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The Trial Of Christ


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#1 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 03:54 PM

Trinitarians will point to a number of passages from the Gospel of John in which they claim that (a) Jesus was claiming to be God, and (b) his audience understood the significance of this claim, and accused him of blasphemy. Trinitarians further assert that it was incidents such as these which eventually led to his trial and crucifixion.

But if this really is true, how do we explain the fact that none of them were raised at the trial? Surely, if Jesus' enemies actually had some hard evidence against him - evidence which conclusively demonstrated that he had claimed to be God - it would have been raised at this time.

And yet, no such evidence is forthcoming. Instead we have an illegal trial with false witnesses, false accusations and a blatant disregard for due process.

Why is this? Why would men with an ironclad case against a man allegedly claiming to be God, find it necessary to fabricate a set of charges against him? It doesn't make any sense.

When we come to examine the trial, its deficiencies become even more obvious. And from a Trinitarian perspective, the most problematic of these is the fact that nobody accuses Jesus of presenting himself as the God of the Bible.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#2 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 04:03 PM

Compare:
  • Exodus 20:16
    Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

  • Exodus 23:1
    Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.

  • Matthew 26:59-61
    Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
    But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none.
    At the last came two false witnesses,
    And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.

  • Mark 14:56
    For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.
Notice that the accusers in Matthew 26 fail to comprehend the true significance of Jesus' words; they refer to the literal temple, but Jesus had spoken of his body. Trinitarians employ this incident (from John 2:19) as a classic argument for the deity of Christ (see here) but the Biblical record shows that Christ's enemies did not understand it in this way.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#3 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 04:16 PM

The Law of Moses specifically stated that if witnesses at a trial were discovered to be false, they must suffer the penalty which would otherwise have come upon the one they accused:
Deuteronomy 19:16-19
If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;
Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother;
Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.
It was obvious to everyone that the false witnesses at the trial of Jesus were lying, since their testimony did not agree. But we find no record of their punishment; and this is itself a glaring breach of the Law.

Their escape from the consequences of their sin is no mystery, for the Gospels explain that they were stooges hired by the Sanhedrin - who would hardly punish their own agents for a crime in which they themselves were complicit.

But for Trinitarians, a puzzling question remains: why did the Sanhedrin find it necessary to use false witnesses, if Jesus' claims to deity were already well documented?

For those of us who reject Trinitarianism, the answer is clear: because no such claims were made.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#4 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 04:39 PM

Compare:
  • Exodus 23:7
    Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.

  • Matthew 27:3-4. 17-24
    Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
    Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.

    [...]

    Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ
    For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
    When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
    But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
    The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
    Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
    And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
    When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, 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.

  • John 11:47-53
    Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.
    If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.

    And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,
    Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
    And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;
    And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
    Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.
The Law of Moses stipulated that trials must be fair and honest, without malicious intent. Yet here we see the Sanhedrin openly acknowledging a blatant miscarriage of justice. They show no more respect for the Law than for Judas; even in their own private meeting they admit that their desire to be rid of Jesus is borne of a self-serving pragmatism, as opposed to any religious consideration.

Again the obvious question arises: why the need to rig a trial if they believed that Jesus was guilty as charged? Why no acknowledgement of the incidents in which Trinitarians believe that Jesus was claiming deity?

The answer from Biblical Unitarianism is simple: because these incidents - though clearly offensive to Jesus' enemies - were acknowledged by them as constituting no valid basis for a legitimate accusation under the Law of Moses.

Trinitarians will find it difficult to formulate a response without contradicting their standard arguments from passages such as John 2:19 and John 8:58.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#5 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 05:46 PM

Compare:
  • Leviticus 21:1
    And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes;

  • Mark 14:63.
    Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses?
What moved the High Priest to break the Law himself by tearing his clothes? Was it a purely spontaneous outburst, provoked by the blasphemous nature of Jesus' alleged claims to deity?

Trinitarian commentator Adam Clarke finds an entirely different motivation:Quesnel’s note on this is worthy of notice.

“See here a false zeal, a mask of religion, and a passionate and seditious way of proceeding, tending only to incense and stir up others, all which are common to those who would oppress truth by cabal, and without proof.

By crying out, ‘heresy, blasphemy, and faction,’ though contrary to all appearance, men fail not to stir up those in power, to gain the simple, to give some shadow of authority to the ill-disposed, to cast devout but ignorant people into scruples, and thereby to advance the mystery of iniquity, which is the mystery of all ages.”

This was the very plan his Catholic brethren adopted in this country, in the reign of Queen Mary, called the bloody queen, because of the many murders of righteous men which she sanctioned at the mouth of her Catholic priesthood.
One might argue that the High Priest simply forgot himself in a moment of passion, but the prohibition against the rending of his garments contains no escape clause. The High Priest was intended to be a model of sobriety and dignity for the nation; he received no special consideration or exemption from the Law.

