I hope you’re having a blessed Easter weekend!
Just some thoughts here about something that’s so often misunderstood, and if it really matters.
We hear each Easter that Jesus was whipped/flogged/scourged 39 times before being crucified; that the maximum number of strokes allowed was 40; and that they would stop at 39 just in case they miscounted one and might go over, in which case the flogger could be punished even with being flogged himself for breaking God’s Law.
The limitation of 40 comes from Jewish law in Deuteronomy 25:3, where the limit is set to prevent the person from being publicly degraded. Josephus records that there were 13 strokes on the chest and 26 on the back. However, the ROMANS WERE NOT JEWISH and did not have such limit. In fact, many people died from the flogging before they ever got to the crucifixion. Even Emperor Domitian was horrified by it. Paul said he was whipped 5 times with 39 stripes, but again that was by the Jews (2 Corinthians 11:24). Often a Roman whipping (verberatio) wouldn’t stop until enough flesh hung down in bloody shreds. Yuck!
Now, it was commonly held that a person could not survive more than 40 lashes, though even the Code of Hammurabi allowed 60, and later the Koran allowed up to 100. Even with the Romans, more severe criminals were punished more severely. The Romans typically wanted those to be crucified to be strong enough to carry their own cross to the execution site. But we find that even Jesus was not strong enough to go all the way (John 19:17), and they conscripted Simon of Cyrene to help (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). And even those who have studied the famous Shroud of Turin have counted over 100 lashes on the body, indicating the past understanding of more than 40 lashes.
Some people have made the 39 more symbolic, representing the 39 common diseases at the time of Christ to indicate that full physical healing is included in our Salvation. And there’s debate over what device was actually used to scourge Jesus. Some have said he only received 13 strokes from the 3-stranded Roman scourge, equaling 39 stripes. Others say it was the cat-of-nine-tails that was used to heighten the agony regardless of the number of strokes. Luke 23:16 uses a word that indicates Pilate wanted disciplinary punishment rather than the usual torturous flagging because he knew Jesus was innocent. When the whipping finally takes place, the Gospel writers seem to refer to the horrible Roman lash/flagellum/flagrum, which usually had two or three strands intertwined with pieces of bone and metal. As for the number of actual strokes given, the Bible is completely silent.
So, okay, does it really matter how many times Christ was flogged? Well, yes and no. It might not matter so much with regard to Salvation itself. We aren’t saved by how many times the whip came down. But it does maybe matter as a caution about doctrine formed beyond what the Bible actually says. It may also matter to think that Christ’s physical suffering could have been a whole lot worse than we even realize, tied to a whipping post and wondering if the lashes would ever stop when perhaps there was no limit.
This isn’t meant to try to split hairs over details, but I do encourage you to read again from the Bible itself what happened on that day when Salvation came through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Reflect on it. Spend some time in prayer. Don’t miss the significance of this time. Without it, we are all hopelessly lost. God bless you!
How many lashes/stripes did Jesus get?
I hope you’re having a blessed Easter weekend!
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