Near Death Experiences – Responding to the “Dying Brain” Hypothesis

Medical science today can bring people back from the brink of death. In the last fifty years, doctors, philosophers, and theologians have been studying a phenomenon called Near-Death Experience (NDE). This is an altered state of consciousness some people experience when close to death, and also when in a completely flat-line physical state, or clinically dead. Doctor Raymond A. Moody did the first major study of thousands of these reported experiences, publishing the first book on NDEs in 1975 – Life After Life. Moody notes that, while NDEs are in some senses a modern phenomenon, resulting from medical advances in technology and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, he also finds evidence of them occurring in ancient Greek philosophy from thousands of years ago. Plato’s Republic recounts the tale of Er who was apparently killed in battle, yet revived during his funeral, and told the tale of leaving his body and entering the afterlife before returning. Democritus founded atomic theory, and in his fragmentary surviving writings, show an interest in many “returning from the dead” stories.[1] NDEs have been happening throughout human history it seems.

In this blog series I am going to argue that naturalistic explanations for NDEs fail to account for the evidence surrounding the cases I assess, and they aren’t sufficient to account for the cumulative weight of testimonial and veridical NDE evidence. Susan Blackmore’s naturalistic “dying brain” hypothesis claims NDEs occur within a dying individual’s head, they are not instances of a soul departing the physical body. First, I’ll discuss her physiological argument, then I will assess her psychological argument. I will argue Blackmore’s argument does not adequately account for testimonial and veridical evidence of particular NDEs. I will then discuss the important veridical phenomenon called “shared NDEs” and finally, I will assess how I think NDE reports are consistent with a Biblical view of life after death and can therefore withstand challenges from NDE skeptic Christians. I conclude that NDEs complement a Christian view of life after death.

Defining Near-Death Experiences

An NDE is an event sometimes reported by people who return from either a near-death or complete clinical death state. Three hundred million contemporary cases exist from Near-Death experiencers (NDErs) of different ages and cultures. Jeffrey Long surveyed over six hundred NDErs to identify common elements in their experiences. Over fifty percent reported an out-of-body (OBE) experience where consciousness apparently left their body. They experienced heightened senses, encountered an unearthly kind of world, and met a mystical light, spiritual beings, or previously deceased relatives. They described a love and beauty that was hard to articulate. This group also recounted a decision during the NDE to return to their body. Under fifty percent of NDErs experienced an OBE involving tunnel traversal, a life review assessing how they had impacted others in life, and a one-way barrier.[2] Long also reports NDErs are profoundly changed by their experience, becoming more loving, and knowing decreased fear of death.[3] In a small number of cases, Long encountered evidence of frightening, or hellish NDE experiences.[4]

Responding to Blackmore’s Physiological Dying Brain Hypothesis

Susan Blackmore is a psychologist who engages with NDEs from her naturalistic worldview, seeking to ground them in physiological and psychological terms alone. Physiologically, she observes the human brain requires oxygen to function, and at some point, the oxygen supply to the brain of a dying person will cease. Eventually, the brain enters a state of oxygen deprivation called anoxia. Studies on fighter pilots show that under extreme G forces they experience G-LOC, temporary acceleration induced anoxia.[5] Blackmore suggests the effects mirror NDEs; unconsciousness, having an OBE, vivid dreams, and seeing loved ones.[6]

NDEs may be like the effects from anoxia, yet fundamental differences exist. First, unconscious G-LOC subjects encounter living loved ones, while NDErs report only meeting dead relatives. If the NDE is due to anoxia close to death, surely comforting images of living relatives would appear, not dead ones. William Serdahely opines the dying brain hypothesis fails to account for these visions of dead relatives.[7] Second, the clarity of a subject’s anoxic experience differs from the average NDE. Blackmore’s G-LOC study records during unconsciousness, the anoxic subject displays total incapacitation followed by a period of confusion until consciousness returns.[8] Anoxia causes confusion that impairs human perception.

