John 19:34
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
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(34) But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side.—They had seen that He was dead, and therefore did not break the legs. To cause death was not, then, the object in piercing the side; and yet it may have seemed to make death doubly sure. The word rendered “pierced” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but it is certain, from John 20:27, that the act caused a deep wound, and that the point of the lance therefore penetrated to the interior organs of the body. If the soldier stood before the cross, this wound would naturally be in the left side.

And forthwith came there out blood and water.—“Various physiological explanations have been given of this fact, such as—(1) that the lance pierced the pericardium, which contained a small quantity of watery lymph, which immediately flowed out; and also the heart, from which the blood flowed, the actual death taking place at this moment; (2) that the physical death of Christ resulted from rupture of the heart, and that the cavities of the heart and the surrounding-vessels contained a watery fluid; (3) that decomposition of the blood in the corpse had taken place, the solid matter being separated from the fluid, so that it would appear to be blood mixed with water. (Comp. Notes on 1John 5:5-6.)

Whatever solution we adopt, it is clear that death had taken place some time previously (John 19:30), and that, while we cannot say which physical explanation is the true one, there is within the region of natural occurrences quite sufficient to account for the impression on the mind of St. John which he records here. We have to think of the disciple whom Jesus loved looking at the crucified and pierced body of his Lord, and remembering the picture in later years, and telling that there flowed from that pierced side both blood and water.

19:31-37 A trial was made whether Jesus was dead. He died in less time than persons crucified commonly did. It showed that he had laid down his life of himself. The spear broke up the very fountains of life; no human body could survive such a wound. But its being so solemnly attested, shows there was something peculiar in it. The blood and water that flowed out, signified those two great benefits which all believers partake of through Christ, justification and sanctification; blood for atonement, water for purification. They both flow from the pierced side of our Redeemer. To Christ crucified we owe merit for our justification, and Spirit and grace for our sanctification. Let this silence the fears of weak Christians, and encourage their hopes; there came both water and blood out of Jesus' pierced side, both to justify and sanctify them. The Scripture was fulfilled, in Pilate's not allowing his legs to be broken, Ps 34:20. There was a type of this in the paschal lamb, Ex 12:46. May we ever look to Him, whom, by our sins, we have ignorantly and heedlessly pierced, nay, sometimes against convictions and mercies; and who shed from his wounded side both water and blood, that we might be justified and sanctified in his name.One of the soldiers - One of those appointed to watch the bodies until they were dead. This man appears to have doubted whether he was dead, and, in order to see whether he was not yet sensible, he pierced him with his spear. The Jews designed that his legs should be broken, but this was prevented by the providence of God; yet in another way more satisfactory proof was obtained of his death than would have been by the breaking of his legs. This was so ordered, no doubt, that there might be the fullest proof that he was truly dead; that it could not be pretended that he had swooned away and revived, and so, therefore, that there could not be the least doubt of his resurrection to life.

With a spear - The common spear which soldiers used in war. There can be no doubt that such a stroke from the strong arm of a Roman soldier would have caused death, if he had not been already dead; and it was, doubtless, to furnish this conclusive proof that he was actually dead, and that an atonement had thus been made for mankind, that John mentions so particularly this fact. Let the following circumstances be remembered, showing that death must have ensued from such a wound:

(1) The Saviour was elevated but a little from the ground, so as to be easily reached by the spear of a soldier.

(2) the wound must have been transversely upward, so as to have penetrated into the body, as he could not have stood directly under him.

(3) it was probably made with a strong arm and with violence.

(4) the spear of the Roman soldier was a lance which tapered very gently to a point, and would penetrate easily.

(5) the wound was comparatively a large wound. It was so large as to admit the hand John 20:27; but for a lance thus tapering to have made a wound so wide as to admit the hand, it must have been at least four or five inches in depth, and must have been such as to have made death certain. If it be remembered that this blow was probably in the left side, the conclusion is inevitable that death would have been the consequence of such a blow. To make out this fact was of special importance, probably, in the time of John, as the reality of the death of Jesus was denied by the Gnostics, many of whom maintained that he died in appearance only.

Pierced his side - Which side is not mentioned, nor can it be certainly known. The common opinion is that it was the left side. Car. Frid. Gruner (Commentatio Antiquaria Medica de Jesu Christi Morte, 30-36) has attempted to show that it must have been the left side. See Wiseman's Lectures, pp. 161, 162, and Kuinoel on John 19:34, where the arguments of Gruner are fully stated. It is clear that the spear pierced to the region of the heart.

And forthwith came ... - This was evidently a natural effect of thus piercing the side. Such a flowing of blood and water makes it probable that the spear reached the heart, and if Jesus had not before been dead, this would have closed his life. The heart is surrounded by a membrane called the pericardium. This membrane contains a serous matter or liquor resembling water, which prevents the surface of the heart from becoming dry by its continual motion (Webster). It was this which was pierced and from which the water flowed. The point of the spear also reached one of the ventricles of the heart, and the blood, yet warm, rushed forth, either mingled with or followed by the water of the pericardium, so as to appear to John to be blood and water flowing together. This was a natural effect, and would follow in any other case. Commentators have almost uniformly supposed that this was significant; as, for example, that the blood was an emblem of the eucharist, and the water of baptism, or that the blood denoted justification, and the water sanctification; but that this was the design there is not the slightest evidence.

It was strictly a natural result, adduced by John to establish one fact on which the whole of Christianity turns that he was truly dead. On this depends the doctrine of the atonement, of his resurrection, and all the prominent doctrines of religion. This fact it was of importance to prove, that it might not be pretended that he had only suffered a syncope, or had fainted. This John establishes. He shows that those who were sent to hasten his death believed that he had expired; that then a soldier inflicted a wound which would have terminated life if he had not been already dead; and that the infliction of this wound was followed by the fullest proof that he had truly expired. On this fact he dwells with the interest which became a subject of so much importance to the world, and thus laid the foundation for undoubted assurance that the Lord Jesus died for the sins of men.

34. But one of the soldiers—to make assurance of the fact doubly sure.

with a spear pierced his side—making a wound deep and wide, as indeed is plain from Joh 20:27, 29. Had life still remained, it must have fled now.

and forthwith came thereout blood and water—"It is now well known that the effect of long-continued and intense agony is frequently to produce a secretion of a colorless lymph within the pericardium (the membrane enveloping the heart), amounting in many cases to a very considerable quantity" [Webster and Wilkinson].

But one of the soldiers, to make sure of him, pierced his side, out of which it is said that there presently came forth blood and water. That there should come out blood is no wonder, nor yet that there should come forth water. Blood being congealed, it is ordinary to see water on the top of the vessel where it is. And besides, anatomists tell us, that in the hollow part of the breast there are watery as well as bloody humours in the membrane that encompasses the heart, which being pierced, and the water let out, the living creature dieth necessarily. But yet in regard of the next words,

He that saw it bare record, and he knoweth that he saith true, &c., most divines think, that there was some mystery in this water and blood which came out of Christ’s side pierced. Some would have the two sacraments of the gospel signifies by this water and blood. Christ is said to have come by water and blood, 1Jo 5:6; that is, say interpreters, he brought in a true expiation of sins by his blood, and the laver of regeneration, washing the soul from its filthiness: and thus be proved the true Antitype, answering the Jewish types in sacrifices and divers washings.

But one of the soldiers,.... Whose name some pretend to say was Longinns, and so called from the spear with which he pierced Christ:

with a spear pierced his side; his left side, where the heart lies; though the painters make this wound on the right, and the Arabic version of Erpenius, as cited by Dr. Lightfoot, adds the word "right" to make the miracle the greater: this the soldier did, partly out of spite to Christ, and partly to know whether he was really dead; and which was so ordered by divine providence, that it might beyond all doubt appear that he really died, and was not taken down alive from the cross; so that there might be no room to call in question the truth of his resurrection, when he should appear alive again:

and forthwith came there out blood and water; this is accounted for in a natural way by the piercing of the "pericardium", which contains a small quantity of water about the heart, and which being pierced, a person, if alive, must inevitably die; but it seems rather to be something supernatural, from the asseverations the evangelist makes. This water and blood some make to signify baptism and the Lord's supper, which are both of Christ's appointing, and spring from him, and refer to his sufferings and death; rather they signify the blessings of sanctification and justification, the grace of the one being represented by water, as it frequently is in the Old and New Testament, and the other by blood, and both from Christ: that Christ was the antitype of the rock in the wilderness, the apostle assures us, in 1 Corinthians 10:4 and if the Jews are to be believed, he was so in this instance; Jonathan ben Uzziel, in his Targum on Numbers 20:11 says that

"Moses smote the rock twice, at the first time , "blood dropped out": and at the second time abundance of waters flowed out.''