Though undoubtedly indignant at Jesus' responses, the High Priest (who was at that stage surrounded by men just as legalistic as himself) would not have torn his garments unless he could be certain of his audience's approval. The type of man who accused Jesus' disciples of "working on the Sabbath" by rubbing corn in their hands, is the type of man who can be expected to maintain a scrupulous adherence to the letter of the Law, even if he does his best to evade its spirit.

For these reasons, we can be utterly certain that the High Priest's action was both deliberate and carefully considered. But what was the purpose? None other than the recorded outcome: incitement of the mob by an apparent loss of self control, ostensibly prompted by an alleged blasphemy from the mouth of the accused. How ironic that this constituted a breach of the very Law that the High Priest was claiming to uphold!

The cry was "blasphemy", but it rang hollow; Jesus had said nothing which might have justified it.

Some Trinitarians will argue that Jesus' "blasphemy" was a claim to deity, extrapolated by the Sanhedrin from his claim to be God's Son. But the argument finds no basis in Scripture, for the Jews of Christ's day believed that the Messiah would be the Son of God, and found no implication of deity in this relationship:
  • Matthew 26:63
    But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.

  • Mark 14:61
    But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
The High Priest's question confirms his conflation of "Christ" ("Messiah") with "Son of God"; the High Priest is simultaneously demonstrating what he understands by the title, and asking if Jesus lays claim to it. His phrasing even resembles the language of Luke 1:32 ("...the Son of the Highest") and yet there is no hint that a claim of divine Sonship necessarily implies divine nature.

When questioned by Pilate, Jesus' accusers had said:
John 19:7
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.
But the High Priest's words in Matthew 26 and Mark 14 expose this as a lie; there is nothing in the Law which says that a man must die if he claimed to be the Son of God, and the High Priest's open acknowledgement that "Messiah" = "Son of God" shows that the Jews' protest before Pilate was made on the strength of the realisation that he knew little about their Law, and did not know that this appeal was a spurious one.

Clearly, there can be no basis for arguing that the "blasphemy" of Jesus was a claim to deity via reference to his Sonship; John 10:30 notwithstanding. The High Priest would never have equated "Christ" with "Son of God" if "Son of God" was believed to imply deity, and "I am the Son of God" was a blasphemous claim.

The High Priest rent his robes because he needed a gesture that would be calculated to inflame his audience against Jesus, whilst simultaneously portraying himself as a devout man outraged by the lies of an unrepentant heretic.

In this he was entirely successful.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#6 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 05:50 PM

Under the legislation of Jesus' day, a trial was not permitted to run its full course within a single day - nor could it be held on the eve of a Sabbath:
Property cases may end on the same day whether (the verdict) is to acquit or to convict; capital cases may end with acquittal in one day, but with conviction (only) on the following day. Therefore (capital cases) are not to be tried on the eve of the Sabbath or on the eve of a feast day.
Mishna, Sanhedrin 4.1
But Jesus was arrested, tried, sentenced and executed all within the space of a 24-hour period to which the Sabbath was perilously close.

John 19:14 informs us that it was "the preparation of the Sabbath", and the Sanhedrin specifically requested the removal of Jesus' body from the cross for that reason.

Once again the law was broken in order that Jesus' trial should be expedited with all possible speed; clear evidence that the Sanhedrin had no valid case against him.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#7 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 05:59 PM

Compare:
  • Property cases may be judged by day and end by night; capital cases must be judged by day and end by day.
    Mishna, Sanhedrin 4.1

  • Matthew 26:31, 34
    Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.

    [...]

    Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
Jesus' trial was a capital case. By law, his trial should have been carried out during the day. Instead, we find that it was pushed through overnight.

The practical considerations are obvious; so too are the spiritual connotations:
John 3:19-20
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#8 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 06:04 PM

During his ministry, the Pharisees and Sadducees had claimed that Jesus was a false prophet.

Had this been true - or at the very least, successfully "proved" at the trial - Jesus should have been strangled, not crucified or "hung":
  • The prophet (is) one who prophesies what he has not heard of what has not been told him (by God). His death is at the hands of men [i.e., by strangulation]. But one who suppresses his own prophecy,or who ignores the words of a prophet, or the prophet who sins against his own words: his death is at the hands of Heaven, as it is said:

    --"I will require it of him" (Deut 18:19).
    Mishna, Sanhedrin 11:5

  • One who prophesies in the name of a foreign cult and says:

    --"Thus says the cult of the stars"

    (is to be strangled), even if he conformed to tradition in declaring the unclean "unclean" and the clean "clean."
    Mishna, Sanhedrin 11.6
Instead, Jesus was given to the Romans for crucifixion because the Sanhedrin wanted him to be "hanged on a tree" as "proof" that he was "accursed by God."

