Jesus's Trial, Part 4. The Judicial Principles that were Violated

This is the fourth of five articles discussing the events and circumstances of Jesus's religious trial before the Jewish authorities.

The extent and degree to which the Jewish priests and elders broke the law in order to condemn Jesus was truly staggering. It may not be possible to record all the various ways they violated laws and loopholed rules in this effort.

These articles concerning Jesus's Trial divide the list of rules that the Sadducees and Pharisees broke into two categories: "Judicial Principles" and "Laws of Practice."

Judicial Principles are the laws and rules that frame the heart of justice. They tend to be philosophical in their expression and identify the intent of jurisprudence. The laws in this category deal in generalities and rarely get into specifics.

Laws of Practice are the practical laws and rules that were put in place to ensure that the justice is done. They tend to be particular and spell out specific details in how jurisprudence is to be applied.

The Laws of Practice that the religious authorities violated or loopholed were tangible ways in which they broke the more general but no less sacred rules of the Judicial Principles. These laws are intricately connected. And the Sanhedrin's violations of these laws were a ball of collusion and a treacherous web of deceit. These articles are designed to help untangle some of the mess of their infractions.

Some of the laws concerning Judicial Principle that the Sadducees and Pharisees violated in their prosecution of Jesus include:

  • Conspiracy
  • Neutrality
  • Rigging the Trial

Some of the Laws of Practice that the Sadducees and Pharisees violated in their prosecution of Jesus include:

  • Bribery
  • Illegal Timing (of the trial)
  • Illegal Location (of the trial)
  • Lack of a Charge
  • Lack of Defense
  • Lack of Evidence
  • Abuse
  • False Witnesses
  • Improper Prosecution
  • Forced Self-Incrimination
  • Blasphemy
  • Ignoring the Evidence
  • Faulty Verdict
  • Hasty Sentence
  • Murder

Once again, all of these rules are related to each other, so an action that is a violation of one law is often in violation of others. Also, many of these laws have multiple rules that express them. Where possible we will explicitly cite these various laws. And finally, many of the laws that make up these rules were violated and loopholed more than once. We will try our best to cite and explain the multiple infractions against each rule that took place.

Each of these rules will be organized in the following manner:

  • The Law's Name
  • A Brief Explanation of the Rule
  • The Source(s) (Law of Moses or Mishnah) from which the rule is derived. We will quote and cite its references where we can.
  • The Violation and or Loophole of that Rule with a Scripture Reference.
  • A brief explanation of how the rule was violated or loopholed.


  1. Conspiracy

Rule: Judges were forbidden to conspire against an individual or person for the purpose of condemning him.

Source: The Law of Moses

"Do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness."
(Exodus 23:1b)

The Mishnah

"Once they are rendered conspiring witnesses… they were disqualified to serve."
(Beva Kamma 73a:7)

Violations: There were multiple violations of this rule. Here are four.

a. "But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him" (Matthew 12:14) after Jesus demonstrated the goodness of healing on the Sabbath despite their traditions. This occurred in the middle of Jesus's ministry.

b. Fearful of Jesus's rising popularity and the threat it posed to their privileged status granted by Rome, Caiaphas, the sitting High Priest, told the Sanhedrin that it was "expedient for you" that Jesus die (John 11:47-50); "So from that day on they planned together to kill Him" (John 11:53). This occurred toward the end of Jesus's ministry and shortly after He raised Lazarus back to life from the dead.

c. "Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said" (Matthew 22:15). They then colluded with the pagan Herodians and tried to trick Jesus about the lawfulness of paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:16-17). This occurred when Jesus was teaching in the Temple during His final visit to Jerusalem for Passover.

d. "Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him" (Matthew 26:3-4). This occurred after Jesus exposed the Pharisees as hypocrites and publicly warned them with eight woes (Matthew 23) during His final visit to Jerusalem for Passover.

