Acts of Pilate

Acts of Pilate The ancient Romans were scrupulously careful to preserve the memory of all remarkable events which happened in the city; and this was done either in their "Acts of the Senate" (Acta Senatus), or in the "Daily Acts of the People" (Acta Diurna Populs), which were diligently made and kept at Rome (see Smith's Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Acta Diurna). In like manner it was customary for the governors of provinces to send to the emperor an account of remarkable transactions that occurred in the places where they resided, which were preserved as the Acts of their respective governments. Indeed, this would naturally occur in the transmission of their returns of administration (rationes), a copy of which was also preserved in the provincial archives (Cicero, ad Fam. 3, 17; 5, 20). In conformity with this usage, Eusebius says, "Our Savior's resurrection being much talked of throughout Palestine, Pilate, informed the emperor of it, as likewise of his miracles, of which he had heard; and that, being raised up after he had been put to death, he was already believed by many to be a god" (Eccl. Hist. lib. 2, c. 2). These accounts were never published for general perusal, but were deposited among the archives of the empire, where they served as a fund of information to historians. Hence we find, long before the time of Eusebius, that the primitive Christians, in their disputes with the Gentiles, appealed to these Acts of Pilate as to most undoubted testimony. Thus, Justin Martyr, in his first Apology for the Christians, which was presented to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and the senate of Rome, about the year 140, having mentioned the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and some of its attendant circumstances, adds, "And that these things were so done, you may know from the Acts made in the time of Pontius Pilate." Afterward, in the same Apology, having noticed some of our Lord's miracles, such as healing diseases and raising the dead, he says, "And that these things were done by him you may know from the Acts made in the time of Pontius Pilate" (Justin Martyr, Apol. Pr. p. 65, 72, ed. Benedict.).

Tertullian, in his Apology for Christianity, about the year 200, after speaking of our Savior's crucifixion and resurrection, and his appearance to the disciples and ascension into heaven in the sight of the same disciples, who were ordained by him to publish the Gospel over the world, thus proceeds: "Of all these things relating to Christ, Pilate himself, in his conscience already a Christian, sent an account to Tiberius, then emperor" (Tertull. Apolog. c. 21). The same writer, in the same treatise, thus relates the proceedings of Tiberius on receiving this information: "There was an ancient decree that no one should be received for a deity unless he was first approved by the senate. Tiberius, in whose time the Christian religion had its rise, having received from Palestine in Syria an account of such things as manifested the truth of his" (Christ's) "divinity, proposed to the senate that he should be enrolled among the Roman gods, and gave his own prerogative vote in favor of the motion. But the senate rejected it, because the emperor himself had declined the same honor. Nevertheless, the emperor persisted in his opinion, and threatened punishment to the accusers of the Christians. Search your own Commentaries, or public writings; you will there find that Nero was the first who raged with the imperial sword against this sect, when rising most at Rome" (Tertull. Apolog. c. 5).

These testimonies of Justin and Tertullian are taken from public apologies for the Christian religion, which were presented either to the emperor and senate of Rome, or to magistrates of public authority and great distinction in the Roman empire. SEE PILATE.

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

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