of the New Testament: Cross or Stake?
This page will address the following questions:
What was its form
in the case of Jesus Christ? Was it a two-beamed
cross or a simple upright stake?
Was wood scarce
in and around Jerusalem at the time and does this
have any bearing on what method the Romans used in Jesus'
What does the Greek word
Are there scriptures that 'point'
to its form?
What weight should be given
to post-N.T christian writers?
findings, such as supposed 1st century christian
inscriptions, be of help?
Has the New
World Translation's choice been
Is the New
World Translation alone in its preferred
Whatever form it was should
we have it as a symbol in our places of worship or
cherish, hold as dear, the implement of Christ's death?
The word "stauros" occurs 27 times in
the Christian Greek Scriptures(the 'New Testament'). This word
has been consistently translated in the New World Translation
as "torture stake" and never as "cross". It
is the implement on which Jesus Christ was afixed and executed.
Also, another Greek word was used by the Bible writers "xylon",
as the same implement of execution in regard to Jesus, which
denotes, "wood, a piece of wood, anything made of wood..."-Vine.
At those places where "xylon" is used in connection
with Jesus' execution the New World Translation has
rendered it as "stake". Is there any justification for
the New World Translation to do this with these Greek
Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old
and New Testament Words says:
"STAUROS....denotes, primarily, an upright
pale or stake. On such malefactors ware 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 it's origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used of the
symbol of of the god Tammaz(being in the shape of the mystic Tau,
the initial of his name in that country and 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 of faith, and were permitted
largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or
T, in it's most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was
adopted to stand for the cross of Christ"
The Classic Greek Dictionary, Greek-English
and English-Greek, With an Appendix of Proper and
Geographical Names prepared by George Ricker Berry reads under
"stauros": "..an upright pale, stake or pole; in
plu. a palisade. II. the Cross.(p.648).
Although this lexicon seems to give "the Cross" as a
meaning for "stauros" it seems rather as a reference
than a meaning("the Cross" rather
than "a cross")and to that of Jesus Christ. Hence
definition II is somewhat 'suspect' and may only reflect the
lexicons belief that the stauros in the NT was cross-shaped or it
may be giving it as a reference, that is, that when we read in
the English Bibles "cross" this is from the Greek
stauros and no indication it was actually cross-shaped. In its
definition 1 though there is no doubt the meaning of stauros and
anything other than that stauros meant more than one piece of
wood, whether it was a "pale, stake or pole"
is not mentioned and certainly none of which were 'cross-shaped.'
This is its meaning in all the Greek classics such as Homer.
There is no evidence that the from or shape of the stauros in
Jesus Christ's case was any different.
Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old
and New Testament Words has under the word Tree:
"2.XULON.....(b) of the Cross, the tree
being the stauros, the upright pale or stake to which
the Romans nailed those who were to be executed, Acts 5:30; 10:39;
13:29; Gal.3:13; 1 Pet.2:24;"
According to a Greek-English lexicon by
Liddell and Scott, this word means "Wood cut and ready
for use, firewood, timber, etc. . . . piece of wood, log, beam,
post . . . cudgel, club . . . stake on which criminals were
impaled . . . of live wood, tree." "wood . . . "
Hence in the Authorized Version/King James Version this
word is rendered as "tree" at Acts 5:30. The Complete
Jewish Bible by D. Stern has here "stake." See also
Acts 13:29; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24.
In agreement with the above is that which Dr
Jason BeDuhn has written(a private letter written to us and
published with his permission) when asked what he thought of the New
World Translation's rendering of the word "stauros":
"On "torture stake," again, I
think that the NWT is a bit heavy handed in trying to make a
point. Certainly "stake" would be sufficient, and more
desirable. The JW's are trying to shock Christians away from
their devotion to the cross. It is, after all, an instrument of
execution. They are right that STAUROS does not necessarily mean
the cross form as Christianity has thought of it. It can be just
a plain stake in the ground to which someone is nailed. But I
think "torture" is too much and misses the point: it is
meant to be a form of execution and not torture.
Also, the Companion Bible in it's
Appendix 162 remarks:
"In the Greek N.T. two words are used for
"the cross", on which the Lord was put to death.1. The
word stauros; which denotes an upright pale or stake, to
which the criminals were nailed for execution. 2. The word xulon,
which generally denotes a piece of a dead log of wood, or timber,
for fuel or for any other purpose. It is not like dendron,
which is used of a living, or green tree, as in Matt.21: 8; Rev.7:
1, 3; 8:7; 9: 4, &c. As this latter word xulon is
used for the former stauros it shows us the meaning of
each is exactly the same. The verb stauroo means to
drive stakes. Our English word "cross" is the
translation of the Latin crux; but the Greek stauros
no more means a crux than the word "stick" means a
"crutch". Homer uses the word stauros of an
ordinary pole or stake, or a simple piece of timber.[ftnote,
Iliad xxiv.453. Odyssey xiv.11] And this is the
meaning and usage of the word throughout the Greek classics.[ftnote,
eg.Thucydides iv.90. Xenophon, Anabasis v.2.21] It never
means two pieces of timber placed across one another at
any angle, but of always one piece alone. Hence the use of the
word xulon(No.2 above)in connection with the manner of
our Lord's death and rendered "tree" in Acts 5:30; 10:39;
13:29; Gal.3:13, 1 Pet.2:24. This is preserved in our old English
name rood or rod. See Encycl.Brit., 11th (Camb)ed.,
vol.7, p.505d. There is nothing in the Greek of the N.T. even to
imply two pieces of timber."
A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the
English and Greek New Testament, p819. E.W.Bullinger states:
"Used here[cross] for the stauros on which
Jesus was crucified. Both words[stauros, xylon]disagree with the
modern idea of a cross, with which we have become familiarized by
pictures. The stauros was simply an upright pale or stake to
which the Romans nailed those who were thus said to be crucified.
Stauroo[the verb], merely to drive stakes. It never means two
pieces of wood joining each other at any angle. Even the Latin
word crux means a mere stake."
The Concordant Literal New Testament with
the Keyword Concordance states:
"stauros STANDer: cross, an
upright stake or pole, without any crosspiece, now, popularly,
"stauroo cause-STAND, crucify,
drive a stake into the ground, fasten on a stake, impale, now by
popular usage, crucify, though there was no crosspiece."- pp.
63, 64, Greek-English Keyword Concordance, Concordant Publishing
Concern, 1983, 3rd printing of 6th edition of 1976.
The Anchor Bible Dictionary says about
crucifixion: "The act of nailing or binding a living victim
or sometimes a dead person to a cross or stake(stauros or skolops)
or a tree(xylon)...Under the Roman Empire, crucifixion normally
included a flogging beforehand. At times the cross was only one
vertical stake. Frequently, however, there was a cross-piece
attached..."- Volume 1, pp.1207, 1208
The book Dual Heritage-The Bible and the
British Museum states: It may come as a shock to know
that there is no word such as cross in the Greek of
the New Testament. The word translated cross is
always the Greek word [stauros] meaning a
stake or upright pale. The cross was not
originally a Christian symbol; it is derived from Egypt and
To read what an issue of The Watchtower
magazine wrote in 1950 when the New World Translation of the
Christian Greek Scriptures was published see here.
