For N.T. Character Study 24, Pilate (23 minutes), click on the play button below:

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The man

  • A Roman, quite possibly Italian.
  • Governor / prefect of Judea 26-36 AD.
  • We can build a composite picture from the N.T., several extrabiblical references, and even archaeology:
    • Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 3,13, 23; Acts 3, 4. 13; John 18, 19; [1 Tim 6].
    • The writings of Philo (Embassy to Gaius), Josephus (Jewish War and History of the Jews), and Tacitus (Annals).
    • Pilate stone, found in Caesarea Maritima in 1961. Dedication stone to the emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37 AD) had been recycled as part of the Roman theater. Judea was governed by a prefect; this was changed to procurator starting 44 AD. The Bible uses the correct terms-- a testament to its authenticity.
  • Matthew 27:11-14,18,19,23-24,26; John 18:28-38; John 19:18-22.

Political history

  • Protege of Sejanus, head of the Praetorian Guard.
  • Member of the Equestrian class.
  • Tasked with keeping the peace; collecting taxes; governing the distant Syria (including Judea).
  • Insensitive actions
    • Soldiers carried Roman standards (idolatrous images) into Jerusalem -- protests.
    • Temple money spent on aqueduct: soldiers in crowd at Pilate's signal turned on them beating killing.
    • Shields brought into Jerusalem (near Temple), with inscriptions claiming divinity for the emperor Tiberius.
    • Samaritans planning to go up Mt. Gerizim to see alleged Mosaic items -- massacred en route.
  • Recalled to Rome, but by the time he'd arrived the emperor had died (37 AD).
  • Luke 13:1 fits well with what is known about Pilate from the extrabiblical sources.
  • Late legend that the emperor Caligula (37-41 AD) ordered him to commit suicide.


  • A politician (but not in the sense of wooing voters -- the emperor could remove him).
  • Roman: practical man, doing what was expedient.
  • Still, seems to have been in two minds about how to deal with Jesus. A picture emerges of a man who was unsure how to conduct himself, inconsistently overbearing or, at other times detached.
  • Insensitive to those among whom he served.
  • Brutal (e.g, bribery and executions without trial).

Multiple chances to respond in faith

  • Interview with Jesus (e.g. John 18).
  • The dream of Claudia.
  • The baseless charges of the Jewish leadership.
  • 6 years of Christianity before his recall to Rome!
  • Some late legends that Pilate became a Christian, but this is highly unlikely. It is unthinkable that the gospels would not have recorded such extraordinary news! It is also implausible given his vacillating and cruel character.

Lessons for us

  • Take responsibility for our actions. Some decisions are impossible to distance ourselves from.
  • Politics is messy, and often requires moral compromises for the good of the state.
  • Don't ignore your wife's counsel!
  • Don't jump to the conclusion that God hasn't been giving people chances to respond to the truth, or that he is unfair. He is at work in every life (Acts 17); he has forgotten no one.

Further study

  • Review all the Pilate passages.
  • Listen to the Barabbas podcast.

Next study: Claudia Procula.