As high priest, Caiaphas presided over the first trial of Jesus Christ before the Sanhedrin-the Jewish court. The historian Josephus twice notes Caiaphas' life and career, but he is named nowhere else outside the Gospels. Josephus first mentions Caiaphas' appointment as high priest by Valerius Gratus, the Roman governor of Syria, about A.D. 18. Josephus later reports that Caiaphas was deposed by the Roman procurator Vitellius in 36 A.D., and replaced the Jonathan, son of Annas. Caiaphas ruled for 18 years, a change in the instability of the Jewish court- he was the fifth priest in four years.
The Gospel of John introduces Caiaphas shortly after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The excitement caused by the miracle drove the worried members of the Sanhedrin to pressure Caiaphas:
"What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy our holy place and our nation." (John 11:47-48)
Caiaphas then responded:
"You do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish." (John 11:50)
All four Gospels make the trial a preliminary hearing, before Jesus is bound over to Pontius Pilate. After Caiaphas heard the accusations against Jesus and noted his silence, he ordered Jesus to say whether he claimed to be the Son of God. The Gospels have variants of his response:
"You have said so." (Matthew 26:64)
"I am." (Mark 14:62)
"You say that I am." (Luke 22:70)
Did Jesus actually claim to be the Son of God, or did he attribute the claim to others? If it was the latter, how could it be taken as blasphemy? And if Jesus was charged with blasphemy, how would Pilate be expected to agree, since it was not a crime under Roman law? Maybe the claim of others that he was the "King" made the Roman government, but not specifically Pilate, wary that he might try to undermine their authority.
Some scholars take these questions in account, considering that the trial of Christ was illegal; while others point to apparent inconsistencies as indented by each Gospel author. Regardless, the official reaction was the same: Jesus had uttered blasphemy, a capital offence in accordance to Mosaic law. In keeping with a pious custom on hearing blasphemy, Caiaphas ritually tore his garment.
Questions remain about Caiaphas. Why does Matthew name his as the high priest and Mark does not? Why does John represent a trial before Annas, but not Caiaphas? Why were Annas and Caiaphas linked as high priests during the time of John the Baptist, while years later, during the trial of Peter and John, Annas is called the high priest, and Caiaphas is not? Unfortunately, records that would confirm any of this were lost in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.