Chapter 1.
Did Jesus Really
Die on the Cross?

Chapter 2.
Did Jesus Die
of Heart Rupture?

Heart Rupture as a Physiological

Chapter 3.
The Ultimate Mystery
of the Lord's Death

How the Lord
Jesus Christ Died

April 2006
Journal of the
Royal Society
of Medicine

Also by
Arthur Custance

The Necessity of
Jesus' Resurrection

Cain's Wife and the
Penalty of Incest

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by Arthur C. Custance, Ph.D.

It might seem rather absurd to publish a Paper on the manner of Jesus' death, since Scripture is so very explicit: He was crucified.   To this agree all the creeds, and it is doubtful if anyone today would challenge them.

People who undertake scientific research are in the habit of saying that it pays to be particularly cautious about accepting what is obviously true.   What is obviously true not infrequently turns out to be actually false.   The trouble is that there is little or no incentive to challenge it.   The consequence is that a more important truth is often neglected or left undiscovered.   For centuries it was obvious that the earth was stationary and the sun moved around it, and until somebody seriously challenged this view our understanding of the workings of the starry heavens was very largely at fault.   When we discover that that which has always been assumed to be true is in fact not so at all, we are often led to the recognition of some much more profound truth.   This, I believe, applies to the how of the Lord's death.   What I wish to discuss in this Paper has been recognized from the earliest times, yet it is continually being lost sight of because it is difficult to state it precisely in such a way as to distinguish the Lord s death from all other deaths of which we have any record.   The important point throughout this discussion is to keep clearly in view that we are not examining why the Lord died, but how.

In recent years the form of death which Jesus embraced has been re-discussed by two quite opposed groups of people.   On the one hand there are those who, because of their skepticism and with little respect for the Word of God, have questioned whether Jesus died on the Cross at all.   Their arguments are worth considering briefly, as we shall do, because their refutation brings out several aspects of the Gospel records and of the subsequent behaviour of the disciples which are worth reminding ourselves about since they tremendously confirm one's faith in Scripture.   On the other hand, there are those who, because of their very confidence in the Word of God, have pored over the records and discovered there a number of apparently casual observations made by the writers that are highly significant from a medical point of view and that seem to show that although Jesus died on the Cross, He did not die because of it.

This second view reflects the opinion of a number of the early Church Fathers who reached the same conclusion, but by a somewhat different route.   They were guided by certain intimations in Scripture that they had deeply reflected upon and which are essentially theological in nature.   The more recent writers have approached the same subject in the same spirit of reverence, but rather more from a physiological point of view. Both lines of evidence are complementary.

The first view, sponsored by certain liberal theologians, is simply that we do not know how Jesus died, only that although He was crucified, He was mistakenly removed from the Cross before He was actually dead.   They argue that the extraordinary strains and agonies of mind through which Jesus had passed brought Him after several hours on the Cross to a state of such total collapse that He was to all appearances actually dead long before the other two men who were crucified with Him.   According to tradition, they say, He received a superficial wound from a soldier's spear which in His then state of shock led to comparatively slight loss of blood.   He was taken down and carried away by His disciples to be laid in a tomb without the usual preparation for burial being performed, which would have left Him bound and helpless, because it was not legal to carry out this task, it being a holy day.

But there in the cool environment He revived and subsequently searched out His friends, who thus spread the story about His resurrection from the dead.   Thus was an ignominious defeat turned opportunely into an apparent victory.   The whole business was the result of a series of genuine mistakes, perhaps nobody really intending to deceive anyone, but all alike being misled as a result of the first false assumption that He really had died on the Cross.   After a number of weeks He seems to have disappeared, and His disappearance was explained away by His closest disciples by saying that He had been taken up into heaven.   In point of fact, the whole ordeal may ultimately have so reduced His strength that He died shortly afterwards.   When and where He died, no one knows. The result is that the supernatural element is entirely removed and there really never was any resurrection from the dead, because Jesus did not actually die at the time of the crucifixion.   This, to my mind, is a completely erroneous interpretation of events.

The second view is one which has appealed to a number of devout Christian medical men who have had occasion to observe personally or to study in medical literature the phenomenon of death by rupture of the heart.   They believe, to use a more popular terminology, that heartbreak can be a cause of death, and that it was in fact the cause of the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

I think the evidence of a heart rupture in this instance is very strong indeed.   But I think it is important to bear in mind that this evidence can be interpreted in two ways and that the difference between these two ways of interpreting the evidence is very important.   Assuming for the moment that the Lord's heart was in fact broken, one may still ask whether it was actually the cause of death.   Just as we have to recognize that He may have died on the Cross, but not because of it; so we must also recognize that He may have died with a broken heart, but not because His heart was broken.

When we speak here of a "broken heart," it is necessary to bear in mind that the term is not being used in any poetic or psychological sense.   The term is being used in a strictly medical or physiological sense, meaning precisely what it implies, namely, the actual rupture of the organ itself.   It might be thought that such an event would lead to instant death.   This, as we shall see, is not always the case.

If we had been thinking in poetic or psychological terms, we should really find ourselves very quickly involved in the question rather of why Jesus died.   But this issue is so all-embracing that it would be presumption to suppose one could adequately deal with the subject in a short Paper such as this.   My object is to deal with the lesser issue of how Jesus died.   Although it is a lesser issue, it is nevertheless one of great significance and worthy of the most serious reflection by every thoughtful Christian.   It is worthy of serious reflection because God has seen fit to include in the Gospel records several highly significant statements which are so exceptional that they cannot possibly have been introduced incidentally.   I do not believe that any part of the Word of God is "merely incidental."

These almost-hidden clues in the New Testament are the justification for the view taken in this Paper.

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Biography of Arthur Custance
Arthur C. Custance was born in England in 1910 and died in 1985. He moved to Canada in 1928.

Dr. Custance held a Ph.D. in anthropology and an M.A. in oriental languages. His Ph.D. work was primarily completed at the University of Toronto but was granted at the University of Ottawa following a move to Ottawa to direct the Human Engineering Laboratories of Canada's Defense Research Board.

While in Ottawa he completed the university's course in medical physiology. His research centred on the problem of heat regulation in humans under stress. His reports on this research have been published in a number of scientific journals.

Dr. Custance was a Member Emeritus of the Canadian Physiological Society and a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute.
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