Also, the following work is worth quoting from
at length(and it is long), it being:
The Non-Christian Cross, An
Enquiry into the Origin and History of the Symbol Eventually
Adopted as that of our Religion,
by John Denham Parsons:
"In the thousand and one works supplied
for our information upon matters connected with the history of
our race, we are told that Alexander the Great, Titus, and various
Greek, Roman and Oriental rulers of ancient days, "crucified"
this or that person; or that they "crucified" so many
at once, or during their reign. And the instrument of execution
is called a "cross."
The natural result is that we imagine that all the people said to
have been "crucified" were executed by being nailed or
otherwise affixed to a cross-shaped instrument set in the ground,
like that to be seen in our fanciful illustrations of the
execution of Jesus.
This was, however, by no means necessarily the case.
For instance, the death spoken of, death by the stauros, included
transfixion by a pointed stauros or stake, as well as affixion to
an unpointed stauros or stake; and the latter punishment was not
always that referred to.
It is also probable that in most of the many cases where we have
no clue as to which kind of stauros was used, the cause of the
condemned one's death was transfixion by a pointed stauros.
Moreover, even if we could prove that this very common mode of
capital punishment was in no case that referred to by the
historians who lived in bygone ages, and that death was in each
instance caused by affixion to, instead of transfixion by, a
stauros, we would still have to prove that each stauros had a
cross-bar before we could correctly describe the death caused by
it as death by crucifixion.
It is also, upon the face of it, somewhat unlikely that the
ancients would in every instance in which they despatched a man
by affixing him to a post sat in the ground, have gone out of
their way to provide the artistic but quite un-necessary cross-bar
of our imagination.
As it is, in any case, well known that the Romans very often
despatched those condemned to death by affixing them to a stake
or post which had no cross-bar, the question arises as to what
proof we have that a cross-bar was used in the case of Jesus...
What the ancients used to signify when they used the word stauros
, can easily be seen by referring to either the Iliad or the
The stauros used as an instrument of execution was (1)a small
pointed pole or stake used for thrusting through the body, so as
to pin the latter to the earth, or otherwise render death
inevitable; (2)a similar pole or stake fixed in the ground point
upwards, upon which the condemned one was forced down till
incapable of escaping; (3)a much longer and stouter pole or stake
fixed point upwards, upon which the victim, with his hands tied
behind him, was lodged in such a way that the point should enter
his breast and the weight of the body cause every movement to
hasten the end; and (4)a stout un-pointed pole or stake set
upright in the earth, from which the victim was suspended by a
rope round his wrists, which were first tied behind him so that
the position might become an agonising one; or to which the
doomed one was bound, or ,in the case of Jesus, nailed.
That this last named kind of stauros, which was admittedly that
to which Jesus was affixed, had in every case a cross-bar
attached is untrue; that it had in most cases is unlikely; that
it had in the case of Jesus, is unproven.
Even as late as the Middle Ages, the word stauros seems to have
primarily signified a straight piece of wood without a cross-bar.
For the famous Greek lexicographer, Suidas, expressly states,
"Stauroi; ortha xula peregota," and both Eustathius and
Hesychius affirm that it meant a straight stake or pole.
The side light thrown upon the question by Lucian is also worth
noting. The writer, referring to Jesus, alludes to "That
sophist of theirs who was fastened to a skolops;" which word
signified a single piece of wood, and not two pieces joined
Only a passing notice need be given to the fact that in some of
the Epistles of the New Testament, which seem to have been written
before the Gospels, though, like the other Epistles, misleadingly
placed after the gospels, Jesus is said to have been hanged upon
a tree.....the word translated "tree," though that
always used in referring to what is translated as the "Tree
of Life," signified not only "tree" but also
It should be noted, however, that these five references of the
Bible to the execution of Jesus as having been carried out by his
suspension upon a tree or a piece of timber set in the ground, in
no wise convey the impression that two pieces of wood nailed
together in the form of a cross is what is referred to.
Moreover, there is not, even in the Greek text of the Gospels, a
single intimation in the Bible to the effect that the instrument
actually used in the case of Jesus was cross-shaped
Had there been any such intimation in the twenty-seven Greek
works referring to Jesus, which our Church selected out of a very
large number and called the "New Testament," the Greek
letter chi, which was cross-shaped, would in the ordinary course
have been referred to; and some such term as Kata chiasmon,
"like a chi," made use of.
It should also be borne in mind that though the Christians of the
first three centuries certainly made use of a transient sign of
the cross in the non-Mosaic initiatory rite of baptism and at
other times, it is, as will be shown in the next two chapters,
admitted that they did not use or venerate it as a
representation of the instrument of execution upon which Jesus
died. Moreover, if in reply to the foregoing it should be argued
that as it is well known that cross-shaped figures of wood, and
other representations of the sign or figure of the cross, were
not venerated by Christians until after the fateful day when
Constantine set out at the head of the soldiers of Gaul in his
famous march against Rome ; and that the Christian crosses
of the remainder of the fourth century were
representations of the instrument of execution upon which Jesus
died; a dozen other objections present themselves if we are
honest enough to face the fact that we have to show that they
were so from the first. For the Gauls, and therefore the soldiers
of Gaul, venerated as symbols of the Sun-God and Giver of Life
and Victory the cross of four equal arms, +
or X , and the solar wheel, while the so-called
cross which Constantine and his troops are said to have seen
above the midday sun was admittedly the monogram of Christ, ,
which was admittedly an adaptation of the solar wheel, as will be
shown further on ; and it was as tokens of the conquest of Rome
by his Gaulish troops, that Constantine, as their leader, erected
one of these symbols in the centre of the Eternal City, and
afterwards placed upon his coins the crosses.......the cross of
four equal arms X, and several variations of that other cross of
four equal arms, the right-angled +. And it was not till long
after these crosses were accepted as Christian, and Constantine was dead and buried, that the cross
with one of its arms longer than the other three (or two), which
alone could be a representation of an instrument of execution,
was made use of by Christians.
Another point to be remembered is that when Constantine,
apparently conceiving ours, as the only non-national religion
with ramifications throughout his world-wide dominions, to be the
only one that could weld together the many nations which acknowledged his sway, established Christianity as the State
Religion of the Roman Empire, the Church to which we belong would
naturally have had to accept as its own the symbols which
Constantine had caused to be those of the State in question. And
it should be added that the cross of later days with one of its
arms longer than the others, if not also the assumption that the
stauros to which Jesus was affixed had a cross-bar, may have been
merely the outcome of a wish to associate with the story of Jesus
these Gaulish symbols of victory which had become symbols of the
Roman State, and therefore of its State Church.
Anyway, the first kind of cross venerated by Christians was not a representation of an instrument of
execution ; and the fact that we hold sacred many different kinds
of crosses, although even if we could prove that the stauros to
which Jesus was affixed had a cross-bar but one kind could be a
representation of that instrument of execution, has to be
Our only plausible explanation of the fact that we hold sacred
almost any species of cross is that, as we do not know what kind
of cross Jesus died upon, opinions have always differed as to
which was the real cross.
