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?

  • 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?) Commented Apr 5, 2014 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
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 18:04

4 Answers 4


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.

  • Thats how I read it too. Why couldn't Pilates just ignore the chief priests and release him though? Commented Apr 5, 2014 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
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 18:05

I concur with the above opinion Pilate knew he was in the presence of someone extraordinary. In vs 10 Pilate reminds Jesus of his power to crucify Him. In vs 11 Jesus tells Pilate "You could have no power at all against Me, except it were given you from above;therefore he that delivered Me to you has the greater sin. At that point I believe Pilate developed ears that hear. Something resonated with Pilate when he heard what Jesus said right then. He already told the Jews he had no issue with Him. In vs 7 the Jews were ranting about their law saying He ought to die because He made Himself the Son of God. vs 8 When Pilate heard that saying, he was more afraid. I don't think it was Caesar that Pilate feared. Pilate's concerns were regarding this Man.

  • 3
    Welcome! This answer would be stronger if you focused more on the specific question (why Pilate wrote what he did) and, if possible, included sources showing that this is more than your own analysis. I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 16:25

It was what Jesus was charged with—at least, it was the complaint that 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 crucified, probably to discourage others from committing the same crime.


He wrote that to identify the criminal, and in a way, to insult the Jews. It was just a way of saying, "Here is your king. This is what happens to people who proclaim themselves Jewish kings" hence "The king of the Jews".


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