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Twelve Reasons Why Jesus' Trial Was Illegal - Part One
Good News Magazine
February 1983
Volume: VOL. XXX, NO. 2
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Twelve Reasons Why Jesus' Trial Was Illegal - Part One
Herman L Hoeh   
Church of God

Born: 1928
Died: November 24, 2004
Ambassador College: 1947
Ordained: December 20, 1952
Office: Evangelist

If Jesus were tried in many of today's courts He would be found guilty. Read here why.

   The trial of Jesus was without legal precedent. He was fraudulently convicted by the courts of His day. He was executed by crucifixion even though His judge found Him innocent!
   It is time we understood what was behind Jesus' crucifixion and learned the 12 outstanding reasons why the arrest, trial and conviction of Jesus were illegal.
   Atheists and agnostics today try to prove that Jesus was legally crucified. Here are surprising statements from a book entitled The Prosecution of Jesus, by Richard Wellington Husband.
   Concerning the trial of Jesus, he charges on page 281: "The arrest was legal... The hearing by the Sanhedrin was legal ... The course of trial in the Roman court was legal... The conviction was legal, and was justified."
   The author, a lawyer, was undoubtedly sincere in his convictions. He was a professor of classical languages at Dartmouth College. Here is how Mr. Husband justifies his beliefs:
   "The arrest" of Jesus "was legal, for it was conducted by the proper officers, acting under instructions from the Sanhedrin. There was no illegality in the circumstances under which the arrest was affected. The hearing by the Sanhedrin was legal, for it was merely a preliminary hearing, and was not a formal trial. The course of trial in the Roman court was legal, for it harmonized with the procedure shown in the sources to be pursued by governors of provinces in hearing criminal cases."
   Pilate conducted himself as other judges did, contends Mr. Husband. That made it legal! It is a strange way of reasoning. Now here is Mr. Husband's final conclusion:
   "The conviction was legal, and was justified provided the evidence was sufficient to substantiate the charges, and the records," he writes, "do not prove the contrary."
   Here a former professor in one of America's leading colleges contends that there is insufficient evidence in the Bible to show that any reversal of Jesus' conviction was justified. Here is a man who, if he had sat on the Sanhedrin, might have sincerely said, "He is guilty."

The Jewish point of view

   I have another book before me. It contains the traditional Jewish point of view. The book is entitled The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth. It is by Max Radin. He was a professor of law in the University of California. From page 229, I quote the following: "If he [Jesus] had said only a tithe (tenth) of the things credited to him it was enough to make an indictment."
   From page 109 of this same book, I quote the following about the trial of Jesus. Mr. Radin says there is "no clear statement of how the knowledge of the trial came to those who reported it." Mr. Radin has been taught to believe that neither Matthew, Mark, Luke nor John had any personal evidence because the trial was private, a secret affair.
   What he does not discuss, of course, is the possibility that Jesus, who was condemned the One who heard everything, who was there on trial rose from the dead and told the disciples what occurred so that they could report it to us that we might know today.
   But let us continue with Max Radin's point of view. On page 231 you will discover the following statement as to what a trial in Judea was like in Jesus' day:
   "We are, most of us, familiar with the procedure of criminal investigations. The accused person is arrested, arraigned before a committing magistrate, specifically accused and formally tried. He may, and he generally does, appeal to a higher court, if he is convicted. All these things take time, and there is almost necessarily an interval of weeks and months between the later stages of the procedure. But above all, the procedure is strictly regulated by law, and any serious deviation is not merely an irregularity but will probably prevent punishment from being inflicted."
Jesus' trial was completed in less than nine hours after His arrest. And it was all done in private...
   Notice that most trials involving criminal procedure take weeks, if not months. Jesus' trial was completed in less than nine hours after His arrest. And it was all done in private so that there would not be any witnesses who could testify on His behalf. How does Mr. Radin reconcile these conflicting sources of evidence?
   On page 241, he reasons: "Mark's version, even by his own testimony, cannot be more than a guess. Instead of a hurried night meeting, a harsh and brief interrogatory, a disregard of established rules of evidence and procedure, the trial may have been formally correct, and the judgment even from the point of view of an upright judge just though severe."
   Mr. Radin assumes that Mark was guessing. Then he assumes it could have been conducted in an entirely different manner. Yet the only extant sources of evidence for the trial come from the Bible. There is no other record to justify another point of view.

