What was the Sanhedrin?

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The Great Sanhedrin (which in Greek means 'a sitting together' or 'council') was the supreme council of the Jews who met within Jerusalem's temple in a place known as the chamber of hewn stones (although they sometimes met in the house of the High Priest). They were like the U.S. Supreme court in that it was the highest and final authority on decisions that affected all aspects of Jewish religious and political life. The council convened each day of the week except the Sabbath and the annual Biblical Holy Days.

In New Testament times the Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-one members: the High Priest, a vice chief justice and sixty-nine general members. Only chief priests, elders and scribes were eligible to sit on the council. Members were required to possess scholarship, modesty, strength, courage and popularity among their fellow men. Their rulings were, at one time, binding on all Jews scattered throughout the world. Their jurisdiction, however, was greatly curtailed by Herod the Great and then by the Roman Empire.

The Sanhedrin is traditionally viewed as the last institution that commanded universal Jewish authority among the Jewish people. Until the time when Judea was subjected to the Romans it had the power of life and death. In New Testament times, although it still retained the power of passing sentence, the Roman Empire retained the right to accept or reject their verdicts and to ultimately decide and carry out any penalties. Since the dissolution of the Sanhedrin in 358 A.D. by imperial decree, there have been several attempts to re-establish it either as a self-governing body or as a puppet of a sovereign government.

In the New Testament the Sanhedrin is variously referred to as "the chief priests, the elders, and all the council" (Matthew 26:59, NKJV throughout), the "chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people" (Matthew 26:3), the "chief priests and elders of the people" (Matthew 27:1) and in several places referred to as "the council" (Mark 15:1, Matthew 5:22, Acts 5:21, etc.).

The Sanhedrin was THE driving force that insured Jesus was betrayed, falsely arrested, falsely accused, unjustly judged and condemned to a death on the cross.
  • It was members of the council who bribed Judas Iscariot with thirty pieces of silver in order to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16).

 
 
 
New Testament Religious Groups

Disciples of
John the Baptist

Elders

Essenes

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High Priest
and Priests

Pharisees

Sadducees

The Sanhedrin

Scribes

Zealots

The Sanhedrin's involvement in the life of Jesus also included:
  • Contrary to Jewish law they had Jesus arrested without a formal accusation of wrong from at least two people (Deuteronomy 19:15).

  • Both of Jesus' trials were not held before impartial judges. Chief priests, scribes and elders of the council met at the High Priest's house just a few days before the Passover to plot the murder of Jesus (Matthew 26:3-5). It was these same men who were his JUDGES who condemned him to die (Matthew 26:57, 59, 66)!

  • During Jesus' first trial the charge of blasphemy against God was used by the council to justify giving him a death sentence (Mark 14:61-64, Matthew 26:62-66). Yet, when Jesus was brought to the Romans for punishment, they CHANGED the charge against him to treason (Luke 23:1-3, John 19:12)!

  • It was members of the council who, when Pontius Pilate asked a crowd whether Jesus or Barabbas should be set free, got the crowd to select Barabbas (Matthew 27:15-23).

  • Members of the council not only went to see Jesus suffer on the cross, they went to taunt, ridicule and mock him (Luke 23:35-37).

  • Members of the Sanhedrin, after they were told of the resurrection of Jesus, paid a large bribe to Roman soldiers to have them LIE and state that Jesus' disciples came and secretly stole his body in the middle of the night. (Matthew 28:11-15)

See our article on Why the Arrest, Trial and Conviction of Jesus was Illegal for a more detailed analysis regarding the role of the council in Jesus' demise what has been called the greatest travesty of justice the world has or will ever see!

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