6 Outrageous Judicial Errors in the Trial of Jesus Christ

Millenia have passed since the trial of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. Debates regarding the judicial errors involved are still ongoing.

Jan 4, 2024By Marc Barabas, MA Judicial Career, BA Law

jesus christ trial judicial errors


The main source of information regarding the trial of Jesus Christ is the New Testament. All four canonical gospels refer to the trial which took part in two phases: one before the Jewish judicial body, represented by the high priest Caiaphas (also called the “Sanhedrin”), and the other before the Roman governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate. From a judicial perspective, many have been the judicial errors that crept into the trial and eventually affected its accuracy and equity. Below we will turn our attention to the most flagrant ones.


1. Lack of Evidence in Support of the Accusations Against Jesus Christ

jesus christ before pilate rembrandt
Christ before Pilate, by Rembrandt, 1636, via the MET Museum of Art


This is probably the most outrageous judicial error that occurred during the entire procedure. We know from the New Testament that there was a flagrant lack of evidence in support of the accusations brought against Jesus. As Holy Scripture tells us, Pontius Pilate, as the judicial authority, asked the crowd who angrily demanded the crucifixion “Why, what evil hath he done?” (Mark 15:14)


Seeing that Pilate insisted on supporting his final decision on solid evidence, the crowd attempted to produce evidence in support of the accusation: ”And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none.” (Mark 14:55, 56) 


Pilate had a solid knowledge of Roman law and procedure and attempted to follow these rules as accurately as possible. Thus, he persuaded the crowd to provide evidence in support of the accusations. Nevertheless, in the end, Pilate admitted that no accusation could be sustained, however, he ruled in violation of the law to sentence Him to crucifixion.

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What is even more undermining is how Pilate seeks to discharge himself of responsibility. In the famous hand-washing scene, he admitted “(…) he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it”(Matthew 27:24). What stronger proof that the sentence was profoundly unlawful could there be?


2. Abuse Against the Accused

flagellation of jesus christ
The Flagellation of Christ, by Caravaggio, 1606, via Musee de Beaux-arts, Rouen


As per both Mosaic and Roman law, prisoners were to be treated fairly and humanely during a trial. Roman law dictated that the accused should remain free and that he must be considered innocent unless proven guilty (per the Digest of Justinian 22.3.2). Even within the Old Testament, it is mentioned that: “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbour fairly.”(Leviticus 19:13)


During the trial’s proceedings, Jesus was repeatedly physically and psychologically abused by the crowd who had gathered to watch the grotesque spectacle. The unfair treatment of the accused can very obviously be seen from the scriptures; Jesus should have been protected at least until a final judgment was pronounced.


Various shocking scenes are presented by the evangelists. “Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, and said, ‘Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?’”(Luke 18:22-23)


We may note that even the accused Himself was aware that he was illegally abused by the participants. Jesus asked: “‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?”(Luke 18:22-23)


Last but not least, this conduct, tacitly allowed by the authorities, was equivalent to a “judgment” pronounced by the crowd, who had neither the legitimacy nor competence to determine the culpability of the accused.


3. Lack of Defence 

jesus christ before Pontius Pilate Bosch
Christ Before Pontius Pilate, by the followers of Hieronymus Bosch, 1520, via Princeton University


Mosaic law, in cases of capital law, required the court to open the deliberations with an attempt to acquit the accused and not to find him liable (Sanhedrin 4:1). A similar right of self-defense was provided by Roman law.


On the other hand, Jesus’ trial, in the courtyard of Caiaphas, began with the chief priests and the whole council trying to obtain false testimony against Him. There is no record of anyone speaking on his behalf or defending him.


Moreover, the accused was forced to testify against himself, as the Council directly asked him: “If you are the Christ, tell us” (Luke 22:67) A proper defense would have required the accused to speak freely against the charges brought against him. Jesus was deprived of this essential right, but seeing how the trial progressed, it appeared that almost all the participants were hostile and vocally against him, with no one standing up for him or even questioning in any way the accusations brought.


4. False Accusations and Calumny

the false witnesses james tissot
The False Witness, by James Tissot, 19th century, via the Brooklyn Museum


Roman law defined calumnia as wilful false accusations during a trial. It was considered a crime and was eventually condemned by the law if the accuser acted with evil intentions. As per Mosaic law, Deuteronomy states that “if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other part.”(Deuteronomy 19:15-21)


During Jesus’ trial, the Bible describes several attempts to provide false accusations against the Son of God. The Gospel of Matthew says: “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward.”


tintoretto jesus christ before pilate
Christ Before Pilate, by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1566-67, via Wikimedia Commons


In the Gospel of Luke, even Pilate exposes the falsehood of the accusations “I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him” (Luke 23:14). Not only that such false accusation had been raised during the trial but it seemed that the final decision was wrongfully founded on these calumnies.


5. Illegal Timing of the Trial

caravaggio arrest of jesus christ
The Taking of Christ, by Caravaggio, 1602, via the National Gallery


Mosaic law required that cases of capital law could only be held during the daytime. Scripture tells us that at least the first phase of the trial of Jesus actually took place during the night. Thus, the preliminary hearing at the house of Annas, as well as the first deliberation in front of Caiaphas both happened before dawn.


The timing of the first phase of the trial can be easily deducted from the Gospel of Matthew by reference to the second phase of the trial set before Governor Pilate. Thus, the scripture reads that only when morning came did the chief priests and elders hand Jesus over to Pilate for the final stage of the trial to take place (Matthew 27:1-2).


6. Bribery and the Trial of Jesus Christ

rembrant judas 30 pieces silver
Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, by Rembrandt, 1629, via Wikimedia Commons


Corruption affects the core fundaments of any social system. When it happens in relation to a judicial act, the consequences are even more serious, directly impacting the rights of the participants in a trial.


Although the Romans referred to bribery mainly in an electoral context, Mosaic law strictly forbids such acts. In a large chapter within Exodus, God himself dictated to Moses an important set of Laws of Justice and Mercy. In one of the most relevant passages, God tells Moses “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.” (Exodus, 23:8)


The infamous bribery scene which constituted the triggering factor of the trial is depicted in the Gospel of Matthew: “Then one of the Twelve — the one called Judas Iscariot — went to the chief priests 15 and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.”(Matthew 26:14-15)


As a result of Judas’ act, the whole judicial act was vitiated from the beginning, as bribery was an illegal advantage offered by the high priests to Jesus’ apostle. Thus, the legitimacy and integrity of the religious judicial authorities was annulled and their decisions in the respective case could have been seriously questioned.

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By Marc BarabasMA Judicial Career, BA LawMarc is a lawyer, focusing on EU competition law and international law, with a keen interest in history and arts. He holds a BA in Law from “Babes-Bolyai” University of Cluj, as well as an MA in Judicial Career at the University of Bucharest. Currently working as an associate lawyer in a reputable Romanian business law firm. In his spare time he likes to read, travel, visit museums, art galleries, and churches, and write articles.