John’s author informs us that once Jesus had expired on the cross “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (19:34). John is the only gospel author to inform us of such a detail as the piercing of Jesus’ side. As we saw previously in Luke’s account (#1 – Jesus’ sweating of blood & medical science) we likewise have a very similar instance whereby a medical detail is mentioned that was certainly not known at the time when the gospel authors were writing. It is therefore almost certainly not invented hence historical.
What we now know from medical science is that the combination of shock, a rapid heart rate, and heart failure results in a collection of clear, watery fluid around the heart and lungs. An incision through the lung and heart would release that fluid as well as blood. This is undoubtedly what John’s author is referring to in his account based on a reliable eyewitness detail that he received – such as the exiting of pericardial fluid from Jesus’ insides. According to Dr. William Edwards, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in his analysis of Jesus’ crucifixion:
“Clearly the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted. . . . The assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appears to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” (1)
This little detail is significant for it affirms several details, namely that Jesus died on the cross, that Jesus was actually crucified on a cross, and that Roman soldiers stood at the foot of the cross. Little details like these certainly increases the reliability of some of the events mentioned by our gospel authors.
1. Edwards, W. 1986. Journal of the American Medical Association. p. 1463.