CROSS OR STAKE
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JWOP believes that Christ's actual death is much more important than worrying about the device on which he died. However, since the Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the actual device is a very important point of doctrine, we have included this topic.

INTRODUCTION

The Watchtower Society teaches that Jesus Christ was murdered on a singular, upright pole, a.k.a. "torture stake", instead of a two beamed cross:

The Watchtower, March 1 (2008) p.22 "Our Readers Ask"
Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly believe that the death of Jesus Christ provided the ransom that opens the door to everlasting life for those who exercise faith in him. (Matthew 20:28; John 3:16) However, they do not believe that Jesus died on a cross, as is often depicted in traditional pictures. It is their belief that Jesus died on an upright stake with no crossbeam...In all matters of worship, Jehovah’s Witnesses, like the first-century Christians, strive to follow the Bible rather than tradition. (Romans 3:4; Colossians 2:8) Because of this, they do not use the cross in worship.

The Watchtower Society makes it a point to teach that the cross originated from paganism:

Reasoning From the Scriptures (1989), p.90, para.2-3
“Various objects, dating from periods long anterior to the Christian era, have been found, marked with crosses of different designs, in almost every part of the old world. India, Syria, Persia and Egypt have all yielded numberless examples . . . The use of the cross as a religious symbol in pre-Christian times and among non-Christian peoples may probably be regarded as almost universal, and in very many cases it was connected with some form of nature worship.”—Encyclopædia Britannica (1946), Vol. 6, p. 753.

The shape of the [two-beamed cross] had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt. By the middle of the 3rd cent. A.D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ.”—An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (London, 1962), W. E. Vine, p. 256.

See also:
Awake! April (2006) pp.12-13

They also teach that is it idolatrous to cherish the cross:

The Watchtower, March 1 (2008) p.22, article "Why Do Jehovah's Witnesses not use the cross in worship?"
... “In the two centuries after the death of Jesus it is doubtful that the Christians ever used the device of the cross.” To the early Christians, he adds, the cross “must have chiefly denoted death and evil, like the guillotine or the electric chair to later generations.”

...More important, no matter what device was used for the torture and execution of Jesus, no image or symbol of it should become an object of devotion or worship for Christians. “Flee from idolatry,” commands the Bible.

See also:
Awake! April (2006) pp. 12-13;
Reasoning From the Scriptures (1989) p.92 para..6

Jehovah's Witnesses avoid all appearance of idolizing the device of Christ's death so much so that they will not even own jewelry or hang wall pictures that depict such a device in their homes. This is interesting, since the Watchtower Society itself openly states that having religious items merely for decorative purposes should not be viewed as idolatrous:

Some Kingdom Halls display paintings of Bible characters. However, these pictures are used for decoration and are not venerated as religious icons. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not pray to these pictures, nor do they bow down to them.
(The Watchtower, February 1, 2009, p.30 footnote)

Although praying to, or bowing in front of, a cross/torture stake can be viewed as idolatrous, simply owning such items does not constitute idolatry. If simple ownership of an ancient pagan worship symbol equates to idolatry, then Jehovah's Witnesses also shouldn't own cats or allow evergreen trees to grow on their home properties, for those items have also been venerated in ancient pagan worship as well.

The Watchtower Society considers it extremely important that their members believe Christ died on a torture stake, and not a cross. This is so important to them that, if you do not confess belief that Christ died on a torture stake, you will not be allowed to become a baptized member of the denomination. This is not an exaggeration.

Again, we reiterate that JWOP believes that the death of Christ is more important than knowing the device of His death. However, since this is a very important piece of Jehovah's Witness doctrine we felt it should be included on this website.

Are the Jehovah's Witnesses correct in insisting it was a singular stake instead of a two-beamed cross? Although we believe in the possibility that both versions of the executional device were in use during that time period, it seems that scientific evidence points to Jesus himself being slain on a singular pole.

We can explain this in the following:

The following information is taken from www.commontruth.com

 

SCIENTIFIC PROOF

As for death resulting from being nailed up, the most popular thought is that the Messiah would die of suffocation/asphyxiation. Frederick T. Zugibe, (Chief medical examiner in Rockland County, NY, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Pathology at Colombia University College of Physicians and Surgeons), performed extensive experiments to test this theory: He took volunteers and crucified them (they weren't actually nailed, they were suspended by belts and straps on a sturdily constructed cross). He conducted two variations of crucifixion: One with a suppedaneum (a wooden block upon which toes would be supported, helping a victim stay supported on a cross/stauros ) and one without a suppendanuem. The results can be read at these websites here: http://www.crucifixion-shroud.com/Turin2000.htm and http://www.west.net/~shroud/zugibe.htm. These experiments show that a man on a cross would NOT suffocate to death, with or without a suppedaneum. Instead, death would take several days, depending on the rate of bodily dehydration.

By way of comparison, Hermann Moedder, a doctor of radiology from Austria, carried out an experiment in the 1940's in Cologne, Germany, with medical students. He strapped them with their wrists directly above their heads Within minutes the students grew pale, their lung capacity and blood pressure dropped significantly, and their pulse rates increased. Moedder concluded suffocation would occur in minutes if they were not able to stand and rest. Though we don't have complete information about this experiment, it appears that a suppedaneum wasn't used, neither was a sedile (a block of wood attached to the stauros to support the buttocks slightly). This makes a difference because such devices can act as supports that the victim on the stauros could use for support in the breathing issues involved.

