Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John mention the lashings that Jesus received before his crucifixion. Though the Gospel writers mention the whipping, also called flogging or scourging, without much detail, historians know that the punishment was violent, bloody, and likely left Jesus near death. A common question people have about Jesus’ punishment concerns how many lashings he received.
According to Jewish law, flogging consisted of 40 lashes. However, Jesus received lashes from Roman soldiers who had no limitations. Jesus likely received the most severe form of lashings under Roman law, which meant multiple soldiers flogged him with bone, rock, and glass fragments embedded in the whip.
How do the Gospels describe the flogging that Jesus received? What were the three levels of Roman lashings? Was the Apostle Paul flogged? What does Deuteronomy instruct about giving lashes as a punishment? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Why Was Jesus Christ Crucified? to learn more.
What do the Gospels mention about Jesus’ flogging?
All four Gospels mention that Roman soldiers beat Jesus before they crucified him. Matthew, Mark, and John use Greek words that specifically refer to giving some lashes. Though different words are used for lashes (see the Greek words below), they have nearly identical meanings.
- Matthew 27:26, “Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.” (ESV; KJV, NKJV, NASB, “scourged”; NIV, NLT, “flogged”)
- Mark 15:15, “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” (ESV; KJV, NKJV, NASB, “scourged”; NIV, “flogged”; NLT, “flogged with a lead-tipped whip”)
- John 19:1, “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.” (ESV; KJV, NKJV; NASB, “scourged”; NIV, “flogged”; NLT, “flogged with a lead-tipped whip”)
Also see Why Was Jesus Arrested? to learn more.
Does Luke mention Jesus getting lashes?
In Luke 23:22, Pilate tells the blood-thirsty crowd that Jesus didn’t do anything wrong: “I will therefore punish and release him.” The crowd grew angry, so Pilate relented and sentenced Jesus to die (v. 24).
The Greek word translated “punish,” paideusas, is a general word for discipline, which scholars agree refers to lashings. Most English translations render paideusas as “punish” or “chastise.” One major English translation renders the word according to its implied meaning: “I will have him flogged” (NLT).
After Pilate’s decision, flogging isn’t mentioned: “He [Pilate] released the man [Barabas] who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they [the crowd] asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will” (v. 25). The phrase “their will” likely implies the lashings Jesus received as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Three levels of flogging according to Roman law
Receiving lashes was a horrifying punishment, even according to the often-brutal ways of the Roman Empire. It was so terrible that it was illegal to punish citizens in such a manner. The Romans often used it to interrogate non-citizens and to punish them for crimes they committed.
There were three different levels of flogging depending on the severity of the crime. Fustigatio was the least severe form of flogging and was for smaller offenses. It included a limited amount of lashings, delivered by a single person. The purpose of fustigatio was like a warning not to repeat an offense.
Flagellatio was the second degree of flogging and carried out on people for a serious crime. There was a strong punitive aspect to flagellatio, much more so than fustigatio. It was much more than merely corrective or preventative in relation to a repeat offense. Flagellatio aimed for a great deal of pain.
Jesus’ arrest likely didn’t lead to fustigatio or flagellatio, but resulted in the most severe scourging possible. Verberatio was the most severe lashing possible in which multiple soldiers participated in delivering the lashes.
In verberatio, pieces of metal, bone, glass, or lead balls were woven into the whip. The victim was sometimes tied to a post when lashed. Sometimes verberatio caused death before their crucifixion occurred.
The Roman soldiers didn’t kill Jesus with lashes, not because they were merciful, but because they wanted to prolong his punishment and maximize the torture of the cross.
New Testament scholar Grant Osborne writes, “With Jesus it was most likely the verberatio and thus undoubtedly terrible, but controlled sufficiently that he could go to the cross. He was indeed the suffering Servant of Isa. 53:10-12.” 
Why don’t the Gospel writers say how many times Jesus was lashed? The Romans didn’t limit the number of lashes a person received, so it’s probable that no one counted the strikes.
Did the movie The Passion of the Christ accurately portray Jesus’ lashes? No. As bloody as the scene in Mel’s Gibson’s movie was, it didn’t come close to depicting the horror of the Roman punishment, especially the verberatio form of it. To accurately reflect the lashings that Jesus received would likely have been too gruesome to maintain an “R” rating and for the majority of people to watch.
Also see What Day Was Jesus Crucified? to learn more.
Flogging and Scourging in the New Testament
The authors of the New Testament refer to flogging several times. Different Greek words are used. Jewish authorities carried out the punishment from a local synagogue (e.g. Matt. 10:17) or the Sanhedrin administered it (Acts 5:40). Roman lashings (e.g. Acts 16:22; 2 Cor. 11:25) were often more violent.
|Matthew 10:17||mastigōsousin (μαστιγώσουσιν)||they will flog|
|Matthew 27:26||phragellōsas (φραγελλώσας)||having flogged|
|Mark 15:15||phragellōsas (φραγελλώσας)||having flogged|
|John 19:1||emastigōsen (ἐμαστίγωσεν)||flogged|
|Acts 5:40||deirantes (δείραντες)||having beaten|
|Acts 16:22||rhabdizein (ῥαβδίζειν)||they be beaten with rods|
|Acts 22:19||derōn (δέρων)||beating|
|2 Corinthians 11:25||erabdisthēn (ἐραβδίσθην)||I was beaten with rods|
Why did Paul get flogged if he was a Roman citizen? In Acts 16:22, Paul and Silas are flogged. In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul mentions being flogged three times. Yet in Acts 22:25 he cites his Roman citizenship to prevent a flogging.
In the instances where Paul was flogged, he either didn’t declare his citizenship for some reason, or the authorities who whipped him were unjustly punishing him and didn’t care about his legal status.
Also see Who Killed Jesus Christ? to learn more.
Flogging and scourging in the Old Testament
Deuteronomy 25:3 provides instructions about punishing a wrongdoer with lashings. The verse limits the amount a person can get to 40. Jewish authorities lashed a person 39 times to ensure they didn’t break the law.
|ESV||Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.|
|KJV||Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.|
|NASB||He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes.|
|NIV||but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes.|
|NLT||But never give more than forty lashes; more than forty lashes would publicly humiliate your neighbor.|
Old Testament scholar J.G. McConville writes that the purpose of the law was “to establish a limit to the punishment, and even to grade it up to that limit, in proportion to the gravity of the offense, calling on the deuteronomic doctrine of brotherhood. It is significant that the explicit intention of the law is not to prevent the death of the offender (though that effect follows), but rather to preserve his dignity.” 
The limitations are an early form of prohibiting what in America is referred to as “cruel and unusual punishment,” which allows for legal discipline, but limits it as well.
The Old Testament also uses the imagery of flogging to convey hardship or punishment.
- Job 9:23, “When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent.” (NIV)
- Isaiah 28:15, “Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, And with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.” (NASB)
Also see Why Did Judas Iscariot Betray Jesus Christ? to learn more.
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