Why Jesus’ Trial was Illegal according to Jewish Law

According to the Mishnah, a document detailing Jewish law, dating from around 200AD and therefore likely to be little changed since the time of Jesus, the trials we see in the Bible were illegal. A capital case couldn’t be tried under the following circumstances:

  • Trials couldn’t take place at night
  • Trials couldn’t take place during the Sabbath, on the eve of a Sabbath or during a festival
  • The accused couldn’t testify against himself
  • All trials were to be public affairs
  • Trials required a minimum of 23 judges
  • The High Priest was not to take part in any of the questioning
  • Trials were to be held in the Hall of Judgment in the temple
  • Conviction required that there be at least two witnesses whose stories tallied exactly
  • Witnesses were to be extensively challenged and cross-examined individually and away from other witnesses
  • Contradiction proved a witness’s testimony invalid
  • Judges were not to argue for conviction, but rather to argue for acquittal, conviction was to be on witness testimony alone
  • The trial was to follow a specific pattern; the defence followed by the presenting of convicting evidence by the witnesses
  • Judges were to meet in pairs to discuss the trial before coming to individual decisions.
  • Voting for acquittal or conviction was done by the judges in age order – youngest first, so that the youngest judges would not be swayed by the opinions of the older judges
  • A final judgment could only be handed down during daylight hours, with sentencing taking place the day after.
  • Judges were to meet in pairs to discuss the trial before coming to individual decisions.

Thanks to Uncle Chuck Swindoll for this.

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