Barabbas (insurrectionist and murderer)

Referenced in the Bible:

• Matthew 27:16-26

• Mark 15:7-11

• Luke 23:18-19

• John 18:40.

• Acts 3:14

Key Verse: 

Matthew 27:21
Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. (NIV)

Mark 15:15
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (NIV)1)Sources:  desiringgod.org; New International Bible Commentary, W. Ward Gasque, New Testament Editor; Golden Chain, Thomas Aquinas; The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Trent C. Butler, General Editor.


Introduction:2)http://christianity.about.com/od/newtestamentpeople/fl/Barabbas.htm (By Jack Zavada).

Barabbas – Notorious Criminal Freed Instead of Jesus

Barabbas was the man freed from a Roman prison instead of Jesus Christ.  The Gospel writers imply he was guilty of serious crimes, but instead the mob chose him to live and shouted for the innocent Jesus to be crucified.

In Aramaic, Barabbas means “son of the father” or “son of the teacher.”  The Gospels say he had taken part in a rebellion or insurrection against Rome.

During the trial of Jesus, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate was warned by his wife that Jesus Christ was innocent (Matthew 27:19).  Trying to get out of the dilemma, Pilate offered to release one prisoner to the crowd, as was his custom during a festival:

So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? (Matthew 27:17, NIV)

Some ancient manuscripts include “Jesus” as Barabbas’ first name.  Supposedly early church fathers deleted it because they did not want the Savior’s name associated with a criminal.

It presents a stark problem, however.  The people were faced with a choice between Jesus the criminal and Jesus the Messiah.

Mark says the chief priests “stirred up the crowd” to have Barabbas released instead of Jesus.  Out of fear, many of Jesus’ disciples had gone into hiding and were not present to speak up for him.  Some Bible scholars believe Barabbas may have been popular with the people because he rose up against the hated Roman oppressors.

Seeing that the crowd was near a riot, Pilate released Barabbas.  When the governor asked what should be done with Jesus, the people shouted back, “Crucify him.”

Early Christians saw a symbolic meaning in this story. They put themselves in the place of Barabbas, a guilty sinner deserving of death for crimes against God.  Instead, Jesus, an innocent sacrifice, went to the cross and took their punishment, allowing them to escape God’s wrath.

Today, each Christian also has to choose which self they will “bind and put to death,” their Barabbas or sinful self, or their Jesus, holy self.  Every day a believer must decide which part of their nature will rule, but knowing when they do fail, Christ’s blood shed at Calvary brings forgiveness.


Accomplishments:

The Bible does not give any of Barabbas’ background other than he had been held in prison for insurrection and murder.  It’s unclear whether his part in the rebellion represented patriotism for Israel or robbery and greed.

Strengths:

Barabbas must have possessed great courage to oppose the powerful Roman army.

Weaknesses:

The contrast with Jesus implies Barabbas was guilty of heinous crimes.  He resorted to violence and did not hesitate to murder, a violation of God’s commandments.


Life Lessons:

Violent protests rarely solve anything.  Barabbas disappeared into obscurity after his release, but martyrs like Stephen, Peter, and Paul changed the world.

Hometown:

Not revealed in known surviving manuscripts.

Occupation:

Career Criminal. 



2.0 Barabbas 3)From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barabbas

Or Jesus Barabbas (a Hellenization of the Aramaic bar abba בר אבא, literally “son of the father” or “Jesus, son of the Father” respectively) is a figure mentioned in the accounts of the Passion of Christ, in which he is an insurrectionary whom Pontius Pilate freed at the Passover feast in Jerusalem, instead of releasing Jesus.

Biblical account

According to all four canonical gospels there was a prevailing Passover custom in Jerusalem that allowed or required Pilate, the praefectus or governor of Judea, to commute one prisoner’s death sentence by popular acclaim, and the “crowd” (ochlos), “the Jews” and “the multitude” in some sources, were offered a choice of whether to have either Barabbas or Jesus released from Roman custody. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew,4)Evans, Craig A. (2012-02-06). Matthew. Cambridge University Press. pp. 452–. ISBN 9780521812146. Retrieved 27 May 2015. Mark,5)“Mark 15:6-15”. biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05. and Luke,6)“Luke 23:13-25”. biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05. and the account in John,7)“John 18:38-19:16”. biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05. the crowd chose Barabbas to be released and Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified. Pilate is portrayed as reluctantly yielding to the insistence of the crowd. A passage found only in the Gospel of Matthew has the crowd saying (of Jesus), “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.”8)Matthew 27:25.

