The modern understanding of the English word "pierced" used in these verses (also in Job 16:13; Psalm 22:16; Lamentations 3:13; and Revelation 1:7) does not adequately describe the magnitude of Jesus' terrible wound. When we think of "pierced," we probably think of:
» The minor puncture of the tiny needle used for the medical blood-tests we might have from time to time;
» The minute holes required for earrings; or
» The erroneous view of classical artists who painted depictions of the crucified Christ with small, inoffensive wounds from which drip insignificant trickles of blood.
Webster's Dictionary definitions, however, show that the Bible's translators did an accurate job in translating this word:
» To run into or through as a pointed weapon does;
» To stab;
» To enter or thrust into sharply or painfully;
» To force or make a way into or through.
Here is an excerpt from Albert Barnes' commentary on John 19:34:
[With a spear] The common spear which soldiers used in war. There can be no doubt that such a stroke from the strong arm of a Roman soldier would have caused death, if He had not been already dead. . . . Let the following circumstances be remembered, showing that death must have ensued from such a wound:
(1) The Saviour was elevated but a little from the ground, so as to be easily reached by the spear of a soldier.
(2) The wound must have been transversely upward, so as to have penetrated into the body, as he could not have stood directly under Him.
(3) It was probably made with a strong arm and with violence.
(4) The spear of the Roman soldier was a lance which tapered very gently to a point, and would penetrate easily.
(5) The wound was comparatively a large wound. It was so large as to admit the hand (John 20:27); but for a lance thus tapering to have made a wound so wide as to admit the hand, it must have been at least four or five inches in depth, and must have been such as to have made death certain. If it be remembered that this blow was probably in the left side, the conclusion is inevitable that death would have been the consequence of such a blow. . . .
It is clear that the spear pierced to the region of the heart. . . .
Such a flowing of blood and water makes it probable that the spear reached the heart, and if Jesus had not before been dead, this would have closed His life. . . .
He [John] shows that those who were sent to hasten His death believed that He had expired; that then a soldier inflicted a wound which would have terminated life if He had not been already dead; and that the infliction of this wound was followed by the fullest proof that He had truly expired.
Further research informs us that some Roman spears had larger blades attached to their "business end" for the purpose of inflicting larger wounds. However, if Barnes is correct that the point of this spear tapered gently to a point, the soldier must have viciously twisted it in order to create a five-inch gash. In fact, such a twisting motion, virtually guaranteeing a mortal wound, would have been second-nature to a veteran soldier.
Each year, as we reflect upon the great sufferings of our Savior, let us not be depressed by them. Although we should deeply appreciate the agonies that Jesus endured for us, we should realize that His physical suffering is now over, and has been over for nearly two thousand years. In this regard, Matthew Henry's Commentary on John 19:34 is very interesting, positive, forward-looking, and worthy of some reflection. He notes that the Creator—the One who later became Jesus Christ—pierced and opened Adam's side to create his wife, Eve. Likewise, Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, suffered His own side to be pierced and opened in order for His own Bride to be created.
The members of God's true church constitute the beloved Bride of Christ. Our tiny congregations have the wonderful privilege of being part of that church. As we have seen, Jesus calls on us to remember His affliction, including the piercing, the cup, the sour wine, and the gall. No matter how many years we have rehearsed these events, let us remember once again what our Savior went through bodily for us. As He said to His disciples, "This is My body which is given for you" (Luke 22:19).
Of Sponges and Spears
When Was Jesus Stabbed by the Roman Soldier (John 19:34)?
Diligent study of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ can lead to a host of questions, especially about the timing of events. One question bound to surface concerns the Roman soldier who "pierced His side with a spear" (John 19:34). Did this occur before or after His death? A simple reading through the gospel accounts would seem to answer this question conclusively. The three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) do not mention the incident, while John addresses it after Jesus "gave up His spirit" (19:30). Where is the controversy?
The contention arises from a verse that is not even there! The King James Version leaves out the last part of Matthew 27:49, though it is present in the most ancient manuscripts: "And another took a spear, and thrust it into His side, and out came water and blood." The Moffatt and Fenton translations both include this additional material. What makes it controversial is where these words appear: just before Jesus "yielded up His spirit" (verse 50). Which is right?
They both are! The problem is in the translation of John 19:34: "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out." The culprit is a common Greek tense called the aorist tense.
Spiros Zodhiates, in The Complete Word Study New Testament, explains:
The Aorist Tense is used for simple, undefined action. In the indicative mood, the aorist tense can indicate punctiliar action (action that happens at a specific point in time) in the past. . . . With few exceptions, whenever the aorist tense is used in any mood other than the indicative, the verb does not have any temporal significance. In other words, it refers only to the reality of an event or action, not to the time when it took place. (Emphasis ours.)
Modern translators, however, often render the aorist tense into English as simple past tense. Granted, most of the time this is correct, but in John 19:34 it is an error.
The missing portion of Matthew 27:49 supplies the timing; the soldier thrust his spear before Christ died. In John 19:34, the apostle John describes an event that had happened previously as proof that Jesus had fulfilled the prophecies of Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:10. Thus, a correct translation of this verse is, "But one of the soldiers had pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water had come out."
How do we know this is correct?
1. Matthew 27:50 records that Jesus suddenly "cried out again with a loud voice" and died. The spear thrust, acting as a coup de grace, neatly accounts for His scream of pain, as well as His quick death.
2. Dead bodies do not bleed. Doctors jump through hoops trying to explain how "water and blood" could pour out of a corpse, saying that "in rare instances" such a thing is possible. However, if the spear thrust was pre-death, no such explanation is necessary.
Jesus was stabbed before He died.
Of Sponges and Spears
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 19:34: