Sunday, March 2, 2008

Was Jesus executed on a cross or a stake? #1: Introduction

Note: This uncompleted series became too `long-winded' and is now superseded by my new series: Jesus was executed on a cross, not a stake!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.

[See also Linguistic #2A, #2B, #2C; Historical #3A, #3B, #3C, #3D]

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).

Stephen E. Jones.
My other blogs: CreationEvolutionDesign & TheShroudofTurin


"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," [1984], 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," [1950], Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York: Brooklyn NY, Second edition, 1951, pp.768-769, 771).

13 comments:

Lauren said...

Hello. sorry this is the only way i know to contact you. i find what you have done to be very helpful when trying to deal with my JW friends. i was wanting to know if you have finished parts #4 Patristic, #5 Archaeological, #6 Pagan, #7 Biblical and #8 Conclusion with "Did Jesus die on a cross or stake?" section. I can not find them if you have. Thank you so much for all your hard work and time. I look forward to seeing you in heaven. :) God bless.
Lauren.

Stephen E. Jones said...

Lauren

>i find what you have done to be very helpful when trying to deal with my JW friends.

Glad to be of help and thanks for your feedback.

>i was wanting to know if you have finished parts #4 Patristic, #5 Archaeological, #6 Pagan, #7 Biblical and #8 Conclusion with "Did Jesus die on a cross or stake?" section. I can not find them if you have.

I have only got as far as "Was Jesus executed on a cross or a stake? #3D: Historical (3rd century BC)."

When I started my blogs I was retired and living comfortably on my superannuation. So I had time to blog almost all day every day. But due to the Global Financial Crisis I am now working as a high school relief (aka. substitute, supply) teacher. So I have much less time to blog. However, because of the long school break from November to February there probably won't be any relief teacher work, so I should be able to restart blogging almost full-time then. I intend to continue with my "Was Jesus executed on a cross or a stake?" series then.

>Thank you so much for all your hard work and time. I look forward to seeing you in heaven. :) God bless.

Thanks. I look forward to seeing you there too!

Which reminds me that even the Watchtower's own New World Translation correctly states that "the Great Crowd" will be in Heaven (not on Earth as the Watchtower Society teaches):

Rev 7:9,15 NWT After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands ... That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them."

Rev 19:1 NWT After these things I heard what was as a loud voice of a great crowd in heaven. They said: “Praise Jah, YOU people! The salvation and the glory and the power belong to our God,

Stephen

Vyacheslav said...

The crucification of our Lord Jesus Christ is shown better at Mattew 27,37 and John 20,25.

Stephen E. Jones said...

Vyacheslav

>The crucification of our Lord Jesus Christ is shown better at Mattew 27,37 and John 20,25.

Thanks for your comment and agreed.

Mt 27:37 NWT states, "Also, they posted above his HEAD the charge against him, in writing: `This is Jesus the King of the Jews.'" (my emphasis).

If Jesus was executed on a single-beamed stake with His hands affixed above His head by one nail, as consistently depicted in Watchtower publications, then Mt 27:27 would say, "above his HANDS."

And in Jn 20:25 NWT, Thomas says, "... `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.'" (my emphasis).

Again if Jesus was affixed to a stake by ONE NAIL, as per Watchtower depictions, then Thomas would have said, "print of the NAIL" (singular) not "NAILS" (plural).

So even the Watchtower's own NWT contradicts Watchtower doctrine!

I have posted on these verse before at:

Justus Lipsius' De Cruce Liber Tres;

Was Jesus executed on a cross or a stake? #2B: Linguistic;

Re: New comment on Justus Lipsius' De Cruce Liber Tres; and

Questions for Jehovah's Witnesses A-Z.

This series "Was Jesus executed on a cross or a stake?" is proving too `long-winded'. I hope to summarise it in one post in the near future.

Stephen E. Jones

Stephen E. Jones said...

>This series "Was Jesus executed on a cross or a stake?" is proving too `long-winded'. I hope to summarise it in one post in the near future.

I later realised that a one-post summary would not do justice to this subject.

So I have now started a new 9-part series: "Jesus was executed on a cross, not a stake!"

While it will still take some time to complete this new nine-post series, since each topic will be no longer than one post, progress will be faster than it was in the original series.

Also, the most important part, "#2. Biblical," is almost completed and so I should post that by next week.

Stephen E. Jones

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir, When I hit the hyperlinks, the arrived location says it cannot find the link looked for. Can that be rectified....Thank you,

Stephen E. Jones said...

