Definition: The device on which Jesus Christ was executed is referred to by most of Christendom as a cross. The expression is drawn from the Latin crux.
Why do Watch Tower publications show Jesus on a stake with hands over his head instead of on the traditional cross?
The Greek word rendered “cross” in many modern Bible versions (“torture stake” in NW) is stau·ros′. 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 this, saying: “The Greek word for cross, [stau·ros′], 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. . . . Even amongst the Romans the crux (from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole.”—Edited by P. Fairbairn (London, 1874), Vol. I, p. 376.
Was that the case in connection with the execution of God’s Son? It is noteworthy that the Bible also uses the word xy′lon to identify the device used. A Greek-English Lexicon, by Liddell and Scott, defines this as meaning: “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.” It also says “in NT, of the cross,” and cites Acts 5:30 and Ac 10:39 as examples. (Oxford, 1968, pp. 1191, 1192) However, in those verses KJ, RS, JB, and Dy translate xy′lon as “tree.” (Compare this rendering with Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:22, 23.)
The book The Non-Christian Cross, by J. D. Parsons (London, 1896), says: “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 consisted, not of one piece of timber, but of two pieces nailed together in the form of a cross. . . . 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 for some reason or other assumed that the particular stauros upon which Jesus was executed had that particular shape.”—Pp. 23, 24; see also The Companion Bible (London, 1885), Appendix No. 162.
Thus the weight of the evidence indicates that Jesus died on an upright stake and not on the traditional cross.
What were the historical origins of Christendom’s cross?
“Various objects, dating from periods long anterior to the Christian era, have been found, marked with crosses of different designs, in almost every part of the old world. India, Syria, Persia and Egypt have all yielded numberless examples . . . The use of the cross as a religious symbol in pre-Christian times and among non-Christian peoples may probably be regarded as almost universal, and in very many cases it was connected with some form of nature worship.”—Encyclopædia Britannica (1946), Vol. 6, p. 753.
“The shape of the [two-beamed cross] 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.”—An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (London, 1962), W. E. Vine, p. 256.
“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.”—The Cross in Ritual, Architecture, and Art (London, 1900), G. S. Tyack, p. 1.
“The cross in the form of the ‘Crux Ansata’ . . . was carried in the hands of the Egyptian priests and Pontiff kings as the symbol of their authority as priests of the Sun god and was called ‘the Sign of Life.’”—The Worship of the Dead (London, 1904), Colonel J. Garnier, p. 226.
“Various figures of crosses are found everywhere on Egyptian monuments and tombs, and are considered by many authorities as symbolical either of the phallus [a representation of the male sex organ] or of coition. . . . In Egyptian tombs the crux ansata [cross with a circle or handle on top] is found side by side with the phallus.”—A Short History of Sex-Worship (London, 1940), H. Cutner, pp. 16, 17; see also The Non-Christian Cross, p. 183.
“These crosses were used as symbols of the Babylonian sun-god, [See book], and are first seen on a coin of Julius Cæsar, 100-44 B.C., and then on a coin struck by Cæsar’s heir (Augustus), 20 B.C. On the coins of Constantine the most frequent symbol is [See book]; but the same symbol is used without the surrounding circle, and with the four equal arms vertical and horizontal; and this was the symbol specially venerated as the ‘Solar Wheel’. It should be stated that Constantine was a sun-god worshipper, and would not enter the ‘Church’ till some quarter of a century after the legend of his having seen such a cross in the heavens.”—The Companion Bible, Appendix No. 162; see also The Non-Christian Cross, pp. 133-141.
Is veneration of the cross a Scriptural practice?
1 Cor. 10:14: “My beloved ones, flee from idolatry.” (An idol is an image or symbol that is an object of intense devotion, veneration, or worship.)
Ex. 20:4, 5, JB: “You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” (Notice that God commanded that his people not even make an image before which people would bow down.)
Of interest is this comment in the New Catholic Encyclopedia: “The representation of Christ’s redemptive death on Golgotha does not occur in the symbolic art of the first Christian centuries. The early Christians, influenced by the Old Testament prohibition of graven images, were reluctant to depict even the instrument of the Lord’s Passion.”—(1967), Vol. IV, p. 486.
Concerning first-century Christians, History of the Christian Church says: “There was no use of the crucifix and no material representation of the cross.”—(New York, 1897), J. F. Hurst, Vol. I, p. 366.
Does it really make any difference if a person cherishes a cross, as long as he does not worship it?
How would you feel if one of your dearest friends was executed on the basis of false charges? Would you make a replica of the instrument of execution? Would you cherish it, or would you rather shun it?
In ancient Israel, unfaithful Jews wept over the death of the false god Tammuz. Jehovah spoke of what they were doing as being a ‘detestable thing.’ (Ezek. 8:13, 14) According to history, Tammuz was a Babylonian god, and the cross was used as his symbol. From its beginning in the days of Nimrod, Babylon was against Jehovah and an enemy of true worship. (Gen. 10:8-10; Jer. 50:29) So by cherishing the cross, a person is honoring a symbol of worship that is opposed to the true God.
As stated at Ezekiel 8:17, apostate Jews also ‘thrust out the shoot to Jehovah’s nose.’ He viewed this as “detestable” and ‘offensive.’ Why? This “shoot,” some commentators explain, was a representation of the male sex organ, used in phallic worship. How, then, must Jehovah view the use of the cross, which, as we have seen, was anciently used as a symbol in phallic worship?