“Your Word Is Truth”
Use of the Cross
HOW would you feel if one of your dearest friends was executed on false charges? Would you make a replica of the instrument of execution, say a hangman’s noose or an electric chair? Would you kiss that replica, burn candles before it or wear it around your neck as an ornament? ‘Of course not,’ you may say.
But are not millions of persons, in effect, doing that? Do they not speak of Jesus Christ as their dearest friend, who showed his love for them by giving up his life? Do they not say that Jesus, though guilty of no sin, was executed on a cross? Yet, are not crosses displayed in their churches, their homes and on their person? Do not many people even kiss crosses, burn candles in front of them and bow before them? How did such a thing come about?
Historical evidence shows that the early Christians did not use crosses in their worship. Says 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.” Obviously they never bowed before or kissed crosses.
To the Jews and the Romans the manner in which Jesus died was humiliating and shameful. He was executed like a criminal of the lowest sort, like the wrongdoers impaled alongside him. (Luke 23:32) His death therefore misrepresented him in the worst way possible. To Christians the instrument of execution itself would therefore have been something very repulsive. Venerating it would have meant glorifying the wrong deed committed on it—the murder of Jesus Christ.
Non-Christians, however, had for long adored the cross as a sacred religious symbol. Says the book The Cross in Ritual, Architecture, and Art: “It is strange, yet unquestionably a fact, that in ages long before the birth of Christ, and since then in lands untouched by the teachings 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 symbolized to their votaries by a cruciform device.”—Page 1.
This gives rise to a further question, Could it be that what is venerated by professed Christians is a pagan symbol?
Not until the fourth century C.E. did the cross begin coming into noticeable use among professed Christians. The one primarily responsible for this development was Emperor Constantine, a sun worshiper who is said to have accepted Christianity years before submitting to baptism while on his deathbed. The beginning of Constantine’s conversion is placed in the year 312, when he supposedly saw a cross in the sky. It is claimed that this cross was a Christian symbol and that Constantine took it to mean that the God of the Christians would grant him the victory. But did sun-worshiping Constantine really see a Christian symbol? Why would God sanction the warfare of a sun worshiper?
Years earlier Jesus Christ told Peter: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52) Hence the God of truth, whom Jesus represented, could not have backed up the wars of a sun worshiper and his sun-worshiping army.
No one today can say with certainty what, if anything, was seen by Constantine. The traditional testimony available today is contradictory. The ecclesiastical historian Eusebius claims that Constantine and his entire army saw “the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the Sun, bearing the inscription [BY THIS CONQUER].” However, very differently, another historian Lactantius, says: “Constantine was admonished in his sleep to mark the celestial sign of God on the shields, and thus engage in battle.”
Had Constantine seen and been influenced by or converted by a Christian symbol, there should be some evidence to this effect in his actions. But this is not the case. Years after Constantine supposedly saw the cross, his coins continued to honor the sun god. They bore the inscription Sol Invictus (Invincible Sun). But what of the “celestial sign of God” mentioned by Lactantius? It, too, was associated with sun worship. There is general agreement that “the type of the sacred symbol commonly called a ‘wheel cross’ [a circle with a cross inside it] has been derived, with little or no alteration, from the sun-emblem of our pagan ancestors. . . . and it has been suggested (as by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould) that in adopting the X P as his standard the Emperor Constantine was actuated by policy, the same figure speaking to his pagan troops of the ever-revolving wheel of the sun, and to the Christians of the initials in Greek of the Saviour’s name.”—The Cross in Ritual, Architecture, and Art, p. 2.
Thus in a very subtle way, through the influence of a sun-worshiping ruler, the non-Christian cross came to be accepted by professed Christians. After being led to adopt the cross as a sacred symbol, professed Christians began depicting the body of one crucified thereon. The first evidence of such representations dates from the fifth century C.E.
In earlier centuries these developments would have been denounced by Christians as idolatry. In the second century C.E., for example, Minucius Felix wrote: “Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods.”
There is still another factor that made it impossible for early Christians to associate the cross with the instrument on which Jesus was put to death. No Biblical evidence even intimates that Jesus died on a cross. Regarding the Greek word stau·rosʹ (translated “cross” in numerous translations), A Comprehensive Dictionary of the Original Greek Words with their Precise Meanings for English Readers states: “STAUROS . . . denotes, primarily, an upright pale or stake. On such malefactors were nailed for execution.” Similarly, the book The Non-Christian Cross observes: “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 [pole or stake]; 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.”
This historical evidence and the Bible’s use of the word stau·rosʹ combine to establish the truth that the cross is a non-Christian symbol. The adoration of the cross is outright idolatry, disguised under the label of being Christian. Hence, if we desire God’s approval, should we not shun the cross, obeying God’s command, “Flee from idolatry”?—1 Cor. 10:14.