Vision Logo Circle

What Was The Sanhedrin?

by | Fri, Aug 5 2022

Text size: A- A+

We’ve been learning about Jewish denominations, or particular religious groups within Judaism in the 1st century and a group that is often referred to is the Sanhedrin, but not many people know who they were, what their job was and why they even existed. They were in fact a very important group and they date back to the very establishment of the Jewish nation under Moses.

Numbers 11:16-17, ‘The Lord therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I’ll come down and speak with you there, and I’ll take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they’ll bear the burden of the people with you, so that you’ll not bear it all alone.”

Just as a quick aside, this is another verse that demonstrates the Trinitarian nature of God, because it says that God would take of the Spirit WHO was on Moses and put HIM upon them. What Spirit was God going to put on the elders? It’s written with a capital ‘H’ to emphasise divinity of this entity, meaning it could only be God the Holy Spirit, and yet God the Father is speaking of Him as an individual entity. I digress.

Ok, so back to the Sanhedrin. The name comes from a Greek word that means an assembly or a council and the concept of this Sanhedrin comes from the days of Moses that I just read about in Numbers 11. The purpose of this group originally was to lift the burden of justice from Moses’ shoulders, and share it among the elders of the nation. Legal matters had become quite a burden, and among a population of more than a million, it was daily, tedious and exhausting.

The land as you know, was divided amongst the twelve Tribes, and after Moses passed and the Hebrews took possession of the land, the tribes moved out and established their borders, at least in large part, and as a matter of course towns and villages grew. Where there are people there are issues and this meant that each town needed a court system to deal with legal matters as they arose. The same system that God told Moses to establish back in the wilderness with the help of the elders, morphed into the various tribes and communities.

So if there was 120 men as heads of families, they had a local court called a Sanhedrin. For much smaller communities with less men, there would be three judges and they’d fill the roles of both judge and jury for all legal matters.

Then as the nation grew and the Temple was established in the capital city of Jerusalem, the Great Sanhedrin was established. This would be the equivalent of the Supreme Court for the nation. It was made up of 70 men including the High Priest.

The convening of the Sanhedrin was a daily event with festivals and Shabbat being the exception, and the authority of the Great Sanhedrin superseded the smaller local Sanhedrin councils. So if a legal matter arose involving the king, no local Sanhedrin to hear or adjudicate on it, only the Great Sanhedrin had the power and authority to deal with it.

The Great Sanhedrin were the only ones who had the authority to extend the boundaries of the Temple and the City of Jerusalem. They were a very powerful group of men.

The very last binding ruling made by the Sanhedrin was in 358 when the Hebrew Calendar was ratified and accepted. The Hebrew calendar is considered to be so accurate it never needs to be adjusted, unlike the Julian (Roman) or Gregorian (Christian) calendars need. The Julian calendar is 365 days long but every 4 years, a day is added by way of the leap year. The Gregorian calendar is the same, but don’t add a day when a year is divisible by 100 but not by 400. Complicated. The Hebrew calendar is based on both the sun and moon, whereas the Muslim calendar is based only on the moon, and the Julian and Gregorian calendars are based only on the sun…I think.

Another digression. 358AD is also the year the Roman’s dissolved the Sanhedrin, undermining and refusing the Jewish leaders of the nation from deliberating and deciding on legal matters for their people.

In the New Covenant, the Sanhedrin is mostly known for how they dealt illegally in their trials and examinations of Jesus, and their corruption together to ensure His guilt result in His execution. (John 18:12-14, 19-23; Matt 26:57-68)

There is some debate about whether or not the Sanhedrin has been reestablished in Israel or not today. There have been numerous attempts to restart it – unsuccessfully – however, it appears they might have finally succeeded. I don’t know if it’s recognised officially or whether it’s just a mechanism set up within the religious Jewish community, but the website exists and there’s information about who they are and how they’ve reestablished this ancient Jewish council. Today they have 71 members to ensure a vote never ends in a tie. You can check it out for yourself if you’re interested. It’s a simple, non-fancy site and again, but how officially recognised it is, I have no idea.