On what basis in Jewish law was Jesus convicted by the Sanhedrin? Matthew and Mark say the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65; Mark 14:63). Did Jesus commit blasphemy? If not, why did the high priest believe he did or at least was able to convince the other priests present that Jesus spoke blasphemy? Luke records the trial held by the Sanhedrin in the morning:
Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God. Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am. And they said, What need we any further witness? for we ourselves have heard of his own mouth. (Luke 22:69-71 KJV; emphasis mine)
In both Matthew 26:63 and Mark 14:61 Jesus was asked if he were the Christ the Son of God (the Blessed). When he replied, yes, and said he would come from the right hand of God to judge the nation, they cried: “Blasphemy!”
The trial in the evening in the home of the high priest within the Temple compound was not a legal trial, because no trial could be held at night if the death penalty was sought. The court did meet in the evening, but not for crimes that required the death sentence. Luke records the legal trial in the morning in the Hall of Hewn Stones on the Temple mount. This is where the Sanhedrin regularly met to hear the cases brought before them. They made their judgments before God, as the Temple stood just west and slightly north of the Sanhedrin meeting place.
Yet, the Jews today say the crime for which Jesus was found guilty could not have been blasphemy because the only way anyone could commit blasphemy was to utter the ineffable Name—YHWH! Is this true or are they mistaken?
Jesus said there were several kinds of blasphemy. He explained to the crowds when his public ministry was just beginning that all kinds of sins and blasphemies will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy committed against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven, either in the age in which Jesus preached (age of the Law) nor in the age to come—age of grace or the Gospel age (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30). So, which is correct, the New Testament accounts or what the Jews believe today?
To understand this we must realize that the Jews today represent only a small faction of Judaism in the 1st century CE. Only the Pharisaical segment of Jewish society survived. Now it is certainly true that Judaism today is a varied culture, but it is also true that this variety come from the teaching of one group in the 1st century, namely, the Pharisees
The Pharisees receive a bad name, understood from the writings of the New Testament. Nevertheless, Jesus did most of his debating with this sect. Very little is recorded of Jesus speaking with other segments of Judaism, like the Sadducees, Zealots, Herodians, Essenes or followers of John the Baptist to name a few. Jesus spoke with, dined with and debated with the rabbis and chief priests of his day, many of whom were Pharisees. They were the leaders of the nation and Jesus showed respect for their office and told the people to do so, as well. My point is not to demean Judaism today by saying they are wrong concerning their understanding of blasphemy as it was understood in the 1st century. Nor do I wish to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. Jesus died for all mankind. The Jewish leadership in the 1st century acted as the representatives of all humanity when they sentenced Jesus to die. If the Jews were not the chosen people, then another tribe would have represented mankind and that tribe would have done the same thing. So, the Jews—per se—are not to blame for the crucifixion; the whole world is to blame, for we all have sinned and Jesus died to reconcile each of us to God. As the Scriptures conclude, we were God’s enemies—all of us—when Christ died for us (Romans 5:8-10. We love God, only because he love us first (1John 4:10, 19).