According to the Mishna, hanging was reserved for blasphemers and idol worshippers (Mishna, Sanhedrin 6.4); but Jesus had not worshipped idols, nor had he blasphemed. He had also been scrupulous in his insistence that he spoke under the inspiration of God; he had not claimed to speak on his own behalf.

Even if he had been convicted as a false prophet at the trial, he should have been strangled - not hanged or cruficifed.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#9 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 06:52 PM

Jesus was accused of blasphemy, but this charge was never substantiated. He had not broken the Law of Moses or any of the Mishna statutes.
John 19:6-7
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.
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.
Even Trinitarian commentators have been unable to find a passage of Scripture which might be advanced in support of this accusation.

Most scholars suggest the following:
  • Leviticus 24:16
    And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.

  • Deuteronomy 13:1-3, 5
    If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,
    And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee
    , saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;
    Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

    [...]

    And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.

  • Deuteronomy 18:20
    But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
But the words of Jesus had active power; the things he spoke of, came to pass, his miracles were numerous and incontestible, and his humility defied those who would claim that he spoke in his own name:
  • John 5:31-32, 36-37
    If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
    There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.

    [...]

    But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
    And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape

  • John 8:16-18
    And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.
    It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true.
    I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.

  • John 9:16
    Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.

  • John 10:37-38
    If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
    But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

  • John 12:49-50
    For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.
    And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.

'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#10 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 07:14 PM

Had Jesus said anything which might be construed as blasphemy (under even the most tenuous definition of the term) it would have been brandished triumphantly at the trial.

Trinitarians who claim that Jesus spoke the Divine Name and claimed it for his own in John 8:58 are nevertheless unable to explain why this incident was not raised by the Sanhedrin - an omission made even less comprehensible when we examine the Mishna, which describes the laws known to have been operating in Jesus' time:
The blasphemer is not (found) guilty until he pronounces the Name (YHWH).

Rabbi Joshua ben Karcha said:

On the say (of trial) they examined the witnesses with a substitute name: -- (e.g.) "May 'Jose' smite Jose!"
The trial did not end in a death sentence on the strength of the substitute, but they sent every witness outside and examined the main one among them, telling him: --"Say exactly what you heard!"

(When) he said (it), the judges rose to their feet and tore (their garments)---
and did not mend (them).
And the second said: --"I too (heard) what he (did)!"
And the third said: --"I too (heard) what he (did)!"
Mishna, Sanhedrin 7.5
Notice the reference to torn garments; the High Priest may well have been drawing on this imagery for his performance at Jesus' trial.

We see from the Mishna that if Jesus spoken the Name of Yahweh in John 8:58, he would have been guilty of blasphemy under the rules of the day. But the absence of any reference to that incident at the trial, proves that it played no part in the accusations of blasphemy.

This also demonstrates that - regardless of the interpretation placed upon it by Jesus' audience, whatever this may have been - it was not considered blasphemous at the time, nor at any stage afterwards.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#11 Evangelion

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 07:49 PM

The more we examine the trial, the more we realise that its purpose was to convict Jesus of blasphemy, by whatever means. It had to be blasphemy, for the Sanhedrin desperately needed something that would result in Jesus being cursed by the Law.

This necessity arose from Jesus' unprecedented success as a prophet and a travelling preacher. No other Messianic claimant had ever commanded such respect, argued with such confidence, expounded the Word with such clarity, or performed such miraculous works.

Having proved themselves incapable of denying his works, undermining his authority, intimidating him into silence or defeating his arguments, Jesus' enemies were left with only one option - have him convicted as a criminal of the worst possible sort: a blasphemer.

The logic was a simple as it was ruthless: God would never allow a true prophet to be cursed by His Law; ergo, if Jesus was successfully convicted as a blasphemer, he would be cursed beyond redemption and all his credentials would count for nothing. In short, the accusation would be vindicated by the success of the trial; Jesus would be simultaneously discredited and disposed of.

The Sanhedrin were painfully aware that Jesus had already met and defeated a charge of blasphemy once before:
John 10:31-36
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

Christ's appeal to Psalm 82:6 ("I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High") proved so successful that we do not find the accusation ("thou... makest thyself God") repeated at any point after John 10.

It had previously been attempted in John 5, and (under a different guise) in Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5, where Jesus had forgiven sins - but it ends here in John 10, and plays no part in the trial.

Trinitarians need to explain this (along with several other discrepancies in their standard argument from the trial) before they can justify the continued use of such passages as proof texts for the deity of Christ.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.




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