Anonymous

>When I hit the hyperlinks, the arrived location says it cannot find the link looked for. Can that be rectified...

Thanks. I assume you are referring to the latest link:

"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"

which I have now fixed.

Stephen

neo said...

Not just cross,no physical object should be used in worship.Worship should be in truth and spirit(Holy Spirit).When we use some objects in worship,out of reverence,be it cross or an image of saint it deviates us from the worship in truth and spirit to the revered object-idol.Those who do idolatry will be condemned to eternal lake of fire and sulfur along with sexually immoral,liars,cowards etc(revelations21:8).Original pentecostal worship is how worship in truth and spirit should be done.

We should not give undue importance to weather Jesus died on a cross or a pole,although archeological and historic evidence tend to point towards cross.But the event that foreshadow crucifixion in the old testament when Moses raised a brass snake on a "pole",doesn't use cross,but a pole.The lie of JW is not about Jesus being crucified on a pole or a cross,but their teaching that Jesus is archangel Michael a created being .Bible teaches Jesus is word of God who existed from eternal past.

Stephen E. Jones said...

neo

>Not just cross,no physical object should be used in worship.

Disagree. Your larynx (voicebox) is a physical object which is used in worship when you worship God in song, for starters. Also a musical instrument is a physical object which is used in worship.

But if you mean that no physical object, including a cross, is ITSELF to be worshipped, I agree. But no Christian church that I am aware of worships a cross ITSELF.

>Worship should be in truth and spirit(Holy Spirit).When we use some objects in worship,out of reverence,be it cross or an image of saint it deviates us from the worship in truth and spirit to the revered object-idol.

As a Protestant I don't use a cross or an image in worship, but see above that your "When we use some [physical] objects in worship" is too sweeping because worshipping in song uses physical objects (our bodies, musical instruments, etc).

Also worshipping God by our offerings and partaking of the bread and wine of communion is using physical objects in worship. It is worshipping physical objects THEMSELVES that is idolatry.

>Those who do idolatry will be condemned to eternal lake of fire and sulfur along with sexually immoral,liars,cowards etc(revelations21:8).Original pentecostal worship is how worship in truth and spirit should be done.

Agreed, but "idolatry" in that context is the actual WORSHIP OF IDOLS (i.e. physical representations of God or gods) THEMSELVES, as stated in Exodus 20:4-5:

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,

>We should not give undue importance to weather Jesus died on a cross or a pole,although archeological and historic evidence tend to point towards cross.

Agreed. But it is not CHRISTIANS who give undue importance to whether Jesus died on a cross or a pole. If it turned out that Jesus died on a single upright pole and not a two-beamed cross, it would not be a problem for me and other Christians I have talked to about it.

It is JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES who give undue importance to whether Jesus died on a cross or a pole. The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society has elevated it into a major doctrine since at least the 1950s that Jesus died on a single-beam stake, and not on a two-beamed cross.

And what's more they are WRONG. The evidence, including archeological and historic, is overwhelming that Jesus died on a two-beamed cross, not a single-beamed stake, which is yet another example of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society being a false teacher.

[continued]

Stephen E. Jones said...

[continued]

>But the event that foreshadow crucifixion in the old testament when Moses raised a brass snake on a "pole",doesn't use cross,but a pole.

In Num 21:9:

"So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live."

it doesn't say what sort of "pole" it was. It could have been a pole with a cross-piece to support the bronze serpent.

And in Jesus' reference to it in John 3:14-15:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Jesus does not mention the pole, indicating that the only points of significance between Jesus and the bronze serpent was that: 1) they were both LIFTED UP; and 2) whoever BELIEVED in them would be saved.

>The lie of JW is not about Jesus being crucified on a pole or a cross,but their teaching that Jesus is archangel Michael a created being .Bible teaches Jesus is word of God who existed from eternal past.

Agreed that that is the major lie of the Watchtower, and of JWs who are deceived by it. The Bible teaches that Jesus is Jehovah God the Son come in human flesh (see my "Jesus is Jehovah!" page), but the Watchtower denies that, and instead teaches that Jesus is just an angel.

But in that they fail to "honor the Son JUST AS they honor the Father" as their own New World Translation says:

John 5:23 NWT: "in order that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He that does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him."

and therefore they do "NOT honor the Father who sent him."

So, according to the JW's OWN BIBLE, JW's do NOT honor Jehovah God the Father because they do not honour Jesus His Son, "JUST AS," they honor the Father.

