Monday, November 10, 2008


Was Jesus nailed to the cross?

This may sound like a strange question to ask, as the crucifixion is central to Christianity. But I'm not asking "was Jesus crucified?" - all the gospels agree on that point - I'm asking was he nailed to the cross or could he have been tied on it?

You see, while we know from history that some folk were nailed to crosses when crucified, we also know that others were not, some were tied on. This generally resulted in the victims having to endure longer on the cross as blood loss was less.

It may surprise you (it surprised me when I first heard it) to learn that none of the gospel accounts of Jesus's crucifixion mention nails being used.

Well, that's not strictly true. Reading John's account of the crucifixion in the Contemporary English Version (CEV) this morning I noticed it described Jesus as being nailed to the cross. The CEV actually says this for all four gospels. But that's sloppy translating, none of the other translations I have speak of nails. They all just say he was crucified, without going into any bloody detail.

How many sermons have I heard that do go into all the bloody details of how the nails were hammered in and where the nails were hammered in, and none of it is biblical?

There's only one verse in the bible that speaks of the nails. And that is in John 20v25:
[24] Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. [25] So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
Now I'm reasonably happy to believe that this account is based on actual events, but there are some who see the whole 'Doubting Thomas' episode as being a later invention added to the story, expressly there so Jesus can go on to say:
[29] Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
Given that (at the time these words were allegedly spoken) nobody who had not seen had yet believed. So why would Jesus say such a thing? So it is supposed that this could be a later fabrication. But if it is, then we have no evidence that Jesus was ever nailed to anything.

There are probably loads of things like that which we assume the bible says when it doesn't. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled and will post others here when I find them.


Anonymous said...

For once I've actually been able to contribute a (hopefully!) intelligent answer.

An interesting point about the crucifiction but I think your blog's namesake has something to offer here:

John 20:25-27:
So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

Seems conclusive enough to me but would be interested in your thoughts!

Thanks, as ever, for the great blog. I love it.

Anonymous said...

I find that most of the uncertain bits in the bible are stuff like this; where something is implied and with a very small amount of logic you can understand it, but someone feels the need to make it explicit.
An example might be Acts 15:34 ; "However, Silas decided to stay on there".
We know Silas was there when Paul left, and the preceding verse says he was part of a group sent back, now obviously he either stayed anyway or came back later, it doesn't matter either way, but someone felt the need to clarify.

I think there is a common theme in both of these, where someone is filling in blanks that really don't need filling. There are many factual features that are not mentioned, such as the fact that the disciples' hair probably stayed the same colour for the duration of their time with Jesus (apart from a little more grey on the older ones perhaps).
We can work that out for ourselves!

So the nails only come in when they matter to people, when they become something that will change someone's life, and when they are important for us.
So why don't they get mentioned in the telling of the actual event?
Because the crucifixion is not a gore fest, it's about Jesus's love for us, his forgiveness, his isolation, his pain, yes, but the fact that he did not take relief. The fact that people considered him dead even while he hung next to them, and yet he defied their prediction.
With all that stuff to tell, and more, whether iron pierced his forearm pales into the background!