This difference of opinion among Christians as to the shape of
the instrument upon which Jesus was executed, has certainly
existed for many centuries. But as an explanation of the many
different kinds of crosses accepted by us as symbols of Christ,
it only lands us in a greater difficulty. For if we did not know
what kind of cross Jesus died upon when we accepted the cross as
our symbol, the chances obviously are that we accepted the cross
as our symbol for some other reason than that we assert. As a matter of fact our position regarding the whole matter is
illogical and unsatisfactory, and we ought to alter it by
honestly facing the facts that we cannot satisfactorily prove
that our symbol was adopted as a representation of the instrument
of execution to which Jesus, was affixed, and that we do not even
know for certain that the instrument in question was cross-shaped.
It need only be added that
there is not a single sentence in any of the numerous writings
forming the New Testament, which, in the original Greek, bears
even indirect evidence to the effect that the stauros used in the
case of Jesus was other than an ordinary stauros; much less to
the effect that it of one piece of timber, but of two pieces
nailed together in the form of a cross.
Taking the whole of the foregoing facts into consideration, it
will be seen that it is not a little misleading upon the part of
our teachers to translate the word stauros as "cross"
when rendering the Greek documents of the Church into our native
tongue, and to support that action by putting "cross"
in our lexicons as the meaning of stauros without carefully
explaining that that was at any rate not the primary meaning of
the word in the days of the Apostles, did not become its primary
signification till long afterwards, and became so then, if at all,
only because, despite the absence of corroborative evidence, it
was assumed that the particular stauros upon which Jesus was
executed had that particular shape.
But-the reader may object-how about the Greek word which in our
Bibles is translated as "crucify" or "crucified?"
Does not that mean "fix to a cross" or "fixed to a
cross?" And what is this but the strongest possible
corroboration of our assertion as Christians that Jesus was
executed upon a cross-shaped instrument?
The answer is that no less than four different Greek words are
translated in our Bibles as meaning "crucify" or "crucified,"
and that not one of the four meant "crucify" or "crucified."
The four words in question are the words prospegnumi, anastauroo,
sustauroo, and stauroo.
"The word prospegnumi, though translated in our Bibles as
"crucify" or "crucified," meant to "fix"
to or upon, and meant that only. It had no special reference to
the affixing of condemned persons either to a stake, pale, or
post, or to a tree, or to a cross; and had no more reference to a
cross than the English word "fix" has.
The word anastauroo was never used by the old Greek writers as
meaning other than to impale upon or with a single piece of
The word sustauroo does not occur in pre-Christian writings, and
only five times in the Bible against the forty-four times of the
next word to be dealt with. Being obviously derived in part from
the word stauros, which primarily signified a stake or pale which
was a single piece of wood and had no cross-bar, sustauroo
evidently meant affixion to such a stake or pale. Anyhow there is
nothing whatever either in the derivation of the word, or in the
context in either of the five instances in which it occurs, to
show that what is referred to is affixion to something that was
The word stauroo occurs, as has been said, forty four times; and
of the four word in question by far the most frequently. The
meaning of this word is therefore of special importance. It is
consequently most significant to find, as we do upon
investigation, that wherever it occurs in the pre-Christian
classics it is used as meaning to impalisade, or stake, or affix
to a pale or stake; and has reference, not to crosses, but to
single pieces of wood.
It seems therefore
tolerably clear (1) that the sacred writngs forming the New
testament, to the statements of which-as translated for us-we bow
down in reverence, do not tell us that Jesus was affixed to a
cross-shaped instrument of execution; (2) that the balance of
evidence is against the truth of our statements to the effect
that the instrument in question was cross-shaped, and our sacred
symbol originally a representation of the same; and (3) that we
Christians have in bygone days acted, alas! still act, anything
but ingenuously in regard to the symbol of the cross.
This is not all, however. For if the unfortunate fact that we
have in our zeal almost manufactured evidence in favour of the
theory that our cross or crosses had it's or their origin in the
shape of the instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed
proves anything at all, it proves the need for a work which, like
the present one, sets in array the evidence available regarding
both the pre-Christian cross and the adoption in later times of a
similar symbol as that of the catholic faith."
Nor should it be forgotten that the triumph of Christianity was
due to the fact that it was a " catholic " faith, and
not, like the other faiths followed by the subjects of Rome, and
like what Jesus seems to have intended the results of His mission
to have been inasmuch as He solemnly declared that he was sent to
the lost sheep of the House of Israel and to them alone, the
monopoly of a single nation or race. For if Paul, taking his and
other visions of Jesus as the long-needed proofs of a future life,
had not disregarded the very plain intimations of Jesus to the
effect that His mission was to the descendants of Jacob or Israel,
and to them alone; if Paul had not withstood Christ's
representative, Peter, to the face, and, with unsurpassed zeal,
carried out his grand project of proclaiming a non-national and
universal religion founded upon appearances of the spirit-form of Jesus, what we call Christianity
would not have come into existence.
The fact that but for Paul there would have been no catholic
faith with followers in every land ruled by Constantine when sole
emperor, for that astute monarch to establish as the State
Religion of his loosely knit empire, because, on account of its
catholicity, that best fitted to hold power as the official faith
of a government with world-wide do minions , is worthy of a
lasting place in our memory.
Nor is the noteworthy fact last mentioned unconnected with the
symbol of the cross. For, as will be shown, it is clear that it
was because Constantine caused the figure of the cross to become
a recognized symbol of his catholic empire, that it became
recognised as a symbol of the Catholic faith
Not till after Constantine and his Gaulish warriors planted what
Eusebius the Bishop of Caesarea and other Christians of the
century in question describe as a cross, within the walls of the
Eternal City as the symbol of their victory, did Christians ever
set on high a cross-shaped trophy of any description.
Moreover, but for the fact that, as it happened the triumph of Constantine resulted in that of the
Christian Church, we should probably have deemed the cross, if to
our minds a representation of the instrument of execution to
which Jesus was affixed, as anything but the symbol of Victory we
now deem it.
This is evident from the fact that the so-called cross of Jesus
admittedly fulfilled the purpose for which it was erected at the
request of those who sought the death of Jesus. And even
according to our Gospels the darkness of defeat over shadowed the
scene at Calvary.
To put the matter plainly, the victory of Jesus was not a victory
over the cross ; for He did not come down from the cross. Nor was
it a victory over His enemies ; for what they sought was to get
rid of a man whom they deemed an agitator, and their wish was
gratified, inasmuch as, thanks to the cross, He troubled them no
In other words the victory which we ascribe to Jesus did not
occur during the gloom which hung like a pall over his native
land at the time of His execution, but upon the then approaching
Sun-day of the Vernal Equinox, at the coming of the glory of the
dawn. For the victory in question, from whatever point of view we may look at it, was not the avoidance
of defeat, but its retrieval. And its story is an illustration of
the old-world promise, hoary with antiquity and founded upon the
coming, ushered in every year by the Pass-over or cross-over of
the equator by the sun at the Vernal Equinox, of the bounteous
harvests of summer after the dearth of devastating winter ;
bidding us ever hope, not indeed for the avoidance of death and
therefore of defeat, but for such victory as may happen to lay in
survival or resurrection.
It is therefore clear that even if we could prove that the
instrument of execution to which Jesus was affixed was cross-shaped,
it would not necessarily follow that it was as the representation
of the cause of His death which we now deem it, that the figure
of the cross became our symbol of Life and Victory.
