Jesus, King of the Jews

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Jesus, crowned with thorns in a Tyrian purple robe as the King of the Jews, being mocked and beaten during his Passion, depicted by van Baburen, 1623

In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the King of the Jews, both at the beginning of his life and at the end. In the Koine Hellenic of the New Testament, e.g., in John 19:3, this is written as Basileus ton Ioudaion (βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων).[1]

Both uses of the title lead to dramatic results in the New Testament accounts. In the account of the nativity of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, the Biblical Magi who come from the east call Jesus the "King of the Jews", causing Herod the Great to order the Massacre of the Innocents. Towards the end of the accounts of all four canonical Gospels, in the narrative of the Passion of Jesus, the title "King of the Jews" leads to charges against Jesus that result in his crucifixion.[2][3]

The initialism INRI (Latin: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum) represents the Latin inscription (in John 19:19 and Matthew 27:37), which in English translates to "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews", and John 19:20 states that this was written in three languages—Hebrew,[a] Latin, and Hellenic (ΙΝΒΙ = Ιησούς Ναζωραίος Βασιλεύς Ιουδαίων)—during the crucifixion of Jesus.

The title "King of the Jews" is only used in the New Testament by gentiles, namely by the Magi, Pontius Pilate, and the Roman soldiers. In contrast, the Jewish leaders use the designation "Messiah". They use Hebrew words and did not say 'Christ', a Greek translation word.[7] Although the phrase "King of the Jews" is used in most English translations,[b] it has also been translated "King of the Judeans" (see Ioudaioi).[8]

In the nativity[edit]

In the account of the nativity of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, the Biblical Magi go to King Herod in Jerusalem and (in Matthew 2:2) ask him: "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?"[9] Herod asks the "chief priests and teachers of the law", who tell him in Bethlehem of Judea.

The question troubles Herod who considers the title his own, and in Matthew 2:7–8 he questions the Magi about the exact time of the Star of Bethlehem's appearance. Herod sends the Magi to Bethlehem, telling them to notify him when they find the child. After the Magi find Jesus and present their gifts, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they returned to their country by a different way.

An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and warns him to take Jesus and Mary into Egypt (Matthew 2:13). When Herod realizes he has been outwitted by the Magi he gives orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who are two years old and under. (Matthew 2:16)

In the Passion narratives[edit]

In the accounts of the Passion of Jesus, the title King of the Jews is used on three occasions. In the first such episode, all four Gospels state that the title was used for Jesus when he was interviewed by Pilate and that his crucifixion was based on that charge, as in Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3 and John 18:33.[10]

Acronyms for "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" written in three languages (as in John 19:20) on the cross, Ellwangen Abbey, Germany

The use of the terms king and kingdom and the role of the Jews in using the term king to accuse Jesus are central to the discussion between Jesus and Pilate. In Mark 15:2, Jesus responds to Pilate, "you have said so" when asked if Jesus is the King of the Jews and says nothing further. In John 18:34, he hints that the king accusation did not originate with Pilate but with "others" and, in John 18:36, he states: "My kingdom is not of this world". However, Jesus does not directly deny being the King of the Jews.[11][12]

In the New Testament, Pilate writes "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews" as a sign to be affixed to the cross of Jesus. John 19:21 states that the Jews told Pilate: "Do not write King of the Jews" but instead write that Jesus had merely claimed that title, but Pilate wrote it anyway.[13] Pilate's response to the protest is recorded by John: "What I have written, I have written."

After the trial by Pilate and after the flagellation of Christ episode, the soldiers mock Jesus as the King of Jews by putting a purple robe (that signifies royal status) on him, place a Crown of Thorns on his head, and beat and mistreat him in Matthew 27:29–30, Mark 15:17–19 and John 19:2–3.[14]

The continued reliance on the use of the term king by the Judeans to press charges against Jesus is a key element of the final decision to crucify him.[3] In John 19:12 Pilate seeks to release Jesus, but the Jews object, saying: "If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar's friend: every one that maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar", bringing the power of Caesar to the forefront of the discussion.[3] In John 19:12, the Jews then cry out: "Crucify him! ... We have no king but Caesar."

The use of the term "King of the Jews" by the early Church after the death of Jesus was thus not without risk, for this term could have opened them to prosecution as followers of Jesus, who was accused of possible rebellion against Rome.[3]

The final use of the title only appears in Luke 23:36–37. Here, after Jesus has carried the cross to Calvary and has been nailed to the cross, the soldiers look up on him on the cross, mock him, offer him vinegar and say: "If thou art the King of the Jews, save thyself." In the parallel account in Matthew 27:42, the Jewish priests mock Jesus as "King of Israel", saying: "He is the King of Israel; let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in him."