So what is the conclusion? Can we know for certain? Yes, I believe we can, and the truth comes from the writings of the Jews—the Babylonian Talmud. Notice (‘blesses’, ‘blessing’, and ‘blessed’ are used by the rabbis for ‘curses’, ‘cursing’ and ‘cursed’):
It has been taught: [The blasphemer is not punished] unless he ‘blesses‘ the Name, by the Name. Whence do we know this? — Samuel said: The Writ sayeth, And he that blasphemeth [nokeb] the name of the Lord… when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. How do you know that the word nokeb [used in the Hebrew] means a ‘blessing‘? — From the verse, How shall I curse [Ekkob] whom God hath not cursed; whilst the formal prohibition is contained in the verse, thou shalt not revile God…[B. Sanhedrin; 56a (emphasis mine)]
All this is saying is a blasphemer blasphemes God by cursing the Name (YHWH) with the Name, and then it gives the citation from Scripture that supports their understanding. The question as it applies to our argument is: did the high priest view Jesus remark as cursing (blessing) the Name with the Name according to Leviticus 24:16? The charges laid against Jesus at this point was that he said he would destroy the Temple and in three days build it up again. Viewed in this light the priest could have seen Jesus, a mere man, claiming to sit on the Throne of God, as God, coming to judge and destroy the Temple – the house of God and Jerusalem the city of God. Thus, cursing the Name with the Name. But to continue with the Talmud:
…But perhaps it means ‘to pierce,’ as it is written, [So Jehoiada the priest took a chest,] and bored [wa-yikkob] a hole in the lid of it, the formal injunction against this being the verses, Ye shall destroy the names of them [idols] out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God? — The Name must be ‘blessed’ by the Name, which is absent here. But perhaps the text refers to the putting of two slips of parchment, each bearing the Divine Name, together, and piercing them both? — In that case one Name is pierced after the other. But perhaps it prohibits the engraving of the Divine Name on the Point of a knife and piercing therewith [the Divine Name written on a slip of parchment]? — In that case, the point of the knife pierces, not the Divine Name…[B. Sanhedrin; 56a (emphasis mine)]
The point here is the Israelites were commanded to destroy the names of the gods they found in the Promised Land, but they were commanded to never do so to their God. Concerning our present argument, did the high priest view Jesus’ statement as a threat to destroy the name of God from out of the land (Deuteronomy 12:3-4)? By saying he was coming in the clouds to judge Jerusalem, implying destruction, the high priest could have viewed Jesus’ remark as a threat to destroy the place where God had placed his Name.
Finally, we come to the present-day understanding of the Jews as it pertains to blasphemy. Notice:
…But perhaps it refers to the pronunciation of the ineffable Name, as it is written, And Moses and Aaron took these men which are expressed [nikkebu] by their names; the formal prohibition being contained in the verse, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God? — Firstly, the Name must be ‘blessed’ by the Name, which is absent here; and secondly, it is a prohibition in the form of a positive command, which is not deemed to be a prohibition at all. An alternative answer is this: The Writ saith, [And the Israelitish woman’s son] blasphemed wa-yikkob [and cursed], proving that blasphemy [nokeb] denotes cursing. But perhaps it teaches that both offences must be perpetrated? You cannot think so, because it is written, Bring forth him that hath cursed, and not ‘him that hath blasphemed and cursed’, proving that one offence only is alluded to.[B. Sanhedrin; 56a (emphasis mine)]
The point here is that the mere pronunciation of the ineffable Name is NOT blasphemy according to the Talmud. The modern Jewish understanding of the matter of blasphemy is clearly wrong, according to their own ancient writings. The conditions for blasphemy are: one must curse (bless) the Name with the Name, or one reviles God, or one destroys the name of God. Any one of these three conditions would be seen as blasphemy. So what did Jesus say to the high priest before the Sanhedrin?
Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said (meaning yes, I am the Son of God): nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. [Matthew 26:64 KJV; parenthesis mine]
Did the high priest see Jesus’ statement as “reviling” God (Exodus 22:28)? If Jesus were a mere man, he was placing himself upon the throne of God and judging the people of God. If he wasn’t viewed as insane, the priest could have judged this as abasing God, bringing him down to the level of a man, or saying a mere man could judge as God.
Judging from the statements found in the Talmud, the high priest could have chosen any one of the conditions he wished and accused Jesus of blasphemy—seeing him as a man, but claiming to be God’s own Son and sitting at God’s right hand—upon the very Throne of God! However, since Jesus was merely telling the truth, his remark was a statement of his Deity and proved true in 70 CE. Nevertheless, according to the Scriptures, Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy, a sin worthy of death according to Jewish law. For this sin alone the Jewish authorities wished to have Jesus executed.