How Did Jesus Really Die?
Note: The following Post is taken from an upcoming book by Joseph Lenard entitled Mysteries of Jesus’ Life Revealed—His Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascensions. For an overview and complete chapter listing of this fascinating study, click here.
This first puzzle piece in our new case study entitled How Did Jesus Really Die? looks at the argument that Jesus actually died as a result of the stoning inflicted upon him by the Jews. Now you might be thinking, “Surely Jesus could not have been stoned to death! The Bible clearly states that He was crucified!”
If this prospect is bothersome to you, you are not alone. For centuries Christians have rigorously rebuffed every attempt to offer new testimony, put forth new perspectives, or present any evidence which contradicts tradition. Of course Jesus was crucified. We cannot argue that. There is too much evidence, both from Scripture and from the historical writings and near-biblical testimony of those closest to the event. But, in truth, there is so much more to be told, so much more that can be added to the historical truths related to the death of Jesus.
As we begin peeling back the layers of this study, we find that one of the most frequently heard statements is: “Jesus was sentenced and executed under Roman law, and the death penalty under Roman law was crucifixion, not stoning. Jesus was clearly crucified, not stoned.” Once again, we find there is much more to the truth than is indicated in this statement.
The purpose of this Post is to introduce Scriptural evidence of stoning during the time of Jesus, as it was prescribed according to Jewish law and permitted by the leadership of the Roman occupation. This Post will also serve to ease you gently into recognizing the reality of stoning as a means of capital punishment in ancient Jerusalem and to consider the possibility that this might well have been the fate of Jesus. As horrible as it sounds, and as incongruous as it seems to the traditional accounts of Jesus’ death, it is my hope that you will sincerely consider the evidence which I present, because I believe it will cause you to appreciate even more what Jesus did for each us on that dark day, as He hung from a tree at the appointed execution site on the Mount of Olives.
I would like to draw your attention to several events of stoning which are reported in the Bible and other historical works. In addition to the primary reference indicated for each event, each is referenced in Nancy Kuehl’s excellent book, A Book of Evidence – The Trials and Execution of Jesus.
* Stoning of Stephen: Acts 7:57–60
* Stoning of the Apostle Paul: Acts 14:19
* Stoning of James, brother of Jesus: Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews
Yes, even Paul was stoned to death, in the Province of Lystra (Asia Minor), during his first missionary journey; but, unlike Stephen and James, he miraculously recovered (Acts 14:19–20). We should make careful note that after Paul’s ordeal, he stated that he bore “. . . the marks (scars) of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Since Paul was not crucified, the marks he was referring to could only have been similar to those received by Jesus during his execution, including marks from whipping and stoning!
Many Bible scholars claim that the Jewish Sanhedrin had no authority to execute prisoners, even those who had violated Jewish law. As evidenced by the deaths of Stephen and James, this was not the case. Although execution was often the destiny of those who broke Roman law or were perceived as a threat to Roman governance, it was not uncommon for Jews who had violated Jewish (Mosaic) law to be executed by stoning, especially for the crime of blasphemy. In these cases, executions occurred seemingly without Roman consultation or objection.
Before His trial and execution in Jerusalem, even Jesus was threatened with stoning:
“At this [Jesus’ statement, ‘. . . before Abraham was born, I am!’], they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (John 8:58–59)
Except for a miraculous escape, Jesus would have been stoned to death at that time. On another occasion, Jews picked up stones to stone him; but, once again, “. . . he escaped their grasp” (John 10:30–33, 39). Had he not been the Son of God, it is unlikely that Jesus could have evaded multiple attempts to stone Him and thereby deny the destiny of His crucifixion, which was not to occur until the “appointed” time.
The simple point to be made here is that the Jews desperately wanted to stone Jesus as punishment under Mosaic Law for the crime of blasphemy, and the Roman governor was ultimately complicit in allowing Jesus to be crucified and stoned to death.
Note: In my next Post I will look at specific aspects of Jewish and Roman law during the time of Jesus. Sadly, these are rarely given adequate consideration by those who study the trial and execution of Jesus.