Ecce Homo


In John 19 Pilate’s words were recorded by the author in Greek. Since there was no authorial translation,  we can assume that the phrase “Behold the man” Ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος was spoken in Greek by Pilate. It is widely understood, that Greek was the language of commerce in the eastern empire, and Pilate as an administrator would have known and used it.

Here is the reasoning behind this observation. In Matthew’s account of the crucifixion the Vulgate transliterates Jesus’ Aramaic words in 27:46 from their Greek transliteration into Latin script. It would be presumed that Matthew believed his audience would need the words explained so goes on to translate them as well. The Vulgate again follows this and translates the transliterated words into Latin.

Since the original and the Latin Vulgate translate Pilate’s words in John 19:5 without comment (as do modern translations) it seems Pilate used Greek so he could be understood by the onlookers.  And as that was the case John had no reason to explain the phrase to his Greek speaking readers. So why am I, an evangelical Protestant going on and on about the Latin version?   Simply that it is used in many popular depictions (such as the film The Passion of the Christ, 2004) . They have the words in Latin “ecce homo.” This a cultural and translational mistake.  Such points can be seen as splitting hairs, but if we want to get a true picture of the biblical narrative some jots and tittles matter.

So the crowd crying out in Greek and/or Aramaic – “Crucify Him” are faced with this humble beaten man in His crown of thorns. And the Roman judge exhibits Him, the work of his figurative hands, but of their unjust calls  – proclaiming in the common tongue of all gathered “Ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος – Behold the man.”

Let us behold that scene and that sacrifice in our lives, hearts and thoughts today.


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