In any case honesty demands that
we should no longer translate as "cross" a word which
at the time our Gospels were written did not necessarily signify
something cross-shaped. And it is equally incumbant upon us, from
a moral point of view, that we should cease to render as "crucify"
or "crucified" words which never bore any such meaning."
For Chapter II of Parson's book "The
evidence of Minucius Felix" see here.
Chapter III "The evidence of the Other
Chapter IV "Curious statements of Irenaeus"
Chapter V "Origin of the Pre-Christian
Chapter VI "Origin of the Christian Cross"
Chapters VII, VIII, XV, XVI AND XVII of The
Non-Christian Cross see here
You may also like to read:
'Is the Cross for Christians?' -The
Watchtower, August 15th, 1987, pp21-24; 'Where Were His Legs?'
- ibid, pp. 28, 29.
The New World Translation of the Holy
Scriptures, Reference Edition, 1984, Appendix 5C, pp. 1577-78.
The Kingdom Interlinear Translation
of the Greek Scriptures, 1985 ed.(WTB&TS), Appendix 3C,
Insight on the Scriptures-'Impalement',
||"Also, they posted above his
head the charge against him, in writing: "This is
Jesus the King of the Jews.""(Matt.27:37)
-How Jesus may have been impaled* upon
the stauros as pictured in an issue of The Watchtower
August 15th 1987 p.24 (WatchTower Bible &Tract
Society) Please note the above account of where the
titulus(John 19:19 TITLON) was said to be placed was
"above his head." As we can see, from the
artist's drawing of Jesus' possible position on the stake
on the left, anyone trying to employ this account against
Jesus being executed upon an upright stake is employing a
very weak argument indeed!
Also, the WTS artist's depiction shows only one nail that
fastens both arms of Jesus to the stake. But the WTS are
not being dogmatic about how many nails were used in
regard to the arms.Two could have been used. Please see
further down regarding this.
|The crux simplex as
illustrated by the Roman Catholic scholar Justus Lipsius
in his book De Cruce Libri Tres. Interestingly, The
Expositor's Greek Testament remarks: "Many
questions on which there has been much discussion suggest
themselves e.g., as to the structure and form of the
cross: did it consist of an upright beam(palus,
stipes)and a cross beam(patibulum, antenna),
or of the former only, the hands being nailed to the beam
above the head?(so Fulda, Das Kreus und die
Kreusigung, 1878). Was Christ's cross a crux
commissa(T) or a crux immissa(t)? Or is
this distinction a purely imaginery one, as Fulda(p. 126)
maintains against Justus Lipsius, till Fulda the great
authority on the subject of crucifixion? The work of the
more recent writer should certainly be consulted before
coming to a final decision of the form of the cross or
the method of crucifixion.."-Vol.1, p.328, 329.
||The black and white sketch(left) that
appeared on page 114 of the book "The Harp of God"
(1921) written by J.F.Rutherford then president of the
Watchtower Bible & Tract Society. It was only in 1936
in the book "Riches," again by J.F.Rutherford,
that first made clear to Jehovah's Witnesses the fact
that Jesus was not executed on a cross but on a stake.
Afterwards, in the WTB&TS's literature the artists
drawings of how Jesus may have died always picture him
upon the stake. In the first edition of the New World
Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures of 1950 an
appendix clearly shows the felicitousness of translating
the Greek word "stauros" as "torture stake"
and not "cross." Interestingly the appendix
quotes the book The Cross and Crucifixion by
Herman Fulda, Breslau, Germany, 1878 which said in part:
"Trees were not everywhere available at the places
chosen for the public execution. So a simple beam was
sunk into the ground. On this outlaws, with hands raised
upwards and often also with their feet, were bound or
nailed....This simple cross was the oldest instrument
erected by human hand for punishment with crucifixion;
and because of it's very simplicity it has maintained
itself in this form alongside its somewhat more
artificial double down to the end." He concludes
with the case of Jesus that he "died on a simple
death-stake: 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 Jesus' sufferings
and (c) many expressions of the early church fathers."-pp
Regarding the English word "impale"as
used in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
It is from the French "empaler" which derives from
Medieval Latin "impalere," from the Latin "in"-on
+ "palus"- stake, pole. Hence dictionaries define this
word as "to pierce through with, or fix on, something
pointed; transfix" and "to punish or torture by fixing
on a stake." Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
states: "4717. STAUROW... to impale on the cross;...."
Hence, to use the word "impale" in the N.T. to describe
how Jesus was fixed upon the stake is quite proper.
On a web site that addresses the use of the
Kingdom Interlinear Translation's appendix on the the Greek word
stauros rendered as "torture stake" in the New World
Translation we find these comments:
"In the 1950 and 1969 editions of the New World Translation
(in their appendix), the WT reproduces one of sixteen woodcut
illustrations by the 16th century writer Justus Lipsius, who
authored a work called De Cruce Liber Primus, Secundus and Tres.
They reproduce his picture of a man impaled on an upright stake,
failing to mention that Lipsius produced fifteen other
illustrations (most of which picture various crucifixions on
crosses). The WT makes the statement: "This is the manner in
which Jesus was impaled" and a bit further on "The most
amazing thing of all is that the WT could make a statement such
as "evidence is completely lacking" that Jesus was
crucified on a cross, when the VERY BOOK they use as "proof"
to support their claims SAYS JESUS DIED ON A CROSS! One of the
woodcuts of Lipsius not mentioned by the WT, shows a crucifixion
on a cross. A partial translation of the Latin text alongside
this woodcut says: In the Lord's cross there were four pieces of
wood, the upright beam, the crossbar, a tree trunk (piece of wood)
placed below, and the title (inscription) placed above. Also they
hand down (this account by) Irenaeus: "The construction of
the cross has five ends, two on the vertical and two on the
horizontal, and one in the middle where the person attached with
nails rested." (De Cruce Liber Secundus, pg. 661) The
earlier (1950 and 1969) editions of the NWT, after referring to
Lipsius' picture of a man on an upright stake stated, "This
is the manner in which Jesus was impaled." They thereby
attempted to convey the idea that Lipsius' book was proving their
point. Since then the exposure of their dishonesty induced them
to leave this statement out of the 1984 and 1985 versions of the
NWT; but they STILL use Lipsius' illustration to make their point,
while failing to tell the real story! They are intentionally
avoiding the truth."
