The Fascinating Story of Pilate’s Wife

Posted on February 21, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Birth of an Icon
It is amazing how just one verse in the Bible can exalt a person to icon status as has happened with Claudia Procula, the wife of Judea’s sixth governor, Pontius Pilate. And we don’t even know if Claudia Procula is her real name.

So, what is it about Pilate’s wife that has so ingratiated her to believers for generations? First, let’s take a look at the one verse she appears in and see what we can glean from it.

It is A.D. 30 and Jesus, judged guilty of blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, Israel’s ruling religious body, has been taken for sentencing to Pilate. The Jews were allowed to decide and carry out the punishment for their own cases – so long as they did not involve the death penalty. That’s when Rome stepped in. Now was that time.

Jesus was taken to Pilate, and while the governor was questioning him, a messenger delivered a note to him, something very unusual in the midst of a trial. What was even more unusual was that the note was from his wife. Pilate must have stared at it incredulously. What could she possibly have to tell me at this time? he must have thought to himself. Couldn’t it have waited?

A Crucial Message
However, no doubt considering Claudia to be a wise and discerning woman, he deemed the note important enough to read. If not, he simply would have ignored it and gone on questioning Jesus. So, turning his back on the accused Man, Pilate slowly opened the note. What he read must have sent shivers up his spine: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

Had this merely been the meaningless ranting of an eccentric woman, Pilate would have angrily ripped up the note and tossed the pieces on the ground. However, we have no reason to believe he did this. In fact, it no doubt strengthened his conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was innocent, as evidenced by the fact that Pilate tried three times to release him (Luke 23:16, 20, 22).

Who Was She?
What can we make of Claudia Procula from this one reference?

First, she was with Pilate in Jerusalem during this very important time. They lived in Caesarea Maritime, about 75 miles north of Jerusalem on the Mediterranean coast. Pilate had come down to Jerusalem for Passover to keep the peace. That he brought Claudia with him suggests closeness between the two.

Also, there seems to have been a closeness and confidence in their relationship that gave Claudia the assurance that she could send her husband a note during such a crucial moment and know that he would read it. She also may have been fairly convinced that Pilate trusted her opinion and would welcome it – even at such a time.

Though we can’t be certain of Pilate and Claudia’s relationship, we do know that Claudia has become a figure of great reverence in some circles of the Church. It is believed by some Christian scholars that Claudia became the first Gentile believer in Christ (derived from the fact that she declared Him “innocent”). This, however, is a stretch and unsupported by Scripture or any historical documents.

One of the most significant proponents of her salvation is the second century Christian scholar and theologian, Origen, who in his commentary Homilies on Matthew suggests that God sent her the dream so that she may come to know Christ. Many other theologians have supported this view.

On the other hand, it has also been suggested that Satan gave her the dream to persuade Pilate to commute the death sentence and prevent Jesus from going to the cross, which was his earthly mission all along.

Two Eastern Christian churches – the Eastern Orthodox and the Ethiopian Orthodox – have bestowed sainthood upon her, and each celebrates a special day in her honor.

Before Pilate
Regarding her life before Pilate, it is believed – though cannot be proved – that Claudia was the illegitimate daughter of Julia, Augustus Caesar’s only natural child. Julia, however, proved a source of embarrassment for her father as, during her first two marriages, she was quite “loose” morally, engaging in a number of extramarital affairs.

Following the death of her second husband, she married Tiberius (the future Roman Caesar who would rule the empire during the time of Christ). However, Julia continued to live a lewd and promiscuous lifestyle. Her life was so scandalous that her father Augustus felt no recourse but to banish her from Rome and allow Tiberius to divorce her.

While in exile, so the story goes, Julia gave birth to Claudia and died a short time later. After Tiberius became Emperor, he found a place in his heart for Claudia and adopted her as his own daughter. She married Pilate as a young woman.

A Warm Place
During the 20th and 21st centuries, several books have been written about Pilate’s wife, and she has been a frequent character (depicted either in large roles or at least referred to “offstage”) in movies, TV, and stage plays.

Despite our lack of knowledge regarding Pilate’s wife, one thing is certain: At a time when so many people were abandoning Christ and turning against Him, she boldly and courageously stood up for Him.

This alone wins her a place in the hearts of believers!