Chris Carter describes high altitude mountain climber studies that match the pilot G-LOC studies. As the brain loses oxygen, disorientation and confusion occurs, and one’s capacity for completing tasks is impaired.[9] Yet Long’s NDErs experienced complete loss of brain function combined with extreme clarity of thought and heightened awareness during their NDE. Dr Pim van Lommel observes during NDE, “there … [is an] inverse relationship between the clarity of consciousness and the loss of brain function.”[10] This suggests anoxia differs fundamentally from the NDE experience. Carter supports this conclusion with Allan Pring’s testimony. Pring experienced both high altitude anoxia and an NDE later in life. Assessing both experiences, he concludes, “there was no similarity. On the contrary, the whole [NDE] … was crystal clear and it has remained so for the past fifteen years.”[11]

However, a more fundamental challenge to Blackmore’s hypothesis comes in Vicki Umipeg’s case. She died in a sudden car accident and experienced a vivid NDE that she recounted upon resuscitation.[12] In her case, the brain had no time to succumb to the chemical changes caused by anoxia before her NDE began. This reinforces the conclusion that these oxygen deprived brain states are quite distinct from the NDE experience, so the physiological dying brain hypothesis fails to account for this NDEer testimonial evidence.

In part two of this series, I will respond to Blackmores psychological explanation for NDEs.

[1] Raymond A. Moody, “Near-Death Experiences An Essay in Medicine and Philosophy,” in The Science of Near-Death Experiences, John C Hagan III MD, ed, (University of Missouri Press, 2017), 11-12.

[2] Jeffrey Long and Paul Perry, Evidence of the Afterlife The Science of Near-Death Experiences, (New York:HarperCollins, 2010), EPub edition, 5 – 20.

[3] Long and Perry, 50.

[4] Jeffrey Long, “Frightening NDEs,” Evidence of the Afterlife – Supplementary Material, accessed 3rd November, 2021,

[5] Susan Blackmore, Dying to Live Near-Death Experiences, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1993), 57.

[6] Ibid., 59 – 60.

[7] William Serdahely, “Questions for the Dying Brain Hypothesis,” Journal of Near-Death Studies, 15(1), 1996.

[8] Blackmore, 57 – 58.

[9] Chris Carter, Science and the Near-Death Experience How Consciousness Survives Death, (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2010), 162.

[10] Van Lommel, “Consciousness Beyond Life,” quoted in John Burke, Imagine Heaven Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future that Awaits You, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015), 326.

[11] Fenwick and Fenwick, “The Truth in the Light,” quoted in Carter, 168.

[12] J. P. Moreland, A Simple Guide to Experience Miracles Instruction and Inspiration for Living Supernaturally in Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Reflective, 2021), 232 – 233.

We Talk Together Like We Are Souls

I was sitting in the dentist chair, mouth open.

“So, Stuart. How’s the crown been?”

I closed my mouth. Peta’s a great dentist. She did a fine job on my crown back in April. It was my first root canal treatment, and it was not as unpleasant as I thought it was going to be.

“Yes – fine,” I replied. “Although … it feels kind of weird sometimes.”

Her face turned a bit quizzical. “How so,” she asked.

I realised I’d started a conversation I wasn’t sure how to finish. “Well, I thought that since you had killed the nerve in that tooth during the root canal, that I wouldn’t feel anything in that part of my mouth any more. But – that’s not entirely true. I do feel something around that particular tooth.”

“Is it painful? Can you chew on that side of your mouth?”

“Oh – no…it’s not painful at all. Yes I can chew…”

“Well what’s the problem?” Her professional dentistry was kicking in. I gulped.

“There’s no problem. It’s just an odd sensation that I’m getting used to, I guess.”

“What does it feel like?”

Oh no. That was the question I didn’t want her to ask. “How do I describe this to you? I have no idea. But it feels different…it’s an odd sensation.”

Thankfully, at this point she smiled at me.

