What is the medical cause of Jesus' death? (2023)

How did Jesus die? In ancient times, execution by crucifixion meant a slow, agonizing death with no apparent damage to vital organs. The cause of Jesus' death was crucifixion. The physiological process that leads to the cessation of life is known medically asmechanism of death, it is not clear. Consequently, there was no clear consensus among physicians as to what physiological mechanism ultimately led to his death. Some proposed mechanisms of Jesus' death were: anguish, suffocation, and shock. Some say that Jesus did not die at all, an idea called the "swoon theory." Which of these claims, if any, provides the most plausible explanation for the mechanism of Jesus' death?

The impotence theory

Crucifixion was the most brutal form of execution in Rome.the highest penalty(Latin for "highest punishment"). The Romans considered crucifixion obscene and reserved it for capital criminals, political insurgents, and runaway slaves. The crucifixion of Roman citizens was very rare. Archaeological finds of crucifixion victims are rare, as the corpses were left on the cross to be eaten by scavengers. Burial of the body could be requested, but authorities required verification of death before the remains were released. Allowing a criminal to survive crucifixion would mean the death of the soldiers responsible. So it is not possible that Jesus escaped with his life.

heartbreak over emotional agony

From a medical perspective, extreme emotional distress simply does not indicate a ruptured heart. Doctors can see a heart rupture after a heart attack, but usually two or three days later, not right away. In rare cases, a heart attack can cause a bruise in the heart muscle, causing the heart to break faster. However, a massive heart attack cannot be attributed solely to emotional stress. Also, a fatal heart attack is unlikely in a healthy young man like Jesus. Thus, the claim that Jesus' heart was torn by emotional torment has largely fallen out of favor.

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fatal stab wound

Did Jesus die when the spear pierced his heart? Some have concluded that blood flows from the side of Jesus (Juan 19:34) meant that he was still alive at the time, the premise being that corpses don't bleed. However, this does not follow. A large clot in the heart shortly after death could become unstable and liquefy again. It is noteworthy that a team of soldiers declared Jesus dead before driving a spear into his side (Juan 19:33). Soldiers on a Roman crucifixion team had credible experience declaring death. His very life depended on doing the job. It is almost certain that Jesus was dead before the spear entered his chest.


A Czech surgeon, R.W. Hynek, and a French surgeon, A. Le Bec, were familiar with tortures in which victims appeared to suffocate with their arms suspended directly overhead with no feet for support. This observation led them to believe, in the early 20th century, that Jesus was similarly suffocated. French surgeon Pierre Barbet also believed that Jesus was suffocated and propagated the theory in his book:A doctor at Calvary(1953).1Barbet believed that the bifurcation of the flow of blood in the arms in the image on the Shroud of Turin supported his assumption that Jesus had to rise to breathe. He also believed that crurifragium, the practice of breaking a leg (Juan 19:31), supported suffocation as a death mechanism, believing that victims had to propel themselves with their legs to breathe. dr. However, Barbet's assumptions about the blood flow patterns on the Shroud of Turin and the cross fragment appear to be a priori conclusions.

There is little empirical evidence that Jesus suffocated. Suspension torture, as described by Hynek, Le Bec, and Barbet, differs from crucifixion in many respects. Suspension torture could result in a quick death, within three hours according to some reports. The crucifixion could take days. Studies of crucifixion re-enactments have found no evidence of respiratory difficulties or impaired blood gas exchange. Study participants were also unable to push themselves up with their arms or push themselves up with their legs.2We also know from the Holy Scriptures that Jesus on the cross had conversations with Mary, John and the criminals who were crucified with him (Luke 23:39–43; John 19:25–27). The ability to converse during the crucifixion makes asphyxiation unlikely.

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Shock and trauma induced coagulopathy

Traumatic hemorrhagic shock seems to be the best explanation for Jesus' death mechanism. Shock is the general effect of decreased blood flow and resulting tissue damage from lack of oxygen. In trauma, shock is caused by injuries and blood loss. Symptoms include weakness, confusion, sweating, sweating, rapid heart rate, and palpitations. Physiologic effects include systemic inflammation, tissue ischemia, and an acidic change in blood pH (acidemia). Left unchecked, the effects of shock can be progressive and irreversible, even with the best treatment.

The blows of Jesus were extraordinary. He first he was defeated in the house of the high priest Caiaphas. The Roman soldiers used a second beating, which would have been particularly severe due to Roman anti-Semitism, by finding Jesus guilty as a political insurgent; viz., King of the Jews. Soldiers used a whip (flagellum) with leather straps with weight-shaped pieces of lead attached to the ends to serve as cutting tools. The flogging caused blunt force wounds and lacerations from head to toe. Such blows probably prevented Jesus from carrying the horizontal part (gibbet or crossbar) of the cross, whose weight was estimated at about 60 pounds, to the place of execution. Jesus seems to have gone into shock before arriving at the crucifixion site.

Trauma-induced coagulopathy is a possible complication of shock, in which the blood loses its ability to clot. This can have a progressive snowball effect. Causative factors include tissue damage with blood loss, decreased core body temperature (hypothermia), and decreased blood pH (acidosis). The severity of their blows and the low ambient temperatures (Juan 18:18) create conditions for the development of coagulopathy.

Pathophysiological processes were taking place in the body of Jesus that exceeded what happened to the others crucified that day. The others lived after the Roman soldiers pronounced Jesus dead. Pilate himself was surprised at how quickly Jesus died (Marcos 15:44) – six hours, unusually fast for a method of execution that could take days. The coagulopathy could explain why Jesus succumbed to shock so quickly. The coagulopathy could also explain why blood flowed from his chest wound after he had already died.

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the greatest importance

Jesus spoke of his death at the Last Supper, a Passover Seder. There he raised the ceremonial cup of blessing (also called the cup of redemption) and said: "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (Lucas 22:20). Jesus referred to Jeremiah's prophecy of a new covenant when God would change the hearts of his people and forgive his sins (Jeremiah 31:31–34). This seminal event in human history, a new covenant between God and humanity, was inaugurated with the crucifixion of Jesus. God's relationship with humanity has been redefined. Forgiveness and spiritual transformation were available to all who believed.

Why does the mechanism of Jesus' death matter? Jesus appeared to make a medical statement at the Last Supper. He held up the cup and said: "This is my covenant blood, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mateo 26:28). Jesus seems to have indicated that the mechanism of his death would be exsanguination (blood loss) through traumatic hemorrhagic shock. From a medical point of view, the Gospels' descriptions of Jesus' torture and death seem credible. This analysis provides essential evidence for the authenticity of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death.


  • Joseph W. Bergeron,The crucifixion of Jesus: a doctor investigates the death and resurrection of Christ(Rapid City, SD: Crosslink Publishers, 2019).
  • Joseph W. Bergeron, "The Crucifixion of Jesus: Review of Hypothesized Mechanisms of Death and the Effects of Shock and Trauma-Induced Coagulopathy."forensic and forensic medicine magazine19 (2012): 113–16,doi:10.1016/j.jflm.2011.06.001.
final notes
  1. Pierre Barber,A Physician at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ Described by a Surgeon(Fort Collins, CO: Roman Catholic Books, 1953).
  2. Frederick T. Zugibe, "Death by Crucifixion",Journal of the Canadian Forensic Science Society17, no. 1 (1984): 1–13, two:1080/00085030.1984.10757355;see also Frederick T. Zugibe,The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Investigation(New York: M. Evans und Co., 2005), 116–19.
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