The Legitimate Cause of Jesus’ Death

Continued from Part 10

Not by blood loss

Presuming Jesus was nailed to the cross, did blood oozing from the nail wounds cause his death?  The Roman method of execution by crucifixion was designed as a punishment to be prolonged in order to serve as a lesson to both the victim and all onlookers.  Since no vital organ would be pierced crucifixion usually caused a slow death.  If the victim expired within a short time he would deprive his executioners of satisfactorily meting out the sentence in accordance with their concept of justice.  

Moreover, with a quick execution the purpose of the terror induced by the threat of crucifixion would be somewhat lost on society.  Having the victim languish in agony for a number of days was a part of the crucifixion process.  Any means of heightening the tortured victims pain that would cause undo shortening of the period spent on the cross would be self-defeating and, as such, avoided.  Therefore, while nailing the victim to the cross, as opposed to the option of tying, was part of the punishment thought to have been used on Jesus, it did not, in itself, necessarily cause a shortening of the time spent on the cross before death occurred.  In crucifying a victim, the Romans would simply not use methods of torture which shortened the time of suffering.  Nailing was used because it added suffering, but it was still possible for a person to live for days nailed to the cross.  Indeed, if nailing the victim to the cross made for a quick death through loss of blood Pilate would not have expressed surprise that Jesus had already died and would not have sought verification of this from the centurion (Mark 15:44).

The amount of blood oozing from such wounds did not cause the victim to bleed to death.

Oozing blood would be minimal prior to death because the arms were in an elevated position the blood pressure was very low and the large nails would have sealed the wounds.  Surely, if there had been any significant blood loss the early Christians would have noted it and the evangelists would have enthusiastically introduced it into their narratives.   Jesus’ blood was not shed during the process of death by crucifixion to the extent that it was the cause of death.  It should be noted that none of the possible physical points of blood loss described in the Gospels conforms to that required in the actual shedding of blood sacrificial process found in the Jewish Scriptures.

 Did a Roman soldier shed Jesus’ blood?

John claims that “one of the soldiers pierced his [Jesus’] side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).  According to this Gospel, the Roman soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs because he was already dead.  Chronologically, John 19:33 establishes the time of the inflicting of the wound in Jesus’ side (John 19:34) as subsequent to his death.  John’s sequence of events is contradicted in some manuscript versions of Matthew 27:49, which state:  “And another man took a spear and pierced his side, and blood and water came out.”   This addition to the verse places the time of the inflicting of the wound as prior to Jesus’ death.  However, verse 49 is an interpolation unsupported by many ancient New Testament manuscripts.  While this verse addition appears in the Codex Sinaiticus, in the Vatican Manuscript 1209 and in the Codex Ephraemi rescriptus it is omitted in Codex Alexandrinus and Bezae Codices, as well as in some other important manuscripts.  Its insertion into the text of Matthew reflects an awareness of John 19:32-34.  While John writes that Jesus was already dead when the soldier pierced his side with a spear and blood and water began to come out of the wound, the interpolated account in Matthew has him speared prior to death.  This contradicts John’s sequence.  Since all the manuscripts contain John 19:32-34, as presently constituted, but are not unanimous on the presence of Matthew’s addition, this addition is generally thought to be a later interpolation and is discounted.  Therefore, the interpolation in Matthew is not acceptable evidence that Jesus was alive while being pierced with the spear and that he died from the subsequent loss of blood resulting from that stab wound.

An incident of a soldier piercing the side of an already deceased victim does not constitute biblical blood atonement sacrifice.  Blood oozing from a wound inflicted after death does not qualify as the shedding of blood required of an atonement offering.  Biblically, in a blood atonement offering the animal must actually die as a result of blood loss by a properly inflicted wound.  But, the piercing of Jesus’ body by a spear did not cause his death, nor was it the proper means of slaughter.  Jesus did not die as a result of blood loss (Matthew 27:46-50, Mark 15:34-37, Luke 23:46, John 19:28-30).  Jesus’ blood was not sacrificially shed by a Roman soldier’s spear thrust into his side.

© Gerald Sigal


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