Where were the nail-prints in Jesus’ hands – in his wrists or his palms?

This question was raised last Saturday during a day conference on biblical archaeology at Tyndale House in Cambridge. Put simply the problem was stated as follows:

Crucifixion normally involved nailing the victim to a horizontal beam through the wrist between the radius and the ulna (the two bones of the forearm). The nail was then firmly trapped by the carpals from ripping out of the hand between the fingers. If the victim were nailed through the palm of the hand the weight of the suspended body would simply cause the nail to pull through the flesh between the metacarpals. That much seems clear. However, in John 20:27 Jesus commands Thomas to:

“…See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [Italics mine]

Surely, the argument goes, if the nail marks where in Jesus’ wrists then he would have told Thomas to look there for them and not in his hands?

A Possible Solution to the Location of the Nail Prints

I think the answer to the problem is fairly straightforward, once we look at the Greek text. The Greek word for hand – χειρ – which is used twice in the passage cited above means “A hand or any relevant portion of the hands, including, for example, the fingers.” (Nida & Louw, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, Vol. 1, p. 98.). The question is whether the word “hand” in Greek also included the wrist. The word “wrist” or “wrists” appears only in Acts 12:7 in the NIV New Testament. In the Old Testament it appears twice in the Genesis 38:27 & 30, in Jeremiah 40:4 and Ezekiel 13:18. In Acts 12:7 and in the Septuagint of the OT verses the “wrist” is a translation of χειρ. So, it would seem that “wrist” was included within the semantic range of χειρ and so the problem seems to be solved. John 20:27 could quite accurately be translated: “…See my wrists. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Nida & Louw note that there is a precedent for using a specific body part in place of the general term “hand”. Luke 15:22 reads “…Put a ring on his χειρ…” χειρ here is to be translated finger, not hand.

Andrew C. Clark on Apostleship: Evidence From the New Testament and Early Christian Literature

The following article is now available on-line in PDF:

Andrew C. Clark, “Apostleship: Evidence From the New Testament and Early Christian Literature,” Vox Evangelica 19 (1989): 49-82.

An interesting an wide-ranging study of what it the term “apostle” meant in the early church. The summary reads:

W Bauer comments that in early Christian literature generally, ‘the number twelve stands so fast that exceedingly often twelve disciples are spoken of where actually only eleven can be meant eg Gospel of Peter 5:9; Ascension of Isaiah 3:17; 4:3; 11:29; Kerygma Petrou’. Much is said in the apocryphal Acts and Epistles of the various views and activities of the apostles after the ascension, especially of their missionary work throughout the world. Paul is not deliberately excluded from the number, but ‘it was only when Marcion and later Jewish Christianity began to play Paul against the earliest apostles that thought was given to the circle of apostles, and the Early Catholic Church maintained that “the twelve and Paul” qualified as apostles’. As regards the apostolic writings, it was probably the rise of Montanus, who advocated ‘the new prophecy’, that is the continuing revelation of the Holy Spirit as in apostolic times, that raised the hermeneutical question of the status of apostolic and post-apostolic writings respectively. Gerald Bray comments that ‘Tertullian is the first Christian writer to regard the apostolic age as definitely over, and to quote the writings of the apostles on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures as a matter of course’. He points out, however, that ‘the fact that he could do this without argument shows that the apostolic writings must have been regarded as Scripture even before his time’.