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« Challenge: God Doesn't Care What We Believe | Main | Challenge Response: God Doesn't Care What We Believe »

April 23, 2013


Interesting post! I had no idea that some of the early church fathers thought this, though I have toyed with the idea myself before.

I tend toward the second of the three views that you mention-- the blood and water did actually pour from Jesus' side, and then John used this actual occurrence to allude to a specific theology. The reason I lean toward this is because, more than the other three Gospel writers, John is a theologian. He is constantly explaining the theological significance of events that occurred (the first several chapters of his Gospel being the most obvious). The blood/water, while likely being an actual event, probably caught John's attention because of the meaning that he saw behind the event (after all, John himself points out that there are enough other things to write down about Jesus to fill the entire world... so it seems likely that he had good reason to include each detail he did include).

I raised this issue with an sceptic once to show that Jesus really died on the cross since John wouldn't have had the medical knowledge to know about the water/blood to include it in the narrative, unless that's what really happened. His answer got me by surprise:

"This ancient people were used to seeing men and women dying of bad wounds all over the place (remember no health system in those days), so it wouldn't be very unlikely for the author to know that is what happens when people die that way".

Now, to him, Jesus death was already a given (which helped me to move forward in the conversation) but I'd say in general not to over-state the case on the basis of the above argument as it might backfire at you (ie., he wanted to make it more believable by including a detail that most people of that day would know).

It is more likely the author created the spear incident for theological reasons, rather than it actually happening.

1) The genre--bios--provides for composing incidents conforming to the recipient’s expectations, rather than strict historical occurrence.

2) The author modified other events to conform to theological purpose. (i.e., moving Passover so Jesus would be killed on the day the lambs were killed.)

3) The other gospels do not list the event, and display no awareness of it. (Matthew, who loves prophetic connections fails to mention it; Luke does not indicate it as a demonstrative wound.)

4) The author explicitly makes a theological connection with a prophetic association to Zechariah.

But…so what? Does it really make a difference whether this actually happened in the specific detail or that the author composed the event to make a point? I get the impression (perhaps I am incorrect) that J. Warner Wallace approaches the gospels with his investigative mind-set: valuing eyewitness testimony over hearsay, considering any inaccuracies as diminished credibility and a resolute commitment to determining precisely what happened.

All very commendable when performing an investigation with witness statements; but that is not what the gospels are! These are documenting Jesus’ life within the acceptable parameters of the genre of their time, culture and expectation of recipients. Is it appropriate to insist the gospels conform to the same standards as a modern-day police investigation with witness statements, or should we review them as First Century bios?

I suspect I am seeing the hammer/nail problem—to a hammer, everything is a nail. To a cold-case police investigator, everything is reviewed like a police report.

John must have been close to the cross because he reports what Jesus spoke...Matthew and Mark only report what Jesus shouted. Peter and Matthew must have been farther away. That is why they would not have seen the blood and water.

Luke was not there of course, but he was probably using Mary as one of his sources, and she, like John, was also close...thus Luke also reports some of the things you'd expect to hear only when close to the cross. Had Luke been there, you would have expected him, as a physician, to take note of the blood and water. Mary might not have even noticed that particular aspect of Jesus wounds.

Typo in effort to turn off italics. Sheesh!

I wondered how John, the ancient peasant fisherman, would have known about any of the physical conditions that could account for the appearance of water (pleural or pericardial effusion, for example; two conditions that result from heart failure).

I wonder where you are getting your information about the nature of pleural and pericardial effusion. The latter, to my knowledge, is a cause of heart failure -- and occurs, as it says on the tin, in the cavity around the heart, not "the side", and the former involves, not water, but serum, blood, or pus.

Or is this one of those textual cloudbursting things, like when people claim the Bible describes the hydrological cycle, or Islamic apologists claim the Koran correctly describes embryonic development?

(None of the above arguendo remarks should be construed as even implicitly acquiescing to the premise that John is anything other than bios.)

I don't think that the causal chain of events matters regarding heart failure an blood and water.

What's important is that (a) the soldier pierced Jesus' heart by thrusting a spear into His side, and (b) blood and water came out, and (c) John saw and reported that.

Serum is the same thing as blood plasma. It is mostly water and quite clear, like water. Describing it as water in the Gospel is quite appropriate. John was not writing a medical textbook.

So my hypothesis was right. This really is an argumentum ad fortuitous word association. Like when creationist apologists see the phrase "tail like a cedar" in Job 40:17 and conclude "wow, how could such primitive people have such an accurate description of dinosaurs unless they saw them with their own eyes?!?"

I guess that the two are 'alike' in the sense that both use words.

But seriously, you got a point?

That squinting sideways at ancient texts and free-associating with random scientific terms to argue that it must, simply must be cameras-rolling journalism is convincing to no one?

As if anyone is doing that.

Save the straw men for the cornfields.

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