Was Jesus crucified on a cross or a stake?

I was reading one of those pamphlets about what the bible really teaches from the Mormons and it states in there that the proper greek word used in the bible for what Jesus was crucified was on a stake, one of their reasons for not carrying crosses, using it in worship, etc.
So does someone have a response to this?

The Greek-English interlinear translation that I have translates the Greek word as ‘cross’ through out the N.T.

I think, given the time period, Romans were using crosses for crucifixion almost exclusively. In the early days stakes were used to impale someone. However, the Romans found that the pain could be carried out longer with a cross so that is what they used as a deterent to anyone thinking about disrupting the empire.

The word of contention here is stauros. They typical argument is that in classical Greek, it is some sort of upright stake.

My arguments are as follows:

  1. The NT was not written in classical Greek, but Koine Greek. This was the more common version of Greek at the time. The meanings for stauros could be stake or cross, just as any dictionary is going to have more than one meaning for almost any word. The instrument of death for the Romans was the T shaped cross.

  2. In John 20:25, we see Thomas stating that unless he can put his fingers ‘into the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails’ he will not believe. Notice ‘nails’, not ‘nail’.

  3. Galatians 3:1. ‘O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?’ Crucified, not ‘impaled on a torture stake’.

This article from This Rock magazine has some of these arguments and more.

Hope this helps!

The Acts of the Apostles talks about Jesus being crucified on a tree. Don’t ask me the chapter and verse, however.

The whole “Jesus died on a stake” thing is a major belief in the Jehovah’s Witnesses as well.

Well, I have one picture to show:


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.

-Dionysius of Halicarnassus (c. 60 BC–after 7 BC), Roman Antiquities, VII, 69:1-2

I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with head down to the ground; some impale their private parts; others stretch out their arms on the gibbet (patibulum).

-Seneca the Younger, To Marcia on Consolation, 20.3

Such are his verbal offences against man; his offences in deed12 remain. Men weep, and bewail their lot, and curse Cadmus with many curses for introducing Tau (Τ) into the family of letters; they say it was his body that tyrants took for a model, his shape that they imitated, when they set up the erections on which men are crucified. Σταυρός (stauros) the vile engine is called, and it derives its vile name from him. Now, with all these crimes upon him, does he not deserve death, nay, many deaths? For my part I know none bad enough but that supplied by his own shape–that shape which he gave to the gibbet named σταυρός after him by men.

-Pseudo-Lucian, Trial in the Court of Vowels

Learn fully then, children of love, concerning all things, for Abraham, who first circumcised, did so looking forward in the spirit to Jesus, and had received the doctrines of three letters. For it says, “And Abraham circumcised from his household eighteen men and three hundred.” What then was the knowledge that was given to him? Notice that he first mentions the eighteen, and after a pause the three hundred. The eighteen is I (=ten) and H (=8) - you have Jesus - and because the cross was destined to have grace in the T he says “and three hundred. So he indicates Jesus in the two letters and the cross in the other.

-Epistle of Barnabas, 9:7-8

Similarly, again, he describes the cross in another Prophet, who says, “And when shall all these things be accomplished? saith the Lord. When the tree shall fall and rise, and when blood shall flow from the tree.” Here again you have a reference to the cross, and to him who should he crucified. And he says again to Moses, when Israel was warred upon by strangers, and in order to remind those who were warred upon that they were delivered unto death by reason of their sins - the Spirit speaks to the heart of Moses to make a representation of the cross, and of him who should suffer, because, he says, unless they put their trust in him, they shall suffer war for ever. Moses therefore placed one shield upon another in the midst of the fight, and standing there raised above them all kept stretching out his hands, and so Israel again began to be victorious: then, whenever he let them drop they began to perish. Why? That they may know that they cannot be saved if they do not hope on him. And again he says in another Prophet, “I stretched out my hands the whole day to a disobedient people and one that refuses my righteous way.

-Epistle of Barnabas, 12:1-4

Since he is a criminal, he will be crucified in his height and in the extension of his hands.

-Artemidorus, Oneirocritica 1:76

I extended my hands and hallowed my Lord,
For the expansion of my hands is His sign.
And my extension is the upright cross.

-Odes of Solomon, 27

That lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted was a symbol of the suffering of the cross which Christ would undergo. For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb.

