John 19:11 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

John 19:11, NIV: Jesus answered, 'You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.'

John 19:11, ESV: Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

John 19:11, KJV: Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

John 19:11, NASB: Jesus answered him, 'You would have no authorityover Me at all, if it had not been given to you from above; for this reason the one who handed Me over to you has the greater sin.'

John 19:11, NLT: Then Jesus said, 'You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.'

John 19:11, CSB: "You would have no authority over me at all," Jesus answered him, "if it hadn't been given you from above. This is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin."

What does John 19:11 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Roman rule over conquered territory centered around a balance of submission and flexibility. So long as taxes were paid and armies were allowed to move, defeated people were allowed to live according to most of their own traditions. Some cultures were more flexible than others, however. The Jewish people were exceptionally committed to their own God. Pilate, for his part, suffered from a bad combination of aggression and arrogance. Several incidents resulted in rioting and outrage, to Rome's frustration. It's likely that by the time Jesus was brought in for trial (John 18:28), Pilate had been told that another ugly incident would result in the loss of his position.

Pilate does not want to condemn Jesus to death. Much of that is due to Jesus' obvious innocence (John 18:37–38) and the clear vendetta of Jewish leadership (Matthew 27:18). It's influenced by Pilate's pagan superstition (Matthew 27:19; John 19:7–8). But it's also driven by his ego: not wanting to be bullied by the mob, or anyone else. When Jesus refuses to cooperate with his interrogation, Pilate delivers a thinly-veiled threat (John 19:9–10). This warning is grounded in Pilate's perception: that he, alone, is in control of the situation.

Jesus' answer reminds Pilate that his political power is not absolute. Pilate is only there because a more-powerful Roman official has allowed it. Without that permission, Pontius Pilate would have no influence on this situation at all. This is a stinging reminder. Pilate's words are true in the most legalistic sense. He can choose to have Jesus executed or released. But the ultimate cause of these events is not Pilate, or Pilate's power. It's God's will (Matthew 26:53–54) and it's being driven by the manipulations of other people (Matthew 26:14–16).

Scholars debate who Jesus means, exactly, when He refers to "he who…has the greater sin." In context, it's most likely a reference to Caiaphas, who has orchestrated most of this spectacle (John 11:48–53; 19:6). This, also, implies that it's not Pilate who's really in control of the situation. That would be especially grating to Pilate, whose contempt for Israel is obvious. After more fumbling attempts to get out of this political trap (John 19:12), Pilate will give in to the mob (John 19:14–16).

Jesus' comment about the "greater sin" also establishes an important idea: that some sins are truly "worse" than others. All sin goes against a perfectly holy God (Romans 3:23), so all sin is equally deserving of eternal death (Romans 6:23). That does not mean God sees a "white lie," for example, as exactly the same as mass murder. Both are sin, both are wrong, but one is legitimately labelled as "worse" than the other. It's worthwhile to remember that Christ doesn't fail to distinguish between the severity of our sins (Hebrews 4:15).