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In Luke 23, Jesus is taken to Pilate and Herod to be tried for his supposed crimes against Rome and the Jews. In verse 12, there's an interesting aside:

¶ And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves. (Luke 23:12, KJV)

Why did Luke include this seemingly random statement in his narrative of Jesus' final hours? Do we know anything about the relationship between Pilate and Herod before Jesus' trial, and why did it change with the trial of Jesus?

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    Besides being a physician, Dr. Luke was a careful and thorough historian. He speaks of his modus operandi in his Gospel: Inasmuch as many have undertaken to an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order. . . (Luke 1). He knew that grounding his book in verifiable historical facts would make his Gospel more credible to its readers. Jun 9, 2017 at 13:18
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    Did Luke foresee that in the centuries to come, his historical observations would become fodder for Christian apologists whose calling is to ground the Christian faith in real happenings in time and space, for the benefit of doubters and skeptics? I don't know, but God did! Don Jun 9, 2017 at 13:22

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Herod the Great, who was Herod's father and King of Judea during the birth of Christ, had been granted his title by the Roman Senate. As King, he had authority over all Judea and surrounding territories.

Upon the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided among his sons, with Herod Archelaus inheriting the land of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea; Herod Antipas inheriting Galilee and Peraea; and Philip inheriting the land northeast of the Jordan.

Whereas Herod the Great had ruled with an iron fist, things became chaotic under his sons - especially in Archelaus' tetrarchy. As a result, Augustus Caesar removed Archelaus as tetrarch and placed the territory - which became the Roman province of Judea - directly under the control of a Roman prefect. Pontius Pilate was the fifth prefect of the Province of Judea.

Following Herod the Great's death, Herod Antipas (the Herod of Luke 23:12) had gone to Rome to lobby to inherit his father's kingdom in toto, but his request was denied. This, as well as Rome's decision to install a Roman prefect rather than one of Herod's descendants in place of Archelaus - probably led to Herod Antipas' resentment of the Roman prefecture in general and of Pilate in particular.

(The above information can be found in the works of Josephus -- Yosef ben Matityahu - a Jewish rebel against Rome who defected and himself became a Roman citizen and chronicler of Jewish history.)

The Byzantine commentator Theophylact (1055-1107) calls attention to the dark amity of Pilate and Herod as a stark reminder for us:

See how the devil brings together disparate elements for the sole purpose of preparing Christ's death, forging a single conspiracy and making warring factions friends. Are we not then ashamed that the devil brings peace between enemies in order to kill Christ, while we, for the sake of our own salvation, do not even preserve love towards our own friends?1

Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386) relates the friendship concluded between Pilate and Herod to a prophesy in Hosea (10:6) and takes a somewhat more positive view of Herod's and Pilate's friendship:

Having been bound, He came from Caiaphas to Pilate,—is this too written? yes; And having bound Him, they led Him away as a present to the king of Jarim2. But here some sharp hearer will object, “Pilate was not a king,” (to leave for a while the main parts of the question,) “how then having bound Him, led they Him as a present to the king?” But read thou the Gospel; When Pilate heard that He was of Galilee, he sent Him to Herod; for Herod was then king, and was present at Jerusalem. And now observe the exactness of the Prophet; for he says, that He was sent as a present; for the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together, for before they were at enmity. For it became Him who was on the eve of making peace between earth and heaven, to make the very men who condemned Him the first to be at peace; for the Lord Himself was there present, who reconciles the hearts of the princes of the earth. Mark the exactness of the Prophets, and their true testimony.3


1. Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Luke, tr. from Greek by Chrysostom Press
2. "Jarim" means "wild vine". Herod, points out Rufinus (340-410), was himself a wild vine, since he was of alien and not Jewish stock.
3. Catechetical Lecture XIII.14

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    Thanks for the historical background. Are there any theological reasons (perhaps a statement from an early church father or a known religious leader) as to why Luke might have included this verse? Jun 8, 2017 at 22:40
  • Samuel - thank you for brining this up. I added a small bit of additional exegesis - from Greek Church Fathers.
    – guest37
    Jun 9, 2017 at 3:32
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    Thank you! It's interesting to see both interpretations (Theophylact and Cyril). Jun 9, 2017 at 15:16
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    Theophylact is a much later commentator. He almost always quoted much earlier (i.e. 4th century or earlier) sources, but I could not find his primary source.
    – guest37
    Jun 9, 2017 at 15:18
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According to Philo of Alexandria, Pontius Pilate, when he arrived as Prefect, had moved the imperial shields from Caesarea to Jerusalem intended to Romanize the Jews. This angered the Jews, and they formed a delegation of the sons of Herod, which they sent to Pilate. The embassy of kings asked Pilate to remove the shields, because the shields were a shame to Jerusalem. But Pontius Pilate didn't please them and keep his head. So they, the sons of Herod, sent a letter to the emperor telling to him all about this riot of Pilate. And only the angry reply of Tiberius to this letter caused that Pilate remove the shields back to Caesarea. Decades later, Jewish historian Josephus also wrote about this same riot associated with the arrival of Pilate. He does not mention the sons of Herod, but tells of the rebellion crowd that Pilate convened in the stadium. Then Pilate gave the signal and the armed soldiers besieged the rebels, but the Jews were ready to die for their religion and that surprised Pilate. After this suprise, Pilate commanded to remove the shields from Jerusalem.

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I think one reason God wanted this phrase included is for a couple of important points of application:

First, enmity against Jesus Christ unites those who would otherwise be enemies among themselves. And so as Christians, we should not be surprised when would-be enemies unite to persecute us, because of the enmity they have against Jesus. (Matthew 10:22)

Second, if you are "on the fence" and then reject Jesus Christ (as Pilate did that day), you will become friends with greater wickedness (e.g., Herod). There really is no "sitting on the fence" in the end when it comes to Jesus Christ. (Matthew 12:30)

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