Why Could the Jews Execute Stephen and the Woman Caught in Adultery but not Jesus?

Image result for image of the woman caught in adultery
The Woman Caught in Adultery

I find it odd that the Gospels claim that the Jews needed the Romans to execute Jesus but did not need the Romans to execute Stephen or (attempt to execute) the woman caught in adultery.

One excuse I have heard Christian apologists use is that the stoning of Stephen was an act of “mob violence”.  It was not condoned by the Jewish authorities.  But the author of Acts tells us that Saul (Paul), at the time working for the high priest, stood by and held the coats of those killing Stephen.  That would indicate at least tacit approval by the Jewish authorities.  And what excuse can be used for the attempt to stone the woman caught in adultery when it was the Pharisees attempting to execute her?

Is it possible that the arrest and execution of Jesus was initiated solely by the Romans?  The Jews had nothing to do with it.  Had the Jesus’ movement become large enough to be perceived as a threat to the Romans?  Were thousands of Jews really proclaiming Jesus as the “Son of David, the King of Israel” on his final entrance into Jerusalem?  That sounds pretty threatening to me.

Is it possible that the authors of the Gospels, living under Roman rule and after hearing of the violent and repressive destruction of the Temple, were afraid to directly accuse the Romans of killing Jesus for fear of reprisals against themselves and their fellow Christians?  Is it possible that the Jews were a convenient “scapegoat” in their “Jesus Stories”?

Is it possible that the early Christian claim that the Jewish authorities had instigated the execution of Jesus was nothing more than anti-Jewish propaganda???

Image result for image of stoning of stephen
The Stoning of Stephen

16 thoughts on “Why Could the Jews Execute Stephen and the Woman Caught in Adultery but not Jesus?

  1. If you’ll go back and re-read the account of Stephen, you’ll discover that nobody in the Sanhedrin ever declared Stephen’s “guilt”, and, that he was actually stoned to death by a mob. In short, murdered. Not “executed” by Jewish leadership.

    In the case of the woman caught in adultery, you’ll find that at no point was the woman actually threatened by being stoned to death. You’ll note that John says “They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.” The whole scenario was a setup, in which the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus on a point of Law. But, this idea that some random group of Pharisees could just take somebody out and stone them to death just had no “historicity” to it at all, although, it’s exceedingly common in churches to present this scenario as one in which the woman could actually have ended up getting stoned to death.

    It is entirely correct that the Jews could not carry out a death sentence without Roman approval. In the case of Stephen, it was a mob who didn’t care about Roman approval, and in the case of the adulterous woman, there is no indication whatsoever, in the story, that she was liable to get stoned to death on the spot.

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    1. It is entirely correct that the Jews could not carry out a death sentence without Roman approval.

      Proof? Source?

      I think you need to re-read Acts chapters 6 and 7:

      “We have heard him [Stephen] speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth[d] will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen replied:

      [Stephen then gives a long speech to the “council” (the Sanhedrin) which ends with him accusing them of murdering Jesus.]

      When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.[n] 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.[o]

      Gary: “all” would refer to everyone present, which would include the high priest and the “council”, which is another term for the Sanhedrin. Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin for repeating Jesus’ claim that he would tear down the Temple. The council passed judgment by ALL of them dragging him outside the city and stoning him. This passage clearly indicates that the Sanhedrin believed it had the authority to execute people. The question is: Is this story historically accurate? If it is not, what else in the “Jesus Story” is fiction?

      How would you like your crow served, FT? Chilled or hot?

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  2. “All” does not, by any necessity, refer to “everyone present”.

    Mark says “And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem…”

    Clearly, Mark is not using a literal “all” here.

    John says ““Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.”

    Clearly, John is not using a literal “all” here.

    But, I forget: You were a fundamentalist. A literalist. A man with exactly ZERO notion of “nuance”, and little use for “common sense” when reading the bible.

    You have to back up, to an earlier spot, to find out who “all” is in this case:

    “And they [ men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen ] stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and *they* came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. *They* put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” And fixing *their* gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel”

    The Sanhedrin never pressed charges, never had Stephen arrested, never pronounced him guilty of anything, and never pronounced a sentence. It’s just not there in the text.

    You are welcome to “read into” the text anything you like, and sometimes, I’ve noticed you get quite creative with it. But, if a thing ain’t there in the text, it ain’t there.

    Now, regarding whether the Jews could impose a death penalty:

    “However, some scholars, such as Rabbi Louis Jacobs in The Jewish Religion: A Companion, have noted that the power of Jewish courts to impose a death sentence was ended by the Romans sometime in the first century of the Common Era.”

