What was Pilate's true mindset during the events of the Crucifixion?


Salvete, omnes!

(First of all, if I have this in the wrong forum, please feel free to move!)

I don’t know about you guys, but I have always found Pontius Pilate’s during the events leading to the Crucifixion more than a little perplexing. My questions specifically centers on: Precisely what was Pilate’s mindset during the whole affair?

I mean, he said numerous times that Christ was not guilty of the crimes for which He had been accused. He even seemingly tried to get Our Savior, as it were, off the hook for what He had been accused of. Pilate even symbolically washed his hands of the whole affair.

Another interesting little tidbit is that we have no record of what Christ said to Pilate after Pilate asked him (in whatever tone he may have used, sarcastic, sincere or some bit of both), “What is [the?] truth?” It seems almost intentionally to be left out of the account, for whatever reason!

My theory ahs always been that something that Christ said may have even moved the governor rather deeply. Maybe He even explained, as best He could, that what was about to happen to Him had to happen. Obviously this is wild speculation on my part, but, maybe Christ told Pilate that He knew that the Jews who were against Him would not relent but to give them a chance to do so as testimony against them. (Again, just some thoughts.)

However, we have a seemingly rather ominous statement in the account of the Crucifixion that, at one point during the whole affair, Pilate and Herod “became friends”. This might indicate that they were both aligned in their desire actually to crucify Jesus(?). Then, again, what of all the denials of Jesus’ guilt and the hand-washing?

I have heard in the past that, either in Catholicism or Orthodoxy (I can’t recall which off-hand), there had, at some point, even been talk of making Pilate (believe it nor not!) a Saint because ofthe apparent unwillingness of his heart to do what he did (even though, arguably, he succumbed to the will of his subjects and perhaps even to fear/cowardice).

So, again, what do you think was Pilate’s mindset during the events of the Crucifixion? Are we to consider every move that he made insincere and somehow politically calculating? Or, are we to consider the handwashing and such a sincere objection to what was being done to Christ? Or, is it somewhere in the middle?

I mean, I suppose a strong argument could be made either way. What is, if any, traditional teaching about Pilate’s mindset/motives/etc. during this time and why?



Didn’t you mean to say that Pilate and Herod became friends? not Pilate and Jesus?

Pilate’s political goal was to maintain control over Palestine and to minimize uprisings, etc. He had to contend with Herod, who was the “king of the Jews” and the religious leaders themselves who exerted a lot of control over the Jewish population. Jesus was popular and he had to show that he had (supposedly) some degree of objectivity towards the Jews, and Jesus in particular.

But, the Romans (Pilate) crucified many people who did not tow the line. Since it was the festival time, Pilate asked the crowd who he should release, Barabbas or Jesus. So, Pilate slyly allowed the mob to make the decision about Jesus.


Yes, that first was an obvious typo which has now been corrected! :eek:

Yet, after apparently appeasing the crowd, he also had a sign placed upon Christ’s Cross that said that He was the “King of the Jews” and, when challenged, all he said was, “I have written what I have written.” Some might argue that Pilate wrote this as a kind of mockery that would speak to those who were against Christ and (perhaps?) as a confirmation for those who would agree with such sentiment, and, I suppose, this would make sense, though wouldn’t such action have some potential to infuriate Herod by, in some way, usurping his title, unless Herod was “in on” the mockery in some way, if that was what it was to be seen as? Interesting that Pilate’s only response to the objection raised about the sign was, again, “I have written what I have written.” There was no (apparent?) effort to mock in his response. Indeed, would it not have been better, at least as far as a mocking would be concerned, for Pilate to have agreed to write, “He said He was the King of the Jews” as was suggested to him, rather than simply writing it as a statement of fact? Though, I suppose that, again, if Pilate also wanted to appease those for whom this tatement was actually true, what he wrote was actually best and would speak to each of the sides in the way that they wished to interpret it. It would confirm the ideas of those who supported Jesus and would look as a mockery against Jesus for those who were opposed to Him.

