“They answered and said to him, ‘If he were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him to you.”
This statement is about as big a cop-out as one might be able to find in any culture and in any age. They are essentially saying to Pilate, “place your official stamp of approval on what we have done, but do so without asking any questions.” How often, the tragedies we read in literature are begin in a similar way, where the king or prince or other hero tragically binds himself by oath to something, not knowing what the real cost of his oath will be in the end. As we will see, Pilate is not quite that foolish as to fall for their little linguistic trap, though nevertheless, evil will be done on this day.
On an academic note, an interesting question can be raised as to the difference in understanding that Pilate might have had regarding their accusation and what the Pharisees meant when they used the term “evil.” In a Hebraic sense, the idea of that which is evil is that which hurts one’s own existence, typically in relationship to God and/or to the community. Thus, in the book of Judges, idolatry is often referred to as “the evil.” As a result, evil was punished in the strongest way, typically with the death penalty (hence even Sabbath-breaking is described as such and was punishable by stoning — look at the moral decay found in our own culture as a result of people’s low view of the Sabbath!).
In the Greek culture, evil was looked upon somewhat differently. Evil was seen as the opposite of good and is seen as something lacking within a person or environment. Pilate’s understanding of evil would likely be closer to our own — bad things being done or taking place. There certainly are overlaps between the two view, but the Greek view did not necessarily see evil as punishable by death as they did not see evil as destroying the covenant community.
Surely each ought to be expected to understand the subtle differences in cultural descriptions of an idea as important as evil; yet whose definition are they using? The answer is likely that they are using the Jewish understanding, but perhaps this difference in attitudes toward Jesus’ supposed crime can be illustrated by the cultural differences to the idea of evil of these two groups.
In the end, it is the one who is good in the best and greatest sense that is being accused of evil. Yet, before you quickly condemn, make sure that you examine your own heart as well. How often have you chosen to equate God’s good laws with evil by rejecting their application in your own life? It is something, if we are honest, of which we are all guilty. Let us be humbled before we condemn and let us repent before we cast stones.