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The Shroud of Turin and the Resurrection of Christ

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We are approaching the Easter season and a question that is often asked concerns the Shroud of Turin. You have probably read about it or seen specials around the Easter season on TV. It has made the headlines on numerous occasions and most likely, it will again be talked about this Easter.

What is the Shroud of Turin?

The Shroud of Turin is an ancient linen cloth 14 feet by 4 feet and hailed as the genuine burial garment of Jesus Christ. It supposedly contains the very image of Jesus Christ burned into the cloth by means of radiation created by His resurrection. The proponents of the Shroud claim the image stands up to twentieth century analysis as being humanly impossible to “fake” or “duplicate.” It is hailed as a twentieth century proof of the resurrection through scientific examination.

The big question people are asking is, is it authentic? Many claim that it is. And many are claiming we have in it an outstanding proof for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, proof that has the seal of scientific research which ought to help skeptics to believe.

Concerning the evidence for the resurrection and the idea the Shroud adds something we have been lacking, let me share several things that I believe are important here.

People’s Problem

The problem people face concerning the resurrection is not the lack of evidence and never has been. We have tremendous evidence for the resurrection. May I suggest two propositions of Scripture:

(1) Scripture teaches us the problem is moral.

John 3:19-21 “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

John 7:17 “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself.

(2) Scripture teaches us the problem is also spiritual.

1 Corinthians 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

2 Corinthians 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The problem is not the evidence. Note these passages of Scripture:

Acts 2:22-36 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- 23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 “And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. 25 “For David says of Him, ‘I was always beholding the Lord in my presence; For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. 26 ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; Moreover my flesh also will abide in hope; 27 Because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, Nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. 28 ‘Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.’ 29 “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 “And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘ The Lord said to my Lord,” Sit at My right hand, 35 Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet. “‘ 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-- this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Acts 1:1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach,

Romans 1:4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Luke 16:19-31 “Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. 20 “And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 “Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 “And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father’s house-- 28 for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment. ‘ 29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 “But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

This does not mean we should not use the evidence available because the Holy Spirit uses such to open the eyes of men to the truth of the Gospel and to encourage and verify truth to those who are hungry to know God.

Problems with Authenticity

Based on the historical evidence I have read, and based on the New Testament record, it is my conviction that the Shroud of Turin is not the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. Rather it is of human fabrication (or perhaps even demonic fabrication) originally designed as a relic for personal profit by the exploitation of others.

For a more detailed study of this, I would suggest the book, Answers to Tough Questions, by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, published by Here’s Life Publishers.

Let me summarize and give you some of the obvious reasons why I believe the Shroud of Turin is not authentic.

Declared a Forgery

About 1900, a letter was found in a collection of documents owned by Ulysse Chevalier. The letter was written in 1389 by the Bishop of Troyes, Bishop to the Anti-Pope of Avignon, Clement the VII. The letter explained that an investigation had exposed the artist who had painted the Shroud and he had confessed. Many were disturbed that the cloth was being used for financial gain. The letter further pointed out:

“For many theologians and other wise persons declared that this could not be the real Shroud of our Lord, having the Savior’s likeness thus imprinted upon it, since the holy Gospel made no mention of any such imprint; while, if it had been true, it was quite unlikely that the holy evangelist would have omitted to record it, or that the fact should have remained hidden until the present time.”

Jewish Customs of Burial Speaks Against It:

    The one burial cloth

There is a conflict with the idea of only one burial cloth when it is clear that in the Jewish burial customs and in the New Testament record there were several pieces of cloth used in Christ’s burial, not one 14 feet by 4 feet piece of material such as the Shroud.

    The separate cloth for the head

As was the custom of the day, John 20:5-7 shows that a separate piece of cloth was wrapped about the head of Christ. It was found by itself apart from the linen wrappings that were around the body of Christ. However, the Shroud of Turin is all one piece and depicts a face as well as the rest of the body on the cloth.

    The material and method of wrapping the body

Combining the accounts of the historical record of the New Testament teaches us that several pieces of cloth were used to wrap the body of Christ and they were in the form of “strips,” and “wrappings,” or “linen bandages” such as were used in the preparation of mummies.