It is interesting, though, that our Gospel writers would choose to include this little tidbit at all. Why would they include Pilate’s, at least neutral, response to an objection raised?

I mean, on the whole, there just seems to be a lot of effort on the part of our Gospel writers to demonstrate how much Pilate (apparently) objected)?) to Christ’s Crucifixion. Or did our writers have some other motive(s) for bringing this into such sharp focus?

Hmm, maybe I’m just too dull to follow all of the complicated political machinations involved here, but, again, I wonder, how much was politics, how much sincere, how much a bit of both?

Look forward to your arguments and to learning about what people in the past have said of these matters.


Yeah I was a little confused about the meaning behind Pilate and Herod’s sudden friendship. However, my priest mentioned in his homily that Pilate and Herod had a rivalry and were enemies basically during their entire reign. He said that it was interesting that after both of them encountered Jesus for the first time, they reconciled. That this was a little bit added by Luke to show Jesus’ ability to reconcile


Pilate is venerated as a saint in the Ethiopian Church.

Which I personally find wrong. He was not a just judge, as he was a coward, unable to take responsibility for his judgement. I saw a lot of that kind of officials in my life. Though unintentionally, they perpetuate a lot of evil in this world… :frowning:


Yes, I have heard this kind of interpretation before, though I have also heard that it was referring to either a kind of political alliance or to (as some would have it) the fact that both Herod and Pilate were in one accord about putting Jesus to death.

I have also heard references made to Psalm 2:1-3 as relating to the issues about Pilate and Herod coming together. Indeed, this same passage is cited in Acts (Acts 4:24-28) by the Apostles as a direct reference to this.

I guess the only question I have with regard to these citations is how they relate to Pilate. I mean, I can see how breaking off of and casting away the “fetters” and “cords” would relate to the Jewish rulers (the Pharisees, particularly) who were opposed to Christ’s teaching against their immorality (the “cords” and “fetters” referring to the Divine Law that Christ taught). However, what indeed would Pilate have had to do with Christ’s moral teachings? I mean, how much would he have really heard/paid attention to them? In the psalm, the words about the “cords” and “fetters” are attributed apparently to all the kings and rulers of the Earth, which would include Pilate, I would think(?).

So, then, does the Scripture tell us that Pilate’s true intention in crucifying Christ was to silence His moral teaching? Again, given Pilate’s status as a Roman governor of a province, I’m not so sure how familiar he would have been with Christ’s moral teachings so as to desire to oppose them. Or, perhaps Herod (or even Christ Himself) had informed Pilate of Christ’s teachings and Pilate rejected them and, thus, desired to crucify Him? However, that would seem inconsistent unless Pilate actually at some point accepted Christ as at least an authoritative moral teacher sent by divine authority which, I don’t know how much evidence there is for this.

How are we to make sense of all this, especially regarding Pilate’s ttrue intentions during the Crucifixion?


Pilate didn’t have qualms about crucifying. It’s what Romans did to quell revolts (most notably, slave revolts). And remember, Pilate was eventually recalled to Rome due to being excessively cruel.

But it was apparent to him that the charges brought were trumped up charges. I mean, seriously - Jesus was brought to Pilate not by Roman soldiers, but by the Jewish high priest and other members of the Sanhedrin. And no revolt was apparent until Pilate tried to release Jesus. If it looked apparent that Jesus had been attempting to lead a revolt, Pilate and/or Herod would have ordered Jesus found, “tried”, and executed immediately. Pilate probably didn’t know - or even care - about who Jesus was. He probably hadn’t even heard of Jesus before the Sanhedrin brought Him to Pilate. Seriously.

Jesus was better known in the small villages of Galillee than He would have been known in Judea. The Sanhedrin were mostly angry at Jesus for His display in the Temple courtyard - turning over the tables, chasing the moneychangers away, and declaring that He would “destroy this Temple and raise it up again three days later” (of course, He was talking about His Body, but it was obviously quite easily misunderstood). They took His message as a personal insult. But since Judea was a Roman colony, the Sanhedrin had no real political power (and Pilate, of course, knew this), they had to trump up charges to bring to Pilate. Their charge? High treason (proclaiming Himself king).

