While I was a practicing Jehovah’s witnesses it always puzzled me as to why practically all other beliefs confirmed that Jesus was crucified on a cross when it was so clear to us that it was a stake. At the time I never really fully critiqued this issue until recently, so felt it was a good opportunity to review this particular chapter while this was fresh in my mind.
The chapter rightly starts by defining Cross as the Device on which Christ was executed, and then goes on to explain that the original Greek word used was “Stauros”, which we all agree with.
However, it then goes on to explain that in classical Greek this word meant merely an “upright stake”, and then unpacks a list of references to try and support this, namely P.Fairbairn, liddel & Scott, the companion Bible, encyclopaedia Britannia, Bible Dictionaries etc.
This is all fine in the context that Stauros could mean Stake, but what is missing here is more importantly how did this word develop over time and more specifically in terms of how the Romans applied it when it came to this form of punishment.
Let’s then be factual here
Firstly Stauros over time developed into a number of different “devices” namely stake, cross etc and it was common that the Romans use of the Cross over the stake was the “preferred form of punishment”.
Why? Well it was simply due to the fact that the cross would significantly prolong the life of the victim.
Quoting research contained at F.T. Zugibe, 1984 Death by Crucifixion, Canadian Society of Forensic Science 17(1):1-13.6 it shows that on a cross, rather than a rapid death from asphyxiation death it can take hours or days to die from hypovolemic shock. On the other hand, death on a stake is rapid. Summarising research by P. Barbet 1953 Les Cinq Plaies du Christ 2nd ed. Paris: Procure du Carmel de l’ Action de Graces;
“Eye Witness accounts by prisoners of war in Dacchu during WWII reported that victims suspended from beams by their wrist, which were tied, expired within ten minutes if their feet were weighted or tied down and within one hour if their feet were unweighted and the victim was able to raise and lower himself to permit respiration. Death in this manner, which is one form of crucifixion, was the result of suffocation.”
The length of time Jesus and the other two survived after impalement shows they were likely supported on a cross by a sedile.
Secondly, just because as the chapter alludes to, the cross originated from “pagan” roots, but that as it may, has nothing to do with the fact that Romans simply used it as a preferred choice, and it was purely for punishment purposes and not to carry out any act that would link to pagan rituals etc. The chapter just goes on to quote various uses of a cross or similar symbols, but this to me is just a smoke screen from the fact just mentioned and therefore has no relevance. You could say the same for a circle, just because it was used in so many pagan activities, does that make it wrong to use it in any other way?
Thirdly, a bit of a side note but very relevant; If Jehovah’s Witnesses Organisation was Gods Spokesman from the day it was founded, then why would they have actually taught that Jesus was executed on a cross for a good part of 50 years?
Fourthly, despite the chapter not referring to any verse that specifically confirms or provides any clue, are there any scriptures that help prove which device Jesus was crucified on?
Again amazingly the chapter fails to recognise a number of key scriptures, which help hugely that it must have been a cross.
The accounts at Matthew 27:26, 31-37, Mark 15:14-26, Luke 23:26-38, and John 19:1-22 all show that Jesus was forced to follow the practice of carrying the stauron to Golgotha. As seen from Dionysius quoted later, it was a Roman practice for the victim to carry the crossbeam, or patibulum to site of execution. There the patibulum was affixed to an upright stake.
John 19:17 “And, bearing the torture stake for himself, (bastazón hautó ton stauron), he went out to the so-called Skull Place, which is called Gol´go·tha in Hebrew.”
In the Watchtower publication Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life there is only one nail and it goes through the wrist and not the hands, due to it being a stake, not a cross. Compare this to what Thomas stated at John 20:25; “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”.
Jesus was crucified with two nails, one in each hand, not a single nail through the wrist. That separate nails were in each hand is made clear by the use of the word ‘nails’ not ‘nail’. This suggests that Jesus had his arms separated on a cross, not together on a stake as represented in Watchtower publications.
Matthew 27:37 also supports the idea of a cross rather than a stake when it says;
“Above his head they had put the charge against him in writing: ‘THIS IS JESUS, KING OF THE JEWS’ “.
Finally, the chapter attempts to prove that Christians idolize the Cross, and why would one want to make a replica of the instrument of execution?
Yes we can agree with the verse sited for this, 1 Corinthians 10:14, that we should flee from idolatry, but as we factually know Christians over the world believe intrinsically that the cross as purely a holy symbolic of what Jesus did for us and that he also asks us to carry our “cross” as a way to explain that we need to “die in our old selves” and be renewed in Christ. So it is more about the cross representing a spiritual approach toward Christ and his work of salvation.
Moreso, no Christian bows down to a cross or in any way “worships” the cross, so again this notion of idolatry is simply unfounded.
This review only covers the key areas in brief, but there is exhaustive evidence to support that Christ was executed on a cross, so you have to ask yourself, taking into account all of the above and the total evidence that is readily available, why do Jehovah’s Witnesses stick to their belief of the Stake?
For me, I can only conclude that it is both deliberate, and divisive, to try and find another way to discredit all other beliefs where possible, so that it can somewhere strengthen their case that they are the only true religion. Sadly here, it simply does not hold up and I hope the evidence provided will help you to demonstrate the real truth in the cross.