Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Longinus—Fact Or Fiction?

Biblegems #214
Question: I ‘ve heard that the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with the spear became a believer and his name is known? Is this true?

The apostle John, an eyewitness of Jesus’ crucifixion, relates that one of the soldiers assigned to Jesus’ cross pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to test if Jesus had in fact died:
         John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

The only reliable source of information we have about this soldier comes from the Bible itself, and his name is not given. It is curious, however, that the Greek word for spear is λόγχη (pronounced, logchay). The name “Longinus” appears to be a Latin derivation of the Greek word for “spear.”

There is a tradition that became popular roughly three hundred years after Jesus’ crucifixion that the soldier’s name was Loginus, and that he became a believer in Jesus at the crucifixion. The evidence behind this account is scant and often contradictory. While there are legends dating back to at least the late 3rd century AD, no compelling evidence is currently available to verify this tradition.

Muddying the waters even further are several highly fanciful stories of Longinus. One legend is reminiscent of the Greek myth of Prometheus. According to a third century legend, Longinus is eternally punished in a cave where a lion comes each day to claw him to shreds, but each night the soldier is healed so that the torture can resume again.

Other ancient legends portray Longinus as a nearly blind Roman centurion who was healed when Jesus’ blood fell on him from the cross, and that his recovery of sight caused him to exclaim “surely this is the Son of God!” (Mk. 15:39). Other legends claim that Loginus’ spear became a highly revered relic of the early church, and that it has been preserved down through history. There are several spears or spearheads existing today that are believed by many to be the spear of Longinus. The one with the best claim to authenticity resides now in the Hofburg museum in Germany.

Myths and legends often have a way of preserving the memory of actual people and events, even though the accuracy of the events may get muddied beyond any recognition. And often such legends have a way of turning their subjects into heroes or objects to be idolized, as is the case with the spear of Longinus. This is where the biblical record stands apart.  

The Gospel accounts record the historical facts of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Even if the Roman soldier who thrust the spear in Jesus’ side did become a follower of Jesus, God’s Word neither idolizes nor demonizes the man or the spear. The Bible records historical events that direct lost men and women to salvation in Jesus Christ. As the apostle John wrote:

         John 20:30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

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