Note the word “wrappings” is plural in the following passage:

John 19:39-42 And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

“Linen wrapping” is the Greek word sidon meaning fine linen cloth used for swathing dead bodies or as a single garment or wrap as in the passage here:

Mark 14:51-52 And a certain young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. 52 But he left the linen sheet behind, and escaped naked.

“Linen wrappings” is the Greek word othoniois (plural of othonion) meaning “a piece of fine linen, a linen cloth.”

John 19:39-42 And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Matthew and Luke use the Greek word entulisso meaning “to wrap up,” or “to fold,” or “roll or coil about.”

Matthew 27:59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

Luke 23:53 And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain.

Mark uses the Greek word eneileo meaning “to roll in,” or “wind in.”

Mark 15:46 And Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.

John uses the Greek word deo meaning “to bind,” or “tie with the results of imprisonment.”

John 19:40 And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

The Gospel accounts are all in agreement that the body was wrapped or enfolded. It is important to compare these accounts with John 11:42-44.

John 11:42-44 “And I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me.” 43 And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

This was the Jewish custom. Even though when Christ was buried they had to hurry because of time, Joseph along with Nicodemus (and probably some servants since Joseph was a rich man) would have followed the Jewish custom of washing the body and wrapping it in mummy-like fashion with the spices between the folds of the wrappings.

Edersheim, the great biblical scholar and historian, wrote in his monumental work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah:

It seems as if the `clean linen cloth’ in which the Body had been wrapped, was now torn into `cloths’ or swathes, into which the Body, limb by limb, was now `bound,’ no doubt, between layers of myrrh and aloes, the Head being wrapped in a napkin (Vol. 2, p. 618).

In a footnote to the above statement Edersheim further explained:

The Synoptists record, that the Body of Jesus was `wrapped’ in a `linen cloth’; St. John tells us that it was `bound’ with the aloes and myrrh of Nicodemus into `swathes’ or `cloths,’ even as they were found afterwards in the empty tomb, and by their side `the napkin,’ or soudarion, for the head. I have tried to combine the account of the Synoptists and that of St John into a continuous narrative (p. 618).

It is evident that the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, give us the general statement of the burial. But John (who with Peter went to the empty tomb and saw the results) gives us the details of what was done with the linen cloth.

The evidence of Scripture makes it clear that Jesus was wrapped in cloth when taken down from the cross. That cloth was torn into strips, and then Jesus was bound with these linen strips, but He was not wrapped with a single piece of cloth like the Shroud.

“The words regarding the cloth clearly indicate it. The verbs used warrant it, and the specific choice of words makes it inescapable” (Answers to Tough Questions, McDowell and Stewart, p. 166).

The biblical authors of the Gospel accounts of the burial of the Lord never used two Greek words, kalutto (1 Kings 19:13) and periballo (Gen. 38:14). These words were used of garments such as the Shroud. Their failure to use these words is very significant and provide further evidence against the Shroud.

    The custom of washing the body

Another problem is that the Shroud proponents admit that its authenticity is dependent upon the body not being washed. This is important for two reasons:

(1) The Shroud is supposed to contain dried blood. This alleged appearance of dried blood on the Shroud would suggest that the body was not washed.

(2) Those who support the authenticity of the Shroud claim there is the need for morbid sweat to act as a refraction lens to focus the radiation, radiation that is supposed to have come from the risen body, to create the image on the cloth. This also would imply that the body was not washed (cf. McDowell, p. 166).

It is claimed by proponents of the Shroud that there was not time to wash the body clean with water because of the approaching Sabbath. But this is a weak argument because the Scripture says they still had time to anoint the body with over a hundred pounds of spices. And, in order to anoint the body with the spices, the body, according to Jewish custom, had to be washed.

Further support for this is the fact that a body could indeed be washed and anointed on the Sabbath according to Jewish law.

“John would not and could not have said that the Jewish method of burial had been followed if it hadn’t been washed” (McDowell, p. 167).

The Problem of Other Shrouds

Many people are not aware of the fact that after the Crusades many different Shrouds circulated throughout medieval Europe at the same time as the Shroud of Turin. It is estimated there are more than 40 “true shrouds” that were circulated. Many are still being displayed today (McDowell, p. 168).

