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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Blood and Water
(αἷμα καὶ ὕδωρ ,
The physiological aspect of this incident of the crucifixion has been first discussed by Gruner (Commentatio de morte Jesu Christi vera , Halle, 1805), who has shown that the blood released by the spear-thrust of the soldier must have been extravasated before the opening of the side took place, for only so could it have been poured forth in the described manner. While a number of commentators have opposed this view as a fanciful explanation, and have preferred to give the statement of the evangelist a symbolical meaning in the sense of the doctrines of baptism and eucharist (so Baur, Strauss, Reuss and others), some modern physiologists are convinced that in this passage a wonderful phenomenon is reported to us, which, inexplicable to the sacred historian, contains for us an almost certain clue to the real cause of the Savior's death. Dr. Stroud (On the Physiological Cause of the Death of Christ , London, 1847) basing his remarks on numerous postmortems, pronounced the opinion that here we had a proof of the death of Christ being due not to the effects of crucifixion but to "laceration or rupture of the heart" as a consequence of supreme mental agony and sorrow. It is well attested that usually the suffering on the cross was very prolonged. It often lasted two or three days, when death would supervene from exhaustion. There were no physical reasons why Christ should not have lived very much longer on the cross than He did. On the other hand, death caused by laceration of the heart in consequence of great mental suffering would be almost instantaneous. In such a case the phrase "of a broken heart," becomes literally true. The life blood flowing through the aperture or laceration into the pericardium or caul of the heart, being extravasated, soon coagulates into the red clot (blood) and the limpid serum (water). This accumulation in the heart-sac was released by the spear-thrust of the soldier (which here takes providentially the place of a postmorten without which it would have been impossible to determine the real cause of death), and from the gaping wound there flow the two component parts of blood distinctly visible.
Several distinguished physicians have accepted Dr. Stroud's argument, and some have strengthened it by the observation of additional symptoms. We may mention Dr. James Begbie, fellow and late president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Sir J. Y. Simpson, professor at the University of Edinburgh, and others (see Dr. Hanna, Our Lord's Life on Earth , Appendix I). The latter refers to the loud cry, mentioned by the Synoptists (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46 ), which preceded the actual death of Jesus, as a symptom characteristic of cases of "broken heart." He adds that Dr. Walshe, professor of medicine in University College, London, one of the greatest authorities on the diseases of the heart, says that a "piercing shriek" is always uttered in such cases immediately before the end.
While we may never reach a state of absolute certainty on this subject, there is no valid reason to deny the probability of this view of the death of Christ. It certainly gives a more solemn insight into Christ's spiritual anguish, "the travail of his soul" on our behalf, which weighed upon Him so heavily that long before the usual term of bodily and therefore endurable suffering of crucified persons Christ's loving heart broke, achieving the great atoning sacrifice for all mankind.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Blood and Water'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/b/blood-and-water.html. 1915.