-St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 50

Listen, therefore,” say I, “to what follows; for Moses first exhibited this seeming curse of Christ’s by the signs which he made.
Of what [signs] do you speak?” said he.
When the people,” replied I, “waged war with Amalek, and the son of Nave (Nun) by name Jesus (Joshua), led the fight, Moses himself prayed to God, stretching out both hands, and Hur with Aaron supported them during the whole day, so that they might not hang down when he got wearied. For if he gave up any part of this sign, which was an imitation of the cross, the people were beaten, as is recorded in the writings of Moses; but if he remained in this form, Amalek was proportionally defeated, and he who prevailed prevailed by the cross. For it was not because Moses so prayed that the people were stronger, but because, while one who bore the name of Jesus (Joshua) was in the forefront of the battle, he himself made the sign of the cross. For who of you knows not that the prayer of one who accompanies it with lamentation and tears, with the body prostrate, or with bended knees, propitiates God most of all? But in such a manner neither he nor any other one, while sitting on a stone, prayed. Nor even the stone symbolized Christ, as I have shown.

-St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 90:4

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 (σταυρός).

But in no instance, not even in any of those called sons of Jupiter, did they imitate the being crucified; for it was not understood by them, all the things said of it having been put symbolically. And this, as the prophet foretold, is the greatest symbol of His power and role; as is also proved by the things which fall under our observation. For consider all the things in the world, whether without this form they could be administered or have any community. For the sea is not traversed except that trophy which is called a sail abide safe in the ship; and the earth is not ploughed without it: diggers and mechanics do not their work, except with tools which have this shape. 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. And so it was said by the prophet, “The breath before our face is the Lord Christ.” And the power of this form is shown by your own symbols [banners]vexilla and trophies, with which all your state possessions are made, using these as the insignia of your power and government, even though you do so unwittingly.

-St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 55

But that this point is true, that that number which is called five, which agrees in no respect with their argument, and does not harmonize with their system, nor is suitable for a typical manifestation of the things in the Pleroma, [yet has a wide prevalence, ] will be proved as follows from the Scriptures. Soter is a name of five letters; Pater, too, contains five letters; Agape (love), too, consists of five letters; and our Lord, after blessing the five loaves, fed with them five thousand men. Five virgins were called wise by the Lord; and, in like manner, five were styled foolish. Again, five men are said to have been with the Lord when He obtained testimony from the Father—namely, Peter, and James, and John, and Moses, and Elias. The Lord also, as the fifth person, entered into the apartment of the dead maiden, and raised her up again; for, says [the Scripture], He suffered no man to go in, save Peter and James, and the father and mother of the maiden. The rich man in hell declared that he had five brothers, to whom he desired that one rising from the dead should go. The pool from which the Lord commanded the paralytic man to go into his house, had five porches. The very form of the cross, too, has five extremities, two in length, two in breadth, and one in the middle, on which [last] the person rests who is fixed by the nails.

-St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 2.24.4

The skins which were put upon his arms are the sins of both peoples, which Christ, when His hands were stretched forth on the cross, fastened to it along with Himself.

-Hippolytus of Rome, as quoted in St. Jerome’s Epist. 36, Ad Damasum, 28

Crucifixion (Gaza), Paris, Pereire Collection: jasper. Late 2nd to 3rd century AD.

Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses gilded and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross, naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up, it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason, or your own religion is formed with respect to it.

-Marcus Minucius Felix, Octavius 29

Crucifixion, ΥXΘVC = IXΘΥC (Greek acronym: Iêsous Christos Theou Yios Sôter,
“Jesus Christ Son of God Savior”), London, British Museum: carnelian. Mid 4th century.

As to the actual images, I regard them as simply pieces of matter akin to the vessels and utensils in common use among us, or even undergoing in their consecration a hapless change from these useful articles at the hands of reckless art, which in the transforming process treats them with utter contempt, nay, in the very act commits sacrilege; so that it might be no slight solace to us in all our punishments, suffering as we do because of these same gods, that in their making they suffer as we do themselves. You put Christians on crosses (crucibus) and stakes (stipitibus): what image is not formed from the clay in the first instance, set on cross and stake? The body of your god is first consecrated on the gibbet…

-Tertullian, Apologia 12

Crucifixion, EHCOX / PECT / O / C (sic, Jesus Christ), Rome, Nott Collection: gem. 4th century AD.

