Scientific Evidence for the Resurrection

There are many who think Christians are anti-science. I’m a Christian, but I embrace science and see it as one more tool for finding the truth. I see an all powerful creator in the Big Bang, when our universe exploded into existence in a flash of light out of nothing at all. I see a designer in biological machines like the bacterial flagellum, which cannot be explained through the small, undirected changes required for Darwinian evolution. I see a programmer in the complex and specified information stored in DNA, which controls the development of all living things.

The belief in Jesus resurrection is central to Christianity. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Certainly, faith plays a huge part in that belief. But, I don’t think that God leaves it there. He wants us to seek and find him–even those who might need a little more evidence. He still loved and accepted Thomas, who insisted on seeing the nail-scarred hands and wound in his side. As long as our hearts and minds are open, Jesus will meet us half way. 

For me, the Shroud of Turin is a wonderful confirmation that my faith and my reason are in sync. I believe that Jesus left a final calling card in his burial cloth. For anyone with an open mind, there truly is no explanation other than it being the product of the miraculous. It is a snapshot of the Resurrection. It’s one of those wonderful mysteries that God seems to dangle in front of us as a way to boost the faith of believers, win over agnostics, and confirm the hardheartedness of those who will never believe.

What is the Shroud?

The history of the Shroud can be traced back to at least 1350. For hundreds of years it was moved from place to place and venerated by the church faithful as the burial cloth of Jesus. Not too many others outside the church took notice.  That changed in 1898 when the first photograph was taken of the 14-foot piece of linen. The photographer couldn’t believe his eyes. The images on his plates were a negative that showed the clear image of a face. He was immediately accused of perpetrating a hoax. That changed in 1931 when a second photograph was taken that showed the same thing.

Forty years later some scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratories scanned that 1931 photo with some special equipment and were shocked to find that it was a three-dimensional image–something you would not get if you scanned a normal photo or a painting. That discovery was the impetus for the creation of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) in 1978.

Shroud face
©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc.

STURP involved a team of scientists who were granted round-the-clock access to the shroud for five days. During that time they performed thousands of tests, and when they were done, they had more questions than answers. Their conclusion: “The Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The bloodstains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made . . . the problem remains unsolved.”

What about the carbon dating?

In 1988, Pope John Paul II agreed to let scientists do Carbon 14 dating on the shroud.  Carbon 14 dating requires that the sample be destroyed, so a decision was made to select a piece of the cloth near the edge of the shroud that already showed signs of being severely damaged.  That sample was divided into four pieces and sent to three different labs. When the dating came back it showed the cloth was from 1260 – 1390.  Headlines immediately proclaimed that the Shroud was a medieval fraud.

That conclusion was seriously undermined about fifteen years later.  Raymond Rogers, who was Director of Chemical Research on the original STURP team, still had access to a piece of the cloth that the sample was taken from. He confirmed that the sample that was used had dyed cotton fibers from a medieval repair that was interwoven with the linen and held together by mordant (a gum-like substance used to set dyes). Of course, all of the testing the STURP team did on the area of the Shroud with the image showed no evidence of dyes. Rogers concluded that while the carbon dating was accurate as far as the small edge piece that was tested, that piece was not at all representative of the area of the cloth where the image was. A later look at the thermal photography from 1978 showed that the piece of cloth used for carbon testing was taken from the worst possible spot. While Rogers wasn’t one to believe in miracles, he did later say of the Shroud: “I’m coming to the conclusion that it has a very good chance of being the piece of cloth that was used to bury the historic Jesus.” His findings were published in a peer-reviewed article in the scientific journal Thermochimica Acta in 2005.

Of course, those of us who believed never thought the Shroud was in question. For some, it was pure faith. For others it was common sense. Someone in the Middle Ages trying to fake the burial cloth of Jesus would not know how to produce a three-dimensional negative image on cloth, let alone have reason to when no one would appreciate their handiwork until the advent of photography. If someone were going to create a fake burial cloth back then, they would almost certainly paint or dye a positive, two-dimensional image. A medieval hoax would easily be seen as a fake today. Yet, scientists can’t figure out how the image got there.

Some other guy?

So, if it is not a fake, we have two other possibilities. It is either some other guy who happened to be crucified, or it is the actual burial cloth of Jesus. Let’s see what the Shroud has to say about that.

The image on the Shroud shows a man with puncture wounds through both wrists and through the tops of both feet.  He was beaten, having bruises on his cheeks and forehead, a twisted nose, one eye swollen half shut and a cut upper lip. More than 120 whipping wounds are visible over most of his body, and are consistent with being scourged by a Roman Flagrum. He is cut throughout the scalp by a number of sharp objects, and those wounds would be consistent with the crown of thorns that was forced down on Jesus’ head as he was mocked as the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:29).

They often broke the legs of those who were crucified to hasten death, but the legs of the man on the Shroud were not broken (John 19:33). There is a spear wound in the side of the man on the Shroud with a large amount of blood and fluid. In the Gospels, it’s recorded that the guards saw that Jesus was dead, so rather than break his legs, they stabbed him in the side just to make sure  (John 19:34).

Also, crucified people were not usually buried. They were thrown into common graves, not wrapped in an expensive piece of fine linen. Yet, the Bible records that Jesus was wrapped in cloth and buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43-47).

What’s more, out of hundreds of burial shrouds found, none have an image, and certainly nothing that can’t be explained–only blood and decomposition stains. It’s also quite interesting that there was no decomposition found on the Shroud, and the clots and dried borders of the blood stains  are intact, which seems to indicate that the man in the Shroud was not unwrapped. This would be consistent with Jesus’ miraculous exit after being in the tomb for only three days.

What we are left with, when considering the accounts in the Gospels, and the inexplicable image on the Shroud, is a record of the miraculous moment of Jesus’ resurrection. It explains the fact that we have a one-of-a-kind burial cloth. It explains the unique wounds that are consistent with the historical account. Most importantly, the resurrection explains how the image got there.

Resurrection Radiation

The discoloration that forms the image looks the same as when linen is exposed to radiation, which has been duplicated with similar linen. The image also has the quality of an x-ray taken from the inside. Finger bones, bones extending over the palm, part of the skull at the forehead, the left thumb, parts of the backbone and even teeth have been identified, yet there is no imprint from the outside of the body, including the herringbone weave on the cloth. The image was formed in vertical, straight line paths, described by STURP member John H. Heller “as if every pore and every hair of the body contained a microminiature laser.”

Who do you say he is?

In Luke 16, Jesus tells a parable that ends with the statement, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” I think that’s how it is even today. Some refuse to believe despite the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.

What about you? Are you a believer? If not, Jesus is standing at the door waiting. He is asking the same question that he asked Peter in Matthew 16. “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc.
©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc.