Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 7: The “Break their Legs” Objection
Peter Kreeft’s Objection #2 against the Survival Theory (TST) is based on a dubious passage from the 4th Gospel:
The fact that the Roman soldier did not break Jesus’ legs, as he did to the other two crucified criminals (Jn 19:31-33), means that the soldier was sure Jesus was dead. Breaking the legs hastened the death so that the corpse could be taken down before the sabbath (v. 31).
(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 183)
PROBLEM 1 WITH OBJECTION #2: Roman Soldiers were NOT Medical Doctors
Roman soldiers were not medical doctors, and medical knowledge was very primitive 2,000 years ago. So, even if a Roman soldier was firmly convinced that Jesus was dead, that does NOT prove that Jesus was in fact dead. Modern medical doctors with modern medical training and modern medical equipment still sometimes make a mistaken diagnosis of death, so a Roman soldier who had no modern medical knowledge, no modern medical training, and no modern medical equipment, could surely make a mistaken diagnosis of death.
For example, people who lived 2,000 years ago did not know that the heart is a pump that causes blood to circulate throughout the body. They did not know that blood transports oxygen and nutrients to cells in the body. They did not know that the organs and tissues of the body are all composed of cells, and that the life of an organism depends on the lives of the cells that make up the tissues and organs of that creature.
PROBLEM 2 WITH OBJECTION #2: The Same Passage Implies the Soldiers were NOT Sure Jesus was Dead
Here is the passage that Kreeft references:
31 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.
32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him.
33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
(John 19:31-33, New Revised Standard Version)
Based on the fact that “the Roman soldier did not break his legs”, Kreeft concludes that “the soldier” (if Kreeft had actually read the passage that he references from the 4th Gospel, he would have known that it speaks about “soldiers”, not about “the soldier”) was “sure Jesus was dead.”
However, the very next sentence in the passage from the 4th Gospel implies that “the soldier” was NOT “sure Jesus was dead”:
34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.
(John 19:31-33, New Revised Standard Version)
If the soldiers were “sure Jesus was dead”, then there would be NO POINT to piercing his side with a spear! The motivation for poking or stabbing Jesus with a spear was presumably either (a) to check to see of Jesus reacted with pain, to see if he was still alive, or (b) to CAUSE Jesus to die right then and there, to ensure that Jesus was dead before removing his body from the cross. But on either one of these probable motivations, the soldier who did the stabbing was NOT sure that Jesus was dead, and in all likelihood, neither of his fellow soldiers were sure that Jesus was dead.
If Kreeft had actually read the passage that he is using as evidence here, then he would not have drawn the conclusion that “the soldier was sure Jesus was dead” based on the fact that the soldiers didn’t break Jesus legs. The very passage that he points to contradicts his own conclusion in the very next verse of that passage! Kreeft’s apologetic arguments could be significantly improved if he simply took the time to actually read the passages that he uses as evidence for his conclusions. He was apparently too busy to do so in this instance.
PROBLEM 3 WITH OBJECTION #2: The Key Historical Claims Made by Kreeft are DUBIOUS
Kreeft writes as if Objection #2 was based on historical FACTS:
The fact that the Roman soldier did not break Jesus’ legs, as he did to the other two crucified criminals (Jn 19:31-33), means that the soldier was sure Jesus was dead.
(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 183, emphasis added)
The key historical claims, that Kreeft wrongly categorizes as “fact” are as follows:
- The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus broke the legs of the other men who were crucified along with Jesus, while those men were still hanging on their crosses.
- The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus did not break Jesus’ legs while he was still hanging on his cross, because they believed he was already dead.
These are clearly NOT historical facts. They are questionable inferences based on the unreasonable assumption that the 4th Gospel provides us with reliable historical information about the ministry and crucifixion of Jesus.
There are good reasons to doubt the historical reliability of this passage from the 4th Gospel:
- The 4th Gospel was probably NOT written by an eyewitness of the events it relates.
- The 4th Gospel is significantly less historically reliable than the other Gospels.
- This passage in the 4th Gospel conflicts with related accounts in the other Gospels.
- This passage contains some internal conflicts that cast doubt on its historical reliability.
- The historical claims in this passage can reasonably be viewed as “prophecy historicized”.
- None of the other Gospels corroborate the historical claims that Kreeft makes here.
- None of the other Gospels corroborate the closely related historical claims concerning Jesus being stabbed in his side.
- None of the other Gospels corroborate the closely related historical claim that “the Jews” requested that the bodies of the crucified men be removed from their crosses before the sabbath day began.
- None of the other Gospels corroborate the presence of the “beloved disciple” at the cross (who is supposedly the ultimate source of this account that Kreeft is using as evidence).
- None of the other Gospels corroborate other stories in the 4th Gospel about the “beloved disciple”.
In the next post, I will provide more details concerning these ten points.