“My old dental assistant Morag had a crown fitted once, and she described a similar thing to me. My problem is – I have never had a crown or a root canal so I can’t relate to the sensation that you and Morag are experiencing.” It’s true. Peta’s not only got a beautiful face, she’s also got immaculate teeth! It’s sure a comfort when your dentist has nice teeth. “Also – look, Stuart. The x-ray is fine and I’m happy with it. You are able to chew and have no pain…” She was marshalling the evidence in a convincing way.

“Right,” I replied. “I can live with ‘weird.’ There’s no problem here.”


As Peta completed my dental check-up, something occurred to me. This conversation is a great example of how we talk to each other as if we are embodied souls, rather than physical biological machines. We talk like we are people with bodies composed of physical brains, teeth, mouths, etc. But it’s the person who possesses these physical organs who we are really interacting with as we have a discussion.

Here’s one way to defend the claim that I am an embodied soul. It was proposed by Stewart Goetz, and is summarised by J P Moreland in his recent book “The Soul”. In this, I am assuming my mind is a property of my soul.[1]

1 – I am essentially an indivisible, simple spiritual substance.

We know this by personal introspection. When we enter deeply into ourselves, we are aware of some properly basic facts that aren’t supported by any other facts. We just know them:

  • I’m aware of my own self.
  • My self is distinct from my body.
  • My self is distinct from a mental experience.
  • I am a spatially un-extended, simple centre of consciousness.

2 – A physical body has spatial extension and separable parts.

For example, my teeth have a location in my skull, size and weight.

3 – The law of identity says if x=y then whatever is true of x is true of y.

4 – What is true of me, is not true of my body therefore I am not my body.

There are various ways to show this premise is true.

For example, there is physical brain activity whenever I am thinking. But just because A causes B, this does not mean A=B. Rather, it could also mean that A and B are closely correlated together. When my mind grapples with complex abstract concepts, there is measurable brain activity. This doesn’t mean my physical brain is conscious of concepts. It just means that my brain activity correlates to the activity of my immaterial mind.

Also, another way is the difference between my mind and the chemical/physical cause and effect relationships between physical parts of my brain. The activity of my free will is of a different order to physical cause and effect. Where  I can freely make personal choices that aren’t constrained by physical cause and effect, where my brain is a physical object that cannot.

Another example, sometimes people have regions of the brains removed. While this may or may not affect elements of their personality, they are still the same person they were before and after the procedure. Clearly, some brain trauma and disease does affect the survivor’s life afterwards. I know people experiencing this right now, and sometimes we say “They are like a different person.” But surely they aren’t. Surely, their condition shows a difficulty they now experience in coming thru and expressing themselves in the physical world, rather than them being completely altered and being an actual different person on the basis of a physical event or disease?

5 – If I am not identical with my physical body then I am a soul.

My physical properties are different from my mental properties. But they seem to work together.

6 – Therefore I am a soul.


The conversation with my dentist reminds me we are souls:

“How has it been?” she asked me. She assumes I am the same person today who experienced the fitting of the crown back in April. Even though my physical body has changed at the cellular level in the intervening time, I am still me. I’m the me who went to the dentist with a sore tooth, experienced a root canal and crown, and came back 6-months later for a check-up.

Also – she’s not asking about physical cause and effect. She’s asking about my freely formed opinion.

“How does it feel?” she asked me. The physical pain receptors in my body fire, send signals to the brain via the c-fibres. How does this feel? If there’s just a physical brain sitting at the end of the c-fibres – there’s no one to experience a sensation. These signals are being interpreted by someone. ME.

“It’s an odd sensation,” I replied. So – I’m aware of a sensation in my mouth.

“The x-ray showed everything was fine,” she replied as she marshalled the evidence against me. Yes! Using physical methods, she verified everything was working in my mouth. From the outside in, she is sure that the physical procedure has been successful. But…is that all this conversation is about? No – the thoughts of a patient’s mind are part of this too.

“I don’t know what your sensation is like,” she honestly replied. Exactly. She knows things look good on the outside. But she’s never had a root canal herself. She cannot by personal introspection, share the experience I am having. She can only ask me what it’s like and listen to my (admittedly poor) description.


