The Piercing of Christ on the Cross

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According to the Gospel of John once Christ had died on the cross “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (19:34).

Many would overlook such a simple detail. However, many have viewed it to be quite remarkable given modern medical knowledge not known to John’s author in his day. According to  medical science the combination of shock, a rapid heart rate, and heart failure results in a collection of clear, watery fluid around the heart and lungs (1). As such, an incision through the lung and heart would release that fluid as well as blood. It appears that this is what John’s author is speaking about based on an account of an eyewitness who likely saw what John narrates.

This small detail not only suggests the likeliness that an eyewitness recounted what he actually saw happened, but it also has wider implications for the passion story. If Christ’s side was pierced it would suggest that he was crucified, and that he died on the cross, both of which feed into the wider passion story of Christ’s trial, burial, and resurrection.

References:

1. Edwards, W. 1986. Journal of the American Medical Association. p. 1463.

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8 responses to “The Piercing of Christ on the Cross

  1. Why would this not have been known at the time of writing? Crucifixions were plentiful, so it seems that it would have been well known that, if you run a spear through someone who was already dead, blood and water would come out.

    While this may prove that the author was vaguely familiar with crucifixions, does it really tells us anything about whether or not Jesus, died or was even crucified?

    • Simple answer: piercing the side with a spear was an unusual procedure required only when they weren’t sure the subject was dead. Here, because sundown was approaching and the Sabbath was at hand, the soldiers broke the legs of the other two victims. But Jesus was no longer moving and was already apparently dead — and they needed to make sure.

      If piercing the side with a spear were so common, we would expect to hear something about it in the records of crucifixions, which are very numerous. So far as I know, we do not. Please inform me if you have evidence for what you say.

      • Why would they not break Jesus’ legs also to be sure? Without John’s account of the spear, which surprisingly is missed in the other Gospels if it did happen, the possibility of Jesus’ survival is significant. That combined with evidence that the Gospel of John was written after the other Gospels suggests that it could very well have been added in, just as John’s Gospel adds in Jesus outright and clearly proclaiming his Godliness, which is rather absent from the other Gospels as well.

        Plenty of evidence for you there of this possibility.

      • I will grant that this would have been an uncommon finale to a crucifixion; however, this would have hardly been the only means by which a person would succumb to the combination of shock, a rapid heart rate, and heart failure. I still contend that it would have been fairly common knowledge: if you beat and torture someone (by crucifixion or otherwise), this is what happens when you run a spear through their side.

        Also, the rush to get him off the cross would seem to raise more questions than it answers. Why the concern about the Sabbath, given that the execution was carried out by Romans and not Jews? Why execute him with a method that is designed to prolong death if they knew they would have to take him down within a few hours? You can cite a fear of uprising as your explanation, but of course these same questions would apply to the two thieves–and no one was concerned about public response to their deaths.

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