1. The court in capital cases. Not all courts in Israel could hand down a decision on capital cases. The Sanhedrin or Grand Council consisted of seventy-one members. They convened in Jerusalem. The name “Sanhedrin” comes from the Greek word sunedrion. This word denotes a legislative body, which gathers to debate in a deliberate or sitting posture. It does not date merely from the impingement of Greek culture upon the Hebrew people. Tradition placed the founding of the Great Sanhedrin in the wilderness under Moses. Note http://ref.ly/Nu11.16-17. This passage records God’s instruction to Moses to gather together “seventy of Israel’s elders” to perform judicial functions. The number would have been seventy-one. Whatever its history, the Sanhedrin existed and was vested with the highest authority in religious and other national matters in Israel. This group did not overshadow the authority of Rome at the time of Jesus. It organized into three chambers. A chamber of 23 priests, a chamber of 23 scribes, and a chamber of 23 elders. This pattern was not strictly followed. To these groups there were two presiding officers, which made a total of seventy-one individuals. The three chambers represented the religious, legal, and democratic elements of Jewish life. This threefold division is referred to by Jesus in http://ref.ly/Mt16.21. It says “From that time Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hand of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised” Mark 14:53.
2. Qualifications of judges. The qualifications for membership in this group are therefore synonymous with qualifications for such judges. Some of these qualifications were obvious. The member of the Sanhedrin was to be a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Paul). A full-blooded Jew born of two Jewish parents. He was to be learned in law and to have had prior legal experience. He had to be linguist, for trials of those who did not speak Hebrew would take place and interpreters were not allowed in Jewish courts. He must be humble and of good repute. He could not sit if he had any personal interest in the outcome of the trial. Even a well-qualified member of this group would have to step aside temporarily if he was related to the defendant or stood to benefit from a verdict.