In the end, this discussion was not actually about my physical mouth, the gum or the tooth or the nerves. Actually – the conversation was about how I feel about living my life with a crowned tooth. This was about the thoughts and feelings of my embodied mind or soul, that result from the physical alteration she skilfully made to my physical body.


What’s more, this conversation between us has been a meeting of minds. We often use that phrase, don’t we? “A meeting of minds.” Surely the purpose of the conversation was for two embodied souls to talk and to understand each other.


It seems to me that people talk to each other like we are souls. And if that’s right…there’s a lot more to this life than we might realise there is right now.

[1] J P Moreland, The Soul How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014).

EVOLUTION and the Gap


I’ve spent my life unconvinced by Neo-Darwinian claims that life arose on this planet over a long time by purely natural means – random genetic mutations combined with the observed process of natural selection.

I’m clearly swimming against the tide of opinion here.

Sometimes, people will react in horror or amusement when I question Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy. After all – this is the science we learned as kids at school. We remember the pictures from the science textbooks. Routinely – the response I get from people is:

  • Evolution is a fact. It describes how life arose.
  • Anyone who questions evolution …is living in the dark ages of human knowledge.

This might be a common assumption. What I find fascinating is – there’s a massive gap between society’s widely held beliefs about the capabilities of “evolution” …and scientists’ beliefs on the effectiveness of the modern synthesis (textbook Darwinism) to explain life’s origin. It seems that the general public have greater confidence in Darwin…than an increasingly large number of scientists do.

In November 2016, there was a meeting at the Royal Society called “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.” During this meeting, evolutionary biologists clearly laid their cards on the table. Their admissions may surprise you.

Gerd Müller (Austrian evolutionary theorist) said that the modern synthesis (Neo-Darwinism) fails to account for:

  • The origins of the anatomy of living creatures (eyes, ears and body plans).
  • The origins of new forms of life throughout the history of life.
  • Abrupt discontinuities in the fossil record, when complex new life forms appear suddenly.[1]

Müller referred to the gap in understanding between scientists and the public. Even tho Neo-Darwinism continues to be “presented to the public via textbooks as the canonical understanding of how new living forms arose,”[2] the theory lacks the creative power to generate novel anatomical traits and forms. He was simply saying that – contrary to popular belief – evolution does not currently account for the origins of life.

Jim Shapiro (professor of microbiology) went on to show evidence that evolution does not progress slowly and randomly. Rather, cells adjust themselves rapidly and in real-time:

  • Many mutational processes in life aren’t random at all. They seem to operate under “algorithmic control.”
  • Life seems to possess a pre-programmed adaptive capacity.[3]
  • These adaptions can occur in very short periods of time.[4]

I found a great example of this behaviour from microbiologists in the University of Reading in the UK: [5]

Today’s experimental biology is showing that, “cells perform adaptions of astonishing sophistication in real time, but these events are emphatically non-random. This means that evolution has goals, and so too do organisms.”[6]

Yet no one asks the question, “where do the non-random, sophisticated pre-programmed real-time capacities originate from?” Life just finds a way. Why?



There’s a gap between the popular understanding and the honest, scientific assessment.  There’s no working theory that explains how life arose by purely random naturalistic processes. As paleontologist Graham Budd has observed, “When the public thinks about evolution, they think about [things like] the origin of wings…But these are things that evolutionary theory has told us little about.”[7]  Further – life can adapt at a staggering speed and level of sophistication.


The history of science is littered with theories that worked for a while, but were abandoned when we learned that, while they were successful in predicting some observations, the theory turned out to be false. It seems like scientific thinking on “evolution” must evolve to let go of the old ideas about gradual, naturalistic random change. We need to move forward now. The increasing evidence pointing towards purpose, intention and design in life needs to be better understood.





Image courtesy of Pexels.


[1] Why the Royal Society Meeting Mattered, in a Nutshell, Evolution News & Science Today,, accessed 2nd January 2018.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Landmark conference puts Neo-Darwinism and its atheist evangelists on thin ice, Premier Christianity,, accessed 2nd January 2018.