However the above makes several simple if serious
errors in their allegations of impropriety with the above named
WTB&TS publications articles. The fact is that Lipsius'
woodcut illustration was not used as "proof"
that the stauros which Jesus Christ was executed upon was a
simple up-right stake! The 1950 NWT and the 1969 KIT just used
this illustration to show that the crux simplex, Latin
for a simple upright stake, was one method used, other
than its artificial doubles with two-pieces of wood placed at a
right angle to each other and hence this illustration serves
the intent of the appendix article in simply showing what the
victim would have looked like on such an implement. That the
above WTB&TS publications "fail to mention that Lipsius
produced fifteen other illustrations (most of which picture
various crucifixions on crosses)" supposes that the
publications appendices had to do so, that is, inform its
readers that this was so. But why would they have to do this if
the publications were only using Lipsius' illustration of a
victim on a simple upright stake, a "crux simplex" and
to illustrate this and nothing more!!! Of course they would
not have to do so. What Lipsius thought the stauros' shape was in
the case of Jesus was not based on anything other than tradition
and as the The Expositor's Greek Testament remarks(which
we will quote once more): "Many questions on which there has
been much discussion suggest themselves e.g., as to the structure
and form of the cross: did it consist of an upright beam(palus,
stipes)and a cross beam(patibulum, antenna), or of the former
only, the hands being nailed to the beam above the head?(so Fulda,
Das Kreus und die Kreusigung, 1878). Was Christ's cross a
crux commissa(T) or a crux immissa(t)? Or is this distinction a
purely imaginery one, as Fulda(p. 126) maintains against Justus
Lipsius, till Fulda the great authority on the subject of
crucifixion? The work of the more recent writer should
certainly be consulted before coming to a final decision of the
form of the cross or the method of crucifixion.."-Vol.1,
p.328, 329. Fulda also in his work has plates showing the
differing shapes and methods impalement upon a stauros could take
place. And Fulda, the "more recent writer" is against
Lipsius on what shape it took in Christ's case and it is Fulda
whom the WTB&TS publications quote in some length in support
of translating the Greek word as "torture stake" rather
than as "cross." The above accusations toward
the WTB&TS publications appendices then are found to be wholly
dishonest and deceptive"
Also one should also consider that wood at that
time and place was scarce. Indeed, where the wood for
execution was scarce there would be an economical reason
to use only one piece of wood at times and this was so
in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire. That one piece of wood
would have been a simple stake, a stauros, that, at
times, the malefactor was made to carry to the site of his
execution and hung upon with hands above his head and would have
been re-used time and again not being left in the ground
to be attacked by the weather and wood boring insects. The fact
that in places where wood was abundant the Romans at times, but
not necessarily always, used two pieces, one called in latin a patibulum,
the wood that served as a cross-piece and the stipes,
the wood that served us the upright that was in/sunk into the
ground would not be agreeable to the fact that wood was indeed
scarce in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, such as
Jerusalem was, as the stipes would have been attacked by
the weather and insects such as the wasp if it was left out at
all times. As the New Testament account is wholly silent on there
being two pieces of wood, indeed, only ever mentioning one
piece, then this, the scarcity of wood in Jerusalem actually
argues against there being two pieces but for
the simplest form of one piece, the single stake to be sunk into
the ground after the malefactor had been affixed to it by either
nails or rope. The New Testament account of Jesus' execution fits
this extremely well, so well, that one wonders why any would
contend otherwise lest they have a mis-directed devotion to
the traditional two beamed cross for Jesus.
In 1968 there was discovered
in a burial cave at Giv'at ha-Mivtar the remains of a male that
had been executed during the Roman period. This has been the only
anthropological evidence of the practice of "cricifixion"
or "impalement on a stake." The original report on this
find aroused much scholarly interest. However, due to the
pressure of certain religious authorities, the analysis of the
remains, by Professor Nico Haas and his medical team, were
hurried and succeeding articles were published on these. One, by
a Vassilios Tzaferis, the excavator of the man, based on this
teams findings, attempting to show what the position the man died
on the implement of execution. A re-evaluation has since been
carried out. I have often met with some that say that this find
shows that Jesus met his death on a cross. The man's remains,
however, do not offer any such proof of this. For two reasons.(1)
This man may not have been executed upon a cross, as some suppose
it definitely was the case. He may well have died on a simple stake. The reason why some suppose that this man was executed upon
a cross is partly based on Professor Haas' original
appraisal and articles published since then based on them. Since
then, inconsistencies have been found, amounting to a re-evaluation
in certain respects. (2)Even though this man may have,
yet there is no proof of this, as has been said, died on
a cross-shaped implement, how would this show that the shape of Jesus'
"stauros" was also cross-shaped when the available
evidence in his, Jesus' case, points toward a simple upright
The re-evaluation was carried out by Joseph
Zias of the Department of Antiquities and Museums, Israel and
Eliezer Sekeles of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School,
Jerusalem. A good place to read their re-appraisal is the six
page article in the Israel Exploration Journal, Vol.25, pp22-27, The
Crucified Man from Giv'at ha-Mitvar:A Reappraisal.Dr
Zias has himself stated regarding this find and what light it
sheds, or rather, does not shed, upon how Jesus was crucified:
"...my research on the case from Jerusalem does not in my
opinion, shed any light as to how Jesus was crucified. All the NT
says is that he [Jesus]was crucified, not how..."-(private e-mail
This reappraisal affected many of the conclusions that had been
made about the man's position during "crucifixion." On
p.27 there is a diagram: "Proposed new reconstruction of the
position of crucifixion," where you can see a man whose feet
are each affixed to the upright with nails. The diagram also show
the arms tied to another piece of wood forming a cross beam.
(This diagram was re-produced in the article, "Where Were
His Legs," in the Watchtower cited above) But it is not to
be supposed from this that there was any evidence from the
remains of the man discovered that he died in this manner. This
diagram is how the appraisers imagined how the man was
positioned for execution. As has been said, he could have died on
an upright stake. Dr Zias himself has stated to an enquirer about
how the article depicted the malefactor's position on the "cross,"
"Our reconstruction for the arms being tied in the manner in
the article was purely hypothetical. The arms could have been
tied to the cross in any number of ways[including above his head
on an upright pole]." (see also New Analysis of the
Crucified Man, Biblical Archaeology Review.)See Crucifixion
in Antiquity by J.Zias.
To put in the title of these articles, the word "Crucified,"
could, in my opinion, be somewhat misleading. To the casual
reader it might leave the impression that there is definite
evidence/proof that this man was "crucified" on a
"cross." But the writer by using this word does not
mean to intimate that this man died on a cross shaped
implement. See the quote from the Anchor Bible Dictionary
above where the word "crucifixion" could mean
an execution on a simple stake. The new investigators
Zias and Sekeles stated about how the "crucified " man
was attached to the cross: "The literary sources for the
Roman period contain numerous descriptions of crucifixion but few
exact details as to how the condemned were affixed to the cross.
Unfortunately, the direct physical evidence here is also limited
to one right heel calcaneum(heel bone)pierced by an 11.5 cm iron
nail with traces of wood at both ends."
In essence, although this discovery is of great
scholarly interest, it in no way adds anything more to the way we
understand of what shape was the implement of Jesus' execution.
Also, some may point out that there is other
archaeological evidence that Christians were "using"
the cross in the first century and this particular
evidence suggests the shape of the implement on which Jesus died.
In Capernaum there is the Synagogue "The House of St Peter"
built in the 1st century that has grafitti "crosses" on
it's walls. However, the plaster on or in which these "crosses"
are found are of a much younger date than the building itself.
The house being re-plastered many times since it was first built
! They are not of first century origin.
One writer has said:
"Historical findings have substantiated
the traditional cross. One finding is a graffito dating to
shortly after 200 A.D., taken from the walls of the Roman
Palatine. It is a drawing of a crucified ass; a mockery of a
Christian prisoner who worships Christ. The Romans were no doubt
amused that Christians worshiped this Jesus whom they had
crucified on a cross."
A graffito found
on the Palatine in Rome
|To this can be said: This drawing was
discovered in 1856 on the walls of the above mentioned
building. This "crucified ass" is a human
figure but with an animals head. The arms are extended.
Two lines that form a cross appear in front, not
behind this graffito, traversing the arms and legs. There
is an accompanying inscription which says: "Alexamenos
adores his God." It has been pointed out that the
lines that form this 'cross' may very well not be a part
of the original graffito. Also, the head is more like a
jackal than an ass and so the drawing could very well be
a representation of the Egyptian god Anubis. This is
certainly no evidence of a cross or a crufixion as drawn
by Christians in the early 3rd century. Professor Graydon
F. Snyder said about this piece of graffito: "In
1856 a drawing was found in the servants' quarters of the
Imperial Palace in Rome that depicts a certain Alexamenos
gesturing with his right hand toward a donkey crucified
on it. A graffito below the cross reads: ... Presumably
this inscription should be translated
"Alexamenos, worship god."
Though no fixed date can be given for this drawing, again one can
easily assume such a derogatory cartoon did indeed mock the
Christian kerygma. It's use by an opponent of the faith hardly
proves that the cross was an early Christian symbol."
Professor Graydon also wrote:
"THE sign of the cross has been a symbol of great antiquity,
present in nearly every known culture. Its meaning has eluded
anthropologists, though its use in funerary art could well point
to a defense against evil. On the other hand, the famous crux
ansata of Egypt, depicted coming from the mouth, must refer to
life or breath. The universal use of the sign of the cross makes
more poignant the striking lack of crosses in early Christian
remains, especially any specific reference to the event on
Golgotha. Most scholars now agree that the cross, as an
artistic reference to the passion event, cannot be found prior to
the time of Constantine.
"...In 1938, in connection with the two hundred year
celebration of excavations at Herculaneum, a house, appropriately
called Casa del Bicentenario, was unearthed and made
available to the public. In a second story room the excavators
found a bare spot in the form of a cross. Obviously some cross-shaped
object, previously attached to the wall, had been knocked off or
taken off prior to the eruption of A.D. 79
"There were likely Christians in Herculaneum. Abundant
evidence for a Jewish presence has been found. No reason would
exist to doubt a Christian presence, nor any reason to doubt that
those Christians would have met in houses like Casa del
Bicentenario. But this so-called cross could have been
anything attached to the wall by two cross pieces. And if it were
a cross, it would simply appear to us as a surd in the development
of early Christian art: it came three hundred years too soon."
"A second approach to the problem of the late appearance of
the cross in early Christianity has been to appropriate crosses
found in the social matrix. ...Most examples of crosses with
possible early Christian implications have been found in
Palestine. ..One ought not to deny the existence of these common
cross sign in the Mediterranean area, nor reference to them by
early Christian writers, but they have no connection with the
crucifixion of Jesus. In Roman style Christian art that
implication first appears at the earliest in the fourth century
and certainly by the fifth. Tzaferis finds no Christian crosses
in Palestine before mid-fourth century.
"A third method has been to uncover cryptocrosses. Testa
especially sees a cross in many decorations. Even more popular is
the assignment of the cross symbol to anchors, ships' masts, and
the like... Others, such as Guarducci, believe early Christians
signalled their faith by writing the Greek tau - T - larger than
the other letters, or by using common abbreviations like XP to
express their hidden allegiance to Christ. It would be difficult
to disprove the meanings of a cryptosymbol as to prove it. The
burden of proof lies with those who find private meanings.
"While there may very well be a place in early Christian art
for the protective cross of the social matrix, there is no
place for the kerymatic cross. .. There is no place in
the third century for a crucified Christ, or a symbol of
divine death..."Ante PacemArchaeological
Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine (1985) pages 26-29.
So much for the archaeological 'evidence'
that would put the Christ on an implement of execution made up of
two pieces that formed a cross.
In the 1950 edition of the New World
Translation there is an appendix on the word stauros. There
it mentions the Greek hero Prometheus as tied to a stake. As many
reference works say that Prometheus was tied to a rock the WTB&TS
was 'challenged' to substantiate this claim. They did so by way a
"Question from Readers" article that appeared in The
Watchtower 1951, March 15th, p.190.
"Just as you have heard, the Americana
Encyclopedia in its article on "Prometheus Bound', the
tragedy by the Greek poet Aeschylus, also represents Prometheus
clamped to a rock in the Caucasus by forging. However, we should
like to refer you to the book The History of the Devil and the
Idea of Evil from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, by Dr.
Paul Carus, and published in Chicago by The Open Court Publishing
Co. in 1900. On page 210 it gives the illustration of a man tied
to a stake, under which illustration it says: 'Prometheus tied by
Zeus to the stake (or cross) and exposed to the Eagle-. Rescue by
Hercules (A vase found at Chiusi, now in Berlin. Baumeister, D.dcl.A.,
p. 1410)." On this page Dr. Carus says: "in spite of
the strong admixture of foreign mythology, Hercules has become
the national hero of Greece, and the Greek idea of salvation has
found in him the most typical expression, which has been most
beautifully worked out by Aeschylus in a grand tragedy which
represents Prometheus (the forethinker) as struggling and
suffering mankind, tied to the pole of misery by Zeus as a
punishment for the sin of having brought the bliss of light and
fire down to the earth. But at last the divine saviour, Hercules,
arrives, and, killing the eagle that lacerates the liver of the
bold hero, sets him free.Prometheus and Hercules are combined
into one person in the Christian Saviour, Jesus Christ. The
similarity of the story of Golgotha with the myth of Prometheus
is not purely accidental. For observe that in some of the older
pictures, as, for instance, in the vase of [page 211] Chiusi (see
illustration on page 210), Prometheus is not chained to a rock
but tied to a pole, that is, to a [stauros]or cross, and Greek
authors frequently use expressions such as the verb
ananskolopizeothai (Aeschylus) and anastaurousthai (Lucian) which
mean 'to be crucified.' " "
"On pages 217, 218 Dr. Carus says: "Plato, who, perhaps
under the impression of Aeschylus's conception of the tragic fate
of Prometheus, says of the perfect man who would rather be than
appear just: 'They will tell you that the just man who is thought
unjust will be scourged, racked, bound; will have his eyes burnt
out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be
hung up at the pale.' The strangest thing about this passage is
that the word which means 'he will be hung up at the stake', or 'fixed
on a pale', is an older synonym of the New Testament term
commonly translated 'to crucify."'
"The above agrees with the New World Translation of the
Christian Greek Scriptures in its Appendix, page 769, in
saying that the instrument upon which Jesus was nailed was a
stake without a crossbeam, and not the religiously represented 'cross";
and that the Greek word used for that instrument in ancient time
meant a "stake" and not the conventional religious
What about the statement made by Thomas as
recorded for us at John 20:25? Thomas said: "Unless I see in
his hands the print of the nails and stick my finger into the
print of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will not
In regard to this The Watchtower,
1984, April 1st, p.31 commented:
"[Question] Is it
correct to conclude from John 20:25 that Jesus was impaled with a
separate nail through each hand?