Matthew refers to Barabbas only as a “notorious prisoner”.9)Matthew 27:16. Mark and Luke further refer to Barabbas as one involved in a stasis, a riot.10)Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19. Robert Eisenman states that John 18:40 refers to Barabbas as a lēstēs (“bandit”), “the word Josephus always employs when talking about Revolutionaries”.11)Contemporaries combining insurrection and murder in this way were sicarii, members of a militant Jewish movement that sought to overthrow the Roman occupiers of their land by force (Eisenman 177-84, et passim).

Three gospels state that there was a custom at Passover during which the Roman governor would release a prisoner of the crowd’s choice; Mark 15:6, Matthew 27:15, and John 18:39. Later copies of Luke contain a corresponding verse (Luke 23:17), although this is not present in the earliest manuscripts, and may be a later gloss to bring Luke into conformity.12)Brown (1994), pp. 793–95.

The custom of releasing prisoners in Jerusalem at Passover is known as the Paschal Pardon,13)Robert L. Merritt, ‘Jesus Barabbas and the Paschal Pardon’, Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 104, No. 1 (Mar., 1985), pp. 57-68 but this custom (whether at Passover or any other time) is not recorded in any historical document other than the gospels.14)Cunningham, Paul A. “The Death of Jesus: Four Gospel Accounts”. Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College.

Etymology

Barabbas’s name appears as bar-Abbas in the Greek texts of the gospels. It is derived ultimately from the Aramaic בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, “son of the father”.

Some ancient manuscripts of Matthew 27:16–17 have the full name of Barabbas as “Jesus Barabbas” and this was probably the name as originally written in the text.15)Evans, Craig A. (2012). Matthew (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). Cambridge University Press. p. 453. ISBN 978-0521011068. 

Early church father Origen was troubled by the fact that his copies of the gospels gave Barabbas’ name as “Jesus Barabbas” and declared that since it was impossible he could have had such a holy name, “Jesus” must have been added to Barabbas’ name by a heretic.16)Dimont, Max I. (1992). Appointment in Jerusalem. e-reads.com. ISBN 978-1585865468. It is possible that later scribes, copying the passage, removed the name “Jesus” from “Jesus Barabbas” to avoid dishonour to the name of Jesus the Messiah.17)Warren, William (2011). “Who Changed the Text and Why? Probable, Possible, and Unlikely Explanations”. The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue. Fortress Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0800697730.

Abba has been found as a personal name in a 1st-century burial at Giv’at ha-Mivtar, and Abba also appears as a personal name frequently in the Gemara section of the Talmud, dating from AD 200–400.18)Brown (1994), pp. 799-800. It could be argued that these findings support “Barabbas” being used to indicate the son of a person named Abba or Abbas (a patronymic).

Antisemitism

The story of Barabbas has special social significance because it has historically been used to lay the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus on the Jews, and to justify anti-semitism—an interpretation, known as Jewish deicide, dismissed by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2011 book Jesus of Nazareth, in which he translates “ochlos” in Matthew as “crowd”, rather than to mean the Jewish people.19)Pope Benedict XVI (2011). Jesus of Nazareth. Retrieved 2011-04-18., 20)Pope Benedict XVI Points Fingers on Who Killed Jesus”. March 2, 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-28. While the charge of collective Jewish guilt has been an important catalyst of anti-Semitic persecution throughout history, the Catholic Church has consistently repudiated this teaching since the Second Vatican Council.

Possible parable

This practice of releasing a prisoner is said by Magee21)http://www.askwhy.co.uk/christianity/0480Barabbas.php and others to be a literary creation of Mark, who needed to have a contrast to the true “son of the father” in order to set up an edifying contest, in a form of parable.

Dennis MacDonald, in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, notes that an episode similar to the one that occurs in Mark—of a crowd picking one figure over another figure similar to the other—occurred in The Odyssey, where Odysseus entered the palace disguised as a beggar and defeated his wife’s suitors to reclaim his throne.22)Alward, Joseph F. “Jesus and Barabbas”. Retrieved 2012-09-28. MacDonald suggests Mark borrowed from this section of The Odyssey and used it to pen the Barabbas tale, only this time Jesus – the protagonist – loses to highlight the cruelty of Jesus’ persecutors.23)Alward, Joseph F. “Jesus and Barabbas”. Retrieved 2012-09-28. However, this theory is rejected by other scholars.24)Brown (1994), pp. 811–14


3.0 Who was Barabbas in the Bible?25)http://www.gotquestions.org/Barabbas-in-the-Bible.html

Barabbas is mentioned in all four gospels of the New Testament: Matthew 27:15–26; Mark 15:6–15;Luke 23:18–24; and John 18:40. His life intersects that of Christ at the trial of Jesus.