The Problem of No New Testament Witness

It is unthinkable that the Apostles and Christians of the first years of Christianity would not mention a cloth bearing the imprint of the crucified and resurrected Savior. The New Testament presents us with the evidences of the risen Christ. If this had occurred, it would have been mentioned with the other evidences such as the appearances of Christ and the description of the linen wrappings in the empty tomb.

Evidence from Scripture

The evidence from Scripture and from the facts surrounding the Shroud of Turin in no way support its authenticity. But we do not need it! The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was:

  • Anticipated in the Old Testament (Acts 2:24-32; Ps. 16:8-11).
  • Prophesied by Christ (Matt. 16:21; 17:23).
  • Recorded in all four Gospel accounts.
  • Taught in the epistles and revelation.
  • Believed throughout Christianity.
  • Celebrated every Sunday as an historical fact as the crowning miracle and divine seal and proof of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The resurrection marks Christ out as the Son of God, as Savior and Judge of the world. It is God’s declaration that all other religions of the world are false and futile.

Romans 1:4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Acts 17:30-31 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. “

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.

Acts 4:10-12 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-- by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone. 12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”

Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church has stated it well. He says:

The Christian church rests on the resurrection of its founder. Without this fact the church could never have been born, or if born, it soon would have died a natural death. The miracle of the resurrection and the existence of Christianity are so closely connected that they must stand or fall together. If Christ was raised from the dead, then all His other miracles are sure, and our faith is impregnable; if he was not raised, he died in vain, and our faith is in vain. . . without his resurrection, his death would be the grave of our hopes; we should be still unredeemed and under the power of our sins. A gospel of a dead savior would be a contradiction and a wretched delusion (Vol. I, p. 172-173).

There are several lines of evidences for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ which defy the imagination and stand stubbornly against the philosophical prejudice which attempts to deny the resurrection by denying the possibility of the miraculous.

These lines of evidence include:

    1. The empty tomb and the linen wrappings.

    2. The stone rolled away.

    3. The many personal appearances of Christ--to Mary, the disciples, to over 500 at one time, and to Paul at a later time.

    4. But perhaps one of the most striking evidence is the rise and continued existence of the church of Jesus Christ regardless of the tremendous odds against it. It has flourished in spite of the nature of Christ’s death and his resurrection. It has flourished in spite of the disciples first reactions--scared, running, and in utter disbelief of Christ’s own predictions of his resurrection.

Of course, the primary evidence comes from the Bible itself. The Bible is its own self-authenticating record. It stands as the most unique book in all of human history. There is tremendous evidence for the God-breathed character, infallibility, inerrancy, and historical accuracy of the Scriptures, the Holy Bible.

It is a book written over 1600 years by over 40 different authors, yet with perfect continuity and without real contradiction. It has been proven by archaeology over and over again, proven true by hundreds of fulfilled prophecies, preserved against all odds, and has changed the lives of millions.

The evidence regarding the Scripture and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so complete and fantastic that anyone honestly seeking the facts and willing to allow those facts to construct history (rather than try to adjust history to his own bias or philosophical prejudice) will come to accept the accuracy of Scripture and the truth of the resurrection.

“Many today in our so-called scientific age laugh at the idea of miracles. They argue that miracles are a violation of scientific laws, and are therefore unacceptable to modern man” (Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions, p. 79, Here’s Life Publications).

The real issue is both a moral twist (John 3:19f) and a bias or prejudice against the miraculous, not scientific proof that miracles cannot happen. Why? Because scientific or natural laws do not dictate events nor do they explain them. They are merely generalizations about observable causes and effects.

“A miracle is by definition an event that is unique and without a precedent. It is impossible to account for it as we do other events” (McDowell, p. 80).

True miracles are the result of an all powerful God breaking into human history and into the natural order from time to time. Just because a miracle is outside of our normal experience does not mean miracles cannot happen. To claim they cannot occur because one cannot explain them or because of bias against miracles, is humanistic arrogance.

The proper way, indeed, the scientific way, to handle such phenomena is not whether we can explain it or understand it--but did it happen? Is there real historic evidence to prove it happened?

The evidence for the miracles of the Bible is as great and powerful historically as other historical events such as the fall of Rome, the fact of the Caesars, or the conquests of Alexander the Great.

Indeed, Christ is risen from the dead and we do not need the Shroud of Turin to prove it.

Related Topics: Easter, Apologetics, Resurrection

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