"The Cyclopaedia of Biblical,
Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by M'Clintock
and Strong, comments: "Much time and trouble have been
wasted in disputing as to whether three or four nails were used
in fastening the Lord. Nonnus affirms that three only were used,
in which he is followed by Gregory Nazianzen. The more general
belief gives four nails, an opinion which is supported at much
length and by curious arguments by Curtius. Others have carried
the number of nails as high as fourteen."-Volume II, page
Matthew 27:35 merely says: "When they had impaled him they
distributed his outer garments by casting lots." Little
detail is given, as in Mark, Luke and John. After Jesus'
resurrection, Thomas said: " Unless I see in his hands the
print of the nails and stick my finger into the print of the
nails and stick my hand into his side, I will certainly not
believe" (John 20:25) So even though criminals sometimes
were bound to a stake with ropes, Jesus was nailed. Some have
also concluded from John 20:25 that two nails were used, one
through each hand. But does Thomas' use of the plural (nail's)
have to be understood as a precise description indicating that
each of Jesus' hands was pierced by a separate nail?
In Luke 24:39 the resurrected Jesus said: "See my hands and
my feet, that it is I myself." This suggests that Christ's
feet also were nailed. Since Thomas made no mention of nail
prints in Jesus' feet, his use of the plural "nail's"
could have been a general reference to multiple nails used in
Thus, it just is not possible at this point to state with
certainty how many nails were used. Any drawings of Jesus on
the stake should be understood as artists' productions that offer
merely a representation based on the limited facts that we have.
Debate over such an insignificant detail should not be permitted
to becloud the all-important truth that "we became
reconciled to God through the death of his Son."- Romans 5:10."(italics
An appeal to the words of Thomas then cannot be
used either to show what kind of stauros Jesus was executed upon
or that the illustrations found in the WTB&TS publications
are erroneous when they depict Jesus' 'hands' being affixed by
just one nail.
On the history of the use of crucifixion in pre-Christian
and Christian times, as a means to inflict torture and to execute,
and how it was the most terrible way for a malefactor to end his
life see here
On an online discussion board one poster stated
in regard to the WTB&TS's use of works that discuss the Greek
word Stauros and the form of execution of the crucifixion said:
"QUOTE.......... MISQUOTE: In its "Reasoning
From the Scriptures" book, the Watchtower Society quotes
from several sources to support their "torture stake"
theory. These publications not only seem authoritative, but also
seem to support the Society's claims regarding the "torture
stake" rather than the traditional cross. However, unbeknown
to many, the Watchtower Society has not been honest
in its quotations of its sources. For example, one
publication that the Society quotes in its "Reasoning..."
book on page 89 is The Imperial Bible Dictionary. Below is the
Watchtower quotation, with the words that they omitted in RED: "The
Imperial Bible Dictionary acknowledges this, saying: "The
Greek word for cross, (stauros), properly signified a stake, an
upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung,
or which might be used in impaling (fencing in) a piece of ground.
But a modification was
introduced as the dominion and usages of Rome extended themselves
through Greek-speaking countries. Even
amongst the Romans, the crux (from which the word cross is
derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole, and always remained the more prominent
part. But from the time that it began to be used as an instrument
of punishment, a traverse piece of wood was commonly added ...
about the period of the Gospel Age, crucifixion was usually
accomplished by suspending the criminal on a cross piece of wood."
But this attempt at trying to
malign the WTB&TS's use of this Bible Dictionary is easily
put to the lie itself. For the poster omitted to tell his readers
what the publication "Reasoning from the Scriptures"(p.89)
said just before quoting the above named Dictionary. We can read
his own omission which I will put in green: "The Greek word rendered "cross"
in many modern Bible versions ("torture stake" in NWT)
is stauros. In classical Greek, this word meant merely
an upright stake, or pale. Later it also came to be used for
an execution stake having a crosspiece. The Imperial Bible-Dictionary
acknowledges....."- blue italics ours. Rather then the WTB&TS
being "dishonest" it is the case that, sadly, the above
poster has been. Notice also that this dictionary also said that
the stauros being "originally an upright pole," "always
remained the more prominent part." What we have read on this
page already shows that though the Romans did indeed use two
pieces of wood placed at right angles to each other to execute
criminals we are still faced with the fact that the Bible writers give no indication that in Jesus' case it was
other than an upright stake.
The poster went on to state:
page 91 of the "Reasoning..." book the Society quotes
from The Cross in Ritual, Architecture and Art by G. S. Tyack to
show that the cross was originally used in pagan worship, but
they do NOT go on to quote: "In
all this, the Christians of the first age would have rejoiced,
claiming it as a worldwide prophecy of the Cross of the Redeemer."
Of course, what the poster is
not telling, again, his readers, is that this work(and three
others found on p.91 of the Reasoning Book)was quoted under the
heading "What were the historical origins of Christendom's
cross?"(p.90) Hence, to quote Tyack here as saying "It
is strange, yet unquestionably a fact, that in ages long before
the birth of Christ, and since then in lands untouched by the
teaching of the Church, the Cross has been used as a sacred
symbol...The Greek Bacchus, the Tyrian Tammuz, the Chaldean Bel,
and the Norse Odin, were all symbolised to their votaries by a
cruciform device," was quite appropriate and fitting.
However, the above remarks which Tyack followed up this "strange
yet unquestionable fact" was just his opinion and
one which was not based on any archaeological evidence
whatsoever. We have already read that which Professor Graydon has
written that the Christians in the early centuries did not
use a "cross" in their worship or devotions. The "Christians
of the first age" certainly did not "rejoice" in
any way at the pagans use of the cross as a symbol in their
worship. It is as Vine correctly stated was the case that "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 of
faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and
symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in it's most frequent form, with the
cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ"
It is very easy for a distractor of the NWT/WTB&TS to carp at
a translation that he disagrees with. But it is sad when he does
that which he falsely accuses the said Bible Society of doing.
What of Jesus' words recorded for us by John at
"Most truly I say to you, When you were
younger, you used to gird yourself and walk about where you
wanted. But when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and
another [man] will gird you and bear you where you do not wish."
This he said to signify by what sort of death he would glorify
God. So, when he had said this, he said to him: "Continue
In answer to a question as to whether this
shows that Peter himself was 'crucified' on a cross or a stake a
'Question from Readers' article in The Watchtower of 1970, page
"John 21:18, 19 says concerning the
apostle Peter: When you were younger, you used to
gird yourself and walk about where you wanted. But when you grow
old you will stretch out your hands and another man will gird you
and bear you where you do not wish. This [Jesus] said to
signify by what sort of death [Peter] would glorify God. Do
these words specifically refer to a death by crucifixion or
"The ancient religious historian Eusebius
reports that Peter was crucified with his head downward,
having requested of himself to suffer in this way. However,
Jesus prophecy regarding Peters death was not that
specific. Acknowledges A Catholic Commentary on Holy
Scripture: As the extension of hands is set before
girding and being led away, it is difficult to discern how it
must be conceived. If the order is part of the prophecy, we must
suppose the prisoner lashed to the patibulum before being girded
and led out to execution.
So, were it not for the tradition recorded by Eusebius,
Jesus statement in itself would not point to a death by
crucifixion or impalement. Viewing the words of John 21:18, 19
apart from tradition, we would come to the following conclusion:
In his younger years Peter was able to gird himself at will for
whatever duty he wanted to perform. He had the liberty to go
where he wanted to go. But in later life this would change. He
would have to stretch out his hands, perhaps in submission to
someone else. Another man would take control of him, girding
Peter (either binding him or preparing him for what was to come)
and bearing him to a place where he did not want to go, evidently
the place of execution. Thus Jesus prophecy regarding Peter
indeed indicated that the apostle would die a martyrs death;
but the manner of this death is not necessarily implied."
