Taken for granted
So, we have an old device used only for execution that most Christians revere as a symbol of the death of Jesus. The word used in the Greek in the Bible actually describes the "stake" or "pale", indicating that Jesus was executed on a single pole, not a "cross". This concise explanation can be found at JW.org:
In several texts, Bible writers use another word for the instrument of Jesus' death. It is the Greek word xy'lon. (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) This word simply means "timber" or "a stick, club, or tree."
Explaining why a simple stake was often used for executions, the book Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung (The Cross and the Crucifixion), by Hermann Fulda, states: "Trees were not everywhere available at the places chosen for public execution. So a simple beam was sunk into the ground. On this the outlaws, with hands raised upward and often also with their feet, were bound or nailed."
The most convincing proof of all, however, comes from God's Word. The apostle Paul says: "Christ purchased us, releasing us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse instead of us, because it is written: 'Accursed is every man hung upon a stake ["a tree," King James Version].' " (Galatians 3:13) Here Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:22, 23, which clearly refers to a stake, not a cross. Since such a means of execution made the person "a curse," it would not be proper for Christians to decorate their homes with images of Christ on a cross.
There is no evidence that for the first 300 years after Christ's death, those claiming to be Christians used the cross in worship. In the fourth century, however, pagan Emperor Constantine became a convert to apostate Christianity and promoted the cross as its symbol. Whatever Constantine's motives, the cross had nothing to do with Jesus Christ. The cross is, in fact, pagan in origin. The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits: "The cross is found in both pre-Christian and non-Christian cultures." Various other authorities have linked the cross with nature worship and pagan sex rites.
While this is not advocating that all the positions by JW.org are valid, much of this excerpt appears to be accurate and confirmed by other sources. There are articles to be found on Christian Cross -Wikipedia that conform to the modern "Christian" concepts of the cross as the instrument of Christs' death. However, their included justification based on the writings of a 17th century bishop (John Pearson, c. 1660) and other origins of terminology (Justus Lipsius (1547-1606)) which were not used by the early Christians or their contemporaries (Early Christian descriptions of the execution cross):
A distinction is commonly made between a single-pole or single-stake crux simplex and a crux compacta composed of more than one piece of timber. This terminology was invented by Justus Lipsius (1547-1606) and so was not used by the Early Christians or their contemporaries.
The word cross was introduced to English in the tenth century as the term for the instrument of the torturous execution of Christ (gr. stauros', xy'lon), gradually replacing rood, ultimately from Latin crux, via Old Irish cros. Originally, both "rood" and "crux" referred simply to any "pole," the later shape associated with the term being based in church tradition, rather than etymology. The word can nowadays refer to the geometrical shape unrelated to its Christian significance from the fifteenth century. "Crux" in Latin means cross, and it was a Roman device of torture on which they nailed a person to a wooden cross, an act called crucifying, and let the person die of asphyxiation while hanging from the cross.
So, while you can find anything you want online, make sure it fits with actual history and knowledge with facts rather than an opinion. Both the second Wikipedia article above and the New World Encyclopedia say the same thing when discussing the meaning of the word stauros to be a stake or pole, but then confuse the definition with modifications based on traditions or guesses regarding history. Their statement regarding the stake is confirmed by the Bible that my wife and I use - The Complete Jewish Study Bible, written from a Jewish perspective. However, adding the opinions of 16th- and 17th-century "Christians" only clouds the issue so it can better match the opinions of today's "Christians". If you read what the Bible actually says, without adding interpretative explanations, you can keep the truth simple and make sure it fits the whole story.
Why the "cross"?
Looking up the word "crucify", the word everyone uses to justify the concept of the "cross" upon which Jesus died at Calvary (Acts 2:23
23 This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (NIV)
However, the Greek Interlinear translates the passage in a different way, using a word "crucified" that was originated in circa 1300 A.D.
), I find that the word originated about 1200 to 1300 years after Jesus died! Here is the definition from Dictionary.com:
Word Origin and History for crucify
c.1300, from Old French crucifer (12c., Modern French crucifier), from Vulgar Latin *crucificare, from Late Latin crucifigere "to fasten to a cross," from cruci, dative of Latin crux "cross" (see cross (n.)) + figere "fasten" (see fix (v.)). An ancient mode of capital punishment considered especially ignominious by the Romans. Figurative sense of "to torment" is 1620s. Related: Crucified ; crucifying.
