Does the Bible teach that the Pharisees could not legally execute Jesus?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Got Questions Ministries’ article on why the Pharisees could not legally execute Jesus but could kill Stephen was not convincing. They claimed that a mob killed Stephen… which was just people getting carried away, not a sanctioned action. The problem is that Saul claimed authority to kill and kidnap in Acts 9:1. Why not address that contradiction as well?

Note also that Damascus was in Syria and still under Roman authority at that time. What authority did Jewish leadership have in Damascus?

“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1).

Answer: Greetings friend. I’ve reviewed that article and thought about your question for a while, and I’ve found three problems with your objection. Let me respectfully share them with you.

First, I will agree that there are many ways to interpret any biblical account. But if you asked 1000 readers whether the stoning of Stephen was a mob action or a sanctioned hit, 987 would say it was a mob action.

The issue here is that, if you had an idea in your head that would force this not to be a mob action, you should proceed with caution. Logically speaking — and in the case of the Bible, hermeneutically speaking — plain stories cannot be made to say other things by weaker theories.

Second, reread your own evidence... Acts 9:1. It says nothing about Paul being given authority to kill. True, he was uttering murderous threats. But he was only given authority to capture members of “the Way”... and to bring them back to Jerusalem.

The ostensive contradiction hinges on Paul having been permitted to kill. It is plainly — and by your own hand (… if you will) — shown not to be so via your “proof text.”

Confounding two different assertions is called a “category error.” In this case, capturing is not killing… and your contradiction hinges on it being killing.

Third, you have committed a second category error. The Jewish ruling body was not the same as Rome. Let me explain why this upends the idea that a contradiction took place.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Jews did permit Paul to kill... and that this is what Paul was testifying to in Acts 9:1. That would still not be a contradiction. In what Paul said about his relationship to the Jewish ruling establishment — which was the propositional content of Acts 9:1 — he was making no claims about the laws of Rome.

So, Paul could “say” whatever he wanted to and about the Jews. He would just be a guy beating his chest! Now, the Jews were under Roman rule... but that is different from being equivalent to Rome. They lived their own lives, and they had their own laws. But they were limited by not being able to break Roman laws. So, it was illegal for them to “obey” the law of Moses when it came to stoning someone.

I am sorry, but I see no contradiction. I pray that this analyisis helped you.


(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)