In might be added that the word rendered "will
gird,"in v.18, is ZWSEI (which is the future of ZWNNUMI) is
also found at Acts 12:8 and is always used in the LXX(and in
other Greek works generally) of girding on clothes or armour
and there cannot be an instance cited for a use of it as to bind
as a criminal. This, the former sense, might be the one it
has in v.18 where Jesus says: .."When you were younger you
used to gird(Gk: EZWNNUES "you were girding")"
It may, again , have the same sense when Jesus uses it once more
as we find in this same verse, "and another [man] will gird
you." We may also compare this with DIEZWSATO(aorist middle
DIAZWNNOMI) "to gird one's self by pulling up the tunic and
allowing a fold to fall over the belt" at 21:7. John 21:18,19
does not tell us how Peter died just that his death glorified God-
and it certainly cannot be used to show that Jesus died
on a two beamed cross!
In support of this is what is written in A
Bible Commentary for English Readers, editored by C.J.Elliott,
Vol. VI, page 549:
"Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another
shall gird thee.-Do these words refer to the crucifixion
of Peter? Tradition, from Tertullian downwards(Scorp. 15;
De Praescr. 35), states that he was crucified, and,
interpretating this prophecy by the evnt, asserts that they do.
Tertullian himself so understood them, for he says, "Then is
Peter girded by another when he is bound to the cross."
But on the other hand, (1) the girding(with chains) would precede,
not follow, the crucifixion; (2) it would be more natural to
speak of another stretching forth his hands if the nailing to
them to the cross was intended; (3) the last clause, "carry
thee whither thou wouldst not," could not follow the
stretching of the hands on the transverse beam of the cross.
It seems impossible therefore to adopt the traditional reference
to crucifixion, and we must take the words, "stretch forth
your hands," as expressing symbolically the personal
surrender previous to being girded by another. To what exact form
of death the context does not specify. We have thus in the second
pair of sentences, as in the first and third, a complete parallelism, the stretching forth of the hands being part of the
girding by another, and the whole being in contrast to "Thou
" "Stretch forth thy hands. "[John
21:18] The allusion to the extending of the hands on the cross,
which some interpreters have found here, is fanciful.Vincents
Word Studies (italics ours)
A poster on the JW board on CARM offered the
following as "proof" that Jesus died upon a two-beamed
cross rather than an upright stake(March 2003). He stated that
where we read at Psalms 22:14 that "Verse 14 in
particular is interesting in that He mentions that His bones are
out of joint. On a crucifix when the wrists are nailed to the
patibalum (cross-piece) and attached and raised onto the main
pole, the victims arms would be extended up to six inches,
causing dislocation. This is simply not possible on a 'torture
Of course, v.14 reads "I am poured out
like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like
wax"(New Revised Standard Version) What we have here
is not a prophetic description of the literal anatomical condition
of the Christ when dying on the STAUROS but is the employment by
the Psalmist of "anatomical terms to indicate the nearness
of death"(The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume 4, p.763).
Yes, the Psalmist is using such imagery as A. A. Anderson also
"14. I am poured out like water:
(cf. Jos. 7:15). This, and the following description in verses 14b-15,
need not necessarily refer to the consequences of an illness, but
it may denote the physical expressions of fear and anxiety.
The above mentioned word-picture probably means that the Psalmist
regards himself as good as dead.
all my bones are out of joint: this is a
graphic description of utter helplessness, and is equivalent to 'paralysed
my heart is like wax: the Psalmist has become
greatly afraid and fainthearted(as in Dt. 20:8; Jos. 2:11)."-The
New Century Bible Commentary, Psalms, Volume 1(1-72),
Marshall, Morgan & Scott Publ. Ltd, London, Reprint of March
1992, pp.189, 190.-italics ours.
The imagery expressed by the words "all my
bones are out of joint" indicates the "utter
helplessness" of the Psalmist and has no
bearing on whether his literal bones(note "all
[his] bones" not just his shoulder bones!!) were "dislocated"
just as the psalmists words "my heart is like wax" was
not meant to be understood literally but is an illustration
of the distressed condition of the heart.
Hence, the poster who has attempted to employ the figurative
words of the Psalmist(regarding the Hebrew word here: "be
divided, separated, from each other,...of bones= be loosened
at the joint, [Ps]22:15(fig[urative] of helplessness);..."-The
New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon) at
Psalms 22:14 as he has done has actually misunderstood the
intended meaning of them! This scripture does not in any way
offer 'evidence,' and certainly not 'proof,' that the STAUROS
that Jesus died upon was either a two-beamed one or an
For a very interesting and informative posting
on the b-greek list see here
||A very early representation of the
Crucifixion in which only the two thieves are bound to
the stauros. The sun and moon are placed either
side of Christ who stands in an attitude of prayer.
The picture was published in Mrs Jameson &
Lady Eastlake The History of Our Lord as exemplified
in works of art, in 2 volumes, London, 1864, pages
167-8. They make the point that this very early
crucifixion scene shows the two thieves bound to the stake
and that depiction of three crosses only
appears in later Christian art.-contributed
"The cross was
offensive to the Jews, absurd to the Gentiles. A Roman
execution is shown in this figure found at Halicarnassus".
The Lion Handbook to the Bible, Lion
Publishing, 1992, p. 591.
|Would a 1st century
Christian revere the implement that was used to execute
their Lord Jesus? Should Christians today?
"Rather than consider the torture stake
upon which Jesus was impaled a relic to be worshiped, the
Jewish Christians like Simon Peter would consider it to
be an abominable thing. At Galatians 3:13 the apostle
Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:23 and says: "It is
written: "Accursed is every man hanged upon a stake.""
Hence the Jewish Christians would hold as accursed and
hateful the stake upon which Jesus had been executed.
Says the celebrated Jewish authority, Moses Maimon'ides,
of the 12th century: "They never hang upon a tree
which clings to the soil by roots; but upon a timber
uprooted, that it might not be an annoying plague: for a
timber upon which anyone has been hanged is buried; that
the evil name may not remain with it and people should
say, "This is the timber on which so-and-so was
hanged." So the stone with which anyone has been
stoned; and the sword, with which the one killed has been
killed; and the cloth or mantle with which anyone has
been strangled; all these things are buried along with
those who perished. Apud Casaub.in Baron. Exercitat.
16, An. 34, Num. 134) Says Kalinski in Vaticinia
Observationibus Illustrata, page 342: "Consequently
since a man hanged was considered the greatest
abomination- the Jews also hated more than other things
the timber on which he had been hanged, so that they
covered it also with earth, as being equally an
If any would answer that they may hold the cross as dear
but do not worship it, then we would answer: How is it
that this pagan symbol, used in pagan religions before
and after the 1st century can find any place in
a Christians' life in the light of what Paul wrote at 2
Cor.6:14-18. Can a Christian 'employ' a pagan symbol when
pagans revered it as an idol while still claiming his
worship is pure of idolatry just because his religion
does not use the cross as an 'idol'?