This whole bit of research soon becomes confusing, because, if a word is not coined until around 1200 - 1300 A.D., how does it wind up in the translation of a first-century document? All the accepted Biblical authorities, like the one at Bible Hub, use the common understandings, but if you look closely, they put the real meaning of the Greek word prospegnumi
in the definition ("to fasten to"), then use the word "cross" as an example of how the word is used, or even implied in the definition ("spec. to a cross"), which is not the Biblical usage of the term. While subtle, this is a way to insert a popular idea into a definiton. Considering that the meaning of the Greek word in the text means "to fasten to", does that mean that the object was a cross? Consider this from Got Questions?:
This may come as a surprise to many, but the precise shape of the object on which Jesus was crucified cannot be proved explicitly from the Bible. The Greek word translated "cross" is stauros, meaning "a pole or a cross used as an instrument of capital punishment." The Greek word stauroo, which is translated "crucify," means "to be attached to a pole or cross." Outside of the Bible, the same verb was also used in the context of putting up a fence with stakes. Though stauros can mean either "pole" or "stake," many scholars argue that Jesus most likely died on a cross in which the upright beam projected above the shorter crosspiece. But a biblical, airtight case cannot be made for either a cross or a pole/stake. The Romans were not picky in regards to how they would crucify people. Historically, we know the Romans crucified people on crosses, poles, stakes, upside-down crosses, X-shaped crosses (such as the apostle Andrew is said to have been martyred on), walls, roofs, etc. Jesus could have been crucified on any of these objects, and it would not have affected the perfection or sufficiency of His sacrifice. (emphasis mine)
With respect for the research they have done, the lexicon at Bible Study Tools defines the word stauroo
as a verb describing action having to do with a stake or pole, the stake was described as the noun stauros, but notice how they have still inserted the word "crucify" from circa 1300 A.D. (see Online Etymology Dictionary for the origin of the word), while they at least avoided using the word "cross" until "definition" number 3.
Where did the thought of Jesus being "lifted up" begin?
Remember a passage in Numbers 21:6-9
6Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.
8The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live."" 9So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
when the people realized they had sinned by speaking against the Lord? The piece of equipment Moses used for his bronze snake was not a cross, but a pole. When the people looked upon the snake lifted up, they were healed. That passage is widely recognized by scholars as a precursor pointing to the execution of Christ and His becoming our savior. But, again, it wasn't a cross, so it wasn't a "crucifixion", but a "stakifixion" or "palifixion", if you will. Now, the word used in the New Testament Greek for the device used to kill Christ was stauros, which was translated in the modern Bibles as "cross", but really means "stake" or "pale" ("pole"). More on this below.
Why do we call it a "cross"?
So why did Christians start revering the cross? Since the wording of the Acts 2 passage should have been something like "by fastening Him to the stake", why would someone change it like that? Ok, we can think of one being that might want to do that - Satan - but why? Almost all the Bible versions call it the cross, but that means that almost all of them are likely wrong, not only about the cross, but other self-caused conflicts. The trouble is, no one seems to care. More important yet, once they find out the Truth, should Christians continue to accept the incorrect "facts"? Read more about this in the discussion below.
"Here is a kind of weird question: If Jesus had been shot with a gun, would we be O.K. with carrying a gun on a chain around our necks? Would we have a gun behind the pulpit on the wall of the church, or even on the top of the church itself?"
I know, I know, "What a silly thought." But if you think about it, that's what we are doing with the weapon used to kill Jesus. I'm not saying it was a bad idea, but the whole idea kind of gives me the creeps. Maybe that's the whole intent. The entire idea has also piqued my curiosity.
This photo was found online at Google Search. We are not told where it is, but it seems to capture the idea of carrying a "symbol" of death in a place of worship.
Can you imagine that this is what the churches would look like if Jesus had been shot with a gun? (NOTE: Years later, going back to that Google Search site through the link above, I discovered that this photo has been removed from the hundreds that are still there. Hmmm.)
Let's look at a little history to see if we can determine where the cross originated, or at least where it was before it became a symbol of Christianity.
A little repetition, from different sources, but some new facts
As we mentioned above, the Greek word stauros
, used in the New Testament, has a couple of meanings like "stake", "pale", but is sometimes translated as "cross". Evidently, the first two meanings describe a single upright pole rather than the two-beamed device on which Jesus is often pictured hanging during His execution, at least in the drawings and paintings we see.
According to Wikipedia, this two-beamed stake, or "cross", originated in ancient Chaldea sometime between 1000 B.C. and 550 B.C. The shape was in the form of the first letter of the name of the ancient pagan god Tammuz. Some time in the middle of the third century A.D., the church started deviating from some of the doctrines of the Christian faith (called "apostacy") under persecution from several rulers of the time. (See Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
[ A-1,Noun,G4716, stauros ]
denotes, primarily, an upright pale or stake." On such malefactors were nailed for execution. Both the noun and the verb stauroo, "to fasten to a stake or pale," are originally to be distinguished from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed "cross." The shape of the latter had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt. By the middle of the 3rd cent. A.D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the "cross" of Christ.)
and other sites for the details).
