A Medical Explanation of Jesus Crucifixion

On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.
Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials was flogged and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deep stripe-like lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of the crucifixion, his wrists were nailed to the patibulum and, after the patibulum was lifted onto the upright post (stipes), his feet were nailed to the stripes. The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respiration. Accordingly, death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus’ death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier’s spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.
An Examination of the Medical Evidence for the Physical Death of Christ
The following article examines the crucifixion and death of Christ from a medical point of view.
The perception of the death of Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century frequently takes place through
human eyes that have been tainted with a sanitized, sterilized, and often stylized “art-deco” depiction
of Christ on the cross. Today, it is exceedingly uncommon to hear a description of the medical
details attending Christ’s crucifixion, yet a complete and thorough investigation into such evidence
can lead to a firmer knowledge and a deeper-rooted faith about what actually transpired on that old
rugged cross nearly 2,000 years ago.
Christ’s future appearance and suffering were first foretold in Genesis 3:14-15:
And Jehovah God said unto the serpent, “Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou
above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust
shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: and I will put enmity between thee and the woman,
and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his
The phrase, “He shall bruise thy head…” is the assurance that Christ will reign victorious in the end.
“Thou shalt bruise his heel…” is, without doubt, speaking of Satan’s temporary victory over Christ at
the crucifixion. While the physical aspects of crucifixion admittedly consist of considerably more than
a “bruised heel,” this comparison certainly is valid when contrasted to the ultimate demise of Satan in
the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20). Crucifixions were commonplace during the time the gospel
accounts were written. Inasmuch as everyone knew about them, however, great detail was not
provided in the Scriptures concerning the actual practice of crucifixion. Sadly, this omission leaves
individuals living in the twenty-first century at a distinct disadvantage. How much do we really know,
for example, about this ancient practice of torture and death?
Crucifixion is believed to have originated in the Persian Empire; however, Romans are given credit for
perfecting it into a heinous means of inflicting death (see Shroud, 1871; DePasquale and Burch,
1963, p. 434). Romans appreciated the cruelty of crucifixion because it demonstrated three clear
advantages over other means of execution. First, it was incredibly painful for the victim (so much so
that the person being crucified often was rendered unconscious during the proceedings). Second, it
provided a lingering death, which was much preferred for extremely vicious criminal acts. Third, it
afforded a horrific deterrent for anyone contemplating a similar offense. So what did Christ actually
endure in those few short hours? The discussion that follows is intended to be an exhaustive
historical and medical review of the physical death of Jesus Christ. It is our hope that the information
provided here will enable you to pull back the curtain of history and experience a brief glimpse of the
love that Jesus possesses for humankind. We believe you will find this material not only educational but also edifying as you contemplate the physical agony Christ suffered for each one of us.
Even as Christ was instituting the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29), His private thoughts already
were centered on His impending suffering and death (Luke 22:15). Shortly thereafter, Christ and His
disciples went to the Mount of Olives, into the Garden of Gethsemane. Previously, Luke had
enlightened his readers about the importance of this place, stating: “And in the daytime, he was
teaching in the temple, and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the Mount of
Olives” (Luke 21:37). This grove of olive trees was a place to which the Lord had retreated before,
and a place where He probably received a great amount of solace. However, this particular occasion
at the Mount of Olives also provided the means by which His betrayer could deliver Him into the
hands of the Jews who sought His death.
The name “Gethsemane” derives from the Hebrew gat shmanim, meaning “oil press” (Kollek, 1995).
Not coincidentally, it was within this place that Christ would feel the crushing weight of the things yet
to come—so much so that an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him (Luke 22:43). It
also is significant that this is the only place in the King James Version of the Bible where the word
“agony” is employed. It is because of this agony over things to come that we learn during His prayer
“his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Some have tried to defend the impossibility of bloody sweat. However, a thorough search of the medical literature
demonstrates that such a condition, while admittedly rare, can occur.
Commonly referred to as hematidrosis or hemohidrosis (Allen, 1967, pp. 745-747), this condition
results in the excretion of blood or blood pigment in the sweat. Under conditions of great emotional
stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can rupture (Lumpkin, 1978), thus mixing blood with
perspiration. This condition has been reported in extreme instances of stress (see Sutton, 1956, pp.
1393-1394). For example, a young girl who had a terrible fear of air raids during World War I
developed the condition after a gas explosion occurred in the house next door to hers (Scott, 1918).
Another report details that after being threatened by sword-bearing soldiers, a Catholic nun “was so
terrified that she bled from every part of her body and died of hemorrhage in the sight of her
assailants” (von Grafenberg, 1585). During the waning years of the twentieth century, 76 cases of
hematidrosis were studied and classified into categories according to causative factors: “Acute fear
and intense mental contemplation were found to be the most frequent inciting causes” (Holoubek and
Holoubek, 1996). While the extent of blood loss generally is minimal, hematidrosis also results in the
skin becoming extremely tender and fragile (Barbet, 1953, pp. 74-75; Lumpkin, 1978), which would
have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful.
As the night inched toward dawn, Jesus finally relented and allowed the disciples to sleep (Matthew
26:43-44; Mark 14:41). However, He found no sleep Himself prior to His betrayer’s arrival. Soon after
midnight, Christ was greeted with a kiss by Judas Iscariot, who for 30 pieces of silver sold
information to the chief priest pertaining to Christ’s whereabouts. The angry, armed mob seized the
docile Son of God and led Him away to endure a sham of an illegal trial at the hands of corrupt
Jewish authorities.
The persistent procession of physical insults began soon after His arrest. We are told that Jesus was
mocked, smitten, blindfolded, and struck on the face (Luke 22:63-64). Hundreds of years earlier,
Isaiah had prophesied about this very event, writing, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks
to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). It was in
response to a question from the high priest that we read where Jesus was struck yet again. “And
when he had said this, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Answerest
thou the high priest so?’ ” (John 18:22). While the exact force with which these blows were rendered
is not described, it is easy to estimate that these early beatings were sufficient to incite multiple
contusions, especially if Christ had suffered from hematidrosis earlier in Gethsemane.
Shortly after daybreak, Jesus was tried before Caiaphas and the political Sanhedrin (with the
Pharisees and Sadducees) and found guilty of blasphemy (Matthew 27:1; Luke 22:66-71).
Significantly, we never read of two witnesses coming forward with collaborating stories that would
permit the death sentence to be meted out to Christ. Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin were bound by
Jewish law, which plainly stated: “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is
to die be put to death; at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death” (Deuteronomy 17:6).
The law went on to state: “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin,
in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a
matter be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15). However, we are told that at the trial
many bare false witness against him, and their witness agreed not together. And there
stood up certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will
destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another made
without hands.’ ” And not even so did their witness agree together (Mark 14:56-59).
A study of Jewish law reveals that a number of those laws were broken the night Jesus was arrested
and convicted (Bucklin, 1970).
Arrests could not be made at night.
The time and date of the trial were illegal because it took place at night on the eve of the Sabbath
—a time that precluded any opportunity for a required adjournment to the next day in the event of
a conviction.
The Sanhedrin was without authority to instigate charges. It was only supposed to investigate
charges that had been brought before it, but in Jesus’ trial, the court itself formulated the charges.
As noted earlier, the stringent requirement of two witnesses testifying in agreement to merit the
death penalty had not been met.
The court did not meet in the regular meeting place of the Sanhedrin, as required by Jewish law.
Christ was not permitted a defense. Under existing Jewish law, an exhaustive search into the
facts presented by the witnesses should have occurred—but did not.
The Sanhedrin itself pronounced the death sentence. During Roman captivity, however, the
Sanhedrin was not allowed to impose the death sentence (John 18:31). As the Roman historian
Tacitus recorded, “…the Romans reserved to themselves the right of the sword.”
The Jews were governed by Roman law and thus did not have the power to execute Jesus.
Therefore, we are told that early in the morning the Temple officials took Jesus to the Praetorium.
Realizing that any charge of blasphemy was of little concern to the Romans, the charges against Him
were upgraded from blasphemy to an allegation that Jesus claimed to be a king who forbade the
nation to give tribute to Caesar, thereby fomenting sedition and treason (Luke 23:2). After an initial
meeting with Jesus, Pilate admitted to finding no fault with Him. But instead of being restrained by
Pilate’s declaration of Christ’s innocence and considering (as they should have!) whether they might
be bringing the guilt of innocent blood upon themselves, the angry Jews were all the more infuriated.
Hearing that Christ was Galilean, Pilate placed Him in Herod’s jurisdiction. We know from Luke’s
account, in fact, that Herod was in Jerusalem at the time (Luke 23:7). We are told that Herod was
“exceedingly glad” because he “hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.” [How fitting that the
poorest anonymous beggar who requested a miracle for the relief of his ailment was not denied, while
this proud prince, who asked for a miracle merely to satisfy his curiosity, was denied.] Herod returned
Jesus to Pilate—an act that sealed the bond of a budding new friendship: “And Herod and Pilate
became friends with each other that very day: for before they were at enmity between themselves”
(Luke 23:12). Although Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, we are told that he wanted to placate the
people and thus “delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).
The most popular means of travel in Jesus’ time were walking, boating, and riding on the backs of
various animals. It is likely, therefore, that the daily rigors of His ministry, combined with His young
age, ensured that the Lord was in good physical health before His walk to the Garden of
Gethsemane. However, in the short span of time between the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the
end of the Roman trial, Christ suffered great emotional stress (as evinced by the probable
hematidrosis), abandonment by His disciples, and a physical beating after the Jewish trial. It also is
important to note that Jesus was forced to walk more than 2.5 miles to and from the sites of various
trials, having slept little if any the night before. All these factors would have rendered Jesus
particularly vulnerable to the physiological effects of scourging.
From John’s account, we learn that Pilate had Jesus scourged and then brought Him before the Jews
once again, probably in an effort to forego the execution (John 19:1-2). However, the people still
demanded Christ’s death. The Greek term translated “scourging” in Matthew 27:26 and Mark 15:15 is
the word phragellosas, which is translated “having scourged.” The noun form is phragellion, which in
Latin is translated flagellum, meaning whip or scourge. John used a word for scourge, emastigosen,
the noun form of which is mastix, meaning a whip or a scourge. [It is from this word that we get our
English word mastigium, which refers to an organ found in caterpillars that possess whip-like
processes to keep parasites away.]
The practice of scourging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution (Hengel, 1977) because
it weakened the victim through shock and blood loss. Without scourging, strong, condemned men
might live on the cross for several days until exposure, wild animals, insects, or birds resulted in their
death. The only allowable exemptions to this law were women and Roman senators or soldiers
(except in cases of desertion) [Barbet, 1953, p. 45]. In their critically acclaimed article, “On the
Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” in the March 21, 1986 issue of the Journal of the American Medical
Association, William Edwards and his coauthors (of the famed Mayo Clinic) described the instrument
used by the Roman soldiers for flogging as “a short whip (flagrum or flagellum) with several single or
braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones
were tied at intervals” (Edwards, et al., 1986, 256:1457, parenthetical item in orig.). Ironically, this is
the same type of instrument Jesus Himself used in John 2:15 when He drove the moneychangers
from the Temple (although the text does not indicate whether He actually used it, or merely held it out
as a symbol of authority).
To position a man for scourging, soldiers tied the victim (frequently naked) to an upright post (Barbet,
1953, p. 46) in a bent position (Vine, et al., 1996, p. 551). The common method of Jewish scourging
was via the use of three thongs of leather, the offender receiving thirteen stripes on the bare breast
and thirteen across each shoulder (which explains the 40 stripes less one administered to Paul in 2
Corinthians 11:24). However, there was no such limit on the number of blows the Romans could
deliver during a scourging, thus Christ’s flogging at their hands would have been much worse. Christ
would have received repeated blows to His chest, back, buttocks, and legs by two soldiers (known as
lictors), the severity of which depended mainly on the mood of the lictors at the time. Initial anterior
blows undoubtedly would have opened the skin and underlying subcutaneous tissue of His chest
(Davis, 1965, p. 185). Subsequent blows would have tattered the underlying pectoralis major and
pectoralis minor muscles, as well as the medial aspects of the serratus anterior muscle (Netter,
1994, p. 174). Once these layers were ravaged, repetitive blows could fracture intercoastal ribs and
shred the three layers of intercostal muscles, causing superficial and cutaneous vessels of the
chest to be lacerated. However we know that Christ did not suffer any broken bones because He was
crucified in such a manner that “a bone of him shall not be broken” (John 19:36), as was foretold by
earlier prophecies (cf. Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20). Therefore, at best, the exposed
superior epigastric artery and vein may have been compromised, while all other major anterior
vessels would have been protected behind the ribs themselves (Netter, p. 175). Edwards and his
colleagues described Christ’s scourging in the following manner:
Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal
muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set
the stage for circulatory shock (1986, 256:1457).
Artist_s rendition of a man undergoing scourging
Figure 1—Artist’s rendition of a man undergoing scourging (via a flagrum) at the hand of a Roman
lictor. Note the pieces of metal and/or bone imbedded in the leather flagrum.
During scourging, the victim would experience an oozing of blood from cutaneous capillaries and
veins until the wounds went deep enough to cause arterial blood to spurt out rhythmically with each
successive heartbeat. In many cases, scourging “was itself fatal” (Kittel, 1967, 4:517).
Blows to Christ’s back would have started in a similar fashion, with skin being torn with the initial
strikes. Subsequent blows then would have resulted in the laceration of the superficial back muscles
(i.e., trapezius and latissimus dorsi). Continued beatings would begin to flay into the deep erector
spinae muscles (iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis) that are innervated by dorsal rami from the
spinal cord (Netter, p. 133). The perforation of these muscles would have sent excruciating pain to
the spinal cord and then directly to the brain. No doubt in many victims the spinous processes that
extend out in a posterior fashion from each vertebrae would have splintered as a result of the harsh
blows. Having the ribs intact would protect the posterior intercostal arteries, the veins, and the
intercostal nerves. During the scourging, it would be commonplace for the lacerated skin and
bloodied, underlying muscle tissue to take on the appearance (in a quite literal fashion) of “shredded
meat.” Peter referred to the beating of Christ when he reminded first-century Christians that it was
Jesus “by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Significantly, the term “stripes” in the original
language is in the singular number, suggesting that the back of the Lord was such a mass of
bleeding, bruised tissue, that it appeared as a single wound (Wuest, 1942, p. 69).
The blood loss suffered by Christ during His scourging would have been substantial, and would have
resulted in a lowered blood pressure and reduced flow of blood throughout His body. If this condition
persisted, hypovolemic shock would have set in (characterized by reduced blood flow to cells and
tissues), which then would lead to irreversible cell and organ damage, and eventually death. Jewish
law originally allowed for 40 blows (Deuteronomy 25:3), but that number later was reduced to 39 to
avoid inadvertently violating the law (Barbet, 1953, p. 46). The prophet Isaiah provided a graphic
description of the outward appearance of our Lord after He had undergone the scourging: “Like as
many were astonished at thee (his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than
the sons of men)” [Isaiah 52:14]. Christ’s body was so disfigured that He almost did not appear
human anymore. Yet, sadly, the worst was still to come.
In an act of pure sadistic torment, Roman soldiers placed an imitation crown on Christ’s head and
mockingly bowed down to Him in reverence. But this was no ordinary crown. John 19 states:
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of
thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple garment; and they came unto
him, and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and they struck him with their hands (v. 1-3).
The thorns used to form this special crown were more than a few mere briars. Botanists familiar with
foliage of the Middle East have suggested that
the thorns could have come from the lote tree—the Zizyphus spina christi. This tree had
thorns averaging one inch in length. It was improbable for anyone to form a wreath-like
crown using these thorns without being injured. It would be more probable, therefore, that
the crown of thorns was more like a helmet. In fact, it would have been easier to cut off a
bush and use it as a helmet of thorns (see “Crown of Thorns,” 2001).
Unlike the traditional crown, which often is depicted in artists’ portrayals as an open ring, the actual
crown of thorns probably covered His entire scalp (Lumpkin, 1978). The gospel accounts record that
following His crowning, Jesus received continued blows to the head. These blows would have driven
these thorns deep into the highly vascularized scalp and forehead, penetrating both the frontalis and
occipitalis muscles (Netter, p. 21). Perforations of any of the numerous arterial or venous tributaries
encircling the cranium—such as the frontal and parietal branch of the superficial temporal artery and
vein—would have caused extensive bleeding. Additionally, branches of the superficial cutaneous
nerves of the head, such as, for example, the greater occipital nerve and the auriculotemporal nerve,
would have been perforated, causing indescribable pain.
The significance of Jesus bearing a scarlet robe during the course of this agonizing persecution
signifies His taking on the sins of the world. Isaiah commented on the meaning of the scarlet color:
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be
as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Each time
Jesus was stripped or made to wear this robe, the fresh wounds would reopen and bleed, inflicting
still more pain. And yet He continued on towards the cross, even though He had the power to stop
the pain and agony at any given second.
The Jewish historian Josephus aptly described crucifixion, following the siege of Jerusalem by the
Romans in A.D. 66-70, as “the most wretched of deaths” (War of the Jews, 7.203). The apostle Paul
penned these beautiful words describing Christ: “And being found in appearance as a man, He
humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians
2:8). Knowing that He had to continue on for humanity’s sake, a beaten and scourged Jesus began
that long walk to the site of His death. Archaeological evidence strongly suggests that criminals
during the time of Christ were not forced to carry an entire T-shaped cross as is commonly portrayed
in art-deco jewelry or Hollywood films, but rather only the crossbeam (known as a patibulum), which
would have weighed between 75 and 125 pounds. It was customary, however, for convicted criminals
to carry their own cross from the scourging site to the place of crucifixion (Barbet, 1953, p. 46;
Tenney, 1964, p. 286; Bromiley, 1979, 1:829). Their hands normally were tied (or even left unbound)
during the procession, rather than being nailed to the patibulum. The effects of the scourging on
Christ’s physical condition can be inferred from His severely weakened condition—as demonstrated
by the fact that later, Simon of Cyrene would be compelled to carry the patibulum. As a bloodied
Christ struggled with that crossbeam, a centurion led the procession, which usually consisted of a full
Roman military guard (Barbet, 1953, p. 49; Johnson, 1978, 70:100). One of the soldiers in the
procession carried a sign that later would be attached to the top of the cross, denoting the convicted
man’s name and crime (Johnson, 70:100). Measurements indicate that the distance from the
Praetorium to the site of Christ’s crucifixion was approximately one-third of a mile (600-650 meters)
[Davis, 1965, p. 186; Bucklin, 1970; Johnson, 1978, p. 99; Edwards et al., 1986, 256:1456]. The
Bible never actually mentions that Christ collapsed under that heavy load. However, consider the
possibility that if His hands were tied to the crosspiece and He had fallen, Jesus would have been
unable to break the fall. Researchers have speculated that falling under the weight of a crossbeam
very likely would have “resulted in blunt chest trauma and a contused heart” (Ball, 1989, p. 83).
Golgotha is the common name of the location at which Christ was crucified. In Greek letters, this
word represents an Aramaic word, Gulgaltha (Hebrew Gulgoleth), meaning “a skull.” The word Calvary
(Latin Calvaria; English calvaria—skullcap) also means “a skull.” Calvaria (and the Greek Kranion) are
equivalents for the original Golgotha. This particular area was located just outside the city on a
rounded knoll that has the appearance of a bare skull. It was here, flanked by two thieves, that Christ
would bear the sins of the world. The Roman guards who accompanied Him in the procession were
required to stay with Him until they could substantiate His death (Bloomquist, 1964; Barbet, 1953, p.
Having suffered considerable blood loss from the scourging, Jesus likely was in a dehydrated state
when He finally reached the top of this small knoll. Jesus was offered two drinks at Golgotha. The
first—a drugged wine (i.e., mixed with myrrh) that served as a mild analgesic to deaden some of the
pain—was offered immediately upon His arrival (Shroud, 1871; Davis, 1965, p. 186). However, after
having tasted it, Christ refused the concoction. He chose to face death with a clear mind so He could
conquer it willfully as He submitted Himself to the cruelty of the cross. “And when they came to a
place called Golgotha, they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would
not drink it” (Matthew 27:33-34). This particular drink was intended to dull the pain in preparation for
the next step of crucifixion—the nailing of the hands and feet. Thus, it would have been around this
time that a battered, bleeding Jesus was thrown to the ground and nailed to the cross. [We will
discuss later in this article the second drink offered to Christ.]
Nailing the Hands
Were the gentle hands and feet of Christ truly pierced, or did ropes simply lash them to the cross?
Ossuary findings document the fact that nailing was the preferred Roman practice (Haas, 1970;
Tzaferis, 1970; Bromiley, 1979, 1:829; Edwards, et al., 1986, 256:1459). Additionally, researchers
have discovered a Jewish ossuary—bearing the Hebrew inscription “Jehohanan the son of
HGQWL”—that contained a seven-inch spike piercing the remains of two heel bones, with a piece of
olive wood at the point (Haas, 1970). Luke recorded for us Christ’s invitation to examine His hands
and feet (Luke 24:39), which indicates the wounds Christ suffered were ones that could be identified
easily. John’s written account is even more telling, as we learn that Thomas, one of the disciples,
stated: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not
believe” (John 20:25).
Clearly, from the text, we see that Christ’s hands and feet were nailed to the cross. Archaeological
data indicate that the specific nails used during the time of Christ’s crucifixion were tapered iron
spikes five to seven inches long with a square shaft approximately three-eighths of an inch across
(Haas, 1970; Tzaferis, 1970; Clements, 1992, p. 108). Various studies have demonstrated that the
bony palms cannot support the weight of a body hanging from them (e.g., Barbet, 1953). The weight
of the body would tear quite easily through the lumbricals and flexor tendons—breaking the
metacarpal bones as the nails pulled free—allowing the body to fall to the Earth. However, in ancient
terminology, the wrist was considered to be part of the hand (Barbet, 1953, p. 106; Davis, 1965, p.
184; Major, 1999, 19:86). At the base of the wrist bones, the strong fibrous band of the flexor
retinaculum binds down the flexor tendons. Iron spikes driven through the flexor retinaculum easily
could have passed between bony elements and held the weight of a man. This location would require
that the nail be placed through either: (1) the space between the radius and carpal bones (lunate and
scaphoid bones); or (2) between the two rows of carpal bones (Barbet, 1953, p. 106; DePasquale and
Burch, 1963, p. 434; Lumpkin, 1978; Netter, 1994, p. 426).
A spike driven through this location, however, almost certainly would cause the median nerve or
peripheral branches to be pierced (see Figure 2), resulting in a condition known as causalgia. The
median nerve is a major nerve that passes directly through the midline of the wrist and services all
but one-and-one-half of the muscles in the anterior portion of the forearm. It passes directly under the
flexor retinaculum of the wrist as it supplies motor innervation to the three thenar (thumb) muscles
and the first and second lumbrical muscles. This large nerve also provides sensory innervation to the
palm, as well as to digits two and three in the hand. Any damage to this nerve would have caused
extraordinary pain to radiate up the arm, then through the axilla, to the spinal cord, and finally to the
brain. Primary arteries travel on the medial and lateral aspects of the wrist, and therefore would be
spared if the spike had been driven into this location. [Scientific studies—using volunteer college
students—have shown that people suspended from crosses with their arms outstretched in the
traditional manner depicted in religious art have little problem breathing (Zugibe, 1984, p. 9). Thus, the
oft’-quoted idea that death on the cross results from asphyxiation would be a factor only if the hands
were nailed in an elevated fashion above the head of the victim.] And so, with His hands firmly
nailed to the cross and His back bleeding and emaciated, Christ was hoisted onto the rough-hewn,
upright stake.
Artist_s rendition of crucifixion nail. Note the piercing of the median nerve in the midline of the wrist.
Figure 2—Artist’s rendition of a crucifixion nail. Note the piercing of the median nerve in the midline of
the wrist.
Nailing the Feet
The pain Christ must have experienced up to this point would have been excruciating, and yet the
Roman soldiers were about to deliver even more. There were many ways to nail the feet to the stipes,
but most required the knees to be flexed and rotated laterally. It is likely that the spikes were driven
through either the: (1) tarsometatarsal joint (between the metatarsal bones and cuneiform bones); or
(2) the transverse tarsal joint (between the calcaneus and cuboid or navicular bones). While this
placement undoubtedly would prevent the bones of Christ’s feet from breaking, it nevertheless would
cause severe injury to the deep peroneal nerve or lateral plantar nerve (and artery), and certainly
would pierce the quadratus plantae muscle (Netter, 1994, p. 509).
It would not be uncommon by this time for insects to burrow into open wounds or orifices (such as
the nose, mouth, ears, and eyes) of a crucified victim; additionally, birds of prey frequently were
known to feed off the tattered wounds (Cooper, 1883). It was in this position, with His precious blood
seeping down the cross, that Christ uttered the amazing statement: “Father, forgive them; for they
know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Breathing on the Cross
Even though blood poured from His lacerated back, one major pathophysiological impairment Jesus
faced during crucifixion was normal respiration (i.e., breathing). Maximum inhalation would have been
possible only when the body weight was supported by the nailed wrists of the outstretched arms.
When Christ first was lifted onto the splinter-covered surface of the cross, His arms and body were
stretched out in the form of a “Y.” A momentary “T” position would be required to allow proper support
for inhalation. Thus, in order to breathe, He was required to lift His body using His nailed wrists for
leverage. Exhalation would be impossible in this position, and the immense pain placed on the wrists
quickly would become too great; therefore, Christ would have to slump back into a “Y” position to
exhale. Jesus would be forced to continue alternating between the “Y” and “T” positions with every
breath, trying all the while not to reopen the wounds He had received from the scourging. Fatigued
muscles eventually would begin to spasm, and Christ would become exhausted from these repeated
tasks, slumping permanently into the shape of a “Y.” In this position, chest and respiratory muscles
soon would become paralyzed from the increased strain and pain. Without strength for breath,
Christ’s body would begin to suffer from asphyxia.
The True Passover Lamb
The agony that Christ would experience on the cross was foretold in Psalm 22:
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and
from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou answerest not;
And in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the
praises of Israel. But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised of the
people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: They shoot out the lip, they shake the
head, saying, ‘Commit thyself unto Jehovah; Let him deliver him: Let him rescue him,
seeing he delighteth in him.’ I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint:
My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; And
my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; And thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs
have compassed me: A company of evil-doers has enclosed me; They pierced my hands
and my feet. I may count all my bones; They look and stare upon me. They part my
garments among them, And upon my vesture do they cast lots.”
As insects and dogs circled, and as passersby spat on Him, Christ—with blood dripping from the
open wounds on His back and nail holes in His hands and feet—shouldered the sins of the world. As
exposed nerves exploded into unbearable pain with each movement, and as His internal organs
began failing due to a lack of sufficient oxygen, for the first and only time in His life, Jesus found
Himself separated from His Father. Matthew 27:46 describes His anguish: “And about the ninth hour
Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why
hast thou forsaken me?’ ” This was the first time in His life, so far as Scripture records, that Jesus
did not address God as His Father. Isaiah 59:2 informs us of that separation, and the reason that
God had to turn His face from His sin-laden Son: “But your iniquities have separated between you
and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear.”
The second drink that Jesus was offered on the cross came after this plaintive cry. He accepted this
potion, which consisted of wine vinegar, just moments before His death.
After this Jesus, knowing that all things are now finished, that the scripture might be
accomplished, saith, “I thirst.” There was set there a vessel full of vinegar: so they put a
sponge full of the vinegar upon hyssop and brought it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore
had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”: and he bowed his head, and gave up his
spirit (John 19:28).
Interestingly, this drink was delivered using the stalk of a hyssop plant. Recall that the crucifixion
took place around the Feast of the Passover. In describing the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12:22-23,
Moses told the children of Israel to “take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin,
and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside
the door of your house until morning.” It is worth mentioning that at Christ’s crucifixion, this hyssop
stalk pointed to the blood of the Perfect Lamb, which was shed for the salvation of all mankind.
Piercing Christ’s Side
While death on the cross may have been caused by any number of factors, and likely would have
varied with each individual case, the two seemingly most prominent causes of death probably were
hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia (DePasquale, 1963; Davis, 1965). Others have
proposed dehydration, cardiac arrhythmia, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of
pericardial and pleural effusions as possible contributing factors (Lumpkin 1978; Clements, 1992, pp.
108-109;). The ability of Christ to cry out with a loud voice indicates that asphyxia was probably not
the major causative factor.
The finality of death upon the cross often was accomplished by the breaking of the legs of the
victims, which caused still more traumatic shock and prevented an individual from pushing up in
order to fully respire. In an effort to get the bodies off the crosses before the Sabbath day,
the soldiers therefore came, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other that was
crucified with him: but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was dead already, they
brake not his legs: howbeit one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and
straightway there came out blood and water (John 19:32-34).
Much speculation has centered on the exact location of the puncture wound and thus the source of
the resulting blood and water. However, the Greek word (pleura) that John used clearly denotes the
area of the intercoastal ribs that cover the lungs (Netter, 1994, p. 184). Given the upward angle of the
spear, and the thoracic location of the wound, abdominal organs can be ruled out as having provided
the blood and water.
A more likely scenario would suggest that the piercing affected a lung (along with any built-up fluid),
the pericardial sac surrounding the heart, the right atrium of the heart itself, the pulmonary vessels,
and/or the aorta. Since John did not describe the specific side of the body on which the wound was
inflicted, we can only speculate about which structures might have been impaled by such a vicious
act. However, the blood could have resulted from the heart, the aorta, or any of the pulmonary
vessels. Water probably was provided by pleural or pericardial fluids (that surround the lungs and
It is with both medical and biblical certainty that we know Christ died upon the cross at Calvary. He was laid in a tomb with nail wounds in His hands and feet, and still possessed those scars following His resurrection. The extreme physical insults to Christ’s body left Him ragged, torn, bleeding, and tormented with pain. Yet He endured willingly all the agony and torment of the cross for each one of us. As Paul wrote:
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall
of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments
contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making
peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross,
thereby putting to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:14-16).
We would do well to heed the advice of the writer of the book of Hebrews, who said:
Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with
endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our
faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and
has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (12:2).
As told by the Bible, Pastors, Medical Journals and Medical Physicians including trained specialists.  Refuted of course from non-believers and Rag-Mags like HuffPost, Washington Post amongst others.
A Medical Explanation of Jesus Crucifixion
Oh, the overwhelming love that God showed each one of us when He allowed His only begotten Son to suffer that excruciating (Latin, excruciates, or “out of the cross”) pain and agony—for our sake!


4 Replies to “A Medical Explanation of Jesus Crucifixion”

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