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Testing the Shroud of Turin

by Bodie Hodge on June 5, 2009
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Is the Shroud of Turin real? Do the biblical accounts of Jesus’s burial allow for such a cloth. Bodie Hodge, AiG–U.S., tackles this often contentious issue.

Editor’s note: The following email was sent to us by P.L. from Northern Ireland in regards to the article Problematic Apologetics. Because of the length of this feedback, our typical format (i.e., posting the feedback in its entirety first) is not feasible. Instead, we begin with the feedback and response together.


You refuse the possibility of the Turin shroud being the genuine burial shroud of Christ as follows. (my responses are below your own)

Thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis regarding the Shroud of Turin. I am responding below in kindness and sincerity. For the sake of clarity, the original article is indented, your response is in orange, and my counter-response is in standard format. I pray this helps illuminate what were trying to say in the short article in the magazine.

An amazing cloth shroud, about 14.3 feet (4 m) long and 3.7 feet (1 m) wide, first appeared in 1357 in France and is now stored in Turin, Italy. The cloth has a realistic imprint that looks like a man’s face.
Science has proven that whatever the mechanism that formed the image on the shroud, it is not an imprint.

It is interesting then that many Shroud supporters often call it “imprint.”

There is also the not inconsiderable fact that the image is not simply of a face but an entire frontal and dorsal view of a man’s body. I would humbly ask, have you seen even a photograph of the shroud?

Of course, but the face is the significant portion spoken of more often, which is why we commented on that. Just because we did not mention the body doesn’t mean that we were saying it didn’t exist.

According to tradition, the shroud was miraculously formed when it covered Jesus’s body in the tomb. Some people quote Matthew 27:59, Mark 15:46, and Luke 23:53 to justify the possibility of this miracle.
No-one has claimed that the shroud was formed as you say, via tradition or otherwise.

When Mark Looy, our CCO at the ministry wrote another article on the Shroud years before, we had to deal with quite a number of people who were upset, many resorting to this particular tradition that the strips of linen indeed miraculously came together to form the Shroud, once they realized only strips of linens were mentioned in the grave of Christ. So at least some Shroud supporters have made this claim to us specifically. This has been a problem in trying to deal with this issue: there does not seem to be a consensus on its origin. Knowing, then, that other Shroud supporters would reject the claim that the Shroud formed in the grave—and rightly so—we did not want to discuss this tradition in great detail.

Of course you mean the image itself

Not really; we meant the shroud, which is why we shifted gears toward the discussion of the Shroud’s basis in Scripture.

but I suspect the blasé nature of your rejection of the shroud as potentially genuine has caused a certain lack of intellectual rigour on your part.

Blasé? Placing Scripture first is the basis for the rejection. The Bible does not mention a Shroud in the burial clothing of Christ. God’s Word is the foundation of intellectual rigor.

These verses seem to indicate that a single cloth was used to wrap Jesus when He was taken off the cross. But was this same cloth wrapped around Jesus’s body when it was placed in the tomb?
You are betrayed by the very thing which your article seeks to warn against, eisegesis, or as you say “reading into the text”. You attempt to create in the reader’s mind an image of Jesus’s body being wrapped in the single cloth purchased by Joseph of Arimathea immediately upon being taken down from the cross. It remains impossible to know at what point Jesus’s body was transferred to this single sheet of fine linen.

The Scriptures say: “So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen” (Mark 14:45–6). It would be grossly incorrect to think they would leave the body in the bloody cloth used on Him right away. First this was a Jewish culture that believed in cleanliness, and second, this was the Lord—care was going to be used from the moment the body was taken down.

After the crucifixion, Jesus’s body would have been bloody from Pilate’s whipping (Matthew 27:26), the crown of thorns (Matthew 27:29), and the nails driven into His hands and feet (Acts 2:23). More blood flowed from the spear wound in His side (John 19:34). So this cloth would have absorbed a lot of blood.
Forensic pathologists, most notably Dr Fred Zugibe, have presented evidence showing that the body of the man on the shroud was most probably washed before being placed in the shroud. This would account for a cloth that is only bloodstained in certain places and not as you “absorbed a lot of blood”.

In the article, we are discussing a cloth being used when removing Christ’s body from the cross and likely for transport. But you are comparing this to an allegedly different shroud in the grave, which is not mentioned in Scripture. This initial cloth could not have been used in the grave due to Jewish cleanliness laws. The point is: where is a shroud in the grave with Christ in Scripture?

