Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, April 15, 2024

Bible Contradictions: Annas or Caiaphas (John 18:13)

When Jesus was arrested, did he go to Annas (John 18:13) or Caiaphas (Matt 26:57) before going to Pilate? Mark 14:53ff. does not name the high priest. Luke 22:66ff. refers to “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 and a little knowledge of cultural background. The text says that Jesus was brought “first” (πρῶτον) to Annas. Where there is a first, there is 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 Caiaphas (v 19). (Sorry for the double negatives.)

John had first-hand 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. John also adds that Annas was Caiaphas's father-in-law.

The important cultural background is that the high priest was appointed for his lifetime. Annas had been deposed from his position by the Romans and replaced by his son-in-law, Caiaphas. Most likely, the Jews would not have recognized Caiaphas as the legitimate priest, but rather, that position still belonged to Annas in their minds. John is merely reflecting that cultural understanding.

From what we know about Annas, this also makes sense. As Leon Morris points out, eventually, five of his sons served as high priests. As Morris writes, “There is 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” (749).

I like to use modern analogies. Let’s say I went on a hike with my granddaughter Finley and then to the store to buy ice cream. But let's say you asked Robin where I was, and she responded that Bill and Finley went to the store to buy some bear spray, went hiking, and then went to the food court for ice cream. In this scenario, is the first reporting of my action a contradiction with Robin’s accounting? No. If I had said that I only went to two places, then, yes, there would be a contradiction. For whatever reason, I did not care to share about the bear spray. We have to remember that the gospels do not claim to tell us absolutely everything.

Apparently, Jesus was first taken to Annas, whom the Jews viewed as a true high priest, and then, probably with Annas, went to Caiaphas’ house, where all the chief priests and other Jewish leaders were able to assemble.

No contradiction.