Note: This uncompleted series became too `long-winded' and is now superseded by my new series: Jesus was executed on a cross, not a stake! #1: Introduction.
Many years ago, when I was still a relatively new Christian, a Jehovah's Witness told me that Jesus did not die on a cross but on an upright stake, because the Greek word translated "cross" in the New Testament primarily means "stake." I was taken aback by this,
[Above: Jesus `crucifixion' as depicted in Watchtower Bible & Tract Society publications, e.g. "Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life," 1995, p.67. Note Jesus' arms: 1. above His head; 2. transfixed by a single nail; and 3. the inscription above Jesus' hands.]
which I assume is the reason JWs do it: to shake a non-, new, or weak Christian's faith in the Church and so make the Watchtower Society seem to be a more reliable authority. And also to make JWs feel superior to ordinary Christians in having (apparently) deeper Bible knowledge.
However, I responded off the top of my head (which I assume was from the Holy Spirit-Lk 21:13-15) that it would not matter to me whether Jesus was executed on an upright pole, or on a cross: the important thing was that Jesus, who was God in human flesh (Jn 1:1,14; Col 2:9; Php 2:5-11), was executed in my place to pay the price of my sin (2 Cor 5:21; Gal 2:20; 1Pet 3:18).
Indeed the various evangelical Protestant churches that I have been a member of for the past 40 years have never made a big deal about the physical Cross nor its shape. The Church of Christ I have been a member of since 1994 does not have a cross atop its building and it has only a simple wooden cross in its chapel. Neither my wife nor I wear a cross, nor do we have one in our home.
So while the Christian Church would not have a major problem if it turned out that Jesus was not executed on a cross but on a stake, it would be a major problem for the Watchtower Society if the reverse was the case. This is because Christianity has never made a big deal about the physical shape of the wooden structure that Jesus was executed on, but the Watchtower has made a big deal about it.
But was Jesus crucified on a cross as the Christian Church has always maintained, or on a stake as the Watchtower Society claims? (emphasis bold mine):
"Jesus Christ did not die on a cross. ... [but] an upright pale or stake." ("What Does the Bible Really Teach?," 2005, p.205).
"Pontius Pilate then sentenced him to death on a torture stake. He was nailed to a wooden pole and hung there upright." ("Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life," 1995, p.66).
"Jesus was not executed on a conventional cross at all but, rather, on a simple stake" (Watchtower, November 15, 1992. p.7)
"No Biblical evidence even intimates that Jesus died on a cross." (Awake!, 8 November 1972, p. 28).
"The evidence is, therefore, completely lacking that Jesus Christ was crucified on two pieces of timber placed at a right angle" ("New World translation," 1950, p.771).
That this a major teaching of the Watchtower Society is evident in that: 1) it is about Jesus; 2) it is in its latest home study aid book for prospective new members, "What Does the Bible Really Teach?" (2005), and 3) it has been in the Society's publications since at least 1936, i.e. for more than seventy years. So if the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society is wrong on this teaching then, in addition to being a false prophet, the Society would also be a false teacher:
2Pet 2:1 NWT. However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among YOU. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves.
This series of post will comprehensively examine that Watchtower Society's claim that Jesus was executed not on a cross but on a stake or pole, quoting from its own publications, in successive posts under the following sub-headings: #1 Introduction (this post), #2 Linguistic, #3 Historical, #4 Patristic, #5 Archaeological, #6 Pagan, #7 Biblical and #8 Conclusion.
To avoid unnecessary complexity, I do not plan at this stage to examine whether Christians should wear a cross or use a cross in worship. Not only is this a separate question from whether Jesus was executed on a cross or a stake, but also Christians who agree that Jesus was executed on a cross, can and do disagree on whether a cross should be worn and/or used in worship.
References cited will be hyperlinked to `tagline' quotes at the end of each post (emphasis italics original, emphasis bold mine). I hope to finish this series, appropriately, by Easter (Friday, 21 March).
