Is the Shroud of Turin Authentic?

An Article from Pastor Paul Boutan

Recently, in our “Ask a Pastor” inbox I was asked about the Shroud of Turin. They said they attended a presentation about it, which caused them to wonder if the Shroud was authentic? The Shroud of Turin seems to be shrouded in mystery and cloaked in controversy. Some believe this to be the actual burial cloth that Jesus was wrapped in. Others would argue that it is an outright fraud.

The Shroud is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Turin, in Turin Italy, hence it’s called the Shroud ofTurin. Many, tend to think of it as a “head or face covering.” However, the Shroud is a large rectangular“body wrap,”that measures 14ft x 3ft 7in. On this cloth, appears to be an image of a crucified man.

On the surface, one might be inclined to think that perhaps this was the “shroud” that Jesus was buried in. After all Matthew 27:59 says,“And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud.”The Greek term used for “shroud” is sindoni which describes a large sheet of fine linen. All three of the Synoptic Gospels mention that Jesus’s body was wrapped in this large cloth, after He was taken off of the cross (Matt 27:59, Mrk 15:46, Lk 23:53). However, Jesus may not have been buried in this “shroud” or large linen sheet. Think of the large linen sheet as more of a stretcher to carry the body with rather than a wrapping to cover the body with. When we look at the biblical account, we can easily conclude that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus used this cloth to carry Jesus to Joseph’s tomb. However, once they arrived at the tomb, they would then prepare His body for burial. John 20:5 says that when Peter looked in the empty tomb after the resurrection he saw, “strips of linen lying there” (NIV). The term for “strips of linen” in the Greek is “othonia” which can be literally translated “bandages.” At the time of Christ, the typical burial custom is that they would prepare the body by mixing spices like myrrh and aloes (John 20:39). They would use approximately a half of a pound of spices for every pound of body weight. This spice mixture was made into a thick paste. The body would be wrapped in linen strips or bandages, which were then covered in a thick coat of that spiced paste. Once the paste hardened, the linen bandages would form a hardened cocoon around the body. The same process was repeated to cover the head. This was the normal Jewish custom for burial. Analysis done on the Shroud of Turin have found no traces of these spices on the cloth. Based on the description the gospel of John gives us, we may easily conclude that Jesus was not buried in a shroud, but in a cocoon of linen bandages. However, some scholars point out that it’s possible that Jesus may have been buried in both linen bandages as well as a linen shroud.

Arguments For the Authenticity of the Shroud

Perhaps the most prominent Christian proponent of the Shroud is Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University, who argues that “the evidence reveals that the Shroud of Turin is probably the actual burial garment of Jesus.” He goes on to say that it also serves as evidence of His resurrection. Habermas points out that while it’s true that the “typical” Jewish burial custom was to “wrap” the deceased almost like an Egyptian mummy, there were a few sects of the Jewish community like the Essenes who would have wrapped them in a shroud. Furthermore, The Code of Jewish Law states that “one who was killed should be buried in a single plane sheet of linen.” Dr. Gary Habermas then says that scientific testing has revealed that the “man” buried in the Shroud of Turin was both wrapped in four strips of linen and covered with a shroud. He believes the wounds on the “man” in the shroud are consistent with the wounds Jesus would have sustained during the flogging and crucifixion as well as the wound in His chest from a spear. Two scientists from the University of Turin Bruno Barbaris and Tino Zeuli, estimate that the odds that another man other than Jesus sustained the exact same wounds as Jesus, would be 1 out of 225 billion. Finally, Habermas states that he believes that the Shroud of Turin is evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. He says several pathologists have studied the image and have concluded that “man” in the shroud had not been unwrapped. Meaning that no one took the body out of the shroud, it just sort of evaporated or dematerialized. Habermas goes on to point out that one theory as to how this may have happened, has to do with high levels of radiation that may have supernaturally burst out of the body of “Jesus” when he was being resurrected. This burst of energy is perhaps what left this image on the shroud. Dr. Habermas has published his detailed case for the authenticity of the shroud in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Problems With the Shroud’s Authenticity The Shroud of Turin was “discovered” or at least first mentioned in history in 1354 (more than a thousand years after Jesus). However, in 1389 it was denounced as a fraud by the Bishop of Troyes. Additionally, in 1390, Bishop Pierre d’Arcis wrote a letter to Pope Clement VII, declaring the shroud was a forgery and that the artist who created it had confessed (Inquest on the Shroud of Turin by Joe Nickell). In 1988, a group of researchers with STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project) tested the shroud with radiocarbon dating and dated its origins to the Middle Ages between the years of 1260 and 1390. Researchers Joe Nickell and Gregory S. Paul point out several anatomical inconsistencies with the image on the shroud. Paul points out that the face and proportions of the images on the shroud are anatomically impossible, the arms too are long, the forehead too small, the distance from the eyebrows to the top of the head is unrealistic. Likewise, the face and hands are depicted with great detail, but his abdomen and gluteal areas are practically invisible. The right forearm and hand are unrealistically elongated allowing him to cover his “private” parts. Most researchers conclude that this appears to be the work of an artist who was concerned with protecting the “modesty” of Jesus. Scientific investigation has found no evidence of paint or dye that would indicate this to be the work of an artist. However, Dr. Nicholas Allen seems to have proven that a crude photographic technique from the 13thcentury could have produced such an image. To demonstrate this Allen successfully reproduced images similar to the shroud using only the techniques and materials available during the Middle Ages of the 13thand 14thcenturies. Dr. Allen described this process in great detail in his book Turin Shroud: Testament to a Lost Technology. Proponents of the shroud argue that the image was created supernaturally by a burst of ultraviolet radiation that was caused when Jesus was resurrected. However, researchers with STURP such as Raymond Rogers, have debunked that theory pointing out that such a burst would have caused“easily observable changes in the linen. No such effects can be observed in the image fibers from the Shroud of Turin”he then says that radiation has“made no contribution to the image formation.” So, What Does All This Mean? On the one hand there’s evidence that may prove that the Shroud of Turin is indeed an authentic historical artifact that serves as actual proof of the resurrection. On the other hand, there’s equal evidence that illustrates that the Shroud may be nothing more than a forgery. In my opinion whether the shroud is an authentic burial cloth of someone who was crucified or if it’s a flat out fake, in the end it doesn’t really matter. If it is indeed real evidence of the resurrection, great I can add it to this list of archeological discoveries that validate my faith. However, if the Shroud of Turin is nothing more than a 13thCentury fraud, my faith stays fully intact. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus because God’s word declares that it happened. Personally, the greatest evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is not that an image which may or may not be Jesus has been found on a burial cloth, but it’s the fact that the living Jesus Christ, has changed my life. Besides, 2Cor 5:7 reminds us that “we walk by faith, not by sight.” Whatever the Shroud of Turin may or may not be, I think we need to be careful that we don’t turn an artifact into an idol. Unfortunately, in the human heart is the tendency to turn relics into objects of worship. Some people will drive a thousand miles to hold a prayer vigil at the house of someone who found an “image of Jesus” in a tortilla chip. Using an image or a relic to help us pray, or worship or to “connect” with God is nothing more than idolatry. Keep in mind that God said,“you shall have no other gods before Me” (EX 20:3) and He will not share His glory with idols (IS 42:8). Jesus said that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” not with idols, images, and relics.