And it would be BLASPHEMY for Jesus to insist that He must be honoured "JUST AS" Jehovah God the Father is honoured, unless Jesus was Himself Jehovah God the Son.

Stephen E. Jones
-------------------------------
Comments are moderated. Those I consider off-topic, offensive or sub-standard will not appear. I reserve the right to respond to any comment as a separate blog post.

Kenneth McIntire said...

I doubt that you will post this, but just in case you do. My brother you are in serious error. Number one and most important His name is not Jesus, it is Yahusha, and Yahusha is Yahuah, not Jehovah. He was not exicuted on a cross but a stake or pole. If you want to see proof of this please visit http://www.fellowshipoftheway.com/is-the-cross-a-lie I pray that you will see the real truth.

Stephen E. Jones said...

Kenneth

>I doubt that you will post this, but just in case you do.

I post EVERY comment that complies with my stated policies, i.e. that are not "off-topic, offensive or sub-standard":

----------------------------
Comments are moderated. Those I consider off-topic, offensive or sub-standard will not appear. I reserve the right to respond to any comment as a separate blog post.
----------------------------

The only caveat to the above is that this blog is now inactive, so you have had your one and only comment and this is my one and only reply to that comment.

>My brother you are in serious error.

No, it is NOT ME who is in error. And if you are a JW then YOU are in SERIOUS error.

>Number one and most important His name is not Jesus, it is Yahusha, and Yahusha is Yahuah, not Jehovah.

We only have Jesus' name in Greek (Gk. 'Iesous), in the New Testament, the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote in Greek, and other first-century writings which are all in Greek. So it is just speculation what the EXACT spoken name of "Jesus" was.

In the three occurrences in the New Testament where the name "Joshua" is translated: Lk 3:29; Acts 7:45 and Heb 4:8, it is the same underlying Greek word 'Iesous.

And the underlying meaning of "Joshua" (Gk. 'Iesous) is, "Yahweh (is) salvation":

"yehoshua'-yeshua` designates ten Hebrew leaders (ISBE, III, pp. 1622, 1743) from Moses' successor Joshua (KJV, Jehoshua in Num 13:16; I Chr 7:27) to the post-exilic high priest Jeshua (Ezra 3:2; Neh 12:10). The former's name was changed from the Hiphil infinitive, Hoshea, `salvation,' to Joshua, with its deeper spiritual connotation of `Yahweh (is) salvation' (Num 13:8, 16). Both men are called `Jesus' in Greek (Acts 7:45; I Esd 5:48), i.e., yeshua` is our Lord's Hebrew name, `for he will save his people from their sins' (Mt 1:21). This may be a shortened form with the divine element omitted, meaning `he will save.'" (Payne, J.B., 1980, "Yahweh," in Harris, R.L., Archer, G.L. & Waltke, B.K., eds, "Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament," Moody Press: Chicago IL, Vol. I, p.211).

[continued]

Stephen E. Jones said...

[continued]

>He was not exicuted on a cross but a stake or pole. If you want to see proof of this please visit http://www.fellowshipoftheway.com/is-the-cross-a-lie I pray that you will see the real truth.

Again, you (and the Watchtower) are WRONG. Jesus WAS executed on a two-beamed cross and not on a single pole. See my unfinished series, "Jesus was executed on a cross, not a stake!".

Also see "The facts on crucifixion, stauros, and the `torture stake'" by Leolaia (a former JW):

And also see in my post on my The Shroud of Turin blog, "My critique of Charles Freeman's "The Turin Shroud and the Image of Edessa: A Misguided Journey," part 5: "The Image of Edessa" (1)", where I have a photo of a stone lion drinking fountain in ancient Edessa (a major centre of early Christianity), today Sanliurfa in Moslem Turkey, which has an unmistakable cross carved into the stonework, which has escaped the Moslem destruction of almost all of Edessa's Christian past.

Here is a link to the image itself.

And as my caption states, being part of a stone lion, which was " the symbol of the Abgar dynasty," the Christian part of which began with Abgar V (AD 13-50) and the dynasty itself ended with Abgar IX (212-215), therefore it "must have been erected before AD 215" (and likely before or soon after AD 50):

"[Above: A stone lion, the symbol of the Abgar dynasty, bearing a Christian cross, in Sanliurfa (Edessa), which must have been erected before AD 215: Wilson, 2010, plate 15b.]"

Stephen E. Jones