Jesus’ Nail Scars – Bradley Jersak


Did Jesus’ crucifixion nails go through his hands or his wrists? Does it matter? What matters?


From earliest times—in both the Bible and sacred art, Christians have located Jesus’ nail scars on his hands.

The strongest biblical indicator for doing so is in John 20, where we read that Jesus appears in the upper room on Easter evening and shows his disciples his hands (cheir) and his side (verse 20).

When Thomas, not present, hears about it, he says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands [same word], and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand [same word], in his side, I will not believe.” Eight days later, Jesus appears to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here; see my hands [same word]. Reach out your hand [same word] and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Iconographers since then have consistently depicted crucifixion scenes and resurrection appearances with Jesus’ nail scars in his hands.

More recently, some authors counter that, medically speaking, one’s hands could not support the weight of one’s body hanging on a cross. They claim that Jesus’ hands would have torn free. But according to anatomy texts, that’s not actually true. In fact, the human hand is full of conjunctive tissues (tendons, ligaments, etc.) that are apparently stronger than rope.

So, from a physiological point of view, Jesus’ nail scars could have been either on the hands or wrists, and the Greek word cheir can also indicate wrists in context (only in Acts 12:7). But the weight of evidence favors the traditional view rather than precluding it.


Upon reading the first draft of this article, my friend Peri Zahnd reminded me of an excruciating experience that she underwent. During a visit to Jerusalem’s “Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” the traditional site of Golgotha and garden tomb—of all places!—she took a tumble and suffered a severe fracture to her wrist. She writes,

“That diagram is familiar to me as my certified hand therapist used something similar to explain my fracture. I had some powerful revelations and experiences with the pain of having tiny screws put into my bones and understanding how Jesus’ experience was far more excruciating (yes, I know the etymology).”

I hadn’t noticed the etymology (word origins). “Excruciating” is based on the Latin root “cruc”—as in cross or crucify. So Jesus’ suffering—including the wounds to his hands—was very literally “excruciating.”

Spiritual Significance—”the fateful fruit”

But the historical techniques of crucifixion are not actually the issue. As Wm. Paul Young and I discussed this, we came to see that it’s actually a literalist distraction from some more poignant spiritual points. And we saw this through the eyes of Anna, a 10-year-old friend and innovative Bible scholar.

Anna wrote the following note to Paul: “I think the reason why the nails are in Jesus’ hands is to emphasize that Adam held the fateful fruit in his hands.” This pulled Paul and me out of our literalist cul-de-sac into the spiritual significance of Jesus’ wounds.

Yes, Jesus shows Thomas and the other disciples his scars to identify himself as the crucified and risen one—neither an imposter nor a ghost. But Anna’s spiritual reading of the text brilliantly models early church teachers who contrasted Adam grasping for divinity at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil while Christ empties himself (and his hands!) on the Cross—the Tree of Life. Adam’s hands grope for and clutch the “fateful fruit” in an act of self-will that leads to death. But Jesus’ hands are open to God and open to us in an act of surrender to his Father. From his open hands and pierced side flows an infinite stream of life—the “forever fruit” of the Tree of Eternal Life.

Picture of Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More