Bradley Bowen over at The Secular Outpost wrote an interesting article that questions whether Jesus really died on the cross. Although this approach is more novel then the usual skeptical claims against the resurrection of Jesus I think that when you analyze the amount of trauma the human body would have to endure from a Roman scourging and crucifixion I don’t see how Jesus could have survived. I will also question Bowen’s argument that Jesus wan not raised from the dead.
The brutality of scourging
The Gospels (Matt. 27:25; Mark 15: 15; John 19:1) state that the Jesus was scoured or flogged before being crucified. This was a common Roman practice that was only inflicted on non-citizens. Scourging was an extremely brutal and bloody process where the victim would be stretched out over a pillar and then whipped repeatedly with lashes that had pieces of bone and metal which would rip and tear the victim’s flesh. They would often reach a state of hypovolemic shock due to loss of blood. Roman historians such as Josephus and Livy write that victims of scourging have died while still tied to the post. Jesus’ back would have been torn to shreds and he would have lost a massive amount of blood even before being nailed to the cross.
The horrors of crucifixion
The Gospels say that on the way to Golgotha Jesus was forced to carry the cross beam that he was going to be crucified on (a common crucifixion practice), and that he stumbled and collapsed under the weight of the beam. If Jesus fell chest first with the beam, which weighed about 100 pounds, on top of him then this could generate enough force to bruise his heart as some people in the medical community have hypothesized from observing car crash trauma.
Then once Jesus got to Golgotha nails were driven into his wrists and feet adding a considerable amount of pain and a significant amount of blood loss. A common way that crucified people die is by asphyxiation as they have difficulty breathing as the muscles of chest are hyper-expanded. However, Dr. C. Truman Davis believes that Jesus died of heart failure due shock and the constriction of fluid in the pericardial sac called a pericardial effusion. This makes sense because John 19:34 states that the Roman legionnaire who presided over the crucifixion drove his spear up into the side of Jesus causing blood and water to come out of his side. This indicates that the pericardial sac had burst and the fluid inside leaked out of Jesus’ side. This is a coup de grâce that would almost certainly kill anyone.
The Romans were masters of crucifixion
Crucifixions were performed by experienced teams of Roman soldiers who specialized in execution. The Romans performed thousands of them as the ultimate show of force. Even though the centurion who lead the crucifixion of Jesus wasn’t a medical professional he would have been a master executioner and could be counted on to get his grisly job done. The penalties for incompetence in the Roman army were severe and could include execution so the centurion would have ample reason to not be lackadaisical about Jesus’ execution.
How could Jesus escape the tomb even if he survived?
Even if Jesus could have somehow survived the scourging, crucifixion and spear thrust to the side, which pierced his heart, how could he have escaped his tomb? Matt 27:60; Mark 15:46; Luke 24:2; and John 20:1 says that the stone to Jesus’ tomb had been rolled away. Archeology shows that rocks at such tombs were about four-and-a-half feet in diameter and weighed hundreds of pounds. How could a man in serious or critical condition roll a stone weighing hundreds of pounds from inside the tomb? It would be a feat that is nearly impossible for a strong, healthy man as there are no hand holds on the stone and there is no way to push the stone from the left or right from inside the tomb. Given Jesus’ near death state and the difficulty of moving the stone covering the tomb I don’t think it is possible for him to have escaped by himself.
|This is probably what Jesus' tomb looked like|
A hypothesis could be given that Jesus’ followers bribed the Roman guards; rolled the stone; and carried Jesus out, but this hypothesis is ad hoc and implausible. First of all, it must be assumed that Jesus survived scourging, crucifixion and having his heart lanced which is quite unlikely. Secondly, it must be assumed that Jesus’ followers would be willing to rescue Jesus’ body. This seems implausible because the Jewish conception of a Messiah was of a military conqueror not someone who would get crucified, so it seems more likely that Jesus’ followers would have just given up on him. Thirdly, it must be assumed that the guards would be willing to risk possible capital punishment in order to take a bribe. This explanation is much more ad hoc then God resurrecting Jesus.
Physically impossible events aren’t logically impossible events
Bradley Bowen writes, “I see no real possibility of establishing the truth of (1) [1. Jesus died on the cross on Friday of Passover week (and remained dead for at least six hours)] to anywhere near the degree that is required for a claim that implies a physical impossibility, which (1) would do, if we suppose (2) [2. Jesus was alive and walking around on the Sunday following Friday of Passover week (or within a few days after that Sunday)] to be true.” First of all, I have shown that Jesus sustained incredible trauma from the scourging, crucifixion and a spear thrust, and that it would be almost impossible to survive this and escape from his tomb.
Secondly, Bowen’s assertion is an assumption of naturalism. If God exists then physically impossible events are possible as God who created the universe and natural laws can suspend natural order to cause a physically impossible event. When we take the Kalam cosmological argument; the Leibnizian cosmological argument; the fine tuning argument; the moral argument; and ontological arguments for God’s existence together then His existence becomes quite likely. If God’s existence is likely then it is also likely that God could and would have caused the physically impossible event which is the resurrection of Jesus. We are left with the simple explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead. This theory is much less ad hoc and plausible (assuming God’s existence) then the various skeptical conspiracy, swoon and mass hallucination theories that are a product naturalistic presuppositions.
Bowen’s unsupported premise
Bowen’s argument that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead is:
JNR1. Jesus advocated the following religious beliefs: (a) Moses was a prophet of God, (b) the Old Testament was inspired by God, and (c) Jehovah is God.
JNR2. If Jesus advocated any religious belief that is false, then Jesus is not God incarnate.
JNR3. At least one of the following beliefs is false: (a) Moses was a prophet of God, (b) the Old Testament was inspired by God, or (c) Jehovah is God.Therefore:
JNR4. Jesus is not God incarnate.JNR5. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then Jesus is God incarnate.Therefore:
JNR6. It is not the case that God raised Jesus from the dead.
The problem with this argument is that he provides no support for premise three, and I don’t see how it can be proven true. Since premise three doesn’t appear to be true the whole argument falls apart and fails to prove that God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead.
ConclusionJesus endured a massive amount of trauma during his scourging, crucifixion and spearing. Anyone of those three events could have killed him. Even if Jesus could have survived then it would have been nearly impossible for him to escape from his tomb. Since Jesus was almost certainly dead in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and wouldn’t be able to escape even if he was alive, then we must view Jesus’ postmortem appearances to numerous people as a physically impossible event that was made possible by the intervention of God.