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Is the Shroud of Turin Authentic?

Many believe that the Shroud of Turin pictures Jesus Christ at the time of His death and burial. Apart from the fact that John 19:40 shows that Christ was wound in linen CLOTHES and that John 11:44 describes the custom of Jewish burials in using several CLOTHES and binding them about the dead body, in addition to the dead person’s face being wrapped with or in a cloth (a head swath), there are numerous additional problems with the idea that the one-piece shroud may be an authentic depiction of Jesus Christ.

On April 17, 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported:

“When the Shroud of Turin goes on display Sunday [April 19, 2015] for the first time in five years [while being on display until June 24, 2015], it will revive a long-running debate as to whether it is a medieval fabrication or—as Catholic devotees have believed for centuries—the burial cloth of Jesus Christ… The 14½-foot-long piece of linen, which bears a front-and-back image of a dead man’s body, is owned by the pope but safeguarded by the archdiocese of Turin.

“… the church does not take a stance as to whether it is authentic or not, leaving that question to scientists and historians. The results of carbon-14 tests in 1988 suggested the shroud was no older than the 13th century, but other experts have since suggested that the fabric tested may have been contaminated by centuries of handling…”

According to the Los Angeles Times, dated October 14, 1988, Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero said that the “calendar age range assigned to the shroud cloth, with a 95% confidence level, is from 1260 to 1390 A.D.”

To contradict this conclusion, some point at traces of pollen from plants found only in the east Mediterranean [The retort is that those could have been easily brought to the place of the “creation” of the shroud.]. It has also been argued that extraneous matter, or radioactivity, could have skewed the carbon-dating results (The Economist, May 5, 2015). Most recently, it has been suggested that the great earthquakes mentioned in the Bible at the time of Jesus’ death and His resurrection (Matthew 27:51-53; 28:1) influenced, corrupted and falsified the finding of the radio-carbon test (The Today Show, NBC, June 17, 2015). All these proposals are of course without any scientific or archeological proof.

However, the real biblical reason which rules out totally the possibility of an accurate depiction of Christ on the Shroud of Turin, can be found in the writings of Paul to the Corinthian church.

In a Q&A on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, we explained that the Shroud of Turin could not possibly picture Jesus Christ, as it shows a man with long hair, and Christ did not wear long hair (verse 14).

We explained the following:

“… we are told that a man is not to wear ‘long hair,’ and that even nature teaches us that wearing long hair is a ‘dishonor’ to a man. The Greek word for ‘dishonor’ is ‘atimia.’ This word, or a related form (‘atimos’), can be found in the following additional passages: Romans 9:21; 1 Corinthians 15:43; 2 Corinthians 6:8; 2 Timothy 2:20; 2 Corinthians 11:21 (translated as ‘shame’); and Romans 1:26 (translated as ‘vile’). Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance points out that ‘atimia’ can describe a comparative indignity or disgrace (under No. 819). The related word, ‘atimos,’ can describe something ‘less honorable [comparative degree]’ (under No. 820).

“…  the Old Testament permitted a man on special occasions to wear long hair. This exception is set forth in Numbers 6, known as ‘the Law of the Nazarite.’ Men were permitted to make a temporary ‘Nazarite vow’ to God. During the time of their vow, a Nazarite was not to cut his hair, but let ‘the locks of the hair of his head grow’ (verse 5). In addition, he was not to touch a dead person, eat any fresh grapes or raisins, or drink anything made from grapes, including wine. This law was inseparably connected with the ritual law of sacrifices: At the end of the separation, the Nazarite had to bring several offerings, and he had to go through additional rituals before the priest.

“The long hair of the Nazarite vow reflected, in physical terms, the willingness of the person to be under authority — under the authority of God. Sometimes, certain people were consecrated from their birth as Nazarites, to be separated to God throughout their lives. Famous examples are Samson (Judges 13:5,7); Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11); and — perhaps — John the Baptist (Luke 1:15; Luke 7:33).

“Jesus, however, was not a Nazarite. He grew up in the city of Nazareth and was therefore called a ‘Nazarene’ (Matthew 2:23) — which is of course quite different from being a Nazarite.”

Since we have no record of a written Old Testament prophecy regarding to Christ being called a Nazarene, we conclude that Matthew is referring here to an oral prophecy (He specifically states that this had been “spoken” of Jesus.) However, in Isaiah 11:1, Christ is called the “Branch,” in Hebrew “nezer.” This Hebrew word is very similar to the Hebrew word for Nazarene. It has therefore been suggested that Jews at the time of Jesus might have understood this verse to refer to someone from Nazareth.

In any event, Christ was not a Nazarite, because He did many things which were prohibited for Nazarites.

To continue with our above-quoted Q&A:

“Christ drank wine (Matthew 11:19; Matthew 26:29), and He touched dead people (Luke 8:49-55) — things a Nazarite was prohibited from doing. Archaeology and history have established that the Jews at the time of Christ did not wear long hair. Jesus did not wear long hair, either. He looked like a Jew — so much so that Judas had to kiss Him to identify Him to the soldiers that had come to arrest Him. [In addition, a Roman triumphal arch of the time period depicts Jewish slaves with short hair.] After all, it was He — the Word of God — who inspired Paul to write that a man is not to wear long hair. For Paul, this fact was so self-evident that he asked his readers, ‘Does not even nature itself teach you’ this truth? (1 Corinthians 11:14).

“In the early New Testament church, we do find occasional references to some who continued on occasion to make a temporary Nazarite vow (compare Acts 21:23-24, 26-27). It is possible that even Paul made a temporary Nazarite vow for a short time… However, these vows ceased within the church when the temple was destroyed, as the purification ceremonies could not be carried out any longer.”

It has been suggested that even though Jesus was not a Nazarite from birth, He made a temporary Nazarite vow from time to time. The Bible does not support this claim; in any event, Christ would not have been under a Nazarite vow at the time of His death; that is, He would not have worn long hair at that time. Note that at the end of the Nazarite vow, the Nazarite had to “shave his consecrated head” and burn his long hair which had been cut off (verse 18). But as long as the Nazarite was subject to and under his vow, he could not drink any wine or even “any grape juice” (Number 6:4).

We know, however, that Jesus kept the last Passover with His disciples on the night when He was betrayed, and at that time, they all drank the Passover wine together (Matthew 26:27-29; Mark 14:23-25; Luke 14:17-18  ). Therefore, Christ could not have been under a Nazarite vow at that time, which means, He did not wear long hair at the time of His death.

To summarize, whatever the Shroud of Turin is and however it came into being, it is quite impossible to conclude that it contains an accurate portrayal of Jesus Christ.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link