Did Jesus die on a cross or a stake?


The Jehovah's Witnesses make the claim that Jesus did not die on a cross, they say he died on a torture stake. They make note that the word the King James translators rendered as "cross" is the Greek word "stauros", meaning an upright post or stake. The research I have done shows that the cross was used in worship by other religions before the death of Christ and that it may even be a pagan symbol. Can you please give me some more insight on this subject?


The Greek words referring to what Jesus hung upon are stauros and xulon.

"In secular Greek stauros denotes a "pole," or a "pile," such as is used in foundations. The term is also used of a "fence," "stake," or a "tent peg"; however, it also refers to a "cross" upon which criminals were executed (cf. Liddell-Scott). This is its use in the New Testament.

"Execution by means of crucifixion was employed in Greece, but the practice did not originate there. In all likelihood the Persians invented this means of torture and execution. Later, Alexander the Great, the Phoenicians, and the Carthaginians used this method of punishment. The Romans adopted it from the Carthaginians; however, except in rare cases they seldom executed Roman citizens by crucifixion. Usually only slaves and the most serious criminals, e.g. traitors, perjurers, etc. were crucified." [The Complete Biblical Library, Greek-English Dictionary].

"Classical Greek uses xulon to denote a "tree," a "piece of wood," "timber," etc. As a single piece of wood xulon may represent a variety of forms: "beam, post, or log" (Liddell-Scott). Moreover, xulon can refer to anything made of wood, including objects of punishment, such as "stocks, clubs, gallows, stakes," etc. ... A distinctive New Testament use of xulon is its reference to "cross." In each instance where this occurs it is used exclusively of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified." [The Complete Biblical Library, Greek-English Dictionary].

The words, independent of context, does not tell us exactly what is being referred to. Stauros only means we are referring to wooden poles, or logs, or something constructed of wooden poles. Xulon only means we are referring to something made of wood. It is the fact that it was used in the context of the execution method employed by the Romans in this particular era that tells us which kind of object we are referring to. Other historical documents, written in Greek, also use stauros to refer to a cross for crucifixion, so we find no contradiction.

Other Historical Evidence

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who lived at the time of the birth of Jesus: "A Roman citizen of no obscure station, having ordered one of his slaves to be put to death, delivered him to his fellow-slaves to be led away, and in order that his punishment might be witnessed by all, directed them to drag him through the Forum and every other conspicuous part of the city as they whipped him, and that he should go ahead of the procession which the Romans were at that time conducting in honour of the god. The men ordered to lead the slave to his punishment, having stretched out both his arms and fastened them to a piece of wood which extended across his breast and shoulders as far as his wrists, followed him, tearing his naked body with whips." [Roman Antiquities, VII, 69:1-2].

The Epistle of Barnabas (AD 80 - 120): "For the scripture saith; And Abraham circumcised of his household eighteen males and three hundred. What then was the knowledge given unto him? Understand ye that He saith the eighteen first, and then after an interval three hundred In the eighteen 'I' stands for ten, 'H' for eight. Here thou hast JESUS (IHSOYS). And because the cross in the 'T' was to have grace, He saith also three hundred. So He revealeth Jesus in the two letters, and in the remaining one the cross."

"As early as the second century, however, Tertullian (De corona 325-30) noted that Christians ritualistically traced the cross on their forehead for protection, and Origen (Selecta in Ezechielem 9), suggest that this practice was in accord with the "mark set upon the foreheads" in Ezekiel 9:4, which he equated with the cross-shaped archaic Hebrew letter tav, itself viewed as a prefiguring of the Christian cross. The earliest attempt at a pictorial reference to the cross was the staurogram, a literary monogram used by Christian scribes around the year 200 as a sacred image for the word stauros, "cross". Similarly, a third century graffito found in the so-called Piazzuola area beneath the catacomb of San Sebastiano in Rome read ????Y?, inserting the T-shaped cross into the popular acrostic ichthys, which signified Christ." [History of the Cross as a Christian Symbol].

Odes of Solomon, written in the second century, includes the following: "I extended my hands and hallowed my Lord, For the expansion of my hands is His sign. And my extension is the upright cross (sta????)." [Odes of Solomon, 27].

"The sea is not traversed except that trophy which is called a sail abide safe in the ship … And the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the hands extended, and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross (sta????)." [Justin Martyr, First Apology, 55].


Thanks for that information brother Hamilton. It was very helpful in my research on this matter. I'll be sure to share it with others when asked why we believe what we believe in the body of Christ.

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