Jesus was standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who had already declared Jesus innocent of anything worthy of death (Luke 23:15). Pilate knew that Jesus was being railroaded and it was “out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him” (Mark 15:10), so he looked for a way to release Jesus and still keep the peace. Pilate offered the mob a choice: the release of Jesus or the release of Barabbas, a well-known criminal who had been imprisoned “for an insurrection in the city, and for murder” (Luke 23:19).

The release of a Jewish prisoner was customary before the feast of Passover (Mark 15:6). The Roman governor granted clemency to one criminal as an act of goodwill toward the Jews whom he governed. The choice Pilate set before them could not have been more clear-cut: a high-profile killer and rabble-rouser who was unquestionably guilty, or a teacher and miracle-worker who was demonstrably innocent. The crowd chose Barabbas to be released.

Pilate seems to have been surprised at the crowd’s insistence that Barabbas be set free instead of Jesus. The governor stated that the charges against Jesus were baseless (Luke 23:14) and appealed to the crowd three times to choose sensibly (verses 18–22). “But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed” (verse 23). Pilate released Barabbas and handed over Jesus to be scourged and crucified (verse 25).

In some manuscripts of Matthew 27:16–17, Barabbas is referred to as “Jesus Barabbas” (meaning “Jesus, son of Abba [Father]”). If Barabbas was also called “Jesus,” that would make Pilate’s offer to the crowd even more spiritually loaded. The choice was between Jesus, the Son of the Father; and Jesus, the Son of God. However, since many manuscripts do not contain the name “Jesus Barabbas,” we cannot be certain that was his name.

The story of Barabbas and his release from condemnation is a remarkable parallel to the story of every believer. We stood guilty before God and deserving of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). But then, due to no influence of our own, Jesus was chosen to die in our stead. He, the Innocent One, bore the punishment we rightly deserved. We, like Barabbas, were allowed to go free with no condemnation (Romans 8:1). And Jesus “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV).

What happened to Barabbas after his release? The Bible gives no clue, and secular history does not help. Did he go back to his life of crime? Was he grateful? Did he eventually became a Christian? Was he affected at all by the prisoner exchange? No one knows. But the choices available to Barabbas are available to us all: surrender to God in grateful acknowledgment of what Christ has done for us, or spurn the gift and continue living apart from the Lord.


4.0 Easton’s Bible Dictionary26)http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/eastons-bible-dictionary/barabbas.html

Barabbas i.e., son of Abba or of a father, a notorious robber whom Pilate proposed to condemn to death instead of Jesus, whom he wished to release, in accordance with the Roman custom ( John 18:40 ; Mark 15:7 ; Luke 23:19 ). But the Jews were so bent on the death of Jesus that they demanded that Barabbas should be pardoned (Matthew 27:16-26 ; Acts 3:14 ). This Pilate did.


5.0 Encyclopedias – International Standard Bible Encyclopedia27)T. Rees, http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/barabbas.html

ba-rab’-as (Barabbas): For Aramaic Bar-abba = literally, “son of the father,” i.e. of the master or teacher.

Abba in the time of Jesus was perhaps a title of honor (Matthew 23:9), but became later a proper name.

The variant Barrabban found in the 19- Harclean Syriac would mean “son of the rabbi or teacher.”

Origen knew and does not absolutely condemn a reading of Matthew 27:16,17, which gave the name “Jesus Barabbas,” but although it is also found in a few cursives and in the Aramaic and the Jerusalem Syriac versions in this place only, it is probably due to a scribe’s error in transcription (Westcott-Hort, App., 20).

If the name was simply Barabbas or Barrabban, it may still have meant that the man was a rabbi’s son, or it may have been a purely conventional proper name, signifying nothing. He was the criminal chosen by the Jerusalem mob, at the instigation of the priests, in preference to Jesus Christ, for Pilate to release on the feast of Passover (Mark 15:15; Matthew 27:20,21; Luke 23:18; John 18:40).

