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From John 19 (KJV):

19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.

20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.

21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.

22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

The chief priests appear to be protesting at what Pilate has written, presumably because it appears to be affirming what they wish to deny. They ask him write instead that 'he said, I am King of the Jews' - notably they do not ask him to remove the title altogether, or to write a denial.

Why does Pilate affirm what he has written?

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My opinion ("opinion" is why this is a comment and not an answer) is that Pilate had pretty much had it with the chief priests. They made him come out to them in the courtyard because entering his house would defile them. They riled up the crowd to get him to execute Jesus after he had acquitted Him. Now they're complaining about the sign Pilate put at the top of the cross. So Pilate is telling them to get lost. (Is it possible that he used stronger language but the Holy Ghost cleaned it up for the gospel?) – Andreas Blass Apr 5 '14 at 15:34
If I remember correctly, Pilate also had his hand slapped a couple of times by Caesar at the request of the Jews and was forced to back down on some administrative issues. It may be that the memory of that also motivated Pilate to leave the sign unchanged. – timf Apr 7 at 18:04

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Crucifixion was more than a method of execution; it was a public execution, and a long, slow, exceptionally painful one at that. Half the point was to make an example of the condemned so they could act as a deterrent.

Part of the process was to identify the person and their crime, which was done by putting a sign on the cross. Thing is, Pilate couldn't actually identify any crime that Jesus had committed. But the Jewish leaders were adamant about sending him to the cross, and when they threatened to raise complaints with Caesar--which they could have done, successfully, as he was not the best of governors--he backed down. Writing "The King of the Jews" on his sign as the reason he was being executed appears to be one last, somewhat passive-aggressive, act of protest against their unfair execution they were forcing him into.

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Thats how I read it too. Why couldn't Pilates just ignore the chief priests and release him though? – Mozibur Ullah Apr 5 '14 at 17:43
@MoziburUllah: Their threat to report him to Caesar wasn't just an idle expression of annoyance. He had not governed according to Roman policy, being harsh in his rule and failing to respect the Jewish religion, and they could have gotten him in a lot of trouble. (And his misrule did, in fact, catch up with him not long afterwards, when he was ordered back to Rome after his harsh suppression of a Samaritan rebellion. The Romans preferred to treat their subjugated nations in a more civilized fashion.) – Mason Wheeler Apr 5 '14 at 18:05

Pilate knew he was in front of someone extraordinary. He knew Jesus was innocent but succumbed to the wishes of the crowd out of fear of being reported to Caesar. What he wrote (he personally did, not his secretary) was his statement for history. Pilate's conscience was invaded by doubts and fear. That fear that men have when facing the truth. "Is this man really sent by the Heavens or he is just a lunatic? What do I do? My wife is having dreams about him... what can I do?" Pilate acted like a coward but he was forgiven by God. The people who took Jesus to him (Jews) had greater sin. We don't know for sure if Pilate changed his ways after his encounter with Jesus. Some traditions say he did.

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What evidence do you have for this interpretation? – curiousdannii Apr 7 at 0:30
Yes, I believe you need to expand on these claims here and support them with logic, scripture, and sources. – fredsbend Apr 7 at 0:44

It was what Jesus was charged with - at least the complain the Jewish priests took to the Romans. The Romans usually placed the charge - in this case, claiming to be "King of the Jews" and thus challenging the Roman Emperor and Roman rule - on the top of the cross, to show the people why a person was crusified... probably to discourage other from the same crime.

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