Home Features Did the Romans Give Jesus 39 Lashes? By Babatunde Olugboji

Did the Romans Give Jesus 39 Lashes? By Babatunde Olugboji


Did the Romans Give Jesus 39 Lashes? By Babatunde Olugboji

Leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, he was beaten and flogged by the Romans (Matthew 27:  24–31; John 19:1). However, it wasn’t entirely clear how many lashes He received because it is not explicitly stated in the Bible. The concept of giving someone no more than 39 lashes is Jewish in origin, not Roman.

In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 25:3 instructs the Israelites that a criminal should receive a maximum of 40 lashes as punishment, “not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.” This caused the Jews to adapt the method of hitting a criminal no more than 39 times, so that they would not risk breaking this commandment. 

In the New Testament days, giving 39 lashes was still common practice among the Jews, because Paul said he was given 39 lashes by the Jews multiple times: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one” (2 Corinthians 11:24).

However, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, which means that there is no reason to believe they would follow a Jewish disciplinary tradition just because Jesus was Jewish. The Jewish leaders and Pontius Pilate knew that Jesus was an innocent man; yet they sentenced him to death. Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged but didn’t specify a certain number of lashes. We do know that Jesus was not killed by the beatings he received because his ultimate death was as a result of crucifixion. So, the scourging was a precursor to the crucifixion. It was not supposed to kill Jesus but to torture him.

Jesus came to the earth with a purpose: to provide salvation to the whole world. Through Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). 1 John 2:2 describes Jesus as “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus gave His life willingly so that we might be saved (John 10:11, 15, 17–18).

Whether there were 39 lashes or 40 or some other number, the scourging Jesus faced was a terrible, painful ordeal. And, in a very real way, the death of Christ effected spiritual healing for those who would believe. Isaiah compares humanity to a flock of sheep that has turned away from the Shepherd, each animal going its own way -a picture of disharmony and danger.  

The flawless Shepherd chose to accept an undeserved, cruel death in order to save his sheep. He gave himself for us, so that we may have eternal life. The good shepherd chose to die for the sheep. . .. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. . …For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:11, 15, 17–18).

Jesus chose to take our punishment. The Father chose to send Jesus to the cross. They conspired to save all who would believe and to show by Jesus’ terrible wounds both the seriousness of our sin and the depth of His love.

He was killed, but He rose again on the 3rd day. Happy Easter.

Have a great week.

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