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Q&A: Why is Pontius Pilate immortalized in our creeds?

Why is Pontius Pilate immortalized in our creeds?

We are okay with the mention of Mary’s name in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. She was the mother of Jesus, and Scripture praises her piety.

But it’s almost jarring that the only other person mentioned by name in those creeds is Pontius Pilate. He was the faithless Roman governor who gave the command to crucify Jesus!

The purposes of creeds

While no one can give the definitive reason for Pilate’s inclusion, I believe that the purposes of creeds can shed some light on the question.

Creeds promote the gospel and glorify God. God is best glorified when we proclaim his deeds! Creeds proclaim the truth to the world, and that proclamation also serves to encourage those who worship. Creeds refute errors and promote unity. Finally, creeds teach salvation history. This last purpose seems to be the reason why Pilate’s name is included.

Salvation history is real history

Salvation history is not a fairy tale that takes place long ago in a land far, far away. Salvation history is real history. For years, some archaeologists doubted whether Pontius Pilate existed because they had not found evidence in their field of study. However when they found the Pilate Stone in 1961, archaeologists came to realize what Christians have known for two thousand years. The stone mentions the Roman governor by name. The Bible is historically and archaeologically impeccable. When the Bible describes the events of Jesus’ life, it sets those events in actual history. Pontius Pilate was an integral part of the Passion History of Jesus and is mentioned in the Bible by name. The creed reflects that pattern set by Scripture.

By the time the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds were formulated, the false teaching of docetism was making inroads into the church. Docetism taught that Jesus only seemed to be human. By naming Pontius Pilate, these creeds boldly confess that inside of real history with real people, Jesus, incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, became truly human and suffered under Pontius Pilate. Jesus really died for our salvation! What a beautiful, historically accurate, and clarifying claim!

A testament to Jesus’ kingdom

Pontius Pilate was the earthly authority who condemned Jesus to death. With the inscription he ordered to be placed above Jesus’ head, he joined the line of unwitting and unexpected prophets of Scripture. Instead of a curse, the wicked Balaam could only bless the Israelites and foretold the coming of the Savior (Numbers 24:17). The high priest Caiaphas did not realize he was prophesying Jesus’ death for our sins by saying that it was better for one man to die than for the nation to perish (John 11:50). So also, Pilate joined them by ordering the inscription to read, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19).

Pilate’s name stresses the nature of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Far from setting up an earthly kingdom, Jesus placed himself under the authority of a corrupt Roman governor. It’s a good thing for us to remember when we are tempted to put our trust in princes who cannot save (Psalm 146:3). Jesus allowed himself to be crucified under Pontius Pilate, but proved he is the King of kings by rising from the dead and ruling all things for the good of his church (Ephesians 1:22). This is our real salvation history.

In the end, every tongue will confess it (Philippians 2:11). We will be doing it for an eternity. Why not confess it now too?

Have a question, ask it here!

Author: David Scharf
Volume 110, Number 12
Issue: December 2023


Q&A Bible study open bible 2023 Dave Scharf

Who is the king of kings?

The Q&A discussed how the Bible as well as our creeds set Jesus’ suffering for our salvation into real history. The same is true about how the Bible relates the account of Jesus’ birth.

We celebrate Christmas this month. When we think of Christmas, how can we not think about the gospel writer Luke? After careful investigation of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, Luke gives us his orderly account (see Luke 1:3). Many of us have the words of Luke chapter 2 memorized because we’ve heard them so often. How does the account of Jesus’ birth begin? “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree . . . while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1,2). The birth of Jesus is set in real history!

Since it is Christmas, it’s fitting to contemplate what Luke chapter 2 reveals about who our King of kings is.

Read Luke 2:1-20 devotionally and consider the following points and questions.

He is humble

  • The account of Jesus’ birth shows that he is humble. Though Jesus had the right to anything he wanted, he set aside that right on our behalf by humbling himself to be our Savior. Just consider the circumstances of his birth.
  • His mother: Mary was no queen. She was a woman without status, especially considering that others probably thought her guilty of adultery.
  • His location: Jesus was born in a stable and placed in an animal’s feeding trough. A far cry from a gold-leafed crib!
  • His audience: Lowly shepherds, not state dignitaries.

What does Jesus demonstrate about himself in his humility? What lessons are there for us when it comes to our own attitudes?

He is worthy of praise

The angels couldn’t help but praise this Savior. They exist to glorify God and serve God’s followers. They now got to announce the greatest way that God could ever serve people.

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). After seeing the angels, the shepherds needed to see for themselves and said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!” (Luke 2:15). After seeing Jesus, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Jesus is worthy of praise!

In many churches, we sing the “Gloria,” which is the song of the angels from Luke chapter 2. When do we sing the “Gloria” in the church service and why? Open your hymnal and look at the other songs of the liturgies. Why do we sing those songs at those times?

He is for everyone

Think of the greatest thing that has ever happened in your life. What did you do? You told people! You could not keep it in. The shepherds just heard the greatest news that anyone has ever heard. What did they do? They went and spread the word about Jesus!

“There are, doubtless, times to be calm and times to be enthusiastic; but can it be right to give all our coldness to Christ and all our enthusiasm to the world?”* What tempts us to be cold when it comes to what Christ has done?

In your life, how can you show enthusiasm in worship, at home, and with others?

*The Expositor’s Bible, The Second Book of Samuel, W. G. Blaikie, p. 96.

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