Jesus gets flogged.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 February 2018

Mark 15.15 • Matthew 27.26 • Luke 23.16 • John 19.1

Jesus’s flogging was definitely part of his suffering. But it’s actually not one of the traditional the stations of the cross. I know; you’d think it was, considering how much time Mel Gibson spent on it in The Passion of the Christ, where they beat the hell out of Jesus—as if there was anything of hell in him. But nope; traditionally the stations of the cross began with Jesus getting his cross, ’cause they’re the stations of the cross, not Jesus’s pre-cross sufferings. They’re part of St. John Paul’s list though.

And no, there’s no historical evidence that the Romans beat Jesus more than usual. The only details we have about his flogging is that he had a flogging. Takes up only a sentence in all four gospels.

Mark 15.15 KWL
Pilate, wanting the crowd to stop it, released bar-Abba to them.
He handed over Jesus, who’d been flogged, so he could be crucified.
Matthew 27.26 KWL
Then Pilate released bar-Abba to them.
He handed over Jesus, who’d been flogged, so he could be crucified.
John 19.1 KWL
So then Pilate also had Jesus flogged.

Fraghellósas/“who’d been flogged” Mk 15.15, Mt 27.26 is in a verb tense called aorist: It happened, but it’s not past tense, so we don’t know when it happened. It didn’t necessarily happen after Judea’s prefect Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to his death; it might’ve happened before. Probably did, considering John records Jesus getting flogged and crowned with thorns before he was sent to be crucified, not after.

Jesus doesn’t actually get flogged in Luke, but Pilate implied that was the plan:

Luke 23.16 KWL
“So, once punished, I will release him.”

’Cause flogging was how Romans “punished” criminals… unless their crime was considered so grievous, the Romans would just crucify them. And they were pretty quick to crucify people too. Yep, flogging was the lenient punishment. Whereas in our culture, flogging is illegal, for obvious reasons.

Roman-style flogging.

The Passion detailed what it might have looked like: You take the convict, strip him naked so no clothes get in the way, and strap him to a low pillar so he was bent over it; or chain him to a pillar in such a way that he was stretched out and couldn’t move.

Then you got two or more lictors/“executioners.” Each had a flagellum/“whip.” No, these weren’t cat-o’-nine-tails; that type of whip was a British invention. The flagellum was either a rope or a leather strap, but the business end had a piece of metal, rock, or hard bone in it. When you were whipped, that would hurt enough, but when the lictor pulled the whip back, the object at the end would rip at the victim’s skin, creating a horrifying, bloody mess. Especially if they nicked an artery.

Commentators like to point out Moses limited the Hebrews to 40 lashes. Dt 25.3 But that doesn’t apply to Jesus’s situation at all. Hebrew lashes referred to caning, beating someone with a stick. Pr 26.3 Other whips, like they used for animals, were made of reeds, so they were also pretty stick-like. When Jesus made a whip out of rope, Jn 2.15 he was making a whip that wouldn’t hurt anywhere as much as the usual whips the Jews used, and certainly wasn’t meant to draw blood. Just shoo the animals and shopkeepers away.

Romans definitely meant to draw blood. Forget any limit of 40 lashes; they didn’t follow Hebrew custom, much less the Law. They flogged their victims as much as they pleased. Regularly to death. Many Romans referred to flogging as “half death,” and many were known to die soon after their flogging.

Flogging was considered too cruel for citizens, so Romans forbade it for themselves. That’s why when Paul was about to get a flogging, he announced his citizenship, Ac 22.25 ’cause flogging him would’ve got the soldiers in so much trouble. Ac 22.29 Should’ve got the Philippians in trouble for caning him. Ac 16.35-39

In Jesus’s case, and in that of other crucifixion victims, the point wasn’t actually punishment. It was to flog ’em till the blood loss made them groggy. Therefore they’d be less likely to fight the soldiers as they were getting crucified. So they’d only be beaten till the fight was knocked out of them.

Which means if Jesus was flogged before Pilate sentenced him to crucifixion, the soldiers weren’t simply trying to soften Jesus up so he’d be easier to crucify: They were really trying to hurt him, figuring the flogging would be his only punishment. They might’ve flogged him more than a typical crucifixion victim. Because they still expected their crucifixion victims to carry their crosses to the execution site—and Jesus was too weak to do it. True, he’d been up all night, but I stay up all night regularly, and I’m never too tired to lift heavy things, and I’m arguably not in as good a shape as Jesus was. Gotta be blood loss then.

By his stripes.

Christians see Jesus’s flogging as a fulfillment of prophecy:

Isaiah 53.5 KWL
5 But he was wounded for our rebellion, crushed for our evil deeds.
Our peace came from his punishment. His beating brought us healing.

“With his stripes we are healed,” the King James Version put it. Is 53.5 KJV “By his stripes” comes from mixing up Simon Peter’s paraphrase of this verse—“by whose stripes ye were healed” 1Pe 2.24 KJV —with the Isaiah text. Mólopi/“stripes” specifically refer to the rips put into one’s flesh from a flogging. Isaiah’s word khaburá is more like the welts you’d get from a beating, but likely Peter figured it was close enough. Jesus suffered for our sins, just like the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. His beating brought us healing.

Christians tend to think of Jesus’s blood loss at his crucifixion. But we aren’t always aware even more blood loss happened at his flogging. Blood got splattered everywhere, very much like when animals were ritually sacrificed in temple. Jesus is seen as our sacrificial lamb, and this is one of the ways in which his suffering parallels those rituals—though ritual sacrifice, when done properly, isn’t barbaric, but Jesus’s death most definitely was.