King of the Jews vs King of Israel[edit]

In the New Testament, the "King of the Jews" title is used only by the gentiles, by the Magi, Pontius Pilate, and Roman soldiers. In contrast, the Jewish leaders prefer the designation "King of Israel" as in Matthew 27:42 and Mark 15:32. From Pilate's perspective, it is the term "King" (regardless of Jews or Israel) that is sensitive, for it implies possible rebellion against the Roman Empire.[2]

In the Gospel of Mark the distinction between King of the Jews and King of Israel is made consciously, setting apart the two uses of the term by the Jews and the gentiles.[15]

INRI and ΙΝΒΙ[edit]

Eastern Orthodox crucifix, displays the lettering in Greek: ΙΝΒΙ (Trapeza of Holy Trinity Monastery, Meteora, Greece).

The initialism INRI represents the Latin inscription IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDÆORVM (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum), which in English translates to "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews" (John 19:19).[16] John 19:20 states that this was written in three languages – Hebrew,[a] Latin and Greek – and was put on the cross of Jesus. The Greek version of the initialism reads ΙΝΒΙ, representing Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεύς τῶν Ἰουδαίων (Iēsoûs ho Nazōraîos ho basileús tôn Ioudaíōn).[17]

Devotional enthusiasm greeted the discovery by Pedro González de Mendoza in 1492 of what was acclaimed as the actual tablet, said to have been brought to Rome by Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine.[18][19]

Western Christianity[edit]

In Western Christianity, most crucifixes and many depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus include a plaque or parchment placed above his head, called a titulus, or title, bearing only the Latin letters INRI, occasionally carved directly into the cross and usually just above the head of Jesus. The initialism INRI (as opposed to the full inscription) was in use by the 10th century (Gero Cross, Cologne, ca. 970).

Eastern Christianity[edit]

In Eastern Christianity, both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic particular churches sui iuris use the Greek letters ΙΝΒΙ, based on the Greek version of the inscription Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεύς τῶν Ἰουδαίων. Some representations change the title to "ΙΝΒΚ," ὁ βασιλεύς τοῦ κόσμου (ho Basileùs toû kósmou, "The King of the World"), or to ὁ βασιλεύς τῆς Δόξης (ho Basileùs tês Dóxēs, "The King of Glory"),[17][20] not implying that this was really what was written but reflecting the tradition that icons depict the spiritual reality rather than the physical reality.

The Romanian Orthodox Church uses INRI, since abbreviation in Romanian is exactly the same as in Latin (Iisus Nazarineanul Regele Iudeilor).

Eastern Orthodox Churches that use Church Slavonic in their liturgy use ІНЦІ (INTsI, the equivalent of ΙΝΒΙ for Church Slavonic: І҆и҃съ назѡрѧни́нъ, цр҃ь і҆ꙋде́йскїй) or the abbreviation Царь Сла́вы (Tsar Slávy, "King of Glory").

Versions in the gospels[edit]

Matthew Mark Luke John
Verse Matthew 27:37 Mark 15:26 Luke 23:38 John 19:19–20
Greek Inscription οὗτός ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων οὗτος Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων
Transliteration hûtós estin Iēsûs ho basileùs tôn Iudaéōn ho basileùs tôn Iudaéōn ho basileùs tôn Iudaéōn hûtos Iēsûs ho Nazōraêos ho basileùs tôn Iudaéōn
Vulgata Xystina-Clementina (Latin) Hic est Iesus rex Iudæorum Rex Iudæorum Hic est rex Iudæorum Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudæorum
English translation This is Jesus, the King of the Jews The King of the Jews This is the King of the Jews Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews
Languages [none specified] [none specified] Hebrew, Latin, Greek[c] Hebrew, Latin, Greek
Full verse in KJV And set up over His head His accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS And the superscription of His accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. And a superscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.

Other uses of INRI[edit]

In Spanish, the word inri denotes any insulting or mocking word or phrase; it is usually found in the fixed expression para más/mayor inri (literally "for more/greater insult"), which idiomatically means "to add insult to injury" or "to make matters worse".[25] Its origin is sometimes made clearer by capitalisation para más INRI.

