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Who Talked?

Updated on July 26, 2015


Scott Campbell

An interesting puzzle exists regarding the Gospel accounts of Yeshua's trial that resulted in His crucifixion and that is, where did the Gospel writers get their information? Let it be understood that all four accounts are, at best, second hand accounts for it is clearly stated that the disciples fled after Yeshua's arrest (Matt. 26:56; all verses are KJV unless otherwise noted). Only Peter followed but covertly and only made it as far as the courtyard of the High Priest (Matt. 26:58) where he waited to see what would happen. However he was identified as a follower of Yeshua and as was prophesied he subsequently vehemently denied Yeshua (Matt. 26:69-75). The next mention of any disciple being anywhere near the events of Yeshua's trial and crucifixion is that of John being near the cross with Yeshua's mother (John 19:25-26). Yet all four Gospel accounts provide details relating to Yeshua's appearances before the priests, Herod and twice before Pilate. So if none of the Gospel writers were present then obviously their information came from other sources which raises the question as to who they might have been.

There are a number of possible explanations as how the writers gained their information relating to Yeshua's trials. One would be that the accounts are all fabrications, as many doubters claim. Obviously if one accepts this theory there is no further need to continue. Another explanation would be that Jesus himself relayed the information to the writers after His resurrection, seeing that he was with them for some forty days after He was raised from the dead. Another somewhat related explanation is that the writers received this information through the inspiration of G-d, seeing that all scripture is received through this power (2 Tim. 3:16). The possibility of these two theories being correct is doubtful in that if the separate accounts had been divinely delivered, whether it was by Yeshua himself or from G-d through the Holy Spirit, why are there noticeable and significant differences in the information? The final option is that the writers received their information from people that were actually present, which would make the information second hand, or from people that were somehow associated with actual witnesses to the events, making it at best third person.

A careful examination of the four accounts and specifically the unique information in each of the accounts will allow us to tentatively "identify" the sources. This identification can, at best, provide us with a possible group of people that may have provided the information that is recorded in the four Gospels. even so this identification will provide us with a hint as to the reach or contacts that the Gospel writers had developed within the community. While all four accounts generally relate the same story, admittedly there are differences but no significant variance between the accounts. That there are minor differences should not be considered as proof that they are not legitimate accounts; actually this would tend to support their validity, seeing that they were written by four different persons and not coming from a single source. If all four accounts were identical this would seriously suggest fabrication. These differences are small details and are unique to a specific account and as was said they indicate that the writers had separate sources.

Let it be understood that it is, based on available historical evidence, impossible to specifically name who the different Gospel writers relied upon for the information they presented in their accounts. However one can gain an idea of the group of suspects based on this information and if this summation is correct it provides an interesting cast and again testifies to the spread within Jerusalem of the followers of Yeshua.

Mark's Account; Chapter 15

1 And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto them, Thou sayest it. 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing. 4 And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee. 5 But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled. 6 Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. 7 And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. 8 And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. 9 But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? 10 For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy. 11 But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. 12 And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? 13 And they cried out again, Crucify him. 14 Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him. 15 And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. 16 And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. 17 And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, 18 And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! 19 And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.

Mark's account is possibly the briefest of the four accounts. One might label his as the general public account because the bulk of his information could have been gleaned from the people (i.e. Jewish) that followed along when Yeshua was taken before Pilate. Briefly the events described in verses 3-15 could have been relayed to Mark from a Jewish witness or witnesses. This is obvious since Mark speaks of the priests and the crowd interacting with Pilate.

The origin of the information regarding the incident in verse two is uncertain due to Mark does not relate where exactly it happened. This apparently minor detail is significant, in John's account Yeshua's initial encounter with Pilate is in the Judgment Hall (John 18:28) and the priest's remained outside and then Pilate came out to meet with them. The reason the priests and one may safely assume those Jewish citizens that were also present, to remain spiritually clean and therefore able to take part in the Passover were forbidden to enter a Gentile's house. One was considered spiritually defiled and therefore not allowed to partake in the Passover, if one came into contact with a dead body or a tomb and it was believed that the Romans buried their still born and/or aborted fetuses in their homes and that in a spiritual sense made their homes tombs. As was said the origin for this piece of information is unclear due to its lack of telling where it occurred. If it happened outside of the Judgment Hall then a Jewish source is possible but if it happened inside then it could not have come from a Jewish source.

More certainty can be exercised regarding the events recorded in verses 16-20; the flogging and mocking of Yeshua by the soldiers. The Praetorium was a combination of the Roman Army headquarters, commanding officer's residence and officers quarters; it was generally a large structure and was constructed around two open courts and most had areas around them designed for the troops to exercise or drill in. Seeing that the Praetorium served as the residence for the troops commanders and based on the Jewish view of Gentile homes being equal to a tomb then it is highly unlikely any Jew actually observed the flogging and subsequent behavior of the soldiers towards Yeshua.{1} Also seeing that the Praetorium was the army headquarters, it is doubtful that the Romans would have allowed citizens (hostile citizens at that) of an occupied land to enter such a important location.