[5] Bacteria evolve over a weekend, UniofReading,, accessed 2nd January, 2018.

[6] Landmark conference.

[7] Why the Royal Society Meeting Mattered, in a Nutshell.

RESPONDblogs: Human Beings are Unique


What are we?


I listened to an interesting talk recently from Simon Conway Morris, who is Chair of Evolutionary Paleo biology at the Dept. of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University.


He asks the question – are we essentially just more “evolved” animals that belong on Darwin’s incremental tree of life? Or is there something unique about people compared to the animals? However much time has elapsed, perhaps we aren’t just naturally selected incremental improvement? Rather – we are something different altogether.


Evolutionary theory has drummed into us that we are essentially no different from other animal species. We’re related to other hominids. We are just matter – we are physical – we are all related. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this idea.


Or are we? As Morris says, “Maybe it’s not as simple as that.”[1]



First – we often misunderstand the animals we invest our lives in.

Morris thinks we have a habit of reading ourselves into the animals we relate to. Our relationship with dogs is a perfect example of this, he says. We humanize them…and they are happy to play along with our delusion. But crucially – as Morris points out – the evidence suggests that dogs have no idea what is going on inside our minds. They react to stimuli – they learn what actions and objects mean and sound like. Nothing more.


Dogs live happy and fulfilled lives as our pets. But we are of a different order to them.


We are not the only intelligent species on the planet – but it seems that our consciousness is of a completely different order to anything else. We live in an extended universe – the animals are confined to a monotonic universe. And they are happy that it is so.


What experimental evidence does Morris appeal to in making this claim?


Second – Morris offers the following evidence:


1 – Humans Uniquely Understand Cause and Effect

There’s evidence that crows are very intelligent. An experiment has been done where the bird has to perform a task – drop stones into a container – in order to raise the water level so it can have a drink. The fascinating thing is – often the crow will work this out. It will find and deposit the stones to raise the water level.

It is tempting to assume then – that it understands cause and effect, that it gets the implication of what it’s doing. Unfortunately – when the conditions of the experiment change – it becomes clear that the crow doesn’t understand this.

Yes, it has memory, yes its intelligent. But no, it’s not building up an understanding of nature. It can do one thing well – and that involves survival.


2 – Humans Live in an Out of the Box Culture

We can think in terms of “analogy”; we are meta-thinkers that can work outside of the box. We explore seemingly unrelated ideas and come up with ingenious solutions to problems.

A simple example of this is – humans use tools. We employ them in many tasks, and the evidence suggests we have done this for a long time. Chimpanzees also use tools.

Yet we go beyond them; we live outside the box. We are the only species we know today that creates tools to build tools. What’s more, we rely on the discoveries and processes laid down by previous tool builders as we do so. Human culture is cumulative, it builds on itself.

Animals like chimpanzees don’t exhibit this behaviour at all. They use tools, they have a culture. But they don’t appear to KNOW they have a culture, and they don’t build tools to make tools.

Morris opines, “This sounds like a trivial difference. But it might be larger than we realize.”[2]


3 – Human Culture Features Teaching and Learning

Humans have a sophisticated approach to teaching. We have a self-referential pedagogical approach – the teacher observes the pupil and knows where their mind is currently at. Through observation, the teacher works to move the student forward to where they need to be. We intuitively sense the student’s mind.

Do animals? Morris refers to various species of Ant, Meercat and chimp. And the scientific observation to date suggests that which the animals instinctively develop habits and abilities, they do so in a simple way. Animals don’t go to University like humans do. We are of a different order.

Do animals have false beliefs about the world? Do they have a theory of mind? Current understanding says no, it doesn’t look like it.


4 – Human Language is Very Peculiar Indeed

Morris refers to Vervet Monkeys who have been observed to make sounds that seem to relate to other animals in their habitat like a leopard, a snake and an eagle. This sounds like it could be a proto-language, like the foundations of our own language capabilities?