Conspiracy seems to be the seminal crime committed in Jesus's religious trial. It could be said that most of, if not all, the other infractions on this list are consequences or extensions of this violation. By conspiring to kill Jesus before they had ever had a trial, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Chief Priest all broke God's command to "not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness" (Exodus 23:1b). And by doing this, they disqualified themselves from being His judge.

  1. Neutrality

Rule: Judges had to be neutral and impartial, having neither favor nor disfavor to either side.

Sources: The Law of Moses

"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 neighbor fairly."
(Leviticus 19:15)

"You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial."
(Deuteronomy 16:18-19a)

The Mishnah

"One who loves or one who hates one of the litigants is also disqualified."
(Sanhedrin 3:5)

"Do not [as a judge] play the part of an advocate."
(Pirkei Avot 1:8)

"A witness cannot become a judge."
(Bava Kamma 90b:9)

Violations: There were four basic violations of these laws about impartiality.

a. The first violation was that the men who judged and condemned Jesus clearly hated him. In this sense there were multiple infractions (similar to conspiracy). Here are two infractions of this kind in addition to the violations listed under conspiracy:

"But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' they became indignant."
(Matthew 21:15)

"When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. [But] When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people…"
(Matthew 21:45-46a)

The reason the priests and Pharisees wanted to arrest Jesus, was because "He was speaking about them." They were offended and angry because He exposed their wickedness, but Jesus had broken no law. Their motives for wanting to seize Him were not legal. They were personal. Therefore, they were very much partial judges and unfit to decide His case.

b. The second way Jesus's judges violated the rule of neutrality was that they participated in Jesus's arrest. One cannot arrest a man and then be the one who judges him with impartiality. Officers were to arrest. Judges were to judge. Deuteronomy 16:18 delineates between "judges and officers."

"Immediately while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs, who were from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders."
(Mark 14:43)

"Then Jesus said to the chief priests [Sadducees] and officers of the temple and elders [Pharisees] who had come against Him, 'Have you come out with swords and clubs as you would against a robber?'"
(Luke 22:52)

Mark's expression: "the chief priests and the scribes and the elders" indicates the three groups of the Sanhedrin, the council responsible for Jesus's trial, who would render a condemning verdict against Him. Luke mentions that priests and elders came with the officers to arrest Jesus. The fact that members of the Sanhedrin participated in His arrest demonstrates their bias against Jesus before His case could be tried. Their participation reveals them to be partial magistrates who lack the ability to be neutral judges who will decide His case fairly. This is similar to how in Western law, a police officer who makes an arrest is not fit to be a judge to oversee the trial of the one he arrested. By being active participants in both Jesus's arrest and His trial, these judges violated their own interpretations of Moses's Laws and uncovered their own corruption.

Their involvement in Jesus's arrest excluded them from being His judge because it showed their partiality and invalidated the Sanhedrin's verdict against Him.

c. The third way Jesus's judges violated the rule of neutrality was when Caiaphas (and later the Sanhedrin) began to act as Jesus's prosecutor(s).

"The high priest stood up and said to Him, 'Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?'… 'I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.'"
(Matthew 26:62, 63b)

When Caiaphas addressed Jesus in this manner, he was acting as a prosecutor and not as a neutral judge. According to the Mishnah, Caiaphas's hostile actions advocating against Jesus should have disqualified him as a judge: "Do not [as a judge] play the part of an advocate."
(Mishnah. Pirkei Avot 1:8)

d. The fourth way the impartiality laws were violated was when Caiaphas (Matthew 26:65-66) and later the Sanhedrin (Matthew 27:1, Luke 22:71) acted as both a witness and a judge to Jesus's case. The Jews held such a high regard for impartiality that they forbid a judge from acting as a witness in any case he heard. The Mishnah specified: "a witness cannot become a judge" (Bava Kamma 90b:9). Yet as we've seen and will be further explained in the violation of "Improper Prosecution," Jesus's judges failed to meet the basic, but sacred, standards of impartiality in His trials.

Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin clearly broke laws protecting the impartiality of Jesus's case. Their violations invalidated their verdict.

