We aren’t told exactly how many lashes or whips Jesus received when He was flogged before His crucifixion. Some believe He received 39 lashes – the punishment Paul mentions receiving – but it’s not clear.
Following His unjust trial, and just before He would carry His cross to His own crucifixion, Jesus was scourged (or flogged) by the Romans. But exactly how many lashes or whips did He receive? Let’s look to the Bible and some early Jewish literature for an answer.
Jesus’ Flogging Prophesied in Isaiah
Before we look to the New Testament writings, we’ll start in Isaiah, where the prophet spoke,
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:4-6 KJV
“…with His stripes we are healed.” These stripes refer to the whips or lashes Jesus received prior to His crucifixion. He was literally bearing our penalty and absorbing the wrath of God so that His people wouldn’t have to. He was whipped on the same sand He months before wrote on to restore the woman caught in adultery. This is what He did – who He was.
Jesus’ Scourging Mentioned in the Gospels
Only two of the Gospels speak of Jesus being whipped by the Romans: Matthew, Mark and John. But neither give us much detail, only that He was flogged before the crucifixion.
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.Mark 15:15 (NIV)
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.John 19:1 (NIV)
Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.Matthew 27:26 (NIV)
So if none of the Gospel accounts mention how many times Jesus was whipped, where else can we look?
Paul’s Mention of Thirty-Nine Lashes
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul mentions a lashing he received from the Jews. While speaking of the many sufferings he had endured for the Gospel, he says,
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.2 Corinthians 11:23b-24 (NIV)
Five different times the Jews punished Paul by giving him the “forty lashes minus one,” or thirty-nine lashes.
Was this the same punishment Jesus received? It’s possible, but it’s worth noting this was a punishment given by the Jews. Deuteronomy 25:3 states that a criminal should receive no more than forty lashes, so it’s possible this was the Jews way of making sure they don’t tip toe the line or accidentally go over the given limit.
Flogging According to Roman Law
According to early Roman law, there were three different levels of flogging based on the severity of the law:
- Fustigatio was the least severe and included a limited number of lashes delivered by one person
- Flagellatio was the second degree and reserved for more serious crime
- Verberatio was the most severe lashing, and we know it to be carried out by multiple soldiers due to the high number of lashes
Most scholars believe Jesus received the third and most severe flogging, where bone and rock were often attached to a “cat of nine tails” whip.
But that still doesn’t answer the question of how many lashes Jesus received?
Because Jesus wasn’t to be killed by flogging, but by crucifixion, it’s most likely the soldiers delivered as many lashes as necessary to wound Him – but not too many so that He might be at risk of dying or unable to walk to the place of crucifixion.
By Jesus’ Lashes We Were Healed
Whether Jesus was whipped 39 times, 40 times, or some other number – we know that it was an incredibly painful process. Jesus accepted an undeserved punishment and death for the sins of His people. By His arrest, trial, flogging, and crucifixion, He:
- Makes us clean
- Heals us
- Brings us into communion with God
- Bears the wrath of God we deserved
- Atones for our sin
He laid down His life for our sake. So however many lashes Jesus received, we know He received them on our behalf, that we might walk free. And we know that He willingly endured them, in full submission to God, following a three year ministry that began with Him submitting to God’s will in baptism. Thanks be to God.