Monday, 14 July 2014

Turin Shroud


Called one of the most venerated relics in the Catholic Church, the Turin Shroud is believed by many to be the burial sheet which wrapped the body of the Lord Jesus. The Shroud measures 14 feet 3 inches long and is 3 feet 7 inches wide. It bears the double image, cast like a shadow, of a powerfully built man with a beard and long hair, laid out in death. It was photographed for the first time in May 1898 and the negative image showed the horrific injuries of a man who died from crucifixion.  Bloodstains appear on the neck, wrist, feet and chest. On the rare occasions when it is displayed some 50,000 people queue each day for short time the Shroud is on display. Often their time of viewing is limited  to a mere two minutes before being required to move on.

Carbon dating dated the Shroud back only to around 1300 AD but experts warned then that fire and water damage suffered by the Shroud could affect the accuracy of the test. Besides carbon dating enjoys a greater press than it really should as it has proved notoriously wrong in the past. One scientist admitted that if carbon dating supported your theory it was quoted in the text of your report, if it was not all that far out, it was relegated to a foot note and if it was distant from what you wanted, you omitted it altogether! We should not let carbon dating influence our thoughts on this matter.  It is interesting that whilst the Catholic Church has not formally made any claims, yet 3 Popes have pontifically sanctioned the cult of the Holy Shroud of Turin. Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini announced that any priest visiting the relic will be able to absolve any woman in the city from the sin of abortion - an act only reserved for the Pope, a local bishop or any one authorised by the bishop. It would therefore appear that the Church accepts the authenticity of the Shroud. Certainly if it is not genuine, being either a genuine mistake or an elaborate hoax, then  we must wonder at the legitimacy of the  various spin-offs associated with it. What, for instance, if this was the burial sheet that covered the body of that unrepentant thief who died cursing Christ? It is highly unlikely that it was, for the bodies of criminals were usually taken down from the cross and burned. But if, somehow, this was his sheet, then what power could it have? Also, when Jerusalem was overthrown in  70 AD , there were so many Jews crucified that they ran out of trees - what if this winding sheet belonged to an unbelieving Jew? Furthermore, even if it is the genuine article, on what basis can it give any man power or authority to forgive sin? “Who can forgive sin, but God only?” (Mark 2:7) But whatever interesting side issues crop up, we have a right to enquire: Is this Shroud the authentic burying sheet of the Lord Jesus?


Matthew 27:58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
SUMMARY: Matthew records that there was one clean linen cloth.

Mark 15:44 And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. 45 And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.
SUMMARY: Mark simply records that Jesus was wrapped in linen. His account is more ambiguous than that of Matthew.

Luke 23:52 This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.
SUMMARY: Luke follows Marks account. Very simply - wrapped in linen.

John 19:38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. 39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. 40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
John 20:2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. 3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. 4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. 5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. 6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, 7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. 8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.
SUMMARY: Out of the four evangelists, John gives us the fullest account. John twice tells us that the body of Jesus was wound in linen clothes - (plural) and also that a napkin or handkerchief was used to bind Christ's head. This handkerchief was separate from the linen clothes and wrapped in a place by itself. It was usual for the Jews to bind the head of the corpse with a napkin. It had been this way with Lazarus of Bethany whom the Lord Jesus raised again from the dead:

John 11: 44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Note again the plural in the grave clothes for Lazarus, but especially the face bound with the napkin.

If the gospel writers contradict each other, then the whole gospel is a sham. In such a case of apparent contradictions, we look to see if we can reconcile the passages together. We have already seen how both Mark and Luke are very ambiguous in their account. They do not tell us anything about the number of cloths used - only the material. Matthew states that a linen cloth was used, but importantly, he does not say that only one linen cloth was used. John tells us twice over that Jesus was bound in linen clothes. Where you have two (or more) of something, you must by necessity have one of it also.  Without contradicting any of the others, John gives us the fullest account and says quite clearly that more than one cloth was used to bind the body of the Lord Jesus.

Since this is so, it is hard to see how the single sheet on display at Turin, bearing the full imprint of a crucified man could be authentic. Of course, there are many questions to which answers would be interesting. Why was the sheet kept in the first place? Does it survival of two major fires mean anything? [The relic was almost destroyed by fire in 1532. The silver casket housing the Shroud melted in the intense heat and burned holes right through the folded cloth. Twenty four patches were required to repair the most damaged areas, but amazingly the image itself was not touched.] All sorts of claims are made concerning the Shroud - but when all is said and done, there is a major obstacle in reconciling its claim to fame with the infallible word of God. Do we seek to silence God because His word stands in the way of popular opinion? Is it not better that popular opinion be dictated to by the word of God. It was the wise course of the Psalmist David to test all things by the word of God:

Psalm 119:128 Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.


What if there is an answer that can reconcile this single sheet in Turin with what God has written in His word  - what then? This leads us on to the second question: IS IT RELEVANT? Let us suppose that the Shroud of Turin really was the very burying sheet. What do we do?

It is at questions like these, that we ought to thank God that He has given us the Book that is for many of us the sole rule of faith and practice. When others are “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine…” (Ephesians 4:14) we have something solid that will survive every storm. Since “there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) the Bible has this situation covered. All that changes are a few local details, but there is nothing new in the people being faced with a relic on display. Please read on…


If you are interested in antiquity, consider that the passage below was written approximately 550 years before the Shroud of Turin  came into existence and speaks of an event  which occurred some 350 years before that again.  I speak of King Hezekiah and the serpent of brass. 2 Kings 18:1-7 reads as follows:

2 Kings 18:1 Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. 2 Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Abi, the daughter of Zachariah. 3 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did. 4 He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. 5 He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. 6 For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.


