Some Thoughts on the Centurion’s Outcry at the Crucifixion

In each of  three of the four Gospels, the Centurion at the crucifixion makes an outcry proclaiming Jesus.  In Luke, the Centurion says, “Surely, this was a righteous man.” In both Matthew and Mark, the Centurion says, “Certainly, this man was the Son of God.”

These statements are extremely compelling to me and are the reason why “Casting Lots” was written.  I was listening to a sermon on a completely unrelated topic, when I started to think about these outcries, the circumstances in which they were made,  and their the meaning.

First, I am an attorney.  As an attorney, I did a fair amount of litigation.  I thus had to become familiar with the rules of how you present evidence to a court.

Sometimes,  you might want to use the words spoken by some one who was now not available to come to court for whatever reason.  Of course, the attorney for your opposition would object by saying, “Your honor, that is hearsay.” Hearsay is the legal term for testimony in  court where the witness does not have direct knowledge of the fact asserted, but knows it only from being told by someone.  For example, if a person testifies in court that “Fred told me that John robbed the store,” it is clear that the person testifying does not know from his or her direct knowledge that John robbed the store.  All that person knows from direct knowledge is that Fred said that John robbed the store.

Testimony that the court finds is hearsay may not be admitted into evidence and the jury is not allowed to hear it.

There are exceptions to the hearsay rule, that is there are times when for a good reason such testimony may be admitted into evidence, which means the jury can hear it.

One such exception is something known as “admission against interest.”

In California, for example, the relevant statute regarding this matter is as follows:

California’s Evidence Code Section 1230 defines “Declarations against interest” as:

Evidence of a statement by a declarant having sufficient knowledge of the subject is not made inadmissible by the hearsay rule if the declarant is unavailable as a witness and the statement, when made, was so far contrary to the declarant’s pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far subjected him to the risk of civil or criminal liability, or so far tended to render invalid a claim by him against another, or created such a risk of making him an object of hatred, ridicule, or social disgrace in the community, that a reasonable man in his position would not have made the statement unless he believed it to be true.

 

Here, the Centurion is the declarant.   His statements are the testimony that I would want you, the jury to hear. The Centurion is not now available to testify in court due to his death some two thousand years ago.  Nonetheless, the court would allow this evidence to be not only heard, but also be considered by you, the jury, because these statements were against the Centurion’s pecuniary interest.  What the Centurion is saying is contrary to what his employer, Rome, and his direct supervisor, Pontius Pilate, would want him to say.  The Centurion is in essence speaking against his employer, which is rarely a wise thing to do.

The rationale for admitting these statements into evidence  is that no one would say anything against their pecuniary interest, unless they genuinely believed it to be true.

 

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