Pilate would have heard if anyone had actually attempted this, and so tried to dismiss the charges immediately, though He ordered scourging to knock the “crazy” out of Jesus. Honestly, it appears that Pilate pretty much saw Jesus as insane, but harmless. But Pilate’s main job was to keep the peace, and so when it appeared that the crowds would riot if Jesus were released, he did what he felt he had to do to appease the crowd.


OK, yes, that’s probably what I was thinking of. I wonder, then, more specifically, how they justify this veneration.


Very interesting and thorough analysis here and very close to what mine would have been up until the questions I’m addressing here started coming up in my mind. So, do you think that Pilate’s desire to let Christ go was in some way sincere or done purely for some political motive(s), or both? Why would you take the position that you take on this?

And, yes, this is the point I made in my last post, the fact that Pilate would seem to have had little knowledge of Christ’s moral teaching. Then, why does the Messianic Psalm (2:1-3) seem to implicate him (presumably amongs the kings and rulers of the Earth) as having the motive of breaking and throwing off the fetters and bonds (interpreted as God’s moral Law)?

Could these words only be attributed to the Jewish leaders? (This, to me, would make most sense.) But, then again, why does the psalmist attribute them to (presumably all of) the kings and rulers of the Earth? Again, is Pilate implicitly here implicated in a plot primarily against Christ’s moral teachings? So, if he was, then he would have had to have known at least something about them that he didn’t like.

Indeed, if moral reasons were the reasons that Pilate wished Jesus to be crucifeid, one would have expected that the Gospel writers would have taken more pains to show this in their accounts(?).

Or am I missing something here?


Plate was probably paid substantial amounts of “extra” money by the high preisthood.

Pirate knew he had no choice but to execute Jesus, especially after Herod Antipas didn’t care to intervene one way or the other.

Caiaphas was calling in a favor.


Hmm, you know, I was just looking more closely at the Psalm which has recently come up here as a question and the precise ordering of the phraseology might help us resolve this particular part off the overall question. I below cite the New American Standard Version of Psalm 2:2-3:

"The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Annointed, saying,
‘Let us tear theri fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us.’"

(emphasis mine)

At first, I was reading this as saying that both the kings of the earth (the secular Roman rulers) and the “rulers” (possibly the Jewish authorities) BOTH wanted Christ dead because of His moral teaching – a plausible reading…until you consider some of the issues raised here above.

However, if we take “kings of the earth took their stand” as SEPARATE from “rulers…against the LORD and against His Annointed, saying…”, and, if we still take “rulers” as specifically referring to the Jewish leaders but “kings” referring to the Gentile ones, then we have a more reasonable reading, since, here the Jews, who would have been more familiar with Christ’s teaching, are the ones acting against Him because of His moral teaching against them!

In Psalm 2:1, the expression “Why do the nations rage and why do the peoples devise vain things” (as interpreted in the Acts passage) may be referring to all nations, both the Gentiles and the Jewish nation in a more broad, general sense as in, “Why do nations and peoples foolishly devise such foolish/vain things?” Then, perhaps, the psalmist becomes more specifci in verses 2 ff. This, again, would not implicate Pilate directly as crucifying Jesus on account of His moral teaching. Indeed, the fact that the Apostles use “things” (plural) here to translate an apparent(?) singular in the original Hebrew might indicate that they themselves interpreted the first few lines as a more general statement of the overall vanities of all nations.

The only problem I still might have with this interpretation (at least that immediately comes to mind) is that the kings “took their stand”. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly call Pilate a man who “took a stand” in any firm, definite way. I would argue quite to the contrary. It may be argued that he was indeed quite wishy-washy as to the whole affair if not even a bit on the side of those supporting Christ(?).

Thoughts on this particular issue as it regards Pilate’s mindset?


