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January 2019

Physical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?

I mentioned last month that, aside from the eye-witness testimony of the Gospels and Epistles, there is also physical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. What might that be? We do still have the tomb in which Jesus was laid and from which He rose. You can find it today in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is in the same building complex as the site of the crucifixion, which is found in a staircase leading up to the top of Mount Calvary (Golgotha), where St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, led a successful archaeological expedition in AD 326 to recover the cross of Jesus. Though there are other locations that have been suggested as possible sites for the crucifixion and resurrection, there is no serious reason to doubt the authenticity of the traditional sites.

We may have the authentic site of the resurrection of Jesus, the empty tomb, but that is far from actual evidence that He rose from the dead. After all, St. Matthew’s Gospel records that the enemies of Jesus spread the rumor that His body had been stolen by the Apostles to support the fraudulent claim that He had risen from the dead. The empty tomb in itself is not evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. But we do have something that actually is: the Shroud of Turin.

If you haven’t heard of the Shroud of Turin, I encourage you to do a quick Google search and glance at the images that pop up. The Shroud of Turin was brought to the Italian city of Turin in the fourteenth century by a crusader who claimed to have found it in Jerusalem. It is a large burial shroud with a ghostly image of a bearded, crucified man imprinted upon it, with actual human bloodstains consistent with the descriptions of the crucifixion found in the Gospels. Already in the Middle Ages there were claims that the Shroud was fraudulent, but no one has ever successfully demonstrated how the fraud was produced. I first learned about the Shroud of Turin when I was in elementary school. Back then there was still much that was unknown about the Shroud. Most of the available literature on it was more like tabloids than anything else, highly sensationalized and short on reliable facts. But now there are a number of things we can say confidently about the Shroud, so much so that it is my belief that the Shroud of Turin is actually the authentic burial shroud of Jesus.

The cloth of the Shroud itself is of a weave and material consistent with first-century Palestine, not medieval Europe. The bloodstains match those found on the supposed head-cloth of Jesus, the Sudarium of Oviedo (whether they are authentic or not, both the Shroud and the Sudarium had to have been made by being wrapped around the same dead and bloody body). The wounds are consistent with our modern understanding of what the crucifixion of Jesus was actually like, not Medieval misconceptions about it. The scourge wounds are inflicted by ancient Roman whips, not Medieval. Most tellingly, the nail wounds in the hands are found on the wrists, not the palms. Medieval depictions of the crucifixion unanimously depict Jesus with nails through His palms, and it is only recently that we have realized the nails would have had to pass through His wrists instead. An image like the one on the Shroud of Turin could have been designed by a modern fraudster, but if it had been a Medieval hoax it would have looked much more like what a Medieval audience would have expected.

And then there is the ghostly image itself. How was it produced? There have been all sorts of theories over the centuries. Until recent systematic testing, it was easy to believe that the image was simply painted on. We now know, however, that the image is produced by an actual darkening of the linen fibers. There is no paint or any other external material involved. There had to be some sort of heating event to darken the fibers, and the heat had to emanate from the body wrapped in the Shroud: the closer the fibers to the body, the darker their color. Could it be that when Jesus was resurrected, some sort of heat was produced in that moment by His glorified body, leaving the image on the Shroud?

John Calvin dismissed the Shroud as a fraud, because both the Shroud and the Sudarium are mentioned in John’s Gospel, but no mention is made of a ghostly image. But why would the Apostles have inspected the Shroud for such an image before packing it away? There are water stains on the Shroud consistent with folding and storage in a first-century Palestinian jar, and it was stored for centuries before becoming the celebrated relic that it is today. The Apostles were not necessarily concerned with gathering relics and would likely not have placed much value on the Shroud and the Sudarium themselves. After all, they didn’t need burial cloths and empty tombs. They had their own eye-witness testimony.

Ultimately, it is the testimony of the Apostles that convinces us not only that Jesus rose from the dead, but also that His resurrection was accomplished for our justification (our forgiveness and consequent salvation). But since we know that the resurrection happened, it should not come to us as a surprise that the Apostolic testimony is consistent with the material evidence we have at our disposal. In a way, that’s how we can approach all Christian apologetics. We believe not because of clever arguments based on natural reason, but because of the Holy Spirit working through the proclamation of God’s Word. But because God’s Word is true, it is also consistent with sound reason applied to the available evidence.

I hope this series on apologetics has been beneficial for you. May the Holy Spirit keep you steadfast in the faith of our Living God, who has really wrought marvelous things among us, and has yet more marvelous things in store for those who trust in Him through the testimony of His Prophets and Apostles.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf


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