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The Crucifixion from a Medical Perspective, What Did Jesus Actually Endure?

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Trauma surgeon Dr. David Acuna describes the various stages of a crucifixion and it's subsequent ramifications on the human body—clearly outlining the magnitude of suffering Jesus endured on our behalf.


Have you ever wondered what takes place to the human body during a crucifixion? Or to be more specific, have you ever pondered what Jesus actually endured once nailed to the cross? Central Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas did, so they interviewed a trauma surgeon on “the effect crucifixion would have had on the human body,” and to say it’s realities are eye-opening are an understatement.

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In Central Christian’s interview The Crucifixion: A Medical Perspective, trauma surgeon Dr. David Acuna sets the stage for his medical explanation by stating, “I believe that Christ’s suffering and the demonstration of the kind of physiologic stress that His human body was under, is manifested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Where it’s described that He was sweating blood. And there is a well documented medical condition in which patients who are under a tremendous amount of emotional stress and physiological stress can, in fact, sweat blood because little blood vessels within the glands burst and then the blood is expressed.”

Dr. Acuna continues goes on to describe the various stages of a crucifixion and it’s subsequent ramifications on the human body—clearly outlining the magnitude of suffering Jesus endured on our behalf.

STAGE 1—The Scourge

“The scourge involved the use of a short whip with pieces of typically metal, sometimes bone, sometimes pieces of porcelain wrapped in these leather straps. Which is then utilized to come across typically the back, shoulder, legs of the victim. And the first few passes across a particular body part would tear through the skin and the fat, but eventually, once the outer layers were torn away, it would start getting in the muscle and the tendons. And, of course, along the way, you’re ripping through all the blood vessels that supply all those tissues. And so you’re losing blood the whole time.”

STAGE 2—The Crown of Thorns

“The plant that was described actually had a very long thorn—not the little thorns that we would think from a rose bush. These were thorns that were typically an inch and a half to two inches in length. The scalp is one of the most vascular portions of our bodies—there’s a huge blood supply up there. So then, having those thorns shoved down onto the boney plate would have gone through all the scalp, which in and of itself would have created a huge amount of blood loss. I’ve actually seen people bleed to death from just a scalp injury. So, it’s not a small injury to have … dozens of these things shoved into your scalp. So that would have caused more blood loss.”

STAGE 3—Carrying the Cross

“Typically when a victim has to carry the cross, what has been described in the literature—in actual Roman literature—is that they … carry the crossbar. And the crossbar is estimated, alone … to weigh about 110 pounds. And, of course, if you’re arms are stuck out here, wrapped up on the crossbar and you fall down, you need help getting up. You just can’t get up on your own, because there is no possible way without your arms to get up, so He would have needed help getting up. If He fell over, there is a good chance He could have hit His chest. Which then could account for the possibility of a cardiac injury.”

STAGE 4—The Nails

“Anatomically, we consider the wrist as part of the hand and so with the placement of the nails between the radius and the ulna—at that position it still fits the definition of being in the hand and it’s in a position in which the nail won’t rip out … Another interesting point of the placement of that is the median nerve goes right straight through that particular portion of the wrist. And so, there would have been either destruction of the nerve or impingement of the nerve that would have created a tremendous amount of pain so that every time you tried to take a breath, it would be agonizing. You would be pushing down on spiked feet, which of course hurt, and then you would be hanging on spiked arms. And so you alternate between excruciating pain to excruciating pain, every time you would take a breath.”

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STAGE 5—The Spear

“So, even if He survives the actual crucifixion, He would have had to survive what I believe to be a lethal injury from the spear to find out if He was alive or not. What’s described as a loss of water and blood, and that would entail … a plural fusion … and the blood would have come from either a [an artery or pulmonary vein] or the heart itself. None of those injuries, unless you’re treated immediately by a trauma surgeon … with all the advanced equipment we have—would be survivable after even a few minutes.

Did He Really Die?

Dr. Acuna was asked to surmise if indeed Jesus actually died. His response is sobering, “The Son of God could have survived anything, He chose to manifest Himself as a human at that point in time and allowed Himself to die. And being human at that point in time, He could not have survived this particular series of traumas. It’s not possible.”