The same is affirmed by others (h) elsewhere in much the same words and order.

(h) Shemot Rabba, sect. 3. fol. 94. 1. Zohar in Num. fol. 102. 4.

{11} But one of the soldiers with a spear {d} pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

(11) Christ, being dead upon the cross, witnesses by a double sign that he alone is the true satisfaction, and the true washing for the believers.

(d) This wound was a most manifest witness of the death of Christ: for the water that issued out by this wound shows us plainly that the weapon pierced the very skin that encompasses the heart, and this skin is the vessel that contains the water; and once that is wounded, the creature which is so pierced and stricken has no choice but to die.

John 19:34. The soldiers, when they saw, etc. The death of Jesus, in keeping with their attitude of indifference in the matter, had therefore been unobserved by them (in answer to Hengstenberg); they now omitted the leg-breaking in His case, as aimless in the case of one already dead. But one pierced Him with a lance in the side. Wherefore? Not in order to ascertain whether He was actually dead; for, according to the context, the thrust took the place of breaking the legs. Hence it must be assumed, according to the analogy of the latter, that the object of the thrust was to make quite sure of the death of Jesus, i.e. in case He should not yet be altogether dead, to put Him completely to death.

αὐτοῦ τ. πλευράν] His side. Which? is not clear; but the left, if he who dealt the thrust stood before the cross, was most naturally at hand.

ἔνυξε] Neither the word itself (since νύσσειν ordinarily denotes violent thrusting or stabbing; especially frequent in Homer, see Duncan, ed. Rost, p. 796), nor the person of the rude soldier, nor the weapon (lance, belonging to the heavy armour, Ephesians 6:11), nor the purpose of the thrust, nor the palpable nature of the opening of the wound, to be assumed, according to John 20:27, nor ἐξεκέντησαν, John 19:37, admit the interpretation, which is implied in the interest of an apparent death, of a superficial scratch (Paulus).

αἷμα κ. ὕδωρ] is, considering the difference and significance of the two substances, certainly not to be taken as a hendiadys (“a reddish lymph,” Paulus[251]). Whether the blood and water issued forth contemporaneously or after one another, does not appear from the words. In the natural[252] mode of regarding this twofold issue, it is thought either (1) that Jesus was not yet dead, but simply died in consequence of the thrust, which pierced the pericardium with its watery lymph, and at the same time the chamber of the heart, from which the blood welled (so the two physicians Gruner in the Commentat. de Jesu Chr. morte vera non simulata, etc., Halle 1805), to which, however, the mode of contemplation of the entire apostolical church is opposed, which was certain, and had the personal testimonies of Christ Himself to the fact that in His crucifixion itself the putting to death was accomplished. Or (2) it is assumed that the blood had been decomposed in the corpse (Hase, Krabbe, and several others), so that serum, bloody water, and placenta, clots of blood, separately issued forth; which separate outflow, however, of the constituent parts of blood cannot, in the case of a fresh body that had been healthy, be anatomically established. Or (3) the heart is considered, just as the Gruners suppose, as having been pierced through, though the death of Jesus is assumed to have already previously taken place (Beza, Calvin, Grotius, Wetstein, and several others), as also Ewald, Gesch. Chr. p. 584 (the death of Jesus was a sudden breaking of the heart), holds to be most probable. Not substantially different is the view of the English physician William Stroud, A Treatise on the physical cause of the death of Christ, London 1847, comp. Tholuck, who, besides the cavity of the heart, brings into consideration also the two bags of the diaphragm, with the fact of their fluidity in corpses. This mode of regarding the matter renders unnecessary the entirely arbitrary theory of Ebrard, p. 563 ff., of extravasations and sugillations which the thrust occasioned,[253] and would be quite satisfactory if John had desired to give an account generally of a natural, physiological effect of the lance-thrust. But irrespective of the fact that he adduces nothing which would allow us to think in ὕδωρ not of actual water, but of lymph (ἰχώρ), he desires to set forth the phenomenon manifestly as something entirely unexpected (note also the εὐθύς), extraordinary, marvellous. Only thus is his solemn asseveration in John 19:35, and the power of conviction for the Messiahship of Jesus, which he finds in the truth of the ἐξῆλθεν, κ.τ.λ., to be comprehended. To him it was not a subsidiary circumstance (Ebrard, comp. Lücke on John 19:35, and Baeumlein), which convinced the soldier who gave the thrust of the death of the Crucified One, but a miraculous σημεῖον, which further set forth that the corpse was that of the divine Messiah (τρανῶς διδάσκον, ὅτι ὑπὲρ ἄνθρωπον ὁ νυγείς, Euth. Zigabenus), of whose specific calling and work, blood and water are the speaking symbols, in so far, that is, as He has by blood brought the redemptive work to completion, and by means of water (i.e. by means of the birth from above, which takes place through baptism, John 3:5) has appropriated it; a significance which Tholuck also esteems probable in the sense of the Gospel. Comp. also Steinmeyer, who, however, ascribes to the water only the subordinate purpose, to place the blood under the point of view of the definite (purifying) operation. Luther: “our redemption is concealed in the miraculous work.” Comp. 1 John 5:6, where, however, τὸ ὕδωρ, agreeably to the standard of the historical point of view (ἐλθών), stands first. See also Weiss, Lehrbegr. p. 255. We must abide by this exegetical conclusion[254] (comp. Hengstenberg on John 19:37), and must renounce the demonstration of natural connection not less than in other miraculous appearances of the evangelical history.[255] The figurative interpretation or explaining away of the fact itself (Baur, p. 217 ff.: by reference to John 7:38-39 : it is the representation, contemplated by the writer in a spiritual manner, of the idea that with the death of Jesus there immediately begins the fulness of spiritual life, which was to proceed from Him on behalf of the world) is only possible on the assumption that neither John nor He gave an historical account, as further Baur (see p. 272 ff.), whom Scholten follows, refers the entire narrative of the omission to break the legs, and of the side-thrust, simply to the dogmatic interest of representing Jesus as the true Paschal lamb, and thereby the turning-point at which the O. T. economy of religion ceased to exist, and the new began, the essence of which is contemplated in the blood and water that flowed out. See in opposition to Baur: Grimm in the Stud. u. Krit. 1847, p. 181 ff., and 1849, p. 285 ff.

[251] To this conclusion Hofmann also (Weissag. u. Erfüll. II. p. 148 f.) again involuntarily returned, understanding undecomposed, still flowing blood, as a sign that the body of Jesus was exempt from corruption. See, in opposition, also Luthardt. But Hofmann, in his Schriftbew. II. 1, p. 490, has renounced the above interpretation, and now has represented the matter thus: the bleeding away of the dead one had been so complete, that at last not blood, but water flowed, and this was to the apostle a proof that Jesus’ corpse remained exempt from corruption, which begins with the decomposition of the blood. Comp. also Baumgarten, p. 423 f., and Godet. But so physiological an observation and conclusion is not to be adopted without some more precise indication; and of the complete bleeding away on which, finally, water flowed, the text says nothing, but speaks simply and solely of blood and water, which issued forth.

[252] In a natural way, but in a higher sense, Lange, II. p. 1614 f., explains the phenomenon from the process of change through which the body of Christ was passing. A precarious expedient, in which not only is the possibility of a clear representation wanting, but also the essential and necessary point of the reality of the death, as of the condition of separation from the body, is endangered, and instead of the death, the beginning of another modality of corporeal life is conceived; while, generally also, the process of this assumed change must have been passed through in a very material way. Besides, the body of the Risen One had not yet been transformed (He still eats, still drinks, etc.), though altered and become more spiritual, but the transformation first begins at the ascension (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53). A possible preparation for this transformation from the moment of death onwards is beyond the scope of any more exact representation, and very precipitate is the conclusion that this preparation must also have announced itself by some sign in the wounded body.