Well, clearly, we have words that also refer to objects and concepts. This blog post is full of them! But our language isn’t just a more evolved version of the Vervet Monkey’s sound. Why?

Morris points to two peculiar aspects of human language:

  • We can say things that go beyond a single meaning. Our communication can have an infinite number of meanings, depending on the context it is used in.
  • We have a bottomless depth of rich imagination in human discussion. We easily move between factual and fictional statements. And we have the ability to create fictional worlds – completely unrelated to our own – where the reader can enter through their imagination. And the fictional world resonates deeply with them.


5 – Humans Apply Mathematics in a Unique Way

Experiments suggest that Guppy fish exhibit numericity. They are able to judge relative numbers in terms of distance and size.

For example, if some were to say – “Imagine you have a stone and a feather. How much do I have to add or remove from each to perceive a difference in their weights?” It turns out that I have to add or remove quite a lot from the stone, but not very much at all to the feather to notice a weight change. This is numericity…and Guppy fish can do something similar to this.

Is this proto-maths? Well, it’s called a psycho-physical sensory effect by the scientists. But to suggest it is proto-maths is nonsense to Morris.

Mathematics is a rich conceptual language that bridges the abstract and the physical. Maths:

  • involves abstract entities that don’t exist; numbers, complex numbers.
  • requires that we can do sums like addition and subtraction. Animals can’t seem to do that.




Are we just advanced chimpanzees? Morris suggests this well-worn message fails to recognize the uniqueness of human beings. It underplays our conscious, thinking abilities that came up with that inadequate theory in the first place.

Humans are of a different order to animals. We have “dominion over the natural world” and uniquely exhibit the characteristics of our Creator.[3] This is not just the Bible’s opinion, it is born out in our relation to those animals we were supposed to care for.

But aren’t we just physical beings like the animals? Is brain simply a biological computing engine? Morris thinks otherwise. He’s a substance dualist. Mind and brain are different aspects of human existence.

The physical human brain seems to be more than a biological information processing organ. It’s a filter. Our intangible, human mind exists independently of our physical bodies. Our brain is part of the mechanism we use for intercepting, exploring and harnessing what goes on in our minds.

People aren’t just more advanced than the animals. We’re built specially; we’re of a different order altogether.


Image courtesy of New Old Stock.

[1] Simon Conway Morris, The Emergence of Life, James Gregory Lectures on Science and Christianity,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Genesis 1:26 – 27.


RESPONDblogs: Was Jesus Dead When He Was Laid In the Tomb?


It is all very well presenting the historical evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection, as I did here. But if Jesus wasn’t actually dead before he was laid in that well known tomb…the conclusion is completely invalid. If Jesus of Nazareth survived his crucifixion, then there could be no miraculous resurrection…cos he wasn’t dead to begin with!
So I need to ask – is there any way of working out whether or not Jesus actually died as a result of his documented crucifixion by Roman Soldiers outside Jerusalem during the reign of Roman Emperor Tiberius?

Alex Metherell, M.D., Ph.D. is a forensic pathologist, a medical detective who has performed countless autopsies. He has a medical degree from the University of Miami and a doctorate in engineering from the University of Bristol. He has written for publications ranging from Aerospace Medicine to Scientific American.

Alex is also a Christian and, because he is a pathologist, he has studied the historical, archaeological and medical data concerning the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Alex Metherell has studied the available data and he believes there is no possibility that Jesus of Nazareth survived the agonising experience of crucifixion. Jesus was dead when he was laid in that well known tomb.

A rather graphic summary (apologies!) of Alex’s evidence is listed below:



Psychological Stress as Jesus Anticipated the Cross
The Gospels record that Jesus prayed all night in the garden of Gethsemane where he began to sweat blood.
Hematidrosis is a recognised condition where capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, and sweat comes out of the skin tinged with blood.



Roman Flogging of Jesus
The solider would use a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls and pieces of sharp bone woven in. The whip would strike the flesh on the back, buttocks and back of the legs repeatedly…39 lashes was common. What effect did this have?

