Many details must be taken into consideration to determine whether Jesus was nailed to the cross through his hands or wrists. First, there is debate among some as to whether Jesus was crucified on a cross, pole, or stake. However, the strongest case is generally made for the crucifixion of Jesus taking place on a cross. That being the case, a person could physically have been nailed to a cross through either the hands or wrists.
Did the crucifixion nails go through Jesus' hands or wrists?
Grammatically, the New Testament does not use a Greek word specifically for wrists. The Greek word cheir can refer to the hand or wrist. The Latin Vulgate uses manus in Luke 24:40, specifically referring to hands, indicating that this interpretation dates at least to the second century. Yet the New Testament was originally written in Greek. Therefore, a grammatical argument does not fully determine the answer to this question.
Medically speaking, studies have shown that a nail through either hands or wrists would be strong enough to hold a person to a cross. In fact, it has been said the conjunctive tissue in the hand is stronger than a rope.
Historically, crucifixions have also taken place in a variety of ways. Simply looking at other historical examples of Roman crucifixion does not settle the matter as either approach could have been used.
Perhaps the strongest case could be made by a look at the Jewish prophecies and traditions related to Jesus the Messiah. In the Old Testament, one important prophecy related to the Messiah is relevant. Psalm 22:16 states, "For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet." The specific Hebrew word for hands is used here.
Second, the New Testament offers a possible answer in Luke 24:39-40. There we read, "'See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.' And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet." This contrast of hands and feet, used twice, appears to refer to hands and feet more likely than wrists and feet. Though not conclusive, Luke as well as the prophecy in Psalm 22:16 favor hands as the more likely place the nails were driven into Jesus' body.
Based on this information, either wrists or hands are possible, but the evidence favors the traditional interpretation of the nails being driven through the hands of Jesus at the crucifixion. In either case, the emphasis is on the suffering Jesus took on our behalf in order to offer us eternal life (John 3:16; 1 Peter 2:24).
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