I have the idea that the expression that Pilate and Herod “became friends” is more like the modern day expression “they got in bed with each other” when two politicians are compromising on some nefarious deal or plot. I can’t see Pilate and Herod inviting each other over for a friendly barbeque.

I debated with myself on which was worse: The Jewish leaders who feared the teaching of Jesus and the crowds which were acting on emotion or Pilate, who knowing the truth, chose to do evil anyway. I have noticed that when a person asks the question, “What is Truth?” they really are planning to do something that they know full well is wrong and is a lie.


According to wikipedia** en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontius_Pilate** it is not Pilate but his wife who is so honored, for urging Pilate to have nothing to do with Jesus.


The Truth remains, Pilate could have let Jesus go,
But he didn’t,
He handed Jesus over to be crucified,
Even though he had full knowledge of Jesus’ innocence.

Pilate’s wife is mentioned in the Bible as having had a dream and later telling Pilate “Have nothing to do with this righteous man (Jesus).”


Here’s the thing - the Psalm was referring to God’s moral law. Jesus, of course, being God, preached His moral law, but the hearts of the nations had been hardened against that law. The law being referenced is the law written on the hearts of men - the one people often ignore. And many nations enforced (and continue to enforce) laws contrary to the natural moral law God has written on our hearts in order for their governments to maintain power over their subjects.

Pilate was a Roman prefect. His obligation was to Rome and the Caesars, not to the subjects that he was governing. He could have cared less about the Jews, their customs, etc. In fact, it’s often said that Pilate hated the Jewish people. His job was to protect the empire. Yet, though the Roman empire treated its citizens well, it was often very cruel to subjects who were not Roman citizens. Roman citizens were guaranteed a fair trial and had the priviledge of appealing even to the Caesars (see St. Paul’s appeal to Caesar at the end of the Acts of the Apostles). But non-citizens were given show trials - if a trial at all - and were sentenced to much crueler punishments than citizens were given (crucifixion was a punishment only meted out to non-citizens).

The point is, though, Pilate was a representative of Rome. The Roman emperor (just like many emperors of previous empires) considered himself to be a god. In fact, one of the Roman imperial titles, “Augustus” (which, though given originally to Octavius Caesar, was a title common to the emperors) meant “son of god”. So when the Sanhedrin remarked that “they had no king but Caesar”, it meant that they were choosing the self-proclaimed son of god over the True Son of God. This is made abundantly clear when they ask for Barabbas to be released. The name Barabbas means “son of the father”. So the Sanhedrin chose a false “son of god” and a false “son of the father” over the true Son of God and Son of the Father.

As for Pilate? It’s doubtful that he believed that Jesus was really the Son of God. Only Caesar dared to use that expression. Anyone else who used it was either attempting an overthrow of Rome or was simply insane. As Jesus obviously wasn’t trying to overthrow Rome militarily (though His followers would eventually take over Rome by way of persuasion and their own martyrdom), Pilate apparently decided that Jesus was simply a harmless insane person.


That was the last outpost fro Pilate. One more screw up (uprising of the people) and he and his wife would have been killed.
He didn’t want to execute Jesus, he saw it as a local thing…not at all concerning to him. But he was afraid of a riot and repercussions getting back to Rome.
His mindset was saving his bacon. You should pardon the expression.


Thanks, guys, so far, for your responses.

However, we still haven’t brough in the issue of Pilate’s wife’s dream as accounted in Matthew’s Gospel.

I am actually rather confused as to precisely when this message about her dream was sent to Pilate. Was it sent to him after he had determined that Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against Him or was it sent before such was determined? Had Pilate expressed hesitancy to condemn Jesus before or after he got word of his wife’s dream? It is indeed difficult to determine, I think, anyway, where this fits as a) no other Gospel account speaks ofthis dream and b) Matthew’s account is, oh, so brief compared to those of the other Gospel accounts! So, does anyone have any idea where this dream would fit in?

