What was the Cross?
According to Webster’s dictionary a cross is “a structure, typically an upright supporting a horizontal beam, anciently used in the execution of malefactors.” In the Bible the Greek word usually rendered cross is stauros. Its Latin equivalent is crux. Was the stauros or crux on which YAHSHUA died a traditionally shaped cross?
Yes, say spokesmen of Christendom, such as the Signs of the Times, October 23, 1956. It dogmatically states that the stauros on which YAHSHUA died was such a cross. In support of this assertion several authorities are cited, secular and religious. But what are the facts?
The facts are that authorities are not agreed that there is “no doubt” about the nature of the stauros on which YAHSHUA died and are not agreed that it was the traditionally shaped cross. The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1907 and 1942 editions, under the term “cross” states that YAHSHUA is “generally believed” to have died on such a cross, that at best it is only “by general tradition” that the matter is established.
As for religious authorities, one states: “The accounts of the manner of the crucifixion being so meager, any degree of certainty is impossible.”
1 And another tells that “no definite data are found in the New Testament concerning the nature of the cross on which YAHSHUA died. It is only the Church writers after Justin Martyr who indicate the composite four-armed cross as YAHSHUA’s vehicle of torture.”
2 And concerning the terms stauros and crux we are told that ‘stauros properly means merely a stake.’ “In Livy [Roman historian shortly before YAHSHUA’s ministry] even, crux means a mere stake.” “The Hebrews have no word for Cross more definite than ‘wood.’”
3Why Not a Traditional Cross? Certainly in view of the foregoing it cannot honestly be stated that YAHSHUA without doubt was nailed on the traditionally shaped cross. And it is of striking interest to note that it is those authorities that lean toward the view that YAHSHUA was nailed on such a cross that admit doubt. But those who hold that YAHSHUA died on a simple stake or pole are not in doubt. Says one such: “YAHSHUA died on a simple deathstake: In support of this there speak
(a) the then customary usage of this means of execution in the Orient,
(b) indirectly the history itself of YAHSHUA’ sufferings and
(c) many expressions of the early Church fathers.”—The Cross and Crucifixion, Hermann Fulda.
That YAHSHUA did not die on the traditionally shaped cross is also indicated by the testimony of the catacombs. Thus Dean Burgon, in his Letters from Rome, wrote: “I question whether a cross occurs on any Christian monument of the first four centuries.” Mons Perret, who spent fourteen years doing research in the catacombs of Rome, counted in all a total of 11,000 inscriptions among the millions of tombs. According to him, “not until the latter years of the fourth century does the sign of the cross appear.” Among the signs that do appear are the dove, a symbol of the holy spirit; the lyre, a symbol of joy; the anchor, a symbol of hope ”
4 That YAHSHUA did not die on the traditionally shaped cross is also indicated by the Bible itself. It repeatedly tells of his dying on a tree, the Greek word being xylon. (See Luke 23:31; Acts 5:30;10:39.) xylon simply means “timber,” and “by implication a stick, club or tree or other wooden article or substance.”
5 That is why the Gospel writers all use xylon to refer to the staves or clubs that the mob carried when they came to take YAHSHUA. (See Matthew 26:47, 55; Mark 14:43, 48; Luke 22:52.) By saying that YAHSHUA died on a xylon these indicated that YAHSHUA died on a timber, a piece of wood. Thus the apostle Paul states that YAHSHUA became a curse to those under the law by being fastened to a xylon, since “Cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree [xylon].” Paul was there quoting from the law of Moses, which required that the bodies of executed criminals be fastened to a tree or stake as a warning and which meant that they were cursed by יהוה.—Gal. 3:13; Deut. 21:22, 23.
A like example is found relative to one of the decrees of Cyrus, which warned that anyone refusing to obey, “ let a timber be pulled from his house, and let him be impaled, hanged on it.” In the Greek Septuagint Version the term for timber here is xylon. Again, not a cross but a simple straight beam.—Ezra 6:11.
Some argue that YAHSHUA died on a cross because early Christians used the letter “X” as a symbol for YAHSHUA. However, the “X” used in this manner does not at all refer to the tree on which YAHSHUA died. Rather, it stands for the name “Christ,”( A FALSE NAME ) it being the first (Greek) letter of the name “Christ,” written “X” and pronounced “ch” or “K.” Thus “X” is an abbreviation, not a symbol.
4 Nor does the fact that the Epistle of Barnabas and the Gospel of Nicodemus state that YAHSHUA died on a cross prove anything. Both of these works are recognized by all authorities as forgeries. Obviously both were written after the cross had been adopted as a symbol of Christendom.