"Despite the fact that Rutherford depicted Jesus on the cross in several of his books, he would in 1936 begin to change his position to what would become the current Watchtower Society position - that of the torture stake theory. This theory says that Jesus did not die on a cross but rather on a single upright post, hand over hand with a single nail through both hands. In his book Riches, Rutherford wrote, `The death of the perfect man Jesus would, in any manner inflicted, meet the requirements of the law, because death was the penalty inflicted upon Adam. Why, then, was Jesus crucified? Jesus was crucified, not on a cross of wood, such as is exhibited in many images and pictures, and which images are made and exhibited by men; Jesus was crucified by nailing his body to a tree' (p. 27). This torture stake theory, started by Rutherford, would be clarified over the next several decades. In 1972, the Watchtower wrote an article discussing 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.' They continue with `No Biblical evidence even intimates that Jesus died on a cross." (Awake!, 8 November 1972, p. 28)." ("Jehovah's Witnesses and the Cross," Watchman Expositor, 23 May 2007).
"THE cross is loved and respected by millions of people. The Encyclopaedia Britannica calls the cross `the principal symbol of the Christian religion.' Nevertheless, true Christians do not use the cross in worship. Why not? An important reason is that Jesus Christ did not die on a cross. The Greek word generally translated `cross' is stau-ros'. It basically means `an upright pale or stake.' The Companion Bible points out: `[Stau-ros'] never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle ... There is nothing in the Greek of the [New Testament] even to imply two pieces of timber.' In several texts, Bible writers use another word for the instrument of Jesus' death. It is the Greek word xy'lon. (Acts 5: 30; 10:39; 13:29; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) This word simply means `timber' or `a stick, club, or tree.''" ("What Does the Bible Really Teach?" Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York: Brooklyn NY, 2005, p.205. Ellipses original).
"Jesus courageously exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and they sought his death. They eventually hatched an ugly plot that involved betrayal, improper arrest, an illegal trial, and a false charge of sedition. Jesus was struck, spat upon, ridiculed, and beaten with a whip designed to tear his flesh. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate then sentenced him to death on a torture stake. He was nailed to a wooden pole and hung there upright. Each breath was excruciating, and it took hours for him to die. Throughout that ordeal, Jesus maintained perfect integrity to God." ("Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life," , Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York: Brooklyn NY, Second edition, 1995, p.66).
"Cross ... `No biblical evidence even intimates that Jesus died on a cross.' A 11/8/1972, p. 28 ... ... `So, the evidence indicates that Jesus did not die on the traditional cross.' A 9/22/1974, p. 28 ... `Jesus most likely was executed on an upright stake without any crossbeam. No man today can know with certainty even how many nails were used in Jesus' case.' WT 8/15/1987, p. 29 ... " (Reed, D.A., ed., "Index of Watchtower Errors, 1879 to 1989," Compiled by Steve Huntoon and John Cornell, Baker: Grand Rapids MI, 1990, pp.73-74. Emphasis original).
"FOR centuries multitudes have accepted the cross as a symbol of Christianity. But is it really? Many who have sincerely believed so are quite surprised to learn that the cross is not at all unique to Christendom. On the contrary, it has been widely used in non-Christian religions all over the world. ... The Bible shows that Jesus was not executed on a conventional cross at all but, rather, on a simple stake, or stau·ros'. This Greek word, appearing at Matthew 27:40, basically means a simple upright beam or pole, such as those used in building foundations.." ("The Cross-Symbol of Christianity?," The Watchtower, November 15, 1992. p.7).
""No Biblical evidence even intimates that Jesus died on a cross. Regarding the Greek word stau·ros' (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.'" ("Use of the Cross," Awake!, 8 November 1972, p. 28).
"Matthew 10:38 - `torture stake' ... stau·ros', Greek; ... This is the expression used in connection with the execution of Jesus at Calvary. There is no evidence that the Greek word stau·ros' meant here a `cross' such as the pagans used as a religious symbol for many centuries before Christ .... In the classical Greek the word stau·ros' meant merely an upright stake or pale .... To such a stake or pale the person to be punished was fastened ... The inspired writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures wrote in the common (koi·ne') Greek and used the word stau·ros' to mean the same thing as in the classical Greek, namely, a stake or pale, a simple one without a crossbeam of any kind or at any angle. There is no proof to the contrary. .... The fact that stau·ros' is translated crux in the Latin versions furnishes no argument against this. ... A cross is only a later meaning of crux. .... The evidence is, therefore, completely lacking that Jesus Christ was crucified on two pieces of timber placed at a right angle. .... This is a revolutionary translation, we admit .... The passing of time and further archaeological discoveries will be certain to prove its correctness. ..." ("New World translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures," , Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York: Brooklyn NY, Second edition, 1951, pp.768-769, 771).