Evidently, around 250 A.D. the "apostate ecclesiastical system" (the Roman church not following the admonitions of Jesus) began to accept pagans into the fold, along with their signs and symbols. Remember, it was about 100 years later that Constantine started Sunday as the official day of worship, and invited the Gentile Christians to join them so they would not be persecuted along with the Jews. This is beyond the time of the "crucifixion", but was when the Romans abolished the use of the "cross" as an implement of torture and punishment.
Neck and church decoration
Going back to the VIEWPOINT statement above. Now, carrying this idea further with the information we have gathered so far, would we be comfortable carrying a piece of wood (not a cross, just a stick) on a chain around our necks? In today's world, because of all the "Christian" conditioning, no one would see the significance of it. If someone asked about it, would your explanation make sense to them? What kind of reaction would you get if you told them that their cross is actually an insult to the name of Jesus who died on a stake? Would they believe that it is a pagan symbol for a pagan god, and has nothing to do with Jesus?
A rock or sword instead
Don't stop there. What if Jesus had been beheaded, nailed to a wall, poisoned, stoned, or thrown from a cliff? Some of these were actual intended actions of the Pharisees and Sadducees (John 10:31
Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him,
, Luke 4:29
They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.
). What would we have done to decorate necks and churches if He had died a different way? You can't wear a cliff or a wall around your neck.
It seems that starting about 100 years after Jesus' death (or even sooner), Christians, especially even modern Christians, were then, and still are today, too anxious to come up with a different way to worship Him than He Himself taught. They have their own symbols and days, and ignore the original commands given to keep them from doing exactly this (Deut 12:4, 30-31
4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way.
30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, "How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same." 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.
, Jeremiah 10:2-4
2 "Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
though the nations are terrified by them.
3 For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4 They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter."
). Too bad these passages didn't say anything about wearing images around our necks...you know, like the Second Commandment
5 You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
. Of course, you wouldn't know anyone who kneels or bows before a cross...would you?
Anything is fair game?
Think about the fuss people go through for Easter, Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Advent...but the people who honor these "holidays" that aren't Biblical or even Christian holidays won't even consider the real Festivals that were commanded by God to celebrate those events important to Him.
Yet, they will fight to the death for their "right" to violate those commands, all while dangling a pagan symbol around their necks for the wrong reason. Maybe they don't know they are worshiping God in the way of the pagans, but once they find out, shouldn't they start looking for the way God specified?
The cross as a sign of...who?
Here's a thought for you. Not anything that we can be dogmatic about, but food for further thought. If the cross is a pagan symbol that "all" Christians revere, what if that turned out to be the mark of the beast that everyone was to take on the forehead or the right hand so they could buy food and survive in society? I mean, if everyone thinks it represents Christ, and the word came down from the person "the whole world worshiped" (Revelation 13:8
All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the Lamb's book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.
), wouldn't most people say "Yes!" and take it? In this way, as with the anti-Semitism of the "church fathers" causing the acceptance of Sunday "replacing" the Sabbath, Satan could have his way and not even have to work very hard at it.
One more thought...
Just on a whim, it might be fun to check out one more place for some idea of what the Old Testament text really says. Remember what Paul said in Galatians 3:13
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (KJV)
about being hung on a tree? Well, from where did that statement come? I found the Hebrew for it in the Interlinear version of Deut 21:23
. The passage is speaking of a tree, not a cross. It even says that in the text of the New Testament, but everyone still stays with the idea of a cross. Some will believe what they want, even if it is a known lie.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and give us your view.
Reader response to the Cross or Pole (Stake) discussion
I disagree with the Jehovah's Witnesses argument that Christ was crucified on a stake for the following reasons:
1) The literal translation does not exclude the possibility of a cross. It's most common definition is wood. It could have been a stake or a cross.
2) Traditionally it has been accepted as a cross and most scholars that establish the NASB, KJV, NKJV, NIV versions of the Bible seem to agree on this. "Stake" is not used except for in the JW bible - New World Translation.
3) Matthew 27:37 states and they put up above his head the charge against Him which read,"THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS." (Above His head, not hands. There are other indications throughout the Bible that indicate it was a cross as well.)
4) And mostly; with the majority of the conversations that I have had with Jehovah's Witnesses , if not all, it was my belief that it was their intention for me to doubt the Bible I read from. (NASB, KJV, NKJV, NIV.) Their approach is to use DOUBT to win the argument, so that their bible - the New World Translation, which has been clearly altered from original text in many places - becomes authoritative.
5) And in congruence to 4; I don't see how it would make a difference if it was a stake. Christ was crucified and because of His death we all have the opportunity to have our sins forgiven.
On a side note, the statement in the argument for for a stake about Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung (The Cross and the Crucifixion), by Hermann Fulda, states: "Trees were not everywhere available at the places chosen for public execution..." Was he there? How does he know if there were no trees around?