Many people view the cross as the symbol of Christianity. Yet, not all believe that crosses should be worn or should be displayed in homes and churches.
Did Jesus die on a cross?
WHAT SOME PEOPLE SAY
The Romans executed Jesus by hanging him on a cross made of two pieces of wood.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS
Jesus was executed “by hanging on a tree.” (Acts 5:30, The New Jerusalem Bible) Both of the words used by Bible writers to describe the instrument of Jesus’ death suggest one piece of wood, not two. The Greek word stau·rosʹ, according to Crucifixion in Antiquity, means “a pole in the broadest sense. It is not the equivalent of a ‘cross.’” The word xyʹlon, used at Acts 5:30, is “simply an upright pale or stake to which the Romans nailed those who were thus said to be crucified.”*
The Bible also relates the method of Jesus’ execution to an ancient Israelite law. The law stipulated: “If a man commits a sin deserving the sentence of death and he has been put to death and you have hung him on a stake, . . . the one hung up is something accursed of God.” (Deuteronomy 21:22, 23) Referring to that law, the Christian apostle Paul wrote that Jesus became “a curse instead of us, because it is written: ‘Accursed is every man hung upon a stake [xyʹlon].’” (Galatians 3:13) Paul thus indicated that Jesus died on a stake—a single piece of wood.
“They killed him by hanging him on a tree.”—Acts 10:39, The New Jerusalem Bible.
Did Jesus’ disciples use the cross to worship God or to symbolize Christianity?
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS
Nowhere does the Bible suggest that the earliest Christians used the cross as a religious symbol. Instead, it was the Romans of that era who used the cross design to symbolize their gods. Then, about 300 years after Jesus’ death, Roman Emperor Constantine adopted the cross as the emblem of his armies, and it thereafter became associated with the “Christian” church.
Since pagans used the cross to worship their gods, would Jesus’ disciples have used it in their worship of the true God? On the contrary, they knew that God had long disapproved of worship using “the form of any symbol” and that Christians were to “flee from idolatry.” (Deuteronomy 4:15-19; 1 Corinthians 10:14) “God is a Spirit,” unseen by human eyes. Therefore, the early Christians did not use visible objects and symbols to help them feel closer to God. Rather, they worshipped him “with spirit,” guided by his invisible holy spirit, and with “truth,” in harmony with God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures.—John 4:24.
“True worshippers will worship the Father with spirit and truth.”—John 4:23.
How should Christians show their respect for Jesus Christ?
WHAT PEOPLE SAY
“It was quite natural and logical that the instrument of salvation should become an object of special respect and veneration. . . . He who adores the images, adores the person it represents.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS
Christians are indebted to Jesus, for his death makes it possible for them to have their sins forgiven, to approach God, and to receive eternal life. (John 3:16; Hebrews 10:19-22) They are not told to show their respect for that gift by displaying a symbol of Jesus or merely confessing their belief in him. After all, “faith by itself, without works, is dead.” (James 2:17) Christians must exercise their faith in Jesus. How?
“The love the Christ has compels us,” the Bible says, “because this is what we have concluded, that one man died for all . . . Those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised up.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15) Christians are compelled by Christ’s outstanding act of love to adjust their lives to follow his example. In this way they honor Jesus in a far more meaningful way than by using a religious symbol.
“This is the will of my Father, that everyone who recognizes the Son and exercises faith in him should have everlasting life.”—John 6:40.
A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, 11th Edition, by Ethelbert W. Bullinger, pages 818-819.