The cross and crucifixion
THE CROSS AND CRUCIFIXION
We do not doubt that the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Lamb, was nailed to a wooden instrument of death which was set upright in a hole in the ground. He was left there to die. Neither do we doubt His burial and resurrection. What we do doubt are the baseless Catholic-pagan traditions – false ideas – that have grown up around this event. While we expect to be opposed by some because of this article we feel compelled to tell what we have learned on this subject. My Bible says: “And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots,” (Matthew 27:45). Are you willing to take an honest and deeper look at what the Bible actually says here? If not, cease reading now as you will likely only become angry at both the message and the messenger. If you are thus willing, read on as this preacher has tried to share what he sees to be the truth on this matter.
First of all, notice the word “crucified” in the above verse. It comes from Latin. This Anglicized word was first used sometime in the 14th century according to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. If that is true, then all earlier translations of the Bible into English must have used a different word. “Crucify” and its kindred words did not exist then. This Latin word brought over into English means to fasten to a cross. But does the Bible teach that a cross was involved in the death of Christ? What does the Bible teach? Did the Romans ever use or always use two-beamed crosses? Are the Catholics right? Were the old painters who have portrayed a two-beamed cross right? Or did the Romans use a simple upright stake? Why does it really matter how Christ was killed? And why do some Baptists oppose the use of cross symbols in their homes and meeting houses today? Why do some Baptists make it a point to have nothing to do with crosses?
Coming into use relatively late – in the 14th century – obviously means that these Latin-based words were not used by earlier English speakers and writers. How did they come to be in English, having a Latin origin? Many words from different languages have been brought into English. This was done through usage. For example our word “booze” comes from the Dutch no doubt through contact with that nationality and language. Who, we ask, would have used these Latin-based words back in that time in jolly old England? The answer seems obvious. Latin has been the language of the Catholic Church since it’s development sometime after A.D. 300. We know how they came to be used in Catholic England. Here is how. King Henry VIII (28 January 1457 – 21 April 1509) pulled the English Catholic churches out from under the control of Rome. After proclaiming himself the head over the English churches, the English clergy continued using the same old (Catholic) church words. The words cross and crucify are two of those old church words that the King James Translators kept. They wrote about their continued use of old church words in their introductory material. This introductory explanation of how and what the translators did in their translation work formerly appeared in the front of all King James Bibles. In that important part of the King James Bible, the translators told how they were not so scrupulous as other translators and kept the old Catholic words such as church (instead of congregation) and baptism (instead of washing – more accurately rendered dipping). While they only gave two examples, they kept other old church words also, cross and crucify being two of them. They were Anglicans (also known as Episcopalians or Church of England) and their mother was Roman Catholicism. When they came out of Romanism, they brought a considerable amount of Romish baggage with them – crosses included!
Was Christ’s cross a simple upright pale or pole or was it made of two or even three pieces of wood somehow fastened together as most people think? And does it matter? If so why? These are all important questions, we believe. They are important if we would worship God in an acceptable way. We say this because the Lord Jesus said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:23-24). We want our worship to be acceptable to God. We want to be “true worshippers” and not false ones. Therefore the truth is important. Pagan lies are not acceptable to God! Remember Cain’s sin! Cain was not punished by God for worshiping a false god. Cain’s sin was the false worship of the true and living God. Shall we follow Cain and do as we please and call it worship or shall we worship God “in spirit and in truth”? The last quoted verse above says we “must” worship in spirit and in truth if we would worship God. Worship is a purely spiritual matter and must be according to truth to be acceptable to God. After all, God is not “worshipped with men’s hands,” (Acts 17:25).
The first avenue of research that we will pursue is archaeology. The Romans hung multiplied thousands of people on pieces of wood, leaving them to die. This mode of execution was followed throughout the Roman Empire over hundreds of years. Sometimes they impaled their victims. This would necessitate the use of a simple upright piece of timber. Other times they fastened them to wooden uprights. In both instances they were left hanging to die a slow and painful death. But here is an amazing fact! Get this! There is not a single ancient Roman “cross” ever found by archaeologists anywhere in the world! Think of that! You would think there would be a multitude of crosses, skeletons and other evidence as to how crucifixions were carried out. The following is an amazing quote from a Jerusalem-based online newspaper, The Times of Israel: “It is therefore an odd fact that archaeological evidence of this punishment — crosses, for example, or perforated skeletons — has never been found anywhere in the world, with one exception: the stone box containing Yehohanan’s remains.” (Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com/in-a-stone-box-a-rare-trace-of-crucifixion/) That article goes on to point out that the young Jewish man, Yehohanan, who was crucified likely had his hands tied to the cross as there is no evidence of his hands having been nailed. What is even more interesting is that his feet were not nailed one atop the other as portrayed in religious paintings. Rather his heels were placed one on each side of the upright pole and a huge nail or spike driven through each heel from the side. Thus his feet were fastened one to each side of the “cross.” So archaeology is not of much help to us since it provides only one example of a crucified body. However, it does show that in at least one instance the mode of crucifixion differed from that portrayed by Catholic-tradition-influenced painters. We know from the Bible that the “hands” of the Lord Jesus were nailed to the cross in some fashion, but whether to the sides or front of the upright is unknown. One thing for sure: we ought not to accept carte blanche the claims of Rome and the paintings of men influenced by her!