Premising, therefore, and likewise subjoining the fact that Christ suffered, He foretold that His just ones should suffer equally with Him— both the apostles and all the faithful in succession; and He signed them with that very seal of which Ezekiel spoke: “The Lord said unto me, ‘Go through the gate, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set the mark Tau upon the foreheads of the men.’Now the Greek letter Tau and our own letter T is the very form of the cross, which He predicted would be the sign on our foreheads in the true Catholic Jerusalem, in which, according to the twenty-first Psalm, the brethren of Christ or children of God would ascribe glory to God the Father, in the person of Christ Himself addressing His Father; “I will declare Your name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise to You. For that which had to come to pass in our day in His name, and by His Spirit, He rightly foretold would be of Him.

-Tertullian, Against Marcion, 3.22

Ivory Casket (ca. AD 420-430). Provenance from Rome; presently at British Museum.
Under the armour of prayer let us guard the standard of our commander, let us in prayer await the angel’s trump. All the angels likewise pray, and every creature, beasts of the field and wild beasts pray and bend the knee, and as they leave the stable or the cave, look up to heaven with no vain utterance, stirring their breath after their own manner.** Even the birds as they rise in the morning, wing their way up to heaven, and make an outstretched cross with their wings in place of hands, and utter something that seems a prayer.** What more, then, is there to say on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord Himself prayed, to whom be honour and power for ever and ever.

-Tertullian, On Prayer, 29

Relief from the doors of the Santa Sabina, Rome ca. AD 430-35.

As then in astronomy we have Abraham as an instance, so also in arithmetic we have the same Abraham. “For, hearing that Lot was taken captive, and having numbered his own servants, born in his house, 318 (TIH),” he defeats a very great number of the enemy. They say, then, that the character representing 300 (T) is, as to shape, the type of the Lord’s sign, and that the Iota (I) and the Eta (H) indicate the Saviour’s name; that it was indicated, accordingly, that Abraham’s domestics were in salvation, who having fled to the Sign and the Name became lords of the captives, and of the very many unbelieving nations that followed them.

-Clement of Alexandria, Stromata Book 6, 11

That should be enough. :smiley:

Back in those days when Jesus’ stake-ifixion was still portrayed like this, this or this, this argument is viable. But we need to take into consideration portrayals such as these now :smiley:

Notice how they show Jesus stake-ified with two nails. :wink:

This stauros argument is a red herring. The Mormons and JWs begin with the assumption that they have Christianity “right” and the Church (and all her wandering daughters) have it wrong, and they seize upon things like this to “prove” that the Church is wrong. It makes no doctrinal difference whether the gibbet had a cross-bar (although there are lots of neat devotional and linguistic connections including not only those quoted by Patrick but the sealing with the tau in Ezekiel’s vision and the parallel passage in Revelation). But in the context of “Jesus died for the salvation of mankind,” the shape of the gibbet is not an essential.

It is interesting that the forefathers in faith of these modern heresies (Arians and Pelagians) did not raise this issue, however. Probably because they were closer in time to the original language and historical context and it didn’t occur to them that they could fool people with it.

Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

The procedure of crucifixion may be summarized as follows. The patibulum was put on the ground and the victim laid upon it. Nails, about 7 inches long and with a diameter of 1 cm ( roughly 3/8 of an inch) were driven in the wrists . The points would go into the vicinity of the median nerve, causing shocks of pain to radiate through the arms. It was possible to place the nails between the bones so that no fractures (or broken bones) occurred. Studies have shown that nails were probably driven through the small bones of the wrist, since nails in the palms of the hand would not support the weight of a body. In ancient terminology, the wrist was considered to be part of the hand. (Davis) Standing at the crucifixion sites would be upright posts, called stipes, standing about 7 feet high.(Edwards) In the center of the stipes was a crude seat, called a sedile or sedulum, which served a support for the victim. The patibulum was then lifted on to the stipes. The feet were then nailed to the stipes. To allow for this, the knees had to be bent and rotated laterally, being left in a very uncomfortable position. The titulus was hung above the victim’s head.


The Archaeology of Roman Crucifixion

Archeological proof of the cross, as opposed to a stake.

A replica of a pair of Iron Crucifixion Nails. 185mm & 135mm long forged iron.

In short, the Roman Nails used in Crucifixion were too short to go through two wrists or through two ankles. And, Roman literary souces indicates a cross. It was the Asyaians who impaled people on stakes. Jesus was crucified, not impaled.