[253] They originated, he thinks, through the distension of the muscles, and from them the water issued; but in penetrating deeper the lance also touched places of fluid blood.—But in this way not αἷμα καὶ ὕδωρ, but ὕδωρ καὶ αἷμα would have issued forth.

[254] Fathers and artists have decked it out in monstrous colours, e.g. Nonnus, διδύμαις λιβάδεσσιν, first blood, then θέσκελον ὕδωρ flowed; Prudentius, Enchir. John 42: both sides were pierced; from one blood, from the other water flowed. See also Thilo, ad Cod. Apocr. p. 587 f. In the two substances the two sacraments were symbolically seen, as Augustine, Chrysostom, and many others; Tertullian, Euth. Zigabenus, and several others saw therein the baptism of water and the baptism of blood. Comp. Cornelius a Lapide in loc. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have also recently been found set forth in several ways in water and blood. See particularly Weisse, II. p. 326 f. In this way historic truth is of course given up. Hilgenfeld, Evang. p. 317: “The redemptive death is the condition of the Christian sacrament generally, which here in its twofold form figuratively flows forth from the body of the crucified One.” This, he thinks, naturally suggested itself to John, since according to his representation Jesus was the true paschal sacrifice, the recognition of which in the Gentile world is brought into view by the lance-thrust of the Roman soldier. Other arbitrary explanations in Strauss.

[255] The symbolic signification in regard to the true expiatio, and the true lavacrum, is also assumed by Calvin; but he disputes the supernatural element in the fact: “naturale enim est, dum coagulatur sanguis, omisso rubore fieri aquae similem.”

John 19:34. But one of the soldiers λόγχῃ αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν ἔνυξε, “pierced His side with a spear”. But Field prefers “pricked His side” to keep up the distinction between ἔνυξε (the milder word) and ἐξεκέντησε (John 19:37). He favours the idea of Loesner that the soldier’s intention was to ascertain whether Jesus was really dead, and he cites a very apt parallel from Plutarch’s Cleomenes, 37. But ἔγχεϊ νύξε occurs in Homer (Il., John v. 579), where death followed, and as the wound inflicted by this spear thrust seems to have been a hand-breadth wide (John 20:25) it may be presumed the soldier meant to make sure that Jesus was dead by giving Him a thrust which itself would have been fatal. The weapon with which the blow was inflicted was a λόγχη, the ordinary Roman hasta, which had an iron head, egg-shaped, and about a hand-breadth at the broadest part. Following upon the blow εὐθὺς ἐξῆλθεν αἷμα καὶ ὕδωρ. Dr. Stroud (Physical Cause of the Death of Christ) advocates the view that our Lord died from rupture of the heart, and thus accounts both for the speedy cessation of life and for the effusion of blood and water. Previous literature on the subject will be found in the Critici Sacri and select passages in Burton’s Bampton Lec., 468–9. Without physiological knowledge John records simply what he saw, and if he had an eye to the Docetae, as Waterland (John v. 190) supposes, yet his main purpose was to certify the real death of Jesus. The symbolic significance of the blood and water so abundantly insisted on by the Fathers (see Burton, B. L., 167–72, and Westcott’s additional note) is not within John’s horizon.

34. pierced] To make quite sure that He was dead. The Greek word is not the same as that used in John 19:37; this means either to ‘prick’ or to ‘stab,’ that to ‘pierce deeply.’

blood and water] There has been very much discussion as to the physical cause of Christ’s death? and those who investigate this try to frame an hypothesis which will at the same time account for the effusion of blood and water. Two or three such hypotheses have been put forward. But it may be doubted whether they are not altogether out of place. It has been seen (John 19:30) how the Evangelists insist on the fact that the Lord’s death was a voluntary surrender of life, not a result forced upon Him. Of course it may be that the voluntariness consisted in welcoming causes which must prove fatal. But it is more simple to believe that He delivered up His life before natural causes became fatal. ‘No one,’ neither Jew nor Roman, ‘took it from Him’ by any means whatever: ‘He lays it down of Himself’ (John 10:18). And if we decline to investigate the physical cause of the Lord’s death, we need not ask for a physical explanation of what is recorded here. S. John assures us that he saw it with his own eyes, and he records it that we ‘may believe:’ i.e. he regards it as a ‘sign’ that the corpse was no ordinary one, but a Body that even in death was Divine.

