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Disclaimer

This question is BY NO MEANS questioning the accuracy of the scripture, rather a question about the prophecy in 'Psalms 34:20' was fulfilled in a physical manner by Jesus.

A conclusion can be made by the comments and answers below, so dear brothers and sisters please keep reading.


Original question below:

The Bible didn't describe the "technical details" on how Jesus was crucified.

In 'John 19' it reads:

33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. 36 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” (NKJV)

When it proceeds to 'John 20', I saw Jesus saying to Thomas:

27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (NKJV)

I tried to touch my hands and wrists, I couldn't find any possible place where you can nail and fix firmly onto the cross without breaking a bone, same with the feet. How could a crucifixion be done without breaking the hand bones of feet bones? Am I missing something here?


With Psalm 34 (the prophecy John mentioned), the context seemed to have more of a spiritual meaning instead of a physical meaning:

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. 16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all. 20 He guards all his bones; Not one of them is broken.

But 'John 20:36' seems to suggest the prophecy was fulfilled in a physical manner? If the prophecy is meant to be fulfilled physically, how could a crucifixion without breaking bones be possible?

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    "I tried to touch my hands and wrists" - but did you look at human skeletons or research methods of crucifixion? A nail firmly placed between the ulna and radius would probably do the trick. Same goes with all the different bones making up the feet. Nails would most likely follow the path of least resistance and avoid going through bones wherever possible. The Romans had the benefit of plentiful practice and experience in this area, let's not forget.
    – Steve Taylor
    Sep 6, 2021 at 12:19
  • The question is self-answering, in the sense that the quoted passage explicitly addresses the question; specifically, the (un)broken bones of verse 36 are the same as the (un)broken legs of verse 33. Now, one might challenge the logical validity of such a (broad) statement, by stating (as you have) that the human body contains other bones as well, in its chest, palms, or feet, which might either have been chipped (verse 34) or broken (the latter two). However, that's not (really) a hermeneutical question (because the text itself is well-understood, and thus not in need of further explanation).
    – Lucian
    Sep 6, 2021 at 13:08
  • Thanks @SteveTaylor , much appreciated! I should've researched it a bit further on this. Sep 6, 2021 at 21:10
  • @Lucian I see it as a hermeneutical question not because of the technical side of how Jesus was crucified, it's more on whether John 19:36 was fulfilled in a physical way or spiritual way. Now that I understand ulna and radius, I know that the case of "no broken bones" can be very firmly literal, thus the prophecy was fulfilled in a physical manner. I still think the prophecy in the context of Psalm 34 are the spiritual one though, it seems strange to me if it were talking about the actual bones. Sep 6, 2021 at 21:16

3 Answers 3

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The problem is with the popular depictions of nails through Jesus's palms. That wouldn't hold the weight of a body for long before the flesh would tear loose.

The next time you eat a chicken wing (a flat, not a drumette), look at how the two bones join at the wrist with a gap between them. That is where the nail would be placed, for maximum support and maximum pain.

Here's part of something I wrote a few years ago:

Roman Efficiency

The Romans were an incredibly efficient society, concerned about its long-term future.

Whenever they built anything, the Romans built it to last. Even today, there exist roads, bridges, aqueducts, and buildings that the Romans built over two thousand years ago.

Whenever they did anything, the Romans did so as efficiently as possible. Designs were functional, not ornate. A comparison of contemporary Roman and Greek architecture shows the Greeks creating fluted columns, elaborately carved capitals, and various decorative features, with the Romans having a very utilitarian style, everything plain and simple, with all shapes being rectangles or circles.

Crucifixion

Crucifixion wasn't invented specifically for Jesus; it was a very common method of torture and execution throughout the Roman Empire. There were times when literally thousands of people were crucified at a time, their tortured bodies hanging in one long row along the side of a heavily travelled road.

The crosses typically depicted throughout the modern Christian world would have been far too large, far too heavy, and far too complicated for the Roman army to use. Fitting and binding the two pieces together would have required a significant amount of work. For the Romans, form followed function, and for this purpose there was simply no need for a complicating crossbar.

One simple vertical pole was all that was needed.

Similarly, there is no way that Roman soldiers would have put nails through a prisoner's palms. The weight of the body could have ripped the nails up through the hands, and remounting them would have been too much trouble. The modern concept of using rope to support the weight would also have been an added complication, not to mention that devising something to compensate for a poor basic design would have been seen as inefficient.

A single nail, driven between the wrist bones of the prisoner's crossed hands would have been far more efficient. The nail would never tear out, and the pressure of the nail on the nerves in the end of the wrist (like banging one's funny-bone) would have added to the torture. One could relieve that pressure by supporting one's weight by the legs, but it would be very tiring to do so. Yet relaxing the legs would cause excruciating pain. (The word "excruciating" has the same origin as "crucifixion".) The mental stress of deciding between leg support and wrist pain makes the crucifixion process even more effective in terms of torture.

Yes, there were times when fancy elaborate devices were used to crucify special people or used at special events, but it was only to enhance the entertainment value. One king, for instance, was crucified on a specially constructed "X"-shaped cross. But for the vast majority of people, a simple pole with a single nail through the crossed wrists and one in each ankle got the job done.

The Bible

While some translations (e.g. New World Translation) use expressions like "torture stake", most English translations of the Bible refer to Jesus's execution device as a "cross". The original Greek word is "stauros" (σταυρός), which simply means an upright wooden stake, and has no connotation of having a crossbar.

Jesus, or anyone else, couldn't possibly have carried anything like the large and often elaborate cross we see depicted in churches, books, and films. Nor was he forced to carry only the crossbar, as some people now rationalize the event. The same Greek word is used for what he carried as is used for the execution device.

Even if the Romans had thought of Jesus as deserving special treatment because of who he was (which they didn't), they obviously didn't bother. Jesus was crucified alongside two other criminals, with nothing mentioned indicating that his stake was any different from the other two.

The soldiers were asked to break the legs of the three criminals so that they would die much sooner allowing them to be buried before the Sabbath began at sunset. The leg breaking would speed up the death because the entire body weight would then be on the single nail between the crossed wrists. The pain would be intense and continuous, and any false hope provided by leg support would be gone.

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For brothers and sisters who are wondering about a similar question - after looking at the comment from Steve Taylor and the answer Ray Butterworth (Thanks guys!), I would conclude my own question:

The prophecy fulfilment mentioned in 'John 20:36' was fulfilled by Jesus in a physical manner.

If you wonder how crucifixions were done without hand or feet bones being broken, here are two diagrams for you below (Source: Google Images).

  • For "hands" - between ulna and radius.
  • For feet - between the 2nd and 3rd Metatarsal spaces.

enter image description here

enter image description here

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Here is a helpful picture of the hand showing the bones.

enter image description here

The Roman nails were usually placed between the radius and ulna bones so as to support as much weight as possible. However, Roman crucifixion usually included several other features as two nails between the radius and ulna is not enough to support the body weight.

  • a wooden plate was sometimes used so the head of the nail did not pull through the flesh
  • the feet were nailed similarly to help support the weight
  • such injuries inflicted in crucifixion were not enough to induce death - most died of a combination of exposure, dehydration and asphyxiation because breathing was so difficult
  • occasionally, the arms were partially tied to the cross to help support the weight if the nails showed danger of pulling through the hand bone joints (as could happen)

For much more information, see the copious data on the web such as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion

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