So it would seem that while the bulk of Mark's account could have come from actual witnesses or possibly the word-on-the-street, some of it had to come from non-Jewish sources and the most likely source would appear someone within the Roman military forces that were present.

Matthew's Account; Chapter 27

1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death; 2 and they bound him and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor...11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You have said so." 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?" 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly. 15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?" 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream." 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." 22 Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said, "Let him be crucified." 23 And he said, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified." 24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." 25 And all the people answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, 29 and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 30 And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.

For the most part Matthew's account seems quite close to Mark's suggesting that they may have been utilizing the same source or sources. However Matthew has a unique piece of information that none of the other Gospel writers relate. This single item is significant in that it suggests a very prominent person may have provided it. The item is verse 19; Matthew writes that while Pilate was hearing the case against Yeshua ("while he was sitting on the judgment seat") his wife sent him a note urging him to have nothing to do with Yeshua. She tells her husband that Yeshua is a "righteous man".

This single verse is the only mention of Pilate's wife in the entire New Testament. Very little is known about her; according to the Apocryphal book, The Gospel of Nicodemus, her name was Claudia Procula, and supposedly a granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus. The book also says that she was a proselyte to Judaism. Tradition, unverified although, claims she later converted to Christianity and some have postulated that she is the Claudia mentioned by Paul.

The significance of this detail is who could have possibly passed this information to Matthew? There would appear to be just three likely candidates and there are; 1) Pilate's wife herself, 2) Pilate or 3) someone very close to either one of them, most probably the messenger that took the note from her to Pilate. Seeing that Matthew is the only one to provide this little nugget it would seem the pool of people that were aware of this incident was limited. It might be worthwhile to recall that Matthew, prior to being called by Yeshua, was a tax collector which would have provided him contact with Roman officials. It is unknown if he had such contacts, but a reasonably safe assumption, how extensive they may have been and whether he maintained any such contacts after becoming an Apostle. Regardless his knowledge of this incident, whether he was personally told by the source or received it from someone else, indicates a very highly placed source. A source that would appear to be very close to the Roman governor.

Luke's Account; chapter 23

1 And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King. 3 And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it. 4 Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man. 5 And they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place. 6 When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean. 7 And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time. 8 And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him. 9 Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing. 10 And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him. 11 And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate. 12 And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves. 13 And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: 15 No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. 16 I will therefore chastise him, and release him. 17 (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.) 18 And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: 19 (Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.) 20 Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. 21 But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. 22 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. 23 And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. 24 And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. 25 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

Luke's account provides us with the only mention of Yeshua being sent to Herod (vs. 7-12) while it is puzzling as to why none of the other writers mention this in their accounts it may provide us with a hint as to who Luke got his information from. Luke also, unlike the Matthew and Mark, record Pilate as telling the priests that he had found no fault in Yeshua and did not deserve to die. In fact, in Luke's account we find Pilate repeatedly telling the crowd that Yeshua was not guilty and yet they, incited by the priests, demanded for His death (vs. 13-18, 20-23).

Selecting a possible source for Luke's account the inclusion of Yeshua being tried before Herod narrows the field. The candidates are either a member of the priests whom we find mentioned being present when Yeshua is initially before Pilate, then Herod and back again to Pilate. The other possible source could be one of the guards that transported Yeshua about during his appearances. Seeing that Herod was a Jewish ruler and that Pilate had said since Yeshua was Galilaean Herod had jurisdiction; it is rather probable that the guards were Temple guards and not Roman soldiers.

Considering Luke's history the likely source of this information is probably a priest or scribe. We know that Luke was a traveling companion of St. Paul and possibly even his personal physician. Paul was a Pharisee and had been a student of Gamaliel; a highly respected Jewish teacher, in Jewish tradition he is considered the greatest teacher of the Torah.

Prior to his dramatic conversion while on the road to Damascus Paul had been vehemently persecuting the followers of Yeshua. While there is no definitive proof it is a safe assumption that during his tenure as a Pharisee serving in the Temple, before his conversion to following Yeshua, Paul developed contacts/friendships with other Pharisees and priests who may have been actual witnesses to the event eventually relayed to Luke. It is rather doubtful that Paul himself was the source of Luke's information primarily due to the fact that in his extensive writings Paul makes no comment of having been present during Yeshua's trial and crucifixion. For approximately the first ten years after Yeshua's resurrection and ascension the followers of Yeshua were Jewish; in fact until Paul's missionary work among the Gentiles the followers of Yeshua were considered just a sect of Judaism. Some of these followers were priests and scribes; Nicodemus is one priest that is personally named as a follower. While it is questionable whether Luke's information came directly from Paul it is more probable that it came from one of the priests or scribes that had become followers of Yeshua and that Luke had become acquainted with.

John's Account; chapters 18-19

28 Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover. 29 Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? 30 They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. 31 Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: 32 That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die. 33 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? 34 Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? 35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? 36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. 37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. 38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. 39 But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? 40 Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

Chapter 19

1 Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. : 2 And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, 3 And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. 4 Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. 5 Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! 6 When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. 7 The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. 8 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; 9 And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? 11 Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. 12 And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar. 13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! 15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. 16 Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.