We can scarcely be wrong in supposing that the blood and water are symbolical. The order confirms this. Blood symbolizes the work of redemption which had just been completed by His death; and water symbolizes the ‘birth from above,’ with its cleansing from sin, which was the result of His death, and is the means by which we appropriate it. Thus the two great Sacraments are represented.

John 19:34. Λὁγχῃ, with a lance or spear) which would not [i.e. in such a way as that he did not] touch Jesus’ bones. Yet the wound was a large open one, wide enough to hold in it not merely a finger, but the whole hand: ch. John 20:27, Jesus said to Thomas, “Thrust thy hand into My side:” and an altogether deadly wound, if it were inflicted on any living person.—πλευρὰν, side) the left side perhaps. Comp. Psalm 91:7.—εὐθέως ἐξῆλθεν αἷμα καὶ ὕδωρ, forthwith there came out blood and water) That blood came out was strange; that water also came out was still more so; that both came forthwith, at the one time, and yet distinct from one another, was most marvellous of all. From what quarter of the body the blood and water came, from the chest, or from the heart, or from some other part, who will define? The water was pure and real, just as the blood was pure and real: and the water is said to have flowed after the blood, that it might be perceived that the Saviour had wholly poured Himself out. Psalm 22:15 (14), “I am poured out like water.” The verb ἐξῆλθεν may be either translated by the Singular [agreeing with each subject, αἷμα and ὓδωρ, separately] or by the Plural [the two neuter nouns being taken as a collective Plural, agreeing with the verb Singular]. The asseveration of the Evangelist, who was at the same time a Spectator and a Witness, shows both the truth and the greatness of the miracle and of the mystery. Comp. 1 John 5:6; 1 John 5:8, note, [“This is He that came by water and blood—not by water only, but by water and blood—There are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood.” Not merely did He undertake the office of fulfilling all righteousness, by submitting to baptism, Matthew 3:15, but consummated what He undertook by having shed His blood, John 19:30; John 19:34.]

John 19:34With a spear (λόγχῃ)

Only here in the New Testament. Properly, the head of a spear. So Herodotus, of the Arabians: "They also had spears (αἰχμὰς) tipped with an antelope's horn sharpened like a spear-point (λόγχης)" (vii., 96). Used also, as here, for the spear itself.

Pierced (ἔνυξεν)

Only here in the New Testament. The question has been raised whether the Evangelist means to describe a gash or a prick. Another verb is rendered pierced in John 19:37, the quotation from Zechariah 12:10, ἐξεκέντησαν, which occurs also at Revelation 1:7, with reference to Christ's crucifixion, and is used in classical Greek of putting out the eyes, or stabbing, and in the Septuagint of Saul's request to his armor-bearer: "Draw thy sword and thrust me through therewith" (1 Chronicles 10:4). The verb used here, however, νύσσω, is also used to describe severe and deadly wounds, as in Homer:

"As he sprang

Into his car, Idomeneus, expert

To wield the ponderous javelin, thrust (νύξ) its blade

Through his right shoulder. From the car he fell,

And the dark night of death came over him."

"Iliad," v. 45-47.

It has been suggested that the body was merely pricked with the spear to ascertain if it were yet alive. There seems, on the whole, no reason for departing from the ordinary understanding of the narrative, that the soldier inflicted a deep thrust on the side of Jesus (compare John 20:25, John 20:27); nor is it quite apparent why, as Mr. Field urges, a distinction should be kept up between the two verbs in John 19:34 and John 19:37.

Blood and water

It has been argued very plausibly that this was a natural phenomenon, the result of a rupture of the heart which, it is assumed, was the immediate cause of death, and which was followed by an effusion of blood into the pericardium. This blood, separated into its thicker and more liquid parts, flowed forth when the pericardium was pierced by the spear. I think, however, with Meyer, that John evidently intends to describe the incident as something entirely unexpected and marvelous, and that this explanation better suits the solemn asseveration of John 19:35. That the fact had a symbolic meaning to the Evangelist is evident from 1 John 5:6.

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