Limits on Jews' authority

   What legal authority did the Jews have to try Jesus?
   "According to the common view," reports Mr. Husband in his book, page 210, "the right to try capital cases," that is, cases involving death penalties, "and even the right to pronounce sentences, still rested with the Sanhedrin, but the actual penalty could not be inflicted until the governor" that is, the Roman governor, in this case Pilate "had given his sanction."
   But this view is hardly true. The Jews not only had the power to try certain crimes, but they had the power to convict and the power to execute in all but cases of treason or sedition against Rome and Roman authority.
   The assumption that Jesus' opponents had no power to execute is incorrectly based on John 18:31-32. Here the Jews had said that, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death." Lifting it out of its context, critics have assumed that the Jewish nation had no lawful right whatsoever to put anyone to death. But this does not happen to be the case.
   Have we forgotten how Stephen died? His enemies said, "He blasphemes," and they stoned him to death. The Romans didn't disapprove. When Jesus first preached His sermon the day of Pentecost in Nazareth, the Jews sought to stone Him to death. If it were illegal, they wouldn't have tried it. The Romans would have pounced on them.
   The elders of the nation on one occasion brought to Jesus a woman who was committing adultery. They said: "Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?"
   If they had no right to stone any to death, Jesus could have said simply, "Don't you know under what law you are living?" And what would they have felt like before the Romans if that would have reached Pilate's ears? But Jesus didn't say any such thing. Jesus accepted the fact that the right to execute adulteresses and other criminals existed. He told the guiltless to cast the first stone.
   Paul was stoned in Asia. Not only in Judea, but in other areas of the Roman world, wherever the Jews were settled, it is plain the Jews had the legal right to execute the penalty of their law. The Romans allowed it. But why did the Jews make the statement that we find recorded in John 18:31-32?
   Here is the answer: "From the earliest period the Roman governor took cognizance of all matters that had any relation to the public security or the majesty of the Empire. Consequently there was no time at which the Roman magistrate would not step in when a charge of treason was made, or a seditious movement begun. The case against Jesus is one especially in point, for the charge against him [treason] could under no circumstances be tried by any tribunal except that of the governor."
   Only when it came to treason, civil disobedience, incitement to revolution or attacks against the majesty, that is, Caesar, did the Roman government decide that it was proper that its governors or representatives should intervene. Otherwise, all local administration was carried on by the people and the regular, constituted courts of the conquered nations, of the provinces or of the allies of Rome.
   The opponents of Jesus accused Him of blasphemy. But they did not want to execute Him. So they charged Him with treason before the Romans.
   What the religious leaders had to do was create charges of treason against Jesus in order to bring it up to Pilate so that they would not be responsible for His death.

Summary of events

   After the last supper on Passover, Jesus went out and prayed. Then Judas came with a mob. Accompanying that mob were the high priest, the judges and jury, inciting the mob as they went out to arrest Him.
   After Jesus was arrested, Annas examined Him alone. He was ex-high priest.
   They next took Him to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, before sunrise while it was yet night, where He was informally condemned. After sunrise, the Sanhedrin quickly condemned Him formally to make legal their previous conduct.
   Then they took Him to Pilate on different charges. Pilate wanted to wash his hands of the whole affair. When Pilate found Jesus was of Galilee, he sent Him to Herod. After Herod saw Jesus and could not get anything but silence from Him, Herod decided to let Him go back to Pilate. Then, at the second time before Pilate, the Roman governor, under pressure, gave sentence even against his own will.
   These are the six steps through which Jesus went from after midnight to nearly 9 o'clock. And at 9 o'clock He was crucified. At 3 o'clock that afternoon, He was speared in the side and killed (Matt. 27:49, Moffatt). Shortly before sunset, He was carried to the tomb. That's how quickly the world got rid of the Savior!

Judas' betrayal

   "Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. Then he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude" (Luke 22:3-6).
   Judas' treachery developed as a result of Jesus' rebuke for having condemned the woman who anointed Him with oil. Judas had said to Jesus, "Why didn't you give that to the poor?" Judas wanted that money himself. He would have taken the oil, gone out and sold it, then claimed he gave it to the poor and pocketed the money. That is what he wanted to do, for he was a thief (John 12:1-8).
   So he went to the chief priests and the captains, who bribed him to deliver Jesus in the absence of the crowds who listened to Jesus. The idea was to have Jesus seized privately, so the public, especially the Galileans, would not know until it was over. The plan was to get Jesus at night, try Him at night, sentence Him just after sunrise, to make it look legal, take Him to Pilate, incite a mob to get Pilate to condemn Him, have Him crucified, if possible, in the morning, before those favoring Him would be about.
   Who made up the mob that arrested Jesus? The answer to this question brings us to the first error in Jesus' conviction.
   We should now examine, point by point, the 12 primary reasons why the arrest, trial and conviction of Jesus were illegal.

