A splinter from Jesus’ cross has been found in Turkey. Jesus’ baby blanket has surfaced in Germany. The index finger of John the Baptist is now on display in a reliquary in a Missouri museum. Relics—carefully preserved religious artifacts meant to be venerated—have long played a role in many religions, including Christianity. By the Middle Ages, there were hundreds of supposed burial places for the twelve apostles. It has been said that one could build a large boat from all the pieces of wood purported to be from Jesus’ cross. The most famous Christian relic, the Shroud of Turin, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Should Christians be interested in relics?
Undeniably, it would be extremely interesting if an actual piece of Jesus’ cross or a thorn from the crown of thorns could be discovered and verified. The problem is that there is absolutely no way to know if a piece of Judean wood dates to the 1st century A.D. Someone could claim it came from Jesus’ cross, but how could that claim be substantiated? The wood could just as easily have come from a Judean fence post. In the early centuries of the Roman Catholic Church, relics became a massive profiteering scam. Seemingly every church throughout Europe had some sort of relic to attract visitors. If a church in a nearby town “discovered” a more important relic, a game of one-upmanship ensued, with the relics being “discovered” becoming more and more impressive. All that to say, it is highly unlikely that any of the Christian relics discovered in the past 2,000 years have any true connection to Jesus or the apostles.
One of the dangers inherent in the veneration of relics is the temptation to commit idolatry. This is exactly what happened in ancient Israel. God had told Moses to make a bronze serpent in order to save the Hebrews from a plague of poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:8–9). That bronze serpent was kept by the Israelites as a reminder of God’s goodness and salvation; however, by the time of King Hezekiah, the “relic” had become an object of worship. Hezekiah’s reforms included breaking “into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan)” (2 Kings 18:4). Physical aids to faith, if not commanded by God, are unnecessary and inevitably lead to superstition and idolatry.
There is absolutely no power in Christian relics. Even if the entire cross of Jesus were discovered intact, it would have no spiritual value. Relics do not, in any manner whatsoever, enable us to get closer to God. The humerus of a saint can do nothing for your spirit. Relics should not be prayed to, worshiped, or in any way be used as a means to better connect with God. Using relics in such a talismanic way is blatant idolatry (Exodus 20:3; Isaiah 42:8). An elaborate church filled with relics is no more valid a place for worship than a simple tent in a jungle. We worship the Lord in spirit and truth (John 4:24), not by idols, icons, or relics, whether genuine or fake.