In this study we would do well to learn the meaning of the Greek words translated as “crucify” and “cross.” After all, the Greek words are the inspired Words God moved upon holy men to write. The two Greek words translated “cross” and “crucify” are related. First let us look at the word “Crucify” which comes from “stauroo.” That word, according to the universally accepted Methodist scholar James Strong, gives the primary meaning as “to stake, drive down stakes.” The secondary meaning is “to fortify with driven stakes, to palisade.” Most Americans are familiar with early day palisades or forts built by placing tree trunks upright in the ground. That is the idea here except it would refer to single upright posts. Only after giving these meanings does Mr. Strong introduce the word “crucify” into his definition based upon the old church word usage. However, Mr. Strong is well known to follow tradition in some instances rather than staying strictly with original meanings. Our point being: we must always be careful not to take the words of men, but to do our own research. By the way, the King James translators consistently translated “stauroo” as “crucify.”
Next let us look at the word for “cross.” The word for “cross” is “stauros” – just one letter short of the word for “crucify” as shown above. This word denotes an upright pale: nothing more. Church of England Greek scholar W.E. Vine has done admirably well in pointing out that there is no etymological reason – no reason in the words used – to think that the Christ’s “cross” was anything other than a rough upright pale or post. In his dictionary he devotes considerable space to proving this. His action puts Mr. Vine quite at odds with his church since Anglicanism is replete with crosses! The evidence must have been compelling to cause such a scholar to go against his own church in this matter.
Whether or not Christ’s cross was square hewn or not is unclear. Personally I doubt that the Romans expended much labor or much expense on preparing “crosses.” History tells us that Crassus crucified 6,000 of Spartacus’ followers. It is doubtful if his soldiers took time for the manufacture of “T” shaped crosses in that event. Very probably in some cases conveniently located living or dead trees were used. Roadside trees or trees located in other public places served their purpose well. After all, their purpose was to make a public display of their brand of violent justice. They wanted to instill fear of their authority in the peoples they subjugated. They were not seeking to make a beautiful monument or an attractive public edifice when they executed people in this way.
What does the Bible specifically say about the thing on which Jesus died? Five times the Bible says the thing upon which Christ was crucified was a tree. Those five places are as follows. “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree,” (Acts 5:30). “And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree,” Ac 10:39). “And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre,” (Acts 13:29). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” (Galatians 3:13; see also Deuteronomy 21:22, 23). “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed,” (1Peter 2:24). Now a two-beamed cross and a tree are not the same thing. Who will dare say they are?
There are two Greek words that are translated “tree” in our King James New Testaments. One word, “dendrun,” is found 19 times in the Greek New Testament and always means a tree whether living or dead. It is always translated that way in our King James Bibles. It is thought to have come from the Greek word for oak. But the word that is used in the above five quoted verses speaking of the tree upon which Christ was nailed is a completely different word. It is “xulon” and is found 19 times. It is translated ten times as tree, five times as staff, three times as wood and one time as stocks. We know what a tree is – generally thought of as tall and straight. A staff of course is a long more or less straight heavy walking stick used also as a weapon. The word wood refers to expensive wood such as boards and containers made from such things. Stocks were notched straight wooden beams fixed to come together as one so as to hold the feet of prisoners secure as in Acts 16:24. So we have it then: the word “xulon” means a straight piece of wood. The word “stauros” (translated cross) means an upright pole or paling. What does all this prove? It means there is no reason in the words used in the Bible to cause us to think Christ was nailed to a two or three beamed cross. None whatsoever!
If you and I had never been told about such a two-beamed device or seen a picture painted by some man who lived hundreds of years after Christ’s death, the idea of a two-beamed cross would never enter our minds just from reading the Bible. There is just no Bible evidence at all for that Catholic idea which was later popularized by Renaissance painters. (These Renaissance painters, coming as they did out of the Dark Ages, also painted a long haired, fair complexioned, blue eyed Jesus, female angels and portrayed Daniel’s three friends dressed in long tight hose and other garments such western European men of their times wore. The facts are these: in spite of the paintings, Jesus was a Sephardic Jew and they are of dark complexion, dark hair and eyes. Angels are always spoken of in the Bible as masculine. And Daniel and his friends did not dress like King Henry VIII of England!)
So someone asks, where did the two or three beamed cross idea originate? While a great host of authorities could be cited, we furnish just one paragraph from The Encyclopedia Britannica: “From its simplicity of form, the cross has been used both as a religious symbol and as an ornament, from the dawn of man’s civilization. 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, while numerous instances, dating from the later Stone Age to Christian times, have been found in nearly every part of Europe. 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. (The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., 1910, Vol. 7, pg. 506). Since the cross as a symbol predates both Christianity and the Roman Empire, it cannot be of Christian origin. That is certain! It does indeed symbolize something, but not the death of Christ!
There is no doubt that the cross is an idolatrous or pagan symbol, found universally around the world. It is even found in the pagan symbolism of Native American “Indians” before contact with Europeans. So how did this pagan symbol become associated with the death of Christ? In about the third century, practicing pagans, having been sprinkled, were accepted into Catholic churches. They brought with them many idolatrous ideas. In order to make these pagan converts and keep them happy in their newly found “Christianity” the Catholics borrowed all sorts of their pagan customs and practices. They brought these things into their “worship.” Later, many of these pagan things, such as the cross, were brought over into Protestantism by the so-called Reformers. Unhappily, a great many Baptists have succumbed to this deception from their Catholic and Protestant neighbors. Does it matter whether or not Baptists understand that the liturgical “cross” is God-dishonoring paganism? Does it matter whether Baptists understand that there is no biblical evidence for the liturgical cross of the Catholics? We think it does. More importantly we believe God thinks it matters for He warned us about the very real danger of idols of all sorts. And to give the unscriptural cross a prominent and honored (venerated) place in our meeting houses and in what is supposed to be the purely spiritual matter of worship we think is nothing less than evil. Surely the children of God who know the Word of God – God’s “precepts” – will say with the Psalmist, “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way,” (Psalm 119:104). We can only wonder at professing Christians who love false ways, especially when the truth and worship of God is concerned. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen,” (1 John 5:21).