Also, a tree has branches.ablogabouthistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/nail.jpgablogabouthistory.com/2010/03/03/crucifixion-nail-found-with-templar-bodies/

I think the big issue it raised by the Jehovah Witnesses is that the cross is a pagan symbol etc etc…

Is there a doctrinal statement made by the church about the cross? I mean, if the Catholic church has never defined the shape of the cross as doctrine, then it is more a small ‘t’ tradition, yes?

As far as I know, no. I do know many crucifixes show Jesus crucified on a sometimes-high Latin (t) cross made out of smoothened planks, often with three nails, but the Church doesn’t require us to believe that that is the correct form. It doesn’t really matter how many nails were used to pin Jesus, what shape the cross was - whether it was a stake, a Latin cross, a Tau (T) cross, a saltire (X), a Y-shaped cross, etc. - how tall it was, what posture Jesus was crucified in, whether He had a loincloth or not, stuff like that.

Personally though I tend to think - based on what I perceive to be iconographic and archeological evidence supporting it - that the actual Cross was either a T-shaped cross or a ‘tree cross’ that is low to the ground, and that Jesus’ feet were nailed separately.

BTW, here’s one more graffiti discovered at Puzzuoli (ancient Puteoli), presented by Fr. Umberto Fasola before a conference of the Second International Symposium on the Shroud in Turin, Italy in 1978. This one seems to be a caricature of a victim executed in the ampitheater. The date is uncertain, though one suggestion dates it to the 1st century AD.

I really like your answer especially #2. Nails - plural. Very good!

Regarding the testimony of St. Justin Martyr as to the shape of the cross, even the JWs accept that Justin held (though erroneously to their minds) to the Christian knowledge of the form of the Cross:

“But do not writers early in the Common Era claim that Jesus died on a cross? For example, Justin Martyr (114-167 C.E.) described in this way what he believed to be the type of stake upon which Jesus died: “For the one beam is placed upright, from which the highest extremity is raised up into a horn, when the other beam is fitted on to it, and the ends appear on both sides as horns joined on to the one horn.” This indicates that Justin himself believed that Jesus died on a cross. However, Justin was not inspired by God, as were the Bible writers.” Awake! 1976 November 22 p. 27

And then there is the perennial deceptive practice of the JWs in quoting only what suits their purposes:

“The Greek word rendered “cross” in many modern Bible versions (“torture stake” in NW) is stau·ros´. In classical Greek, this word meant merely an upright stake, or pale. Later it also came to be used for an execution stake having a crosspiece. The Imperial Bible-Dictionary acknowledges this, saying: “The Greek word for cross, [stau·ros´], properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling [fencing in] a piece of ground. . . . Even amongst the Romans the crux (from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole.” Edited by P. Fairbairn (London, 1874), Vol. I, p. 376.” Reasoning from the Scriptures p.89

Giving a fuller quote would have contradicted JW intent:

“The Greek word for cross, (stauros), properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling (fencing in) a piece of ground. But a modification was introduced as the dominion and usages of Rome extended themselves through Greek-speaking countries. Even amongst the Romans, the crux (from which the word cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole, and always remained the more prominent part. But from the time that it began to be used as an instrument of punishment, a traverse piece of wood was commonly added: not however always then. … There can be no doubt, however, that the later sort was the more common, and that about the period of the Gospel Age, crucifixion was usually accomplished by suspending the criminal on a cross piece of wood. … But the commonest form, it is understood, was that in which the upright piece of wood was crossed by another near the top, but not pricisely at it, the upright pole running above the other, thus “a cross” and so making four, not merely two right angles. It was on a cross of this form, according to the general voice of tradition, that our Lord suffered. … It may be added that crucifixion was abolished around the time of Constantine, in consequence of the sacred associations which the cross had now gathered around it.”

Sneaky :slight_smile: If the JW’s show that picture, you can always quote Mt 27:34: “Also, they posted above his **head **the charge against him, in writing: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”” If Jesus was crucified on a “torture stake” with his hands above his head, why does the verse not read “they posted above his hands”?

Well, there’s the counterargument to the effect that it’s all irrelevant: the sign would have been still above Jesus’ head.

As an aside though, Matthew 27:34 seems to be one widely-ignored Scripture passage nowadays. I’ve seen people depict Jesus (here nailed to a proper cross, mind you) with the sign around His neck! :stuck_out_tongue:

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