The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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John's Crucifixion Account

Some scholars are fond of asserting that John, although on the whole unhistorical, may contain eyewitness reports to the death of Jesus. [1] They normally based their claims to two events reported in John and nowhere else.

  • The first involves Jesus handing over the custody of his mother to one of his disciple.
  • The second is the act of the Roman soldiers breaking of the legs of the two robbers crucified with Jesus and piercing Jesus' side.

Jesus Handing Over Custody of His Mother

The first event is narrated by John thus:

John 19:25-27
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

As Craveri pointed out [2] this account cannot be historical because we know from other sources that places of crucifixion were closely guarded and it was not allowed for anyone to go close to them. Hence this conversation, which must require Mary and the beloved disciple to be no more than three meters or so away, could not have occurred.

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Piercing the Side

The second event seems to be a vivid eyewitness account and indeed the author asserts as much:

John 19:31-35
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)

What is interesting about this passage is the claim that blood and water flowed from Jesus side after he was pierced. Opinion is divided among medical experts as to whether this has a physical explanation.[3]

The author's claim of complete veracity notwithstanding, we have a few reasons for thinking that this episode is fictional:[4]

  • The existence of a doublet:
    We see that the Jews asked for the legs to be broken and the bodies to be taken down. Pilate, according to John, acquiesced to that. Yet just a few verses later (John 19:38) Joseph of Arimathea was reported to have come later and did the same thing (i.e. asked for permission to remove Jesus from the cross). This suggests that this episode was inserted rather hastily into the Johanine account.

  • The construction[a] of the story from Old Testament stories.
    The breaking of the legs and the piercing of Jesus' side with the lance clearly fulfills Old Testament prophesies, as John himself admits:

    John 19:36-37
    These things happened so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "Not one of his bones will be broken." [Exodus 12:46], [b] and another passage of scripture say, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced." [Zechariah 12:10]

These considerations have led most New Testament scholars to dismiss this Johanine account as pure fiction. The scholars in the Jesus Seminar called this episode "the product of imagination laced with scriptural allusions" and rated it black (i.e. that the story is a fiction).[5] Gerd Ludemann's opus Jesus After Two Thousand Years stated that the account is "spun out of Ps. 34:21 (Exodus12:10, 46) and Zechariah 12:10" and ascribed the historicity of the passage as nil. [6]

That leave us to consider the source of the blood and water. The source for the fluid flow is not to be found in physiology but in theology: the water represents baptism and the blood represents the Eucharist. [7] The historical witness of John vanishes into thin air!

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a.To modern non-fundamentalist scholars, parallels in the Jesus story with Old Testament passages, suggest that these OT passages were used to create the story in the gospels. This is a total reversal of the fundamentalist view that the stories of Jesus were historical and the parallels with OT "prophecies" prove his divinity (or at least messiahship). I have given an example of why the former explanation is the more likely one elsewhere in this website.
b.It is important to note that Exodus 12:46 is not a messianic prophecy at all. In fact, the passage doesn't even refer to a human being but to the passover lamb! That John meant Jesus to be the new paschal lamb cannot be doubted for, as we have seen, unlike the synoptics, he made the time of Jesus' death coincide with the slaughter of the passover lamb. With such a heavily theological stench it is hard to credit John's passage with any veracity.


1.Wilson, Jesus:The Evidence: p110
2.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p400
3.Marsh, Saint John: p621
4.Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus: p189
5.Funk, The Acts of Jesus, : p439
6.Ludemann, Jesus After 2000 Years: p573
7.Guignebert, Jesus: p487
Marsh, op cit: p621

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