If you have wondered what Jesus Christ looked like, it may be that God made a photograph that’s been preserved since 1578 in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Turin in northern Italy.
The Shroud of Turin has been controversial since it was discovered in a church founded by French Knight Geoffroi de Charny in the small town of Lirey in north central France in the mid-1350s.
Some say it is the shroud of Jesus while others contend that it dates no earlier than 1260.
The Revs. Dick Spencer, Aubrey Jones and Michael Sis say it is intriguing, but their faith does not hinge on its legitimacy.
“It has always made a lot of sense to me that the shroud is the burial cloth of Christ,” said the Rev. Spencer, pastor of Redeemer Christian Fellowship in Midland. “The image was a supernatural occurrence of some kind like a nuclear reaction. It was burned into the cloth in the moment of resurrection.
“A lot of the things that we’re seeing and experiencing today, especially in the Middle East, should get the attention of people who have been sitting on the fence for a long time,” Spencer said. “I ask them, ‘If you died today, would you go to Heaven?’ I ask if they believe Christ rose from the dead and very few reject that.”
Showing a muscular man about 5 foot 10 and weighing about 175 pounds, the linen shroud is 14 feet, three inches long and three feet, seven inches side. Its reddish brown stains indicate wounds like those that the New Testament says were inflicted during Jesus’s flogging and crucifixion, including the spear wound in his right side.
The results of carbon-14 dating have been inconsistent, in 1988 saying the linen dated between 1260 and 1390 A.D. but in 2013 putting it between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D.
The Rev. Jones, pastor of Chapel Hill Baptist Church, said the cloth “tends to be something most Protestants don’t get worked up about.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not because we have all we need from the testimony of the apostles and the Gospels, which are very clear and factual in their accounts of the resurrection,” he said. “The minor differences there speak to their truthfulness because it would be suspicious, for example, if people who had witnessed an accident said the same things word for word.
“My faith is not based on whether the Shroud of Turin is authentic; it’s based on the reality of the resurrection.”
Jones said the apostles’ unanimous readiness to be martyred proves the Gospels’ veracity. “People aren’t willing to die for what they know to be a lie,” he said.
“They recant that pretty quickly. The apostles gave their lives for what they had seen and knew was real. The shroud is something we need to look at, but especially for Baptists it is more of a curiosity than anything else.”
The Very Rev. Sis, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo, said the shroud “might or might not be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.
“The Catholic Church neither formally endorses nor rejects it,” Sis said. “Our faith in Jesus does not depend upon this piece of cloth, but the image impressed upon it invites us to meditate on the experience of the crucified Christ.
“About 20 years ago, I met a medical pathologist named Dr. Edward Brucker (of Tucson, Ariz.) who had done extensive research about the shroud,” the bishop added. “He told me the scientific examinations of it had shown that the markings of a face and body on that cloth were not ink or paint. They’re more like burns caused by an intense light hitting the fabric from the direction of the body. It’s a negative image of the body like an X-ray.
“Dr. Brucker’s opinion was that the light would have been the light of the resurrecting Christ.”
Sis said connections of God with light like those in First John 1:5, John 8:12 and Genesis 1:3 show that God created light and is its source.
“A friend of mine who is a nuclear physicist told me that the oldest thing that can be observed in the universe is the ‘cosmic microwave background,’ which is approximately 15 billion years old,” he said. “He says it is the ‘flash’ from the big bang diffused throughout the universe. There are so many connections between light and God that it would not surprise me if the image on the shroud was created by an instantaneous burst of light energy when Christ resurrected.
“A new study of the shroud by geneticist Gerard Verschuuren is titled ‘A Catholic Scientist Champions the Shroud of Turin.’ That book explores and summarizes the various scientific studies over the years, including those analyzing DNA, blood, carbon, pollen, textile and anatomical issues.”