Now did this cloth remain on Jesus's body as it was carried to the grave? From a cursory glance at the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you might think so. However, John reveals more details (John 19:38–40). Joseph of Arimathea took the body prior to its placement in the grave. Later Nicodemus joined him, applying about 75 pounds of spices and wrapping the body in several strips of linen.
The greek word othonia is of uncertain meaning but is usually taken to signify a cloth or cloths. Matthew 27:59 records that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Jesus's body in a clean linen cloth, note the use of the singular, but does not specify just when this happened.

Looking at the Scriptures, it distinguished against strips of linen and single linen cloths. The Greek word (used for a single linen cloth as in Matthew 27:59) is sindon, whereas the strips of linen used on Jesus in the grave (as in John 20:7) is othonion. Othonion does not mean a single linen cloth—it is plural. If a single linen was being described, they would have used othone or sindon.

Thus you set up a straw-man argument when you ask “Now did this cloth remain on Jesus’s body as it was carried to the grave?”. The Gospel record does not tell us exactly when Jesus's body was put into the clean linen cloth but you establish a series of events that are product of your own interpretation of a sequence of events that were never intended to be totally explanatory in detail.

What do you propose they wrapped Jesus in when he was brought down from the Cross? Keep in mind the strictness of what Moses wrote:

Numbers 19:11–13
He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him.

Because of John’s account (John 19:40; 20:5–7), we are certain that strips of linen were used in the grave as well as a handkerchief, but nothing else is mentioned.

In the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem there is a flat stone slab on which, according to tradition, Jesus’s body was laid before interment in the tomb. Perhaps Jesus’s body was washed upon this slab, put in the shroud and then tied with strips of linen (othonia)at the appropriate sites, ankles, knees, waist, and neck?

But is this what the Church of the Holy Sepulchre looked like prior to the Constantine’s mother selecting this site 300 years later? It is possible, but one cannot be certain. If Scripture doesn’t state it, how can anyone be certain this isn’t just a myth that Christians have been warned against (Titus 1:13–14; 1 Timothy 4:7)? Tradition can be useful, but is not Scripture. There is debate as to the accuracy of this site as well, and without biblical support, we cannot be certain. Consider also that the place Christ was laid was very close to the Garden tomb and where Jesus hung on the Cross (John 19:41–42).

John 19:40–42
Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 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. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.
My KJV Bible informs me that a mixture of 100 pounds of myyrh and aloes were included in Jesus’s entombment. The record seems to strongly imply that these spices were wound in the linen clothes along with Jesus’s body. Only a large shroud could accommodate such a large amount but we must recognise that the Bible does not explicitly tell us that all the spices were used in this manner.

But how many pounds of spices can be used in an unknown number of linen strips? This does nothing to refute the linen strips, and hence the need to invoke another cloth. But look at the flip side: if 100 pounds of spices were used in Christ’s burial and the Shroud of Turin were used in the burial process, then why is the shroud not saturated with them?

To apply the spices, the caretakers must have removed the bloody linen covering Christ at the cross. We have no reason to assume that they reused this single cloth. Instead, we would expect them to follow Jewish customs of cleanliness.
Again, your reasoning follows a sequence of events that is not to be found in any of the Gospel post-crucifixion narratives, merely inferred,

I disagree. Further, note that you just asked me to believe your narrative that a large shroud must have been used due to 100 pounds of spices.

but much may be likewise written in which appears reasonable, convincing even, but may also be simply erroneous.

At this point, our arguments have still not been shown to be in error.

Also, no Gospel author mentions a second single-cloth linen around Jesus’s body only a small cloth wrapped around Jesus’s face and several other linen strips around the rest of his body (John 20:7). Jewish burial customs usually involved strips of linen and a burial cloth around the head. In fact, John indicates Lazarus was given the same kind of burial (John 11:43–44).
You seek to further develop an argument which has speculation as its basis.

I disagree as we did start from the Scriptures—the best foundation one can have—and there is no basis for a Shroud in the grave. To assume there is elevates man’s ideas above that of Scripture. According to Scripture, there is no basis for the Shroud having been in the grave, but in order for Shroud supporters to make it fit, they have to ignore some Scriptural evidence and add elements that aren’t there. This is a similar situation to trying to fit evolution with the account of Genesis. There is no reason to unless one needs to try to make it fit because of the assumption that the extrabiblical thing is true first.

To the untutored reader your apparent elaboration of your point reads like further confirming evidence.

But you have not been able to show where it isn’t, nor show that our base points were wrong.

Your apprehension that it was “only a small cloth” that was wrapped around Jesus’s face is not borne out by Biblical narrative which informs that the ‘napkin’ covered Jesus’s head,not his face, John 20:7.