  1. Rigged Trial

Rule: Judges were to weigh evidence and render an honest, fair verdict.

Source: The Law of Moses

"You shall not distort justice…Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you."
(Deuteronomy 16:18a, 20)

Violations: None of the religious judges at Jesus's three trials—not Annas, not Caiaphas, and not any of the Sanhedrin in attendance seemed to pursue justice at any point. Instead, they consistently strained to condemn Him from the very start.

Jesus's judges were not interested in weighing all the evidence and certainly none that might acquit Him. They were only focused on what they could use to condemn Jesus.

a. "Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me"
(Matthew 26:55b)

b. "'I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.' When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus…"
(John 18:20-22a)

c. "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer."
(Luke 22:67b-68)

Jesus's judges were only interested in a conviction with a death sentence.

"Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him."
(Matthew 26:3-4)

Jesus's judges strangely began the second trial with a verdict, but not charges.

"Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any."
(Mark 14:55)

Two additional ways that it was apparent that Jesus's trials were rigged are:

  • The use of false witnesses summoned to testify against Jesus (Matthew 26:59-60).
  • The disregard for the rule of law by declaring that there was no need for witnesses, as the law required after Jesus confessed and their false witnesses had failed them (Matthew 26:65). This was a deliberate abandonment of the rule of law to achieve an unlawful outcome.

The violation of Rigging the Outcome is similar to the violations of Conspiracy and Neutrality.

The violation of Conspiracy is conceiving a plot to attain an unjust result. Rigging is following through on those wicked plans. And just as the religious leaders had plotted and conspired to put Jesus to death, they also rigged His trial to produce a death sentence once they had Him in their captivity.

A judge violates justice whenever he violates the neutrality rules by having a rooting interest, and not recusing himself from that case. But rigging the outcome for a trial is a more severe violation of justice than merely breaking neutrality laws. It is possible that a biased or partial judge does not intentionally alter the outcome. But rigging the outcome means justice is never considered.

The reason there were laws that demanded judges to be impartial was to keep partial judges from inadvertently using their position to affect the outcome of the trial, or worse, deliberately using their position to fix the outcome. It is an injustice to be a partial judge. But it is a worse injustice for a judge to actively thwart what is right in order to achieve a desired outcome. The Pharisees and Sadducees did both. They were biased against Jesus, and they abused their position as His judge to rig His trials so that He would be executed.

The religious leaders had long conspired against Jesus. They were bitterly prejudiced against Him. And they abused their authority to rig His trial in order to bring about His execution. Because of these things His prosecution was one of lawlessness and disorder. The violations cited below detail various practical laws designed to uphold justice and order which the religious leaders broke in their efforts to condemn Jesus.

This concludes the fourth article concerning the religious prosecution against Jesus.

For further reading about Jesus's Trial:

The first article is: "A Simple List of Laws the Religious Authorities Broke during the Trial of Jesus." This first article is a simplified version of articles four and five. Instead of describing each law in detail and explaining how it was violated during the prosecution of Jesus, this article simply lists the various laws broken by the priests and Pharisees during Jesus's trials.

The second article is: "The Law of Moses, the Mishnah, and the Political Actors who Condemned Jesus." It explains the two sources of Jewish law in Jesus's day as well as introducing the key figures groups who prosecuted Jesus. These groups and individuals are: The Pharisees; The Sadducees; Annas; Caiaphas; and the Sanhedrin.

The third article is: "The Five Stages of Jesus's Religious Prosecution." It sequentially describes the events of how Jesus came to be condemned to death by the religious authorities, beginning with the Conspiracy and His Arrest and ending with His three trials: the Preliminary Trial in the house of Annas; the Nighttime Trial in the house of Caiaphas; and the Sunrise Trial on the Temple grounds.

The fifth article is: "An Explanation of the Laws of Practice that were Violated in the Religious Prosecution of Jesus." This article focuses on fourteen areas of judicial practice and procedure that were detailed in the Torah and/or the Mishnah that Jesus's judges either violated or loopholed in order to condemn Him.

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