Insights on the Shroud of Turin

Going to Pilate, he [Joseph of Arimathea] asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. (Luke 23:52–53

Luke and the other three Gospels include this account of Jesus’s burial after his crucifixion. On the morning of Jesus’s resurrection, Luke records that Peter “saw the strips of linen by themselves” whereas the Gospel of John states that Peter “saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.” 

This “separate” cloth has generated passionate interest today because many people think it might be the Shroud of Turin—believed to be Jesus’s burial cloth. If true, the Shroud would provide compelling evidence for the truth of Christianity. But is it really Jesus’s burial cloth?

What We Know and What We Don’t Know
The answer to that question relies on historical, scientific, and biblical data as well as input from many other disciplines. Often, the actual data and the popular conception don’t line up well and make it difficult to understand the complex issues surrounding the Shroud. 

We recently interviewed two people with expertise relevant to the Shroud to help us understand what we know and what we don’t know about it. Dr. Joseph Bergeron, a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a member of our Scholar Community, is a doctor with decades of experience evaluating musculoskeletal injuries. Dr. Gary Habermas has dedicated his professional life to the examination of the relevant historical, philosophical, and theological issues surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

On our Stars, Cells, and God podcast, I spent two episodes with Dr. Bergeron discussing what we know about the man behind the Shroud as well as the image on the Shroud. You can access these discussions in the embedded links or the videos below. In a Clear Thinking podcast, Kenneth Samples and Dave Rogstad discuss Gary Habermas’s thoughts on the authenticity of the Shroud

It seems indisputable that the Shroud came from someone who was crucified. Further, the image and stains on the shroud validate the Bible’s description of crucifixion. Additionally, it appears that there are solid reasons to doubt the reliability of the carbon-14 analysis that places the Shroud between 1200 and 1400 AD. Habermas specifically cites important developments that open the distinct possibility that the Shroud dates to the time of Christ.

The data is ambiguous on the timing of the Shroud’s origin as well as what caused the image itself. For example, Bergeron thinks the Maillard reaction (a browning effect) caused the image where Habermas leans toward an explanation involving radiation. 

RTB’s Position
Reasons to Believe (RTB) has no official position on the Shroud of Turin and each of the scholars have nuanced perspectives. We all agree that the Shroud provides evidence for the authority of Scripture by validating the description of crucifixion given in the Bible. Additionally, we all tend to agree with the authenticity of the Shroud—not that it belonged to Jesus but that it’s not some type of forgery. In other words, it actually was used to wrap someone who was crucified. We’re generally skeptical of the view that it was used in Jesus’s burial but we’re open to evidence demonstrating otherwise. Whether it belonged to Jesus or not doesn’t impact the truth of Christianity. Also, a demonstration that the Shroud was not associated with Jesus wouldn’t affect the case for Christianity since abundant evidence already exists for his death and resurrection. 

What Is Your Assessment?
Do you think the Shroud is authentic? What about its usefulness for affirming the truth of Christianity? I hope that the articles and podcasts I’ve cited help you explore the Shroud in more depth so you can be equipped for knowledgeable discussions with people who want to know more.