John 18:31—Was it lawful for the Jews to exercise capital punishment?

Problem: In this verse, the Jews of Jesus’ day claimed that “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” However, in the very next chapter, they insisted that “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die” (John 19:7). Which was correct?

Solution: Both statements are correct. According to the Jewish Law of Moses, anyone who blasphemes God was to be given capital punishment (see Lev. 24:16). However, when speaking to Pilate, the Roman governor, the Jews correctly noted that the Romans did not allow their subjects to exercise capital punishment, but retained that right for themselves. Thus, the Jews correctly said to Pilate, “it is not lawful [according to Romanlaw] for us to put anyone to death” (John 18:31).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.