The inspired writer makes this clear. It was the brazen serpent which Moses had made (v4) It was not merely based on tradition or legend. The connection with the Shroud of Turin  can be clearly seen, although the case for the serpent is stronger again. However this enables us to argue from the greater to the lesser.


It’s story is told in Numbers 21:4-9 where (to summarise) it was used by God to heal those who gazed upon it after been bitten by the serpents. The glory of the serpent lay far deeper however than a mere physical healing. It’s relevance is heightened by the fact that the Lord Jesus referred to it in John 3:14-15:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Hezekiah’s relic had been used as a type of Christ. God had used it to teach the truth that those who look to Christ are saved. Just as Moses lifted it up in the wilderness, so too Christ would be lifted up on a Cross and all who looked in faith to Him would be pardoned and forgiven. They were not to try and save themselves from the serpent’s sting. They were not to look to one another, or even to Moses. They were commanded to look in faith to the serpent on the pole and any man when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.  Likewise the Lord Jesus can say: Isaiah 45:22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

This is the only way of salvation. We made mention earlier on to one of the thieves who died on the Cross beside Jesus. He was saved at the last moment. That very day, Jesus said, he would be in paradise. How was he saved? By looking to Christ. He was not saved by good works, since his hands were nailed to a Roman Cross and he could do no good work. He was not saved by any church sacrament, for there is no mention of any in the gospel record. With all due respects to the Blessed Virgin, the thief does not seem to notice her at all even although she is standing within earshot. He was saved by simply looking in faith to the Lord Jesus. As it was for him, so too with us. As Isaiah makes clear in the quotation above, this is a message for all men - the ends of the earth. Those who look in simple faith and repentance to Christ are saved for eternity!

The Turin Shroud cannot claim a history like this. If indeed it is the genuine thing, it has a story to tell. It is but another evidence for what we read in the Bible. But the “faith of God's elect” (Titus 1:1) does not stand on the availability of relics.  Perhaps many such relics were in abundance during the days of the apostles.  Yet when Peter gave the grounds by which the gospel was preached, he did not link it to a few relics, but to “the word of the Lord (Bible) which endureth for ever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25) Not a few relics have been found to be false. To put unswerving faith in a relic is to build upon a foundation of sand. But Hezekiah’s relic had a glorious history indeed.


It is worth noting that the people of Hezekiah’s day showed great interest in this relic. It did not suffer the indignity of apathy. Very few said “So what?” People cared greatly Moses had once used this very relic to deliver the people during the wilderness years of the nation. They recognised its great significance.

However, they went to the other extreme. They paid it homage. They “did burn incense unto it” Perhaps someone here asks the obvious: Can we not revere something without actually worshipping it? Such distinction often exists only on paper and not in reality. Augustine said:

“No man prays or worships looking on an image without being impressed with the idea that it is listening to him.” (Epistle 49)

Hezekiah saw the danger that this relic was posing. There was plenty of idolatry against which he could have taken his stand. He could have spared the serpent and smashed the rest. Certainly he  would have had he followed the argument that since this relic was encouraging the people to pray then it must be good. After all, could we not say that there was an improvement here? At least, the people were interested in a Biblical item! But Hezekiah did not swallow that one. He had an insight which very few seem to have today. He perceived that the serpent of Moses was the greatest threat to the spiritual well being of the people and therefore most worthy of his attention. He smashed it in pieces!

“That which was at first a type of the Saviour, is now a deadly engine of the enemy.  Hezekiah willingly forgets who made the serpent, when he sees the Israelites make it an idol. It is no less tolerable for God to have a rival of His own making.” (Joseph Hall)

He did not engage in half measures. This relic was not merely withdrawn from public view. Perhaps like the Shroud of Turin , such would only increase its aura and mystique. He did not merely break it in two with an eye to future repairs when the climate would be more suitable. No, he “brake it in pieces” - he reduced it to a pile of rubble. It was final. To “add insult to injury” he gave it a name of reproach. He called it “Nehustan” or “a piece of brass” or in modern language: “Scrap metal!” Supposing you were to go to Turin with insight that the famous Shroud was indeed the very winding sheet of the Lord Jesus. Supposing you were to rip it up into a thousand pieces and call it a “mere cloth” or “an old rag”  - what do you think would happen? Do you think that you be hailed as a hero? Would you not be regarded as an unspeakable villain?


It is to be noted that Hezekiah is set forth in this short passage as a good man. Read the appraisal of the Holy Spirit upon his life and character. There was no divine judgement upon his head  - only divine praise. It is interesting to read that he kept the law of Moses (v6) even though he destroyed the very relic which Moses, under God, had created.

Should the Shroud of Turin  be destroyed? I am not saying that it ought to be, but I will answer that question with others: What if it was? Would it be a big loss? Furthermore, which would be the greater loss - the shroud which some openly pray to and worship (remember Augustine’s observation above) or the soul’s of those who openly flout the second commandment which clearly forbids the worshipping of any image? Jesus asked two very important questions in Mark 8:36-37:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Would it not be better to destroy this relic if it kept some benighted soul out of the blackness of darkness forever? Man corrupts everything he puts his hand to. It should be possible to put  something like this on display without someone attributing powers to it. Even if it is the true shroud, what power can it give any priest to forgive (as it has been claimed and indeed promised) a woman who wilfully murders the fruit of her womb? Such teaching is void of any Scripture basis.


We have tried to be neither emotive or offensive in our study on this subject. We are not asking you to agree with our opinion, but simply to accept the verdict of the Scripture which, when all is said and done, must be accepted as the sole rule of faith and practice.

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