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Why Do We Say “Suffered Under Pontius Pilate?”


A Busted Halo fan wrote to Father Dave with the following question of faith: “In all four Gospels, we read that Pontius Pilate ‘washed his hands’ of the guilt of condemning Christ to death, and even his wife begged him to spare this ‘holy man.’ It was the Jews who freed Barabbas and demanded the crucifixion of Christ. So why do we say ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’?”

Father Dave recalls that Brett once asked a question about why Pontius Pilate’s name is included in the creed at all, when he is, in a sense, one of the villains of the Gospel? Here, though, the question is whether or not it’s really Pilate’s fault. Why not say suffered under the Pharisees or the Jews who demanded Christ’s execution instead? Brett remembers that part of the reason Pilate’s name is mentioned in the creed is as a stand-in for the Roman province at the time, and Father Dave expands on that, saying:

“The major reason is that — certainly at the time of the Nicene Creed and even 2,000 years later — any time that the Gospel writers mention … historical figures, they’re doing that specifically to situate the events they’re describing at an actual time in history … that we can verify using other sources. We can find outside the Bible that this guy Pontius Pilate was a Roman governor of Jerusalem … we can verify that. So when we say it in the creed, we’re saying that this really happened. So that’s why we mention Pilate — not [for the reasons speculated in either of these two questions] because he’s a good guy or he’s a superstar and we should continue to remember him after all these years or because we’re blaming him rather than any of the other factors that actually made the crucifixion happen. [Citing his name] pinpoints the events at an actual point in history, and in our creed, we are saying that we believe this really happened at this time.”

To address the idea behind the initial question, that perhaps Pontius Pilate wasn’t to blame for the death of Christ, Father Dave raises this point: “Regardless of if he washed his hands or not or regardless of whether his wife said ‘Honey, that wasn’t such a good idea …’ It still was [Pilate’s] authority to declare that [Jesus] be executed, and he actually did do that.” (Original Air 04-25-17)