Now this is where the comparison of the two experiments is interesting: According to the Bible, a crucified man's legs were broken in order to hasten death (John 19:31-32). This would indicate, according to the results of the above mentioned experiments, that Yeshua Messiah and the two robbers were killed on singular poles . Breaking their legs would take away the usefulness of the suppedaneum's support, thus hastening their deaths by suffocation. This would not happen on a cross, according to Dr. Zugibe's experiments.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE SIGN POSTED ON THE BEAM?

Now we have the matter of the sign posted above the Messiah's head as stated at Matthew 27:37. If the sign was posted above His head, then that would imply a cross, otherwise it would be above His hands, right? According to scripture, the sign said something to the effect of "Yeshua the Nazarene the King of the Jews". This sign was written in three languages: Hebrew, Latin, and Greek (John 19:19-20). Therefore, this couldn't have been a tiny sign. However, we need to understand that we, the readers, are simply assuming what the position of the sign was. All the Bible says is that it was above His head, no indication of postion otherwise. It is possible that Yeshua was nailed with His hands straight up, and the sign placed above His head, as indicated by the scriptures, but also slipped in behind His arms. If you hold your hands above your head and look in a mirror you can see that this is a feasible situation.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE NAILS?

What about the plurality of nails that were driven into His hands/wrists? (John 20:25). If Yeshua were nailed to a stake, then only one nail would be used to nail His hands/wrists, right? Again, we are assuming only one view. It's reasonable to conclude that a single nail won't support the weight of an adult male. Either the nail would rip out of the pole, or the man's hands would rip off from the nail as the man was hanging there. It seems necessary that multiple nails would be required for a more secure hold.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE WEIGHT OF THE CROSS?

The Bible states that the Messiah carried His stauros to the execution site (Luke 23:26). Although this would also do away with the idea of Yeshua being nailed to a living tree, most people still believe that this was actually just a patibulum - a cross beam for the arms - not the entire cross. But this isn't sensible, because Yeshua told us, according to the interlinear bibles, that we have to carry our own "stauros" (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 14:27). If we are to translate "stauros" as "cross", then to carry solely the patibulum would be carrying only a part of it, not the whole thing. This would contradict the very thing Yeshua Himself told us to do. Also, as seen in scripture, a man named Simon was selected to help Yeshua carry the stauros (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21). This implies something other than a patibulum. Also, if "stauros" were to be translated as an entire cross, according to some this could weigh approximately 200 - 300 pounds (about 91-136 kilograms) with the main beam weighing in at about 125 -175 pounds (57 - 80 kilograms). This could probably be managed with the two men, however scripture shows that Simon actually took the stauros to carry on his own (Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:26) (Note, the scriptures say he actually bore the stauros, not just simply helped carry it). However, having just the main stake without a patibulum would be much more manageable weight-wise. Of course, people in those days were much hardier because they had more physical labor to perform on a day-to-day basis, but still, 300 pounds is an awful lot for such a man to carry on his back through the streets of Jerusalem and up a hill, especially after having been weakened by extreme scourging.

 

HOW DID "STAKE" BECOME "CROSS"?

According to Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (available here), this is what it says [JWOP editor: Underline ours]:


Noun,# 4716,stauros: denotes, primarily, "an upright pale or stake." On such malefactors were nailed for execution. Both the noun and the verb stauroo, "to fasten to a stake or pale," are originally to be distinguished from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed "cross." The shape of the latter had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt. By the middle of the 3rd cent. A.D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the "cross" of Christ.

As for the Chi, or X, which Constantine declared he had seen in a vision leading him to champion the Christian faith, that letter was the initial of the word "Christ" and had nothing to do with "the Cross" (for xulon, "a timber beam, a tree," as used for the stauros, see under TREE).

 

SO, NOBODY DIED ON A CROSS?

We aren't saying that crosses were never used for execution, as execution methods varied according to time period and location. Archaeological finds have shown that sometimes a cross was actually used instead of a simple beam. One of the most famous finds was that of a man named "Yehohanan, son of Hagakol" found in Jerusalem in 1968.

 

SO, COULDN'T JESUS / YESHUA HAVE BEEN ON A CROSS?

No. If he and the other men with him were killed on a cross, they would have taken days to die (probably from dehydration) according to the above mentioned scientific information. However, scripture tells us they were dead within hours, not days (Mark 15:25-37). It is also notable that, in order to hasten death, the legs of the criminals were to be broken (John 19:31-33). If they were on a cross, according to the above mentioned science, broken legs wouldn't have made a difference in time of death; that would only work when a victim is nailed, with his arms up, to a singular pole.

 

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

The medical science involved does give strong evidence that the Jehovah's Witnesses are actually right on this one. However, at the risk of being repetitive, we do not believe that this should be a matter of doctrinal debate or preclude one's membership into any group. It is much more important to know that Jesus Christ died for our sins while fulfilling prophecy in the process; the actual shape of the device itself isn't the life saving information.

It is also interesting to note that Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only Christian-based denomination that believes Christ died on a singular stake. Other denominations who agree with this teaching include the Living Church of God (with congregations in 45 countries) and the Christadelphians (with congregations in 120 countries).*

*Note that, although the Jehovah's Witnesses claim to have members in nearly 240 "lands", there are only 195 actual countries in the world. For example, Witnesses may consider the United States, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico to be three "lands", even though the three are actually only one country.