Monday, April 27, 2009

Where were the nail-prints in Jesus’ hands - in his wrists or his palms?

This question was raised last Saturday during a day conference on biblical archaeology at Tyndale House in Cambridge. Put simply the problem was stated as follows:

Crucifixion normally involved nailing the victim to a horizontal beam through the wrist between the radius and the ulna (the two bones of the forearm). The nail was then firmly trapped by the carpals from ripping out of the hand between the fingers. If the victim were nailed through the palm of the hand the weight of the suspended body would simply cause the nail to pull through the flesh between the metacarpals (see here for an illustration of the bones involved). That much seems clear. However, in John 20:27 Jesus commands Thomas to:

“…See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [Italics mine]

Surely, the argument goes, if the nail marks where in Jesus’ wrists then he would have told Thomas to look there for them and not in his hands?

Solution

I think the answer to the problem is fairly straightforward, once we look at the Greek text. The Greek word for hand – χειρ – which is used twice in the passage cited above means “A hand or any relevant portion of the hands, including, for example, the fingers.” (Nida & Louw, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, Vol. 1, p. 98.). The question is whether the word “hand” in Greek also included the wrist. The word “wrist” or “wrists” appears only in Acts 12:7 in the NIV New Testament. In the Old Testament it appears twice in the Genesis 38:27 & 30, in Jeremiah 40:4 and Ezekiel 13:18. In Acts 12:7 and in the Septuagint of the OT verses the “wrist” is a translation of χειρ. So, it would seem that “wrist” was included within the semantic range of χειρ and so the problem seems to be solved. John 20:27 could quite accurately be translated: “…See my wrists. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Nida & Louw note that there is a precedent for using a specific body part in place of the general term “hand”. Luke 15:22 reads “…Put a ring on his χειρ…” χειρ here is to be translated finger, not hand.

3 comments:

mike said...

Its may be circumstantial evidence, but it might also be significant here that Russian and other related Indo-Eurpean languages do not have a specific work at all that directly correlates with the English "hand" or "foot."

Alan said...

Mandarin Chinese is the same way, with shou referring to hand, finger, or any part of the arm, depending on the context.

doc303 said...

Luke 24:30-31 - The road to Emmaus.

30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
NKJV

The flowing robes of the first century would have concealed Jesus' wrists while standing or walking. Only as He sat and reached out to give them the bread were His wrists exposed. Supposition, it may be, but the circumstances support my reading of this occasion.