I think that this is important because, if the dream occurred after Pilate felt hesitant to condemn Jesus to death, then it would serve merely to confirm what Pilate already (apparently) felt. (This is assuming that his feelings about Jesus being innocent and, thus, that He shouldn’t be comdemned, were genuine.) However, if the dream came to light for Pilate before Pilate expressed hesitancy to condemn Jesus, one might argue that Pilate’s desire not to condemn Him was borne more out of fear for some divien retribution than for a true commitment to actual justice of any kind.

It is also interesting to note that, in various traditions, Pilate’s wife has been said to be some kind of Jewish proselyte. This could have, I think, many implications for Pilate’s mindset during the events of the Crucifixion. As a Jewish proselyte, Claudia (as she has been called) may have had some even moral influence on her husband (which could either have been accepted or rejected by him). She may also have had some degree of exposure to Jesus and His Teachings (whether by word of mouth or possibly even by actually seeing Him). So, this also brings into question whether it was her dream alone that convinced her that Jesus was a “just” or “righteous” man or whether she knew this from previous experience(s) of some kind. If Pilate’s wife knew something about Jesus, she may have spoken to him, even before the trial, about Him and could, thus, have had some influence on his knowledge of the istuation and, possibly, even his mindset, one way or the other.

So the question is, especially considering the possible influence of his wife, how much did or did not Pilate know when he condemned Jesus, and, thus, how much might he be held accountable for what he did or did not do in the affair.

So, how much knowledge of Christ did Pilate really have? How much was he acting out of fear and/or how much was he acting out of some sense of justice when he expressed hesitancy about condemning Jesus?

The question, I suppose, could also arise as to how much real influence Claudia generally had over Pilate, especially if she was a Jewish convert and he had, certainly before that, had a rather rocky, to say the least, relationship with the Jews of his province. She might have been very grieved at some of the things he did against them, so this could have caused some degree of rift between them and he may not have had much inclination to listen to her peas at least as far as moral issues were concerned. I suppose the question is when, precisely, did they marry? Was she a convert before or after? How late before the incident with Christ was she converted? Had he, regardless, known her as a Jew befroe or after the various harsh treatments he had inflicted on the Jewish people and, if after, had it softened him at least somewhat at this time?

Finally, how much did Pilate really believe in dreams? If he shared a commonality with many of the upper classes of Roman society, it would seem that he might be less inclined to what he would’ve considered “superstitious nonsense” and may not have been inclined to believe his wife. Still, some have argued that the reason Matthew includes the dream at all is to show that this was really what inclined Pilate not to condemn Christ. (However, again, this argument may be weakened if we place the dream some time after Pilate had determined that Christ was innocent and, thus, felt that he should not…at least ostensibly…be condemned.) Still, is there any otehr logical reason that Matthew would have included thsi dream immediately before the Jesus vs. Barabbas incident?

Thoughts on any or all of this? Arguments one one side or the other? Support for these arguments?


As I understand it, it is the Orthodox who revere Claudia Procula as a saint.


I was just re-reading Acts’ interpretation of the Psalm in question above. It does seem that the Apostles saw the “rulers” spoken of as both Herod and Pilate, as he says that they were both “gathered together” seeming to cite the “gathered together” line in the Psalm.

So, then, are we to take from the following words ofthe psalm that Pilate was also crucifying Christ specifically because of His Moral Teachings? The following words ofthe psalm about the rulers/kings wanting to break asunder the “bonds” and cast away the “fetters” (presumably God’s moral law).

Surely this is the only thing that the Psalms passage could i9ndicate? Or is it?



Make him a saint?
Pilate himself was the one who ordered the crucifixion.
As per Josephus and Philo, he was known as a cruel, vicious, hard-headed, insensitive, and brutal ruler who did not care about the Jews and their customs.
Had he wanted to keep Jesus from being crucified, he could have done it.

Several critical scholars think the hand-washing scene is not historically accurate and that it was an attempt by the writers/storytellers to portray Pilate as innocent and the Jews as guilty–not just the Jewish leaders, but the crowd, too.
I’m in agreement with this.


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