Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered 59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review, and has committed himself to counter-response as well: a very rare trait these days. All of this is, I think, mightily impressive.
Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.
He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and eagerly enjoy the dialogue and debate. This is a rare opportunity these days and I am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.
I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.
CONTRADICTION #26 How Could John Know Blood and Water Exited Jesus’s Body?
John 19:34 narrates that “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” However, it is
doubtful that John could have known that water also “bled” from Jesus’s side. Numerous obstacles would make an observance of water flowing from Jesus’s side not plausible.
First, when Jesus’s side is pierced he is hanging from a cross having previously been scourged. Therefore, it would be difficult to see the water
flowing from the side wound as it mixed with the blood from the prior scourging.
Second, given that there is one piercing, the blood and water would be exiting from the same wounded area. Therefore, here too there would be the comingling of blood and water. Assuming this comingling to be correct, how would the witnesses be able to confirm that water also exited this wound area?
Third, there is the issue of sunlight. If Jesus was suspended from the cross several feet off the ground and pierced late in the afternoon, after the three hours of darkness had ended, it is possible that the witnesses would have been looking directly into the sun as it lowered in the western horizon. This looking into the sun could have also impeded their vision. (pp. 185-186)
Either John or some other eyewitness who reported it to him saw what has been verified by medical science; and this is an excellent verification of the trustworthiness and accuracy and (we also say) inspiration of Holy Scripture. A cardio-thoracic surgeon, Dr. Antony de Bono, explained it as follows:
Jesus had a haemothorax, which in the stillness of the dead body, had separated out as they do into two layers: the heavier red cells below and the light watery plasma above. The haemothorax was the result of the savage flagellation.
The withdrawal of the spear would have been followed first by the red cells (blood), then by the lighter plasma (water).
The body of Jesus had been hanging on the cross, dead, for some time. Obviously the fluid must have accumulated during life by a bleeding into the chest cavity, almost certainly due to the savage flagellation.
It is well known that blood in these circumstances in a still dead body starts to separate out, to sediment, the heavier red cells sinking to the bottom leaving a much lighter, straw colored fluid, the plasma above.
When a hole is made by the spear, the red cells, which John describes as blood, gushes out first, followed by the plasma, which John saw as water. [see several other similar medical descriptions]
It’s the consecutive, non-simultaneous draining of the blood first, then water (assuming the above explanation is correct), that would have made it easy to identify by a “lay” onlooker (with the clear fluid being accurately identified as “water”).
Finally, it is rejected that the witnesses would have been permitted to get close enough to verify the water flow. (p. 186)
I submit that it wouldn’t be difficult to see — even quite a ways off — water or a fluid looking like water (the biblical writers habitually use phenomenological language) coming out of Jesus’ side. It would be even easier to see blood (just as one can see blood on the face of a boxer from way up in the stands). The fact that they flowed one after the other, would be even more striking, and perhaps largely accounts for why this story is in John’s Gospel. As it turns out, it’s completely verified by medical science, and the fact that blood came out of Jesus’ side first, followed by a clear liquid, made it possible to clearly distinguish and describe the presence of both.
The only alternative is that the soldier who pierced Jesus’s side is the source of this information. (p. 186)
Alter is constantly ruling out possibilities. He should stop for the sake of his own good, and the effectiveness of his arguments. It could have been any witness, and they didn’t have to be all that close, to notice the change from red blood to a more or less clear liquid. John simply had to consult a witness who saw it happen. It could have been one who was already a Christian and follower of Jesus (one of the “acquaintances”: Luke 23:49) or one who later became a Christian. Or it could come from his own eyewitness experience: standing either close or further away. Or it could even be a non-Christian Jew or Roman who met John at some point: who was impressed by the strange sight to the extent that he or she wished to report it to one who was chronicling these events (either John or some purveyor of an oral tradition that eventually made its way to John).
Summary: Michael Alter contends that it is impossible for John or some other witness to have seen blood & water flowing from Jesus’ side (i.e., an assumed simultaneous flow). A doctor comments . . .
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