4 Of Pagan Origin:
Clearly there is no Scriptural support for the traditional cross as a symbol of Christianity. Then how can its adoption by professed Christians be accounted for? It was borrowed from the surrounding pagans. It is another one of the many paganisms that the early apostate Christians adopted so as to appeal to the pagans and to be more like them. In this they followed the example of the Israelites who wanted a king so as to be like the nations round about. Thus Dr. Killen, in his Ancient Church, writes:
“From the most remote antiquity the cross was venerated in Egypt and Syria; it was held in equal honor by the Buddhists of the East; and what is still more extraordinary, when the Spaniards first visited America, the well-known sign was found among the objects of worship in the idol temples of Anáhuac. It is also remarkable that, with the commencement of our era, the pagans were wont to make the sign of the cross upon the forehead in the celebration of some of their sacred mysteries.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia gives similar information about the widespread use of the cross. Dr. Hislop, in The Two Babylons, likewise tells of the pagan origin of the cross and questions that YAHSHUA died on one.
The very fact that the cross is one of the most common of all pagan religious symbols should make us doubt that it could also be the symbol of the pure Messianic worship of יהוה. And so also should the extremes to which some have gone in times past in venerating the cross. Thus the Catholic writer Didron tells that “the cross has received a worship similar, if not equal, to that of YAHSHUA; this sacred wood is adored almost equally with ELOHIM himself.” Once the honoring of the cross began it went to such extremes that the pagans accused professed Christians of being idolaters. “It is plain that the great mass of Christians,” says a religious authority, “attached a magical value to this sign. At all events they used it as a form of exorcism and a means of warding off unclean spirits.” “Soon the cross came to work miracles of itself. People went to the length of marking cattle to protect them from disease.”
6 Today the Roman Catholic Church still celebrates the “Invention or Finding of the Holy Cross” on May 3 each year. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains why. (Vol. 5, p. 523) According to it the mother of Emperor Constantine, at the age of about eighty years, determined to go to Jerusalem to “rid the Holy Sepulchre of the mound of earth heaped upon and around it, and to destroy the pagan buildings that profaned its site.” She received revelations, which gave her confidence that she would discover YAHSHUA’s tomb and his cross. Jews had hidden the cross, but one Jew, being “touched by Divine inspiration, pointed it out to the excavators.” However, three crosses were found, and since the title that Pilate had decreed to be placed above YAHSHUA was found separately it could not be told which was YAHSHUA’s cross. So the three crosses were carried, “one after the other, to the bedside of a worthy woman who was at the point of death. . . . On touching that upon which YAHSHUA had died the woman got suddenly well again.” However, according to another tradition Helena had a dead person carried to the spot, who became alive by contact with the true cross. “From yet another tradition, related by St. Ambrose, it would seem that the titulus, or inscription, had remained fastened to the cross.”
While this Catholic authority argues for the genuineness of this miracle, citing the words of various “church fathers” in support of its position, the fact remains that “Eusebius, who carries more weight than all they put together, wholly omits it.”
1 The giving of reverent devotion to a creature or thing is disgusting to יהוה, for He is “a jealous Ěl.” That is why the Sovereign Hezekiah “took away the high places and broke the pillars, and cut down the Ashĕrah, and broke in pieces the bronze serpent which Mosheh had made, for until those days the children of Yisra ’ĕl burned incense to it, and called it Neḥushtan.” As apostate Israelites worshiped the copper serpent, so the cross has been worshiped by apostate Christians.—Ex. 20:5; 2 Ki. 18:4.
In fact, even to cherish the instrument on which YAHSHUA died does not make sense; it is utterly incongruous. Rather than being venerated it should be loathed and abhorred. Who would think of kissing the revolver that had been used by a murderer to kill one’s loved one? It is just as senseless to bestow affection on the instrument on which YAHSHUA met a cruel death. Thus Maimonides, the Jewish scholar of the twelfth century, tells us that the Jews viewed the torture stake as a disgusting thing.
7 Thus we see the Scriptures, the facts of history and reason uniting to testify that YAHSHUA did not die on a cross but upon an upright pole or stake, a stauros, xylon, crux. Also, that regardless of its form, it is to be abhorred rather than venerated. In keeping with these facts The Scriptures renders stauros as “stake” and xylon as “stake,” when it refers to the instrument on which YAHSHUA died.
1. Encyclopaedia Biblica, Vol. 1, p. 957.
2. New Schaff & Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol.
3, p. 313.3. Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, p. 508.
4. The History of the Cross, Ward.
5. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Strong.
6. Dictionary of the Bible, Hastings, Vol. 3,, p. 328.
7. Exercitationes contra Baronium, I. Casaubon, 16, An. 34, No. 134.
8. The Scriptures, ISR and copyright-free editions.