Diligent study of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ can lead to a host of questions, especially about the timing of events. One question bound to surface concerns the Roman soldier who "pierced His side with a spear" (John 19:34). Did this occur before or after His death? A simple reading through the gospel accounts would seem to answer this question conclusively. The three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) do not mention the incident, while John addresses it after Jesus "gave up His spirit" (19:30). Where is the controversy?
The contention arises from a verse that is not even there! The King James Version leaves out the last part of Matthew 27:49, though it is present in the most ancient manuscripts: "And another took a spear, and thrust it into His side, and out came water and blood." The Moffatt and Fenton translations both include this additional material. What makes it controversial is where these words appear: just before Jesus "yielded up His spirit" (verse 50). Which is right?
They both are! The problem is in the translation of John 19:34: "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out." The culprit is a common Greek tense called the aorist tense.
Spiros Zodhiates, in The Complete Word Study New Testament, explains:
The Aorist Tense is used for simple, undefined action. In the indicative mood, the aorist tense can indicate punctiliar action (action that happens at a specific point in time) in the past. . . . With few exceptions, whenever the aorist tense is used in any mood other than the indicative, the verb does not have any temporal significance. In other words, it refers only to the reality of an event or action, not to the time when it took place. (Emphasis ours.)
Modern translators, however, often render the aorist tense into English as simple past tense. Granted, most of the time this is correct, but in John 19:34 it is an error.
The missing portion of Matthew 27:49 supplies the timing; the soldier thrust his spear before Christ died. In John 19:34, the apostle John describes an event that had happened previously as proof that Jesus had fulfilled the prophecies of Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:10. Thus, a correct translation of this verse is, "But one of the soldiers had pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water had come out."
How do we know this is correct?
1. Matthew 27:50 records that Jesus suddenly "cried out again with a loud voice" and died. The spear thrust, acting as a coup de grace, neatly accounts for His scream of pain, as well as His quick death.
2. Dead bodies do not bleed. Doctors jump through hoops trying to explain how "water and blood" could pour out of a corpse, saying that "in rare instances" such a thing is possible. However, if the spear thrust was pre-death, no such explanation is necessary.
Jesus was stabbed before He died.