Was Pilate a Christian?

(Timothy Loraditch) #1

When I did a study on Pilate I learned that for a long time archeologists didn’t think he ever existed because there was no mention of him on any of the artifacts that had been found. Then in the 60’s, they discovered a stone that referenced him confirming his existence. The lack of evidence has caused some to speculate that after Jesus was crucified Pilot converted to Christianity and as a result his name was removed from most of the records.

Is there any other evidence that would support this theory?

(Micah Bush) #2

Anything is possible, but I’m not aware of any reliable evidence to support this idea. It is worth considering, though, that the histories of both Philo and Josephus portray Pontius Pilate as a man of great cruelty and insensitivity to Jewish customs. It would not be surprising if the Jews, or even the Roman government (in the interest of maintaining the peace), tried to erase the memory of his rule.

To give you an idea of Pilate’s temperament, I’ve included an excerpt from Philo’s On the Embassy to Gaius:

But when [Pilate] steadfastly refused [the people’s] petition (for he was a man of a very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate), they cried out: ‘Do not cause a sedition; do not make war upon us; do not destroy the peace which exists. The honor of the emperor is not identical with dishonor to the ancient laws; let it not be to you a pretence for heaping insult on our nation. Tiberius is not desirous that any of our laws or customs shall be destroyed. And if you yourself say that he is, show us either some command from him, or some letter, or something of the kind, that we, who have been sent to you as ambassadors, may cease to trouble you, and may address our supplications to your master.’
But this last sentence exasperated him in the greatest possible degree, as he feared least they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to other particulars of his government, in respect of his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity.

(Melvin Greene) #3

What an interesting question, @tfloraditch!

I’ve had a somewhat sympathetic opinion of Pilot. He seemed to me to be someone who was caught up in a situation that he really didn’t understand. He seemed torn between pacifying the Jews and upholding Roman law. Pilot attempted to defend Jesus because he found no fault in him; at lease not enough to warrant crucifixion. But he was more concerned with keeping the Jews from rioting and looking incompetent to his superiors, so he gave in to them. Upon reading the excerpt from Philo’s “On The Embassy To Gaius” posted by @MicahB, He certainly doesn’t sound so noble.

On a different note, I find the irony of ironies that Pilot asked Jesus the most important question he could have asked: “What is truth?”, but turned and walked away. What might have happened if Pilot’s question was a true and earnest inquiry?

(Timothy Loraditch) #4

@MicahB It is significant that there exist two independent sources claiming Pilate’s abuses, but they don’t undermine the theory of his possible conversion. After all, Paul was carrying Christians off to their death when he was converted. The idea that Pilate was an embarrassment to Rome is a bit of a stretch and I would need a little more persuasion. Same with the Jews. I didn’t think they would have the ability to erase records beyond their borders. I could be wrong.

It seems from what we have in scripture that Pilate and his wife, who warned Pilate because of her dreams, both knew Jesus was more than just a trouble maker. Additionally, if we establish the idea of Pilate’s indifference toward cruelty then his apparent reluctance to crucify Jesus is out of character lending some credibility to the theory that Jesus had some impact on him. At this point, I think I lean toward the conversion theory.

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(Anthony Costello ) #5

I’m not going to just wikipedia this, but I have heard before (I think when I was studying in Rome years ago) of one of the church traditions, I think the Eastern Orthodox, having a tradition that Pilate did convert and became an evangelist of sorts. I think he was even depicted as a saint in some early traditions. I’m sure you could look this up, although it is probably more apocryphal than historical. Still, who knows?


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(Timothy Loraditch) #6

@anthony.costello OK NOW I am hooked! I think I have a few Eastern Orthodox friends I can hit up on this. If I can find an icon painting of “Saint Pilate” that would be the best! Thanks, Anthony!

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(Timothy Loraditch) #7

Well, that was just too easy. There is a museum called the Museum of Russian Icons that may have an icon of Pilate as a saint. https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/saint-pontius-pilate and It just so happens that it is only about an hour away from me in Clinton Massachusetts. Well, what do you know?

As soon as I find out I will post an update.

(Micah Bush) #8

@tfloraditch According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Pilate was ordered back to Rome in 36 AD to stand trial for his cruelty and oppressive policies, and later ordered to commit suicide by the emperor (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pontius-Pilate). I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Roman government was embarrassed by his performance. I also don’t think it’s necessarily out of character for him to have been reluctant to crucify Jesus. If Pilate already had bad marks on his record, then he may have been hesitant to execute a man who was innocent by Roman standards (and risk getting into trouble), especially considering his wife’s dream; however, once it became clear that he might have a full-blown riot on his hands if he set Jesus free, he probably thought the risks behind executing an innocent man were more manageable.

Again, anything is possible, but without Scripture or more historical material, I’m rather reluctant to trust tradition at face value. It’s certainly not unprecedented for later Christians to try to fill in gaps in the gospel narratives themselves (ex. infancy gospels).

(Timothy Loraditch) #9

@MicahB You make a very convincing argument. It’s just that the conversion theory is just a better story, and if luck is with us the Russian Icon museum has pictures too!:smiley:

(Jimmy Sellers) #10

You might want focus on his wife. It looks she got traction in the Greek Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian churches.

(Anthony Hodge) #11

Hi Timothy,
I don’t know about any evidence of him being Christian, but there is plenty of evidence of his existence. I was just listening to the below linked video from a Youtube channel called The Ten Minute Bible Hour titled “Who was Pontius Pilate? - Historical Proof and Legends” on who Pontius Pilate was and historical proofs of his existence including ancient references. I am about half way through it as it is a little over an hour long, but I thought I would share! Very interesting!

Anthony Hodge

(David Bruce Young) #12

This is a great discussion. It is worth noting that it was Caligula who ordered Pilate to take his own life. And evidently he did. I fear this makes his conversion doubtful, but not necessarily impossible. I am writing a novel in which one of my characters is the Centurion the impressed Jesus by his faith. So I have had to deal with how a Roman officer would express his duty. And a willingness to take your own life upon command was part of the duty of a Roman soldier.