Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Bible Contradiction: Annas or Caiaphas?

John says Jesus was taken to Annas before going to Pilate (John 18:13), while Matthew says he was taken to Caiaphas (26:57f.).


When people think about apparent contradictions in the Bible, one of the more common examples is the issue of the high priest Annas or Caiaphas in John 18.13. When Jesus was arrested, did he go to the chief priest Annas, John 18.13, or to Caiaphas, Matthew 26.57, before he went on to Pilate?

Now, Mark 14.53 and following doesn't name the high priest, and Luke 22.66 and following refers to "the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes." So, John is alone in specifying that Jesus went first to Annas.

This is one of those apparent contradictions that is solved by an accurate interpretation of the text and a little knowledge of cultural background. The text says that Jesus was brought first, πρῶτον in the Greek, to Annas. Well, where there is a  first, there's a second.

John does not say that Jesus was not brought to Caiaphas, and he does not say that Annas was not with the questioning that followed, most likely before Jesus was with Caiaphas. Sorry for the double negatives there.

John had firsthand information about this situation. The text says that John knew the high priest, which is why he was able to go into the courtyard when Peter couldn't, and John also adds that Annas was Caiaphas's father-in-law.

Now, the important cultural background is that the high priest was appointed for his lifetime. However, Annas had been disposed from his position by the Romans and replaced by his son-in-law, Caiaphas. Now, most likely, the Jews wouldn't have recognized Caiaphas as the legitimate priest, high priest, but rather that position still belonged to Annas in their minds.

From what we know about Annas, too, this also makes sense. As Leon Morris, the commentary writer, points out, eventually five of Annas's sons served as high priests. Morris writes, "there's little doubt, but that through these changes, the astute old man at the head of the family exercised a good deal of authority.He was in all probability the real power in the land,  whatever the legal technicalities. Nothing is surprising in Jesus being brought before him, especially if his house were near the scene of the arrest.

Now, to help me think through issues, I like to use modern analogies. Let's say I went to the store to buy some bear spray, and then I went on a hike with my granddaughter Finley, and then to the store to buy some ice cream. So three stops. But let's say you asked Robin where I was, and she responded that Bill and Finley went hiking, and then to the food court, our local store, for ice cream.

Now, in this scenario, is the first reporting of my action a contradiction with Robin's accounting?  Well, no, of course not. Now, if I had said that I only went to two places, then yes, there would be a contradiction. For whatever reason, in this scenario, Robin didn't care to share about the bear spray. And so she only talks about two stops.

We have to remember that the gospels don't claim to tell us absolutely everything that happened. So apparently, Jesus was first taken to Annas, whom the Jews viewed as the true high priest, and then probably, along with Annas, went to Caiaphas's house where all the chief priests and other Jewish leaders were able to assemble.

There's no contradiction here.