The Crucifixion Swoon

Forensic evidence: How many times has it helped solve a medical mystery -- determining how someone really died? Well, Lee Strobel covered many trials during his journalism career where a jury's decision hung on the medical evidence. So, was it possible, he wondered, to examine 2,000-year-old medical evidence and determine if Jesus really died on the cross? If so, science could deliver a knockout blow to one of the most persistent claims against Christianity: that the resurrection of Christ, which we celebrated yesterday, was really just a hoax. For expert opinion, Strobel went to Dr. Alexander Metherell, a research scientist. Metherell had studied the medical data concerning Christ's death, and he's convinced there's no way anyone could have survived what the Romans put him through. First, there was the flogging. Soldiers used whips of braided leather thongs. The metal balls woven into the lash caused deep bruises, which broke open during the torture. Often the victim's back, in such a beating, was so shredded that his spine was exposed. Those who didn't die from the flogging went into hypovolemic shock, brought on by blood loss. There would be a loss of blood pressure, leading to faintness and collapse. And the loss of fluids would result in tremendous thirst. The gospels indicate that Jesus was in shock as he carried his cross to Calvary: He collapsed in the road, and Simon of Cyrene had to carry the cross for him. Later, Jesus said, "I thirst." And then there was the agony of the crucifixion itself. The Romans drove spikes through the wrists and feet of Jesus -- spikes that traveled through the median nerves. This caused such enormous pain that a new word was invented to describe it: "excruciating." The word literally means "out of the cross." Metherell believes that Jesus, like other crucifixion victims, eventually died of asphyxiation. The stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest in the inhaled position; in order to exhale, the victim had to push up on his feet to ease the tension in the muscles for just a moment. It would be enormously painful, and exhaustion would eventually set in. As his breathing slowed, the victim would go into respiratory acidosis, leading to an irregular heartbeat and eventual cardiac arrest. Then, in the case of Jesus, to ensure that he was dead, a Roman soldier thrust a spear into his side. The flogging, the massive blood loss, the shock, the crucifixion, the stabbing: Could Jesus have suffered all this and survived? Not a chance, Metherell told Strobel. Besides, Roman soldiers had good reason to make certain Jesus was dead: Had he survived, they, themselves, would have been executed. In the weeks before and after Easter, we often see the usual spate of articles by so-called experts claiming that Jesus didn't really die on the cross -- and, thus, is not the Son of God. If your friends mention these articles, explain that forensic science goes a long way in disproving these ideas. And give them a copy of Strobel's book, The Case for Christ. The better the science the greater the support for what Christians have long believed in faith: that love drove Jesus to willingly endure an excruciating death -- so that you and I might live. For further reference: Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.


Chuck Colson



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