Easter and Images

This Good Friday I was reading Matthew chapter 27 in my ESV to my children, regarding Christ’s appearance before Pilate, his crucifixion and burial and came across an interesting translation choice in verse 59: “Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud.”

Shroud?

An evangelical translation using the word “shroud” in reference to the material used in burying the body of the Lord Jesus Christ? I thought evangelicals always asserted that Christ’s body was wound in strips of cloth (notice the plurality). Compare John 19, verse 40: “So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” Would this be what an unbeliever would call a discrepancy? How shall we resolve this?

What saith Calvin? I know, that’s everyone’s first instinct, isn’t it?

Well, his only comment on the “linen cloth” (singular) in Matt. 27:59 reads, “from which we infer, that Christ was honorably buried.” No help on the “discrepancy.”

Next expert—What saith the Dispensationalists? The NET Bible (New English Translation), contains “translation notes,” which many do not, but of course if you saw how thick a NET Bible is, you’d know what kind of theology geeks like myself are drawn to it, despite its apparent Dispensationalist bias.

Voila! A translation note on the single piece of material referenced in Matt. 27:59 and even a “tn” for its plural counterpart in John 19:40! Naturally, these are two different Greek words. The ESV translates the Greek word, sindon, as “linen shroud.” http://www.studylight.org/ defines this Greek word, “linen cloth, esp. that which was fine and costly, in which the bodies of the dead were wrapped.” The NET’s translation note adds nothing to this.

An explanation hoping to resolve the discrepancy between singular and plural words is found, however, in the NET’s translation note on John 19:40. Here’s what it said:

“The Fourth Gospel uses ojqonivoi” (oqonioi”) to describe the wrappings, and this has caused a good deal of debate, since it appears to contradict the synoptic accounts which mention a sindwvn (sindwn), a large single piece of linen cloth. If one understands ojqonivoi” to refer to smaller strips of cloth, like bandages, there would be a difference, but diminutive forms have often lost their diminutive force in Koine Greek (BDF §111.3), so there may not be any difference.”

Because there is precedence for “diminutive forms” losing their “force” in Koine Greek, we are to allow Matthew’s singular noun to inform our interpretation of John’s plural noun.

I sure hope this doesn’t mean the Shroud of Turin relic is for real! No, that doesn’t necessarily follow. Fortunately, our faith does not rest on our acceptance of physical relics which purport to convey the actual image of our Lord and Savior. Christ is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), but just because the Greek words used for that in which the image of the invisible God was buried seems to lean toward a singular sheet, it does not follow that the actual image of the image of the invisible God will do us any spiritual good. By all indications, we will only tend toward idolatry in either thought, word or deed. Besides, even if that is Jesus’ image on the Shroud of Turin (I’m still rooting for its lack of genuineness, given the contradictory results from the mountain of ongoing research, but mostly its status as a Roman Catholic relic), the kind of image the New Testament points us toward is an image in the sense of a reflection of God’s moral nature, not a physical representation.

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV).

May this Easter, yes Easter, weekend be used by the Holy Spirit to call us to a closer communion with God, who, in the Person of the Father, sent his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to perfectly reflect the glorious moral image of his Father for us; to willingly receive the consequences of our Adam-imputed, and actual, inability to perfectly reflect the Father’s glorious moral image, so that we may by his grace through faith in his promise as we hear it preached, read it in his Word, sing it in our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, be more and more transformed into God’s glorious moral image by the power of resurrection of the Image of the Invisible God!

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