John's account is the longest of the four; providing the most detailed record of the exchanges between Yeshua and Pilate. Similar to Luke's account John relates how Pilate strongly desired to free Yeshua, finding no guilt in him. In John's version Pilate was in a true Hobson's choice {2}; he did not want to condemn Yeshua to death but if he did succumb to the priest's demands, who were inciting the crowd, there would be violence. Further they were threatening to report to Caesar if Pilate did not do as they wanted, that Pilate was not punishing someone that was claiming to be king. Pilate could do what he knew was right and free Yeshua and potentially face unrest in Judea and also have to explain his actions to Caesar, not always a pleasant affair.

Considering that John's source provided details of the words exchanged between Yeshua and Pilate and a fair amount at that it is safe to assume that the source was an actual witness. As was mentioned regarding Mark's account, one can eliminate any Jewish source since John clearly records that the Jews remained outside of the Judgment Hall and Pilate came out to speak to them. Yet Yeshua was inside the Judgment Hall and that is where the conversations occurred. This narrows the cast of possible sources down to a small group; Pilate himself, a member of Pilate's staff or a Roman soldier.

Pilate can be considered as not likely simply due to the fact that John does not mention anything about the note that Pilate's wife sent to him while he was speaking to Yeshua (see Matthew's account). Although not a definitive cause to say that Pilate was not the source it is significant that, if he was the source, that this item was not mentioned. Unless he felt that it wasn't really important to whomever he was speaking to. Granted John's account does relate some of the thoughts that Pilate had; his fear of the Jews revolting and his desire to release Yeshua.

While there is no mention of others being present while Pilate spoke to Yeshua it is probably a safe assumption that there were. Pilate probably had servants and advisors present or at least close at hand and maybe they either witnessed the events or possibly Pilate relayed it to them later. It is more probable that there were soldiers present during this time. Recall that Yeshua had been arrested and sent to Pilate as a prisoner, accused of trying to stir up rebellion against Rome. He was bound when he was brought before Pilate, this was no casual visit. It seems rather unlikely that the Romans would allow an accused person to be present with the governor unguarded. While John does briefly mentions Yeshua being scourged by the soldiers and the placing of the crown of thorns upon his head the scarcity of information about these events would tend to point towards someone close to Pilate as being the source John used for his information. Only a Roman source would have been in position to see and hear the pertinent things that are unique to John's version.

So Who Talked?

While it is now beyond possibility to name any individual as the source of the information that was used by the four Gospel writers one can at least suggest who it might have been. As was said, the accounts are at best second hand accounts, while it is safe to assume that the writers were familiar with the word-in-the-street, what people that had been there were saying or had said, providing the bare details of Yeshua's appearance before Pilate this can not explain how they gained the unique items they reported. As was shown, except for Luke's account, the information that was unique to the separate accounts could not have been from Jewish sources.

It has been shown that the possible sources for this unique information could only have been Roman. Because of the uniqueness it is rather unlikely that the writers were utilizing the same source for their accounts. The possible sources may have been; Pilate, although this is rather doubtful, Pilate's wife, a member of Pilate's staff and a member of the Roman soldiers that were stationed in Jerusalem.

If this is correct this indicates a very significant advancement of the followers of Yeshua. It indicates that they had developed some type of contact with some Roman soldiers, members of the local Roman government, and possibly even with the governor's wife. It is unclear how this information was obtained; whether the source 'confessed' to someone (i.e. wanted to get it off their chest, so to speak) or whether it simply came up during casual conversation. Regardless of how it was obtained it points to a significant reach that had been obtained. Obviously the early followers were not just hiding in a back room but were active within the Jerusalem community. It is beyond discovery but it worth wondering if any of these sources became or already were followers of Yeshua.

{1} The mocking and degrading of Yeshua by the soldiers following His flogging was not unique. It was standard practice of Roman soldiers to mock and degrade prisoners that had been condemned to death prior to their execution.

{2} Hobson's choice - the choice between two undesirable alternatives.


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    • profile image

      sacoh58 2 years ago

      This unknown disciple may have overheard what words were exchanged between the High Priest and Yeshua but he could not have been a witness as to what happened between Yeshua and Pilate.

      Thanks for catching my oversight

    • profile image

      graceinus 2 years ago from those of the Ekklesia

      I believe there needs to be a correction on one point you made. Peter was not the only disciple to follow Jesus to the courtyard of the High Priest. Note John 18: 15-16 (NKJV) which states 15 And Simon Peter followed Jesus, AND so did another DISCIPLE. Now that DISCIPLE was know to the high priest, and WENT WITH Jesus INTO the courtyard of the high priest. 16 But Peter stood at to door outside. Then the OTHER DISCIPLE, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in.

      This unknown "disciple" knew the high priest and he very well could have been the unknown source "who talked."It's not know what this unknown disciple did after he allow Peter to enter, but it is possible he heard what was said between the high priest and Jesus.

      Have a good day.


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