The initials INRI have been reinterpreted with other expansions (backronyms). In an 1825 book on Freemasonry, Marcello Reghellini de Schio alleged that Rosicrucians gave "INRI" alchemical meanings:[26]

  • Latin Igne Natura Renovatur Integra ("by fire, nature renews itself"); other sources have Igne Natura Renovando Integrat
  • Latin Igne Nitrum Roris Invenitur ("the nitre of dew is found by fire")
  • Hebrew ימים, נור, רוח, יבשת (Yammīm, Nūr, Rūaḥ, Yabešet, "water, fire, wind, earth" — the four elements)

Later writers have attributed these to Freemasonry, Hermeticism, or neo-paganism. Aleister Crowley's The Temple of Solomon the King includes a discussion of Augoeides, supposedly written by "Frater P." of the A∴A∴:[27]

For since Intra Nobis Regnum deI [footnote in original: I.N.R.I.], all things are in Ourself, and all Spiritual Experience is a more of less complete Revelation of Him [i.e. Augoeides].

Latin Intra Nobis Regnum deI literally means "Inside Us the Kingdom of god".

Leopold Bloom, the nominally Catholic, ethnically Jewish protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses, remembers his wife Molly Bloom interpreting INRI as "Iron Nails Ran In".[28][29][30][31] The same meaning is given by a character in Ed McBain's 1975 novel Doors.[32] Most Ulysses translations preserve "INRI" and make a new misinterpretation, such as the French Il Nous Refait Innocents "he makes us innocent again".[33]


In isopsephy, the Greek term (βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων) receives a value of 3343 whose digits seem to correspond to a suggested date for the crucifixion of Jesus, (33, April, 3rd day).


Biblical scenes[edit]

INRI examples[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Some translations render Ἑβραϊστί (Hebraisti), the [[Koine Hellenic]] word used in John 19:20, as "Aramaic" rather than "Hebrew".[4][5] (Aramaic, which was closely related to Hebrew, had become a common vernacular of the Jews by this period. Hebrew was in decline, but would continue to be spoken in the region until the beginning of the 3rd century CE.[6]) However, Ἑβραϊστί is consistently used in Koine Hellenic at this time to mean Hebrew and Συριστί (Syristi) is used to mean Aramaic. Other than the word itself, there is no direct evidence in the verse as to whether Hebrew or Aramaic is meant and translations of the verse which render Ἑβραϊστί as Aramaic are reliant on assumptions made outside of the text to justify it, rather than the text itself.[4]
  2. ^ See range of translations assembled at
  3. ^ Only some of the extant early Greek manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel include the reference to the languages in verse 23:38.[21][22] This variance may be a result of later copyists adding to Luke to harmonize that Gospel with the text of John 19:20.[23] The New International Version (NIV) translation and 43 of the 63 translations of Luke 23:38 assembled by omit any reference to the languages.[24]


  1. ^ Boxall 2007, p. 125.
  2. ^ a b France 2007, p. 1048.
  3. ^ a b c d Hengel 2004, p. 46.
  4. ^ a b Buth & Pierce 2014, pp. 107–109.
  5. ^ Köstenberger 2009, p. 350.
  6. ^ Breuer 2006, pp. 457–458.
  7. ^ Luke 22:67, 23:1, and others
  8. ^ Robbins 1996, pp. 76–77.
  9. ^ France 2007, pp. 43 and 83.
  10. ^ Brown 1994, pp. 78–79.
  11. ^ Binz 2004, pp. 81–82.
  12. ^ Ironside 2006, p. 454.
  13. ^ Brown 1988, p. 93.
  14. ^ Senior 1985, p. 124.
  15. ^ Strecker & Horn 2000, p. 375–376.
  16. ^ De Bles 1925, p. 32.
  17. ^ a b Andreopoulos 2005, p. 26.
  18. ^ Lanciani 1902, p. 89.
  19. ^ Weiss 1969, p. 102.
  20. ^ Aslanoff 2005, p. 124.
  21. ^ Safrai 2006, p. 225.
  22. ^ Cresswell 2013, chpt. 5: "The same goes for the note in Luke 23, 38 that the inscription on the cross was given in three languages: included by scribe A, deleted by Ca [from the Codex Sinaiticus] and absent in Codex Vaticanus and P75".
  23. ^ Wegner 2004, p. 226.
  24. ^ "Luke 23:38 (all English translations)". HarperCollins. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  25. ^ "inri". Diccionario de la lengua española (in Spanish). Real Academia Española. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
  26. ^ de Schio 1825, p. 12.
  27. ^ Crowley 1909, p. 160.
  28. ^ Bloom 1989, p. 335.
  29. ^ Ellmann 2010, p. 164.
  30. ^ Quigley 2015, p. 128.
  31. ^ Mihálycsa 2017, p. 61.
  32. ^ McBain 2017, p. 65.
  33. ^ Szczerbowski 1998, p. 221.