There is no reason to assume that the cloth did not cover His face. If it went around his head, the implication is clearly that it also covered his face. This quibble is not justifiable.

Interestingly, this cloth, sudarium, is described by John as ‘wrapped’, not folded as a small cloth might be, and ‘in a place by itself’ I ask who put it there? why? why is worthy of especial mention?

Translations vary. Some say “folded”; others say “rolled”; and yet others say “wrapped.” The Greek word is entulisso, and means “to wrap or roll.” The point is that it was done up with care and not simply thrown off, which is a refutation of the claim that the body was stolen (Matthew 28:13). Thieves would not take that kind of care when stealing something with Roman soldiers on guard!

You also write that “Jewish burial customs usually involved strips of linen and a burial cloth around the head”. I would add that they also included interment in a single sheet.

Where is this in the relevant Scripture passages, though?

At Jesus’s resurrection, both John and Luke mention the strips of linen and the cloth on His face (Luke 24:12; John 20:7). They mention nothing else. We have no reason to assume any other cloths were present in the tomb. To do so requires us to impose our ideas on the Bible, contrary to reasonable inferences, which is not the way to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
John and Luke both actually mention “linen clothes” not strips. There is a weight of perception here that is worth dividing rightly between the impression in our minds that ‘strips of linen’ creates and that of ‘linen clothes’.

Most translations have strips or cloths, and we have discussed the plural nature of the cloth above, so one cannot exclude the strips of linen in the pile that Scripture records. Your argument, then, is inadvertently making the case that the strips of linen merely disappeared, or that there is something being added to this pile that is not mentioned in Scripture—a shroud in the grave.

One might seemingly rule out the presence in the tomb of a large shroud, the other might seemingly accommodate the same.

But since Scripture does not reveal a shroud, then why would it matter? Would “David” honestly believe “Timmy” if he said he has Joshua’s Flag (never mentioned in Scripture either)—the supposed flag that Joshua used while on his conquest into Jericho that surfaced in South America—even though it had blood stains from battle and so on? Why would David or anyone else need to go to this much trouble for a thing like that? We don't need such relics. Just like we don't need to find the Ark, because it won't convince anyone who doesn’t want to be convinced. We have the Scriptures guaranteed by God. They are sufficient.

I enjoyed your final sentence above concerning reasonable inferences. Do you think that the Bible truly rules out possible authenticity of the Turin shroud according to the ‘reasonableness’ of your analysis?

Since Scripture does not mention a shroud in the grave, I would not want to rest on something that obviously originates in the minds of fallible, sinful man.

The Bible, read carefully in context, rules out the Shroud of Turin as Jesus’s burial cloth.
Absolutely not, only according to your ‘careful’ reading imposed upon Biblical text might it appear to do so.

This would be simple to solve. Where in Scripture is a shroud mentioned as the burial cloth of Christ in the grave? One can suggest it was there, but there’s no direct reference and no reason to accept the Shroud as authentic, particularly from extrabiblical texts.

Now that the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the shroud has been proven to be scientifically invalid, as an accurate date for the shroud, we should take care that we do not find ourselves fighting against God where this incredible object is concerned. My concern is that your article seeks to warn others against finding evidence where none exists but at the same time might very well be refusing something true and which, if so, is with us for a purpose. One thing is sure, your attempted disproving of the authenticity of the shroud is lacking in accuracy and seems to be based on a nodding acquaintance with an object which is the single most scientifically studied artefact of all time. Legions of scientists have sought to refute the possibility that this cloth is Jesus’s actual burial shroud. They have all failed and now that the radiocarbon date of the shroud’s origin as 1260–1390 AD has been proved erroneous, such scientists have lost their trump-card. You would do your readers, and those who rely on you for guidance, a much better service if you recognised this to be a subject worthy of much,much more than your dismissive lines and invited them to think for themselves on this subject rather than having their minds made up for them.

But, this is irrelevant. Where is it in Scripture? The point—as with any facet of life—is that we must look to Scripture first. Without clear evidence of such an item existing in the biblical accounts, there’s no reason to accept it as authentic.

Please do not interpret this as a personal attack, we are all fallible, all too prone to falling into seeing ourselves as knowledgeable, expert even, and speaking conclusively on matters upon which we know little. In this, I am chief.

This is why we prefer to let Scripture speak. God reveals what He wants us to know, and since He does not mention a shroud in the grave with Christ, this should settle the issue for Christians.

With kindness in Christ,

Bodie Hodge

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