Matthew calls him “a notable (i.e. notorious) prisoner” (Matthew 27:16). Mr says that he was “bound with them that had made insurrection, men who in the insurrection had committed murder” (Matthew 15:7). Luke states that he was cast into prison “for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder” (Luke 23:19; compare Acts 3:14).

John calls him a “robber” or “brigand” (John 18:40).

Nothing further is known of him, nor of the insurrection in which he took part.

Luke’s statement that he was a murderer is probably a deduction from Mark’s more circumstantial statement, that he was only one of a gang, who in a rising had committed murder.

Whether robbery was the motive of his crime, as John suggests, or whether he was “a man who had raised a revolt against the Roman power” (Gould) cannot be decided.

But it seems equally improbable that the priests (the pro-Roman party) would urge the release of a political prisoner and that Pilate would grant it, especially when the former were urging, and the latter could not resist, the execution of Jesus on a political charge (Luke 23:2).

The insurrection may have been a notorious case of brigandage.

To say that the Jews would not be interested in the release of such a prisoner, is to forget the history of mobs.

The custom referred to of releasing a prisoner on the Passover is otherwise unknown.

“What Matthew (and John) represents as brought about by Pilate, Mark makes to appear as if it were suggested by the people themselves. An unessential variation” (Meyer).

For a view of the incident as semi-legendary growth, see Schmiedel in Encyclopedia Biblica. See also Allen, Matthew, and Gould, Mark, at the place, and article “Barabbas” by Plummer in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes).


genealogy-150-150

Not revealed in known surviving manuscripts.


SOURCES

1.0) Source: bibleresources.americanbible.org | Tittle: “A Guide to Key Events, Characters and Themes of the Bible”

2.0) Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barabbas

3.0) Source: http://www.gotquestions.org/Barabbas-in-the-Bible.html

4.0) Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/eastons-bible-dictionary/barabbas.html

5.0) Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/barabbas.html


Related: Biblical Overviews List of Key Old Testament Characters

References   [ + ]

1. Sources:  desiringgod.org; New International Bible Commentary, W. Ward Gasque, New Testament Editor; Golden Chain, Thomas Aquinas; The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Trent C. Butler, General Editor.
2. http://christianity.about.com/od/newtestamentpeople/fl/Barabbas.htm (By Jack Zavada).
3. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barabbas
4. Evans, Craig A. (2012-02-06). Matthew. Cambridge University Press. pp. 452–. ISBN 9780521812146. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
5. “Mark 15:6-15”. biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
6. “Luke 23:13-25”. biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
7. “John 18:38-19:16”. biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
8. Matthew 27:25.
9. Matthew 27:16.
10. Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19.
11. Contemporaries combining insurrection and murder in this way were sicarii, members of a militant Jewish movement that sought to overthrow the Roman occupiers of their land by force (Eisenman 177-84, et passim).
12. Brown (1994), pp. 793–95.
13. Robert L. Merritt, ‘Jesus Barabbas and the Paschal Pardon’, Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 104, No. 1 (Mar., 1985), pp. 57-68
14. Cunningham, Paul A. “The Death of Jesus: Four Gospel Accounts”. Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College.
15. Evans, Craig A. (2012). Matthew (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). Cambridge University Press. p. 453. ISBN 978-0521011068.
16. Dimont, Max I. (1992). Appointment in Jerusalem. e-reads.com. ISBN 978-1585865468.
17. Warren, William (2011). “Who Changed the Text and Why? Probable, Possible, and Unlikely Explanations”. The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue. Fortress Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0800697730.
18. Brown (1994), pp. 799-800.
19. Pope Benedict XVI (2011). Jesus of Nazareth. Retrieved 2011-04-18.
20. Pope Benedict XVI Points Fingers on Who Killed Jesus”. March 2, 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-28. While the charge of collective Jewish guilt has been an important catalyst of anti-Semitic persecution throughout history, the Catholic Church has consistently repudiated this teaching since the Second Vatican Council.
21. http://www.askwhy.co.uk/christianity/0480Barabbas.php
22, 23. Alward, Joseph F. “Jesus and Barabbas”. Retrieved 2012-09-28.
24. Brown (1994), pp. 811–14
25. http://www.gotquestions.org/Barabbas-in-the-Bible.html
26. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/eastons-bible-dictionary/barabbas.html
27. T. Rees, http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/barabbas.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *