The Crucifixion: A Scientific Perspective

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It is safe to assume that, by now, you are aware of the craze around AI-driven text generator tools like Open AI’s ChatGPT. Maybe you have read AP’s article about a pastor’s experience using ChatGPT to write sermons. Perhaps you’ve read Axios’ piece about the implications of this technology or listened to Biologos’ podcast highlighting ChatGPT as a guest. So, in the spirit of true scientific inquiry, we’ve decided to use this technology to write this week’s newsletter. So, here is the first installment of a two-part series, as we attempt using AI-driven tools to write about the implications of Jesus’ death.

The crucifixion of Jesus is primarily a matter of faith rather than scientific inquiry, so there is no scientific consensus on the exact details of the event. However, historical accounts and some scientific evidence shed light on the subject.

According to New Testament accounts, Roman authorities arrested, tried, and sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. Historians generally agree that crucifixion was a common form of execution in ancient Rome, particularly for those accused of sedition or rebellion against the state. There is also evidence from ancient sources, such as the writings of Josephus, that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure who was crucified by the Romans.

Scientists have attempted to investigate the physical aspects of crucifixion. For example, in 1986, a group of researchers in Israel conducted a study of the remains of a man who had been crucified and found that the nails used in crucifixion were driven through the wrists rather than the hands, as is often depicted in art.

Other scientists focused on the physical effects of crucifixion on the human body. According to medical experts, crucifixion would have caused extreme pain and suffering, as well as a slow and agonizing death from asphyxiation or shock.

While there is no scientific consensus on the precise details of Jesus’ crucifixion, historical accounts and some scientific evidence suggest that it did take place and that it was a brutal and painful form of execution.

Can a Scientist Believe in the Crucifixion?

Yes, a scientist can believe in Jesus’ crucifixion. There is no inherent conflict between being a scientist and holding religious beliefs. In fact, many scientists throughout history have been religious and have made important contributions to both science and theology.

The question of the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion is a matter of faith, not science. A scientist may consider historical or archaeological perspectives, examining evidence for the existence of Jesus and the events surrounding his life and death. However, ultimately what a scientist believes about the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion is a matter of faith.

Many scientists who are also Christians accept the biblical account of Jesus’ crucifixion as a historical event and as a central tenet of their faith. They may also reconcile their scientific understanding of the world with their religious beliefs by viewing science and faith as complementary ways of understanding the world, rather than as conflicting or mutually exclusive.

In fact, there are many scientists who are Christians who believe that science and faith are compatible. They may see science as a way to better understand the natural world, while faith provides a framework for understanding the deeper meaning and purpose of life. While science can provide evidence and insights into the natural world, it cannot prove or disprove matters of faith. Therefore, how a scientist interprets Jesus’ crucifixion ultimately comes down to personal faith.

Have you tried our devotional? Look Closely: The Life of Christ. Ebook.
Dive Deeper Text
  • For a deeper look, be sure to check John Polkinghorne’s book, “The Faith of a Physicist.”
  • In a blog post, Drew shared thoughts about science, resilience, and Christ’s passion.
  • Dr. Cahleen Shrier, associate professor of biology and chemistry at Azusa Pacific University, lectured on the physiological processes experienced by victims of crucifixion. Here is a version adapted into text.
Ministry Resources Text
  • In a video, “The Resurrection and the Diversity of the Church,” Dr. Joshua Swamidass unpacked how Christ’s work on the cross is the foundation for Christian unity.
  • At an apologetics conference, Dr. Mike Licona, president of Risen Jesus, Inc., lectured about the evidence surrounding the Easter event.
  • Central Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas, engaged a trauma surgeon to speak on the effects of the crucifixion on the human body.

Doctors on the Crucifixion

There were no medical records on Jesus’ crucifixion, as it occurred over 2000 years ago. But given what is known about Jesus’ crucifixion, medical experts believed that the process would have been a slow and painful death due to the physical trauma of being nailed to a wooden cross, the loss of blood and bodily fluids, and the difficulty of breathing in a hanging position. Some scholars believe that Jesus died from asphyxiation, while others suggest that he may have died from shock, heart failure, or a combination of factors.

According to the New Testament, Roman soldiers flogged Jesus before his crucifixion. Flogging involved a whip with multiple strands, each with pieces of bone or metal at the end, that was used to repeatedly strike the victim’s back, causing deep lacerations and severe pain. This practice was intended to weaken the victim and make them more vulnerable to the crucifixion that followed.

After the flogging, soldiers forced Jesus to carry his own cross to the place of execution. Once there, he was nailed to the cross, with spikes driven through his hands and feet. The weight of his body pulling down on his arms and shoulders would have made it difficult for him to breathe, causing suffocation. This slow and agonizing death could take several hours or even days.

According to some historical accounts, soldiers gave Jesus vinegar mixed with gall, a bitter herb that was used as a painkiller, but which may have also acted as a mild poison, further contributing to his suffering.

It is important to note that the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion are a matter of religious belief for many people and are not necessarily considered factual or scientific in nature. As such, any discussion of the medical aspects of his crucifixion should be approached with sensitivity and respect for individual beliefs and perspectives. Overall, while science can provide some insights into the physical aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion, the event remains a significant religious and cultural symbol for many people around the world.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this experience. At SftC, we value and appreciate your input. So, if you would like to let us know your opinion or share your thoughts about this piece, please email me. Be sure to check out next week’s article as we reflect on how this experience relates to Christ’s resurrection.

In Nobis Regnat Iesus

Ed Rosado, Engagement Coordinator - Profile Image

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