First reason

   The principle on which any trial may be considered illegal is that it is prejudicial against the man who is tried that it does not allow him to have full recourse to law so that he might present his part of the case.
   Now notice the steps in Jesus' arrest, trial and conviction. The first point is that Jesus was arrested illegally.
   Consider John 18:2-8: "And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place" where Jesus was that night "for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus therefore... went forward and said to them, 'Whom are you seeking?' They answered Him, 'Jesus of Nazareth.' Jesus said to them, 'I am He.' And Judas, who betrayed Him [by a kiss], also stood with them. Then when He said to them, 'I am He,' they drew back and fell to the ground. Then He asked them again, 'Whom are you seeking?' And they said, 'Jesus of Nazareth.' Jesus answered, 'I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way.'"
   Now continue with Luke 22:52: "Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, 'Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs?' "
   Those who went to have Christ arrested included the priests and elders His judges! Among them were the very ones who bribed Judas!
   Jesus was arrested secretly, by night. He was not arrested on the formal charge of any crime. There was no charge presented here. There was no warrant for His arrest, no statement of what He had done. They just simply took Him.
   Contrary to what Mr. Husband said in his book, The Prosecution of Jesus, there was no legal basis on which Jesus was arrested. Nobody had presented testimony or evidence of guilt to the Sanhedrin whereby they could have requested His arrest.
   Here is what Jewish law declares. Mendelsohn says in his Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, page 274: "The testimony of an accomplice," that is, Judas, "is not permissible by Rabbinic law... and no man's life, nor his liberty, nor his reputation can be endangered by the malice of one who has confessed himself a criminal."
   The very fact that Judas took a bribe from the judges was certainly proof that Judas was guilty of a criminal offense.

Second reason

   The first step in Jesus' trial was a preliminary examination in a private night proceeding before Annas (John 18:12-14, 19-23).
   Notice the Jewish law on this point from Dupin's book, Jesus Devant Caiaphe et Pilate (a French work): "Now the Jewish law prohibited all proceedings by night."
   Salvador in his Institutions de Moise, pages 365-366, declares, "An accused man was never subjected to private or secret examination." Yet Jesus was.
   According to the law, as stated in the Jerusalem Talmud, the Sanhedrin sat from the close of the morning sacrifice to the time of the evening sacrifice. And Lemann says in his book, Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, page 109, "No session of the court could take place before the offering of the morning sacrifice." No night meetings were permitted.
   The law permitted such an investigation only upon daylight.

Third reason

   The indictment against Jesus was itself false and therefore illegal.
   According to the law of the Jews, declares Edersheim in Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume I, page 309: "The Sanhedrin did not, and could not, originate charges."
There was no legal basis on which Jesus was arrested. Nobody had presented evidence of guilt...
   But in Jesus' case, it did.
   Here was the proper procedure, as stated by Innes in his book, The Trial of Jesus Christ, page 41: "The evidence of the leading witnesses constituted the charge. There was no other charge; no more formal indictment." In Jesus' case there at first had been no witnesses presented. Opponents simply arrested and started to accuse Him.
   Continuing: "Until they [the witnesses] spoke, and spoke in the public assembly, the prisoner was scarcely an accused man. When they spoke, and the evidence of two agreed together, it formed a legal charge, libel or indictment, as well as the evidence for its truth."
   Next consider that Mendelsohn writes, page 110: "The only prosecutors known to Talmudic criminal jurisprudence are the witnesses to the crime. Their duty is to bring the matter to the cognizance of the court, and to bear witness against the criminal" after he is arrested. "In capital cases, they are the legal executioners also. Of an official accuser or prosecutor there is nowhere any trace in the laws of the ancient Hebrews."
   In the case of Jesus there were no witnesses who presented their evidence to the court. The court took it upon itself to secretly arrest Jesus; then they had to find false witnesses.

Fourth reason

   The Sanhedrin court illegally proceeded to hold its trial of Jesus before sunrise.
   Notice that the preliminary investigation before Annas brought forth no evidence whatsoever. Instead of dismissing the case they proceeded to hold an illegal court.
   Why was it illegal? Mendelsohn states: "Criminal cases can be acted upon by the various courts during day time only, and by the Lesser Sanhedrins from the close of the morning service till noon, and by the Great Sanhedrin till evening" (page 112).
   The trial of Jesus was begun at night in the hours of early morning, without any witnesses to defend Jesus.
   Here is what Maimonides writes in Sanhedrin III: "The reason why the trial of a capital offence could not be held at night is because... the examination of such a charge is like the diagnosing of a wound in either case a more thorough and searching examination can be made by daylight."
   The Mishna says, Sanhedrin IV, 1: "Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend it at night." Once more the opponents of Jesus violated their law in order to rid themselves of Jesus and His teachings.

(To be continued)

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Good News MagazineFebruary 1983VOL. XXX, NO. 2
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