    Now, I’m gonna let you do your own research, so as not to make a fool of yourself on this point again, and go read the work by Jacobs (and other such scholars).

    see https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-death-penalty-in-jewish-tradition/

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  3. And now, one more, from Josephus (with my comments following)

    ” AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”
    – Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, Chapter 9

    Josephus explicitly states that it was illegal for the high priest to assemble a Sanhedrin without the consent of the prefect. If we assume that a stoning could not take place without the permission of a Sanhedrin, and if no Sanhedrin could be held without the consent of the prefect, it would appear that stonings could not take place without the approval, direct or indirect, of the Roman authorities. This agrees with the account provided by Josephus: it is plainly the case that Ananus wasn’t deposed simply because he stoned someone; he was deposed because he stoned someone without the imprimatur of the Roman prefect.

    NOTE: this statement of Josephus, in regards to Ananus – the guy that sent Paul out to persecute Christians – “was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent”.

    This statement provides support for an earlier post I left on another of your threads, noting that Paul’s conversion was in AD 36, and that he had been sent out by Ananus…

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  4. hey, Gary –

    BTW – I just realized I said something about “making a fool of yourself”, and I really, honestly didn’t mean that to be insulting… I really meant it to be just “yanking your chain”.. Shoulda put a “smiley face” after it or something… Please don’t take offense, none was intended… I gotta remember we’re not talking in person, so you can’t really get any idea from “visual cues” or vocal inflections or anything… So, I just wanted to pre-empt any bad feelings that might cause. Not my intention at all…

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    1. Thank you for the clarification, ft.

      I never claimed that the Jews had the right to execute people in the time of Jesus and Stephen. My point was the disparity in the treatment of Jesus and the treatment of Stephen. I find it very odd that in one case the Jews needed the Romans to perform the execution of a Jew and in another story the Jews did not need the Romans to perform the execution of a Jew. I believe that this disparity demonstrates that one of these story is probably not historically accurate.

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  5. Is it possible that the authors of the Gospels, living under Roman rule and after hearing of the violent and repressive destruction of the Temple, were afraid to directly accuse the Romans of killing Jesus for fear of reprisals against themselves and their fellow Christians? Is it possible that the Jews were a convenient “scapegoat” in their “Jesus Stories”?

    Paul says some negative things about the Jews of Judea in 1 Thessalonians 2. I don’t think he was trying to cover against the Roman authorities.

    I am interested in the historio-critical interpretation of Romans 13 (as it effectively acknowledges the legitimacy of Roman political authority). Perhaps he though the end was near, so rebellion was not necessary and wanted to dissuade his fellow Christians from doing so.

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    1. Maybe. Maybe.

      But if Mark is the only true independent source for the four Gospels (as a significant percentage of NT scholars believe, according to Raymond Brown), it is possible that Mark invented Jesus’ arrest by the Sanhedrin and his Jewish trial in an attempt to place the most blame on the Jews. (Everyone knew that the Romans had executed Jesus so Mark had to mention their involvement, he just wanted to soften the Roman culpability). So with Mark’s book, Christians could say, “Yes, the Romans crucified Jesus but they did so because they were tricked by those evil, conniving Jews. It really wasn’t the Romans fault. It was those evil Jews!”

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  6. Is it possible that the arrest and execution of Jesus was initiated solely by the Romans? The Jews had nothing to do with it. Had the Jesus’ movement become large enough to be perceived as a threat to the Romans? Were thousands of Jews really proclaiming Jesus as the “Son of David, the King of Israel” on his final entrance into Jerusalem? That sounds pretty threatening to me.

    If that’s so, perhaps Jesus would be a little more known among historians, since he would have been perceived as being a leader of a political movement, as opposed to some religious preacher.

    It is hard for a historian to ignore thousands of Jews cheering an anti-Roman (or someone perceived to be anti-Roman) leader on.

    Yes, it is possible that Matthew 22 was added not to draw the ire of the Romans.

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    1. But maybe the claim that “thousands” greeted Jesus on his entrance into Jerusalem was just a literary embellishment (most scholars believe it is).

      Maybe all that happened is that Jesus and his little band showed up to the gates of Jerusalem one day and someone mentioned to a nearby centurion, “Centurion! Can you believe it! In Galilee they say that that long-haired peasant has been claiming to be the messiah…the “King of the Jews”! Isn’t that hilarious!”

      And the next thing Jesus knew…he was hanging on the cross!!!

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      1. I believe that claim can be tested. One would have to know what were the Roman courts standard of evidence or if some administrator can order someone crucified if he deemed that person a threat to his rule.

        In the former case, if Jesus were sane and self-interested enough to preserve his own life, he could deny the claim that he was an upstart rebellious leader. Would such a proceeding accept testimony from one person.

        If the latter, would Jesus even show up on his radar because Jesus was saying a few things about the Kingdom of God. Still, in order to be threatening he needed to have a lot of followers.

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