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Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Council

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The SANHEDRIN, a term formed from the Greek sunedrion . The Jews' supreme council in Christ's time. Moses' tribunal of seventy seems to have been temporary (Numbers 11:16-17), for there are no traces of it in Deuteronomy 17:8-10, nor under Joshua, judges, and the kings. As the permanent great council it probably took its rise after the return from Babylon, under the Graeco-Macedonian supremacy. 2 Maccabees 1:10; 2 Maccabees 4:44; 2 Maccabees 11:27, contain the earliest allusion to it. The number was probably derived from Moses' council. Its members were the chief priests or heads of the 24 courses, and those who had been high priests; also the elders and scribes learned in Jewish law (Matthew 26:57; Matthew 26:59; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66; Acts 5:21). Seventy-one is the number, according to Jewish tradition, to correspond to the 70 and Moses (Numbers 11:16). Others say 72, since to the 70, Eldad and Medad are to be added (Numbers 11:26).

The president was called nasi' ; generally the high priest (Matthew 26:62). The vice-president is called "father of the house of judgment" in the Talmud One scribe registered the votes for acquittal, another those for condemnation, according to the Babylonian Gemara. They sat in the form of a half circle; the vice-president or the oldest at the president's right hand, the rest sat before these two according to their dignity. The Gazzith or council hall was in the S.E. corner of a court near the temple. Sometimes they met in the high priest's palace (Matthew 26:3). In Christ's time the sessions were moved from Gazzith to a hall further from the temple, but still on mount Moriah. Its final seat was at Tiberias. They tried cases of idolatry and false prophets. On this allegation Jesus, and subsequently Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul were brought before them (John 11:47).

Their authority extended even to Jews in foreign cities (Acts 9:2). The Gemara states that power of life and death was taken from them just forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, coinciding with John 18:31-32. The confirmation and execution of a capital sentence rested with the Roman procurator, from whence they took Jesus before Pontius Pilate on a different charge from that of blasphemy, for which the Sanhedrin condemned Him, namely, that of treason against Caesar, the only one which Pilate would have entertained. The stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:56, etc.) was an illegal assumption of power, an outbreak of fanatical violence, as also the execution of the apostle James in the procurator's absence (Josephus, Ant. 20:9, section 1).

There were two lesser courts or "councils" (Matthew 10:17) in Jerusalem; one in each town of Palestine, 23 members in each in a town of 120, three when the population was below 120 (Talmud). They were connected with the several synagogues and possessed the right of scourging (2 Corinthians 11:24); but Josephus represents the local courts, as constituted by Moses, to have consisted of seven, with two Levitical assessors apiece. Matthew 5:21-22, "the judgment," perhaps alludes to such courts. There was also a privy "council" to assist the Roman procurator when he chose to consult them (Acts 25:12).


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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Council'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/fbd/c/council.html. 1949.

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