  • The balls would cause deep bruises that would burst open on repeated blows
  • The skin on the back would become shredded, sometimes exposing the victim’s spine. One physician and expert on Roman beatings says the underlying skeletal muscles would be torn into producing quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh
  • “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” Roman Historian Eusebius
  • If the victim survived this flogging they would often go into hypovolemic shock. In other words, the effects of losing a large volume of blood. This means a drop in blood pressure, heart racing to pump blood that’s not there, extreme thirst as the body craves fluids to replace lost blood volume.



Approach to the Crucifixion Site
Jesus was forced to carry the horizontal beam of the cross all the way.
He struggled, and a Roman Soldier ordered a bystander (Simon) to help him
He was thirsty as he made the journey, which points to the effects of hypovolemic shock

Jesus was clearly in a critical condition before the nails were driven thru his hands and feet.
The Excruciating Agony of Crucifixion
The word excruciating was invented to describe the unique experience of crucifixion – the word literally means “out of the cross”.

Some people were tied to the cross, but the account of Jesus points to him being nailed to the cross. This was not uncommon; archaeologists have found remains buried in Jerusalem with a spike still attached to the bones of the foot with wood from the upright beam still present.

  • Romans used spikes 5 to 7 inches long, tapered to a sharp point
  • The spikes were driven thru the wrists (considered part of the hand in the language of the day) to attach him to the crossbar
  • The crushing of the median nerves would be incredibly painful
  • Once hoisted, the crossbar was attached to the vertical stake and spikes were driven thru his feet to attach him there


The physiological effects on his body would have been brutal.

  • Both shoulders would dislocate (which fulfils the Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 22)
  • Once in this agonizing position, crucifixion is a slow death by asphyxiation. The stresses on the body put it into the inhale position. In order to exhale air from the lungs, the victim has to push themselves up on his feet. Doing so would cause further tearing of the flesh in his feet. This process of dropping down again and pushing up to breathe would have been incredibly painful, and would have scraped his shredded back against the wooden upright
  • Eventually exhaustion would cause the victim to cease pushing upwards and therefore cease breathing
  • A lack of oxygen leads to respiratory acidosis – carbon dioxide in the bloodstream – leading to an irregular heartbeat. Combined with the hypovolemic shock, Jesus would most probably have died of heart failure.


Ensuring Jesus was Dead
The Roman soldiers who executed their victims were by no means experts on human anatomy; but they were skilled and experienced at executions. They knew how to kill people efficiently.
Often to speed up the process of crucifixion, they would use their metal spears to break the leg bones of the victim so that they could no longer push up to breathe – causing death very quickly.

In Jesus case, it is recorded that the Roman executioner was certain he was already dead. But he stuck his spear into his right side, probably between his ribs, to be sure.

  • John’s Gospel records that blood and water ran out of this wound
  • Assuming that the spear penetrated thru the lung into the heart, the pericardial effusion surrounding the heart, which was caused by the hypovolemic shock, would have burst giving the appearance of water running from the spear wound

Could Jesus have survived his crucifixion? Doctor Metherell’s conclusion is – not a chance.



reflections on Christ - crucifixion

BUT – say he did? Imagine that having experienced all that has been described, that he is revived in the cool of his tomb, rolls the stone away, evades the Roman Guards posted there, staggers away on feet that have been crushed by metal spikes. How would he have looked? The trauma would have left in in a pitiful state. His followers would not have seen him as the Lord of life who had triumphed over the grave. They would not have called him Lord…they would have called him a Doctor!

“…it’s preposterous to think that if he had appeared to them in that awful state, his followers would have been prompted to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday they too would have a resurrection body like this. There’s just no way.”

Was Jesus dead when he was laid in the tomb? A reasonable examination of the evidence suggests – yes, of course he was.



Adapted from:

Strobel Lee. The Case for Christ. Chapter 11 The Medical Evidence. Zondervan.