Pilate’s Coins Reflect His Nature
Pilate is one of the central characters in
proceedings that sent Jesus to the cross. When
that his interrogation of Jesus was going nowhere and
of the crowd was escalating, he took water and washed
his hands in
front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s
blood,” he said.
“It is your responsibility!” (Mathew 27:24, NIV) Was
this an act
of indifference? Was Pilate trying to appease the
crowd? Or was
there something more behind this metaphor of water
hands? If we examine the coins that Pontius Pilate
while Jesus walked this earth, perhaps it will
into Pilate’s spiritual persuasions that allowed the
of our Lord.
Historically, the Roman Emperor appointed a
governor over Roman provinces. These Procurators,
produced small, copper coins for use in everyday
governor produced his own crudely-made coins, hand
punched on a
piece of bronze.
Pilate minted two types of these coins. The
the image of a libation ladle and the second had an
Consider how these symbols provide insight into
background, world view and religious perspective.
The first coin used the image of the
simpulum, a Roman
ceremonial ladle used in Roman pagan ceremonies. At
that time the
libation label was used to pour out offerings to the
gods.1 The inscription on the front of the coin
KAICAPOC, translated it means of Emperor Tiberius.
pointed to Pilate supporting Tiberius’s claim as the
and emperor over the Roman Empire.
The reverse of this coin showed barley
probably reflected the local economy. The inscription
KAICAPCC translated of Empress Julia and referred to
of Tiberius. These coins were thought to be minted
by Pilate in
the years 29-31 AD, although there is some argument
that none were
made in the year 29.
The Bible reminds us that wine offered as
was presented only to God. These offerings as
described in scripture were very different from the
offerings made to pagan gods.
The second type of coin issued showed an
auger called a
lituus staff. It also bore the same inscription as
coin. Allen Brent wrote, “Augury sought the divine
any proposed course of action which might affect
fortuna and salus (peace, good fortune and
military and civil actions were sanctioned by augury,
performed by priests of the college of augurs and by
behalf of senior magistrates.”2
The reverse side of these coins showed a
wreath along with
the same inscription, of Empress Julia, mother of
symbols that Pilate chose to use on the coins
circulated in Judea
were like sending an arrow to the heart of the Jewish
was almost like he went out of his way to use
directly offended the Jews. His coins not only
overwhelming power of Rome, they promoted pagan
Today, we use historical political figures we
may or may
not like on our coins, but they still display the
wording; “In God
we trust.” Imagine if we were forced to use coins
every day that
highlighted pagan or witchcraft symbols and we had no
to use them to buy bread and other necessities.
Some portray Pilate as a weak, indecisive or
leader. However, his coins tell a different story.
He believed in
sorcery and the Roman pagan gods and pushed those
symbols on his coins. By doing so, he participated
with the work
of the enemy of man’s soul.
These examples from 2000 years ago help
document the mind
of the person who ordered the crucifixion of Christ
Jerusalem on behalf of Rome. Though part of God’s
plan, Pilate was
much more than an innocent bystander. He placed on
his coins what
resonated in his heart. With the freedom of choice
his rule gave
him, he did nothing to stop the crucifixion even
though he did not
believe Christ’s actions warranted the death penalty.
believed his authority gave him power over life and
defied the very symbols on his coins with the
Jesus. The power of his coin didn’t go beyond the
worth of the
copper it came from. In the end, God had the last
word and we
remember Pilate as the man who didn’t.
1. John Scheid, “Sacrifices for Gods and
Ancestors,” A Companion to Roman Religion, Blackwell,
2007, p. 269.
2. A. Brent, A., The Imperial Cult and the
Development of Church Order: Concepts and Images of
Authority in Paganism and Early Christianity before
the Age of Cyprian, illustrated, Brill Publishers,
1999, p. 20.