Sanhedrin

What Was the Sanhedrin and How Did it Play a Part in Jesus' Death?

Sanhedrin Definition
Jesus Stands Before the Sanhedrin, by James Tissot. SuperStock / Getty Images

The Sanhedrin was the supreme council, or court, in ancient Israel. The Sanhedrin was comprised of 70 men, plus the high priest, who served as its president. The members came from the chief priests, scribes, and elders, but there is no record on how they were chosen.

During the time of the Roman governors, such as Pontius Pilate, the Sanhedrin had jurisdiction only over the province of Judea. The Sanhedrin had its own police force which could arrest people, as they did Jesus Christ.

While the Sanhedrin heard both civil and criminal cases and could impose the death penalty, in New Testament times it did not have the authority to execute convicted criminals. That power was reserved to the Romans, which explains why Jesus was crucified—a Roman punishment—rather than stoned, according to Mosaic law.

Caiaphas was the high priest or president of the Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus' trial and execution. As a Sadducee, Caiaphas did not believe in the resurrection. He would have been shocked when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Not interested in the truth, Caiaphas preferred to destroy this challenge to his beliefs instead of supporting it.

The Sanhedrin was abolished with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

Example

The Sanhedrin accused Jesus of blasphemy.

Bible Verses About the Sanhedrin

Matthew 26:57-59
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. (NIV)

Mark 14:55
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. (NIV)

Acts 6:12-15
So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us."

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (NIV)

(The information in this article is compiled and summarized from The New Compact Bible Dictionary, edited by T. Alton Bryant.)