (but no mention of anything done physically to Jesus by them). He is sent back to Pilate. Twice, Pilate tells the Jewish leaders that he finds no fault in Jesus, but he will chastise Him and let Him go. It is not specifically mentioned that Pilate actually does chastise Him, but it is not out of the question that he actually did it. At the crowd’s insistence, Pilate releases Barabbas and he sends Jesus to Golgotha with Simon being required to carry the cross.
In John, they bring Him before Pilate and Pilate questions Him. Pilate seeks to release Jesus and the crowd demands Barabbas instead. Pilate scourges Jesus. Then the soldiers mock Him. John’s account says that they struck Jesus with their hands. Pilate then presents Jesus to the crowd again and proclaims His innocence. When the crowd calls for Him to be crucified, Pilate tells them that they should do it. The Jews respond that He deserves to die under their law because of His blasphemy, claiming to be the Son of God. Pilate continues to try to negotiate on behalf of Jesus. When the Jews continue to demand the death of Jesus, Pilate sends Him to Golgotha.
The language used to describe the scourging:
Matthew 27:26-27 – Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
Mark 15:15-16 – And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
In both passages, the verb for “scourged” is the Greek word “phragelloo.” It is presumed that this is where we get the English word, “flagellate”. These are the only two times that the word is used in the New Testament. In these passages, there is no separate Greek word for “he”. It is assumed from the verb. The verb is in the active voice which means the subject of the sentence did the action. If Pilate had commanded him to be scourged rather than doing it himself, a different voice would have been used.
Luke 23:16 – I will therefore chastise him, and release him.
Luke 23:22-26 – And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go. And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will. And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
The two mentions of the verb “chastise” is the translation of the Greek word “paideuo.” While it can be used in cases of scourging, the sense of the word is related to the training or correction of children. It also describes correction by striking another, probably more like our spanking (though not necessarily on the same part of the body). Again there is no separate word for “I” and it is assumed from the verb. And again the verb is in the active voice.
John 19:1-3 – Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
John used a different Greek word, “mastigoo,” for “scourge”. It is used seven times in the New Testament and translated as scourge every time. But this time, we actually have a subject in the Greek text. This time it directly says that Pilate was the subject of the sentence. It is also in the active voice. Pilate clearly is indicated as the one who did the scourging.
In none of the Gospel accounts is it ever mentioned that the soldiers scourge Jesus.
In one account they punch Him, but never rip His flesh with whips.
After I studied each of the Gospel accounts that described the scourging of Jesus I had three additional insights. The first was fruit from continuing to pray and meditate about the subject. The Holy Spirit laid on my heart that there is a reason why so much attention has been given to the believed brutality of the scourging of Jesus. Satan is subtle and often uses ideas that sound godly to distract believers and seekers from what is important. Among the things that Satan hates and wants to distract us from are the Word of God, the name of Jesus, prayer and the cross.
Lee Strobel wrote about how agonizing it is to be crucified. Not only have nails been pounded into the flesh to attach it to pieces of wood, but hanging there, gravity pulls at your body and begins to tear the nails through the flesh. In homage to Jesus, people have tried to replicate the event, but they aren’t able to last anywhere close to the time that Jesus hung on that tree. And they were in sound and rested condition when they began the attempt. The agony of hanging on the cross was so unlike any before experienced, a new word was invented for it: excruciating.
It was not during His scourging that Jesus said “It is finished” (i.e., paid in full). It was on the cross. Whether a Christian or a seeker, one is well-served by keeping the cross of Calvary in sight, not the scourging.
The second insight came when the phrase came to mind, “by his stripes we are healed”. So I went back to Isaiah 53 and read these familiar words in verses 4 & 5:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
All the punishments that Jesus suffered after his arrest until the tomb are contained in this prophesy. The descriptions in the four Gospel accounts and their slight variations show that all of these were fulfilled: Jesus was buffeted and bruised, He was chastised, He was scourged, and His ultimate wounds came on the cross. It was by these, but especially the ones on the cross, that our healing was complete.
I was lead to look at the Hebrew word that was translated as “stripes” in Isaiah 53:5. There are three variant spellings of the word in English, the most common is “chabbuwrah“. It appears seven times in the Old Testament and is translated as stripes (3 times), and one time apiece as hurt, wounds, blueness and bruise. My Strong’s lists its recognized meanings as bruise, stripe, wound, blow. In other words in this case, stripes is more than just the results of the whip. It encompasses all that the body of Jesus suffered at this time at the hand of man.
The most recent insight occurred as a result of participating in the Ladies Bible Study at my church. We are studying Beth Moore’s teaching: “Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit.” During the week when the lessons were on joy, part of the material was to read Acts 16:16-40, to show that part of the reaction of Paul and his fellow Christian prisoners to their shackles and imprisonment was to rejoice.
Verses 22 & 23 leapt out at me. This topic came back to mind, even though I had not been thinking about it when I had started the lesson.
And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they cast them into prison, commanding the jailor to keep them safely.
Did you see it? The magistrates commanded to beat them. The language is in contrast to all four Gospel accounts about the scourging of Jesus. Why, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit did Matthew, Mark, Luke and John write (and the KJV translators give the translation) that indicates Pilate was the one doing the scourging? But here we clearly see Luke writing that the common practice of superiors commanding subordinates to do the scourging had occurred. Surely there is a reason for the difference. There are no accidents in the word of God.
So the choice is, do we believe the popular account or do we believe the Bible?
God bless you all as we remember the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord,