Every so often there are rumblings in the Christian community concerning variants within our theology. Such as Christmas not being the actual birth date of Christ; Christ being crucified on Wednesday rather than Friday; the literalness of the Millennial Reign… etc., etc.
Well, I love investigating and debating these issues.
Which brings us to the theological variant in the manner of the death of Christ:
There is a certain cabal of believers and cultists who insist that Christ was executed not on a cross but rather on a torture stake (which is depicted as Jesus hanging from a vertical pole with both hands fixed together above His head with one nail, and His feet nailed together with a single nail).
They insist on this because the Greek word used in the Bible for “cross” is stauros, which can mean pole (they neglected to investigate the other meanings of the word); they also say that the “cross” was a pagan symbol long before Christianity (of course it was, it was not designed to be a Christian symbol, but was designed as a torture device and used in pagan worship… so what? Should Christ then have been crucified on a large dradle?); and they say that Constantine (the Roman Emperor which legalized the Christian religion in the Roman Empire) was a master strategist, who was faking his Christianity, and instituted the use of the cross as Christian symbolism for nefarious means.
I suppose you already know where I stand on this issue.
What follows is 10 Proofs for the Cross of Christ:
The English word “cross” in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word stauros which is the main point of contention with the cabal. As said before, it does mean “a stake or pole”. But it also means “cross”. Pretty simple right?
As in the English language, there are different senses to words and different meanings (look up the word “square”). Such is the case with the Greek word stauros.
Now, if this was all the proof out there that we had for our belief in a cross and not a stake, that would be a weak argument… but we have nine more.
In 1968 there was an important archaeological discovery. There was found an ossuary at the burial caves of Giv’at ha-Mivtar in Jerusalem; it contained the remains of a young man who had been crucified near the year 70 AD. The bones showed that the man’s legs were broken deliberately after the arms and legs had been nailed to a cross of olive wood.
The description of this find (and photos) was given in an article titled “Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar”, written by N. Haas of the Department of Anatomy at Hebrew University and published in the “Israel Exploration Journal” in 1970.
Here is an enlightening excerpt:
“The whole of our interpretation concerning the position of the body on the cross may be described briefly as follows: The feet were joined almost parallel, both transfixed by the same nail at the heels, with the legs adjacent; the knees were doubled, the right one overlapping the left; the trunk was contorted; the upper limbs were stretched out, each stabbed by a nail in the forearm.”
It should be noted that this was a Roman crucifixion.
Jesus experienced a Roman crucifixion.
The oldest artist depiction of a crucifixion was a piece of second century graffiti (for you conspiracy theorists, this was before Constantine).
It is now called the Palatine Crucifix because it was found on the Palatine Hill in Rome, scratched into a wall which was a part of the imperial palace complex.
It included a caption which mocked Christians and the crucifixions they underwent. It shows a stick figure worshiping a half donkey, half man who is up on a cross with its arms spread wide and its hands nailed to the crossbeam.
So, we have an Roman artistic representation of a Roman crucifixion… in the traditional cross shape.
There is a poem of antiquity by Pseudo-Manetho; it can be found in a synopsis of ancient literature (gathered by Martin Hengel) which focuses on crucifixion. The name of the book is: “Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross”.
The poem mocks criminals who are being crucified: “Punished with limbs outstretched, they see the cross as their fate; they are fastened and nailed to it in the most bitter torment, evil food for birds of prey and grim pickings for dogs.”
A gentleman by the name of Lucian, writing in the second century, gave some insight on the letter “T” (Greek letter tau), stating that it was looked on as an unlucky letter (like the present day unlucky number 13).
Lucian explains his reasoning by saying the letter got its “evil significance” because of the “evil instrument” which had that shape… (he was speaking about the cross).
The crucifixion narratives in the New Testament are pretty straightforward, not dwelling on the specific details of crucifixion, whose details were known all to well to the early readers of the Gospels.
What we know from the extant literature:
The punishment was reserved for non-citizens, for slaves and the worst criminals. When the prisoner was convicted, they were beaten and whipped then forced to carry a crossbeam. The prisoner was then driven through the city and out to the place of execution. There they found in place a vertical beam mounted in the ground. The prisoner was then stripped, nailed to the crossbeam, and then mounted onto the vertical beam to complete the crucifixion.
Nothing we see in the New Testament indicates a foregoing of the usual Roman way.
The literature of the early Church Fathers testifies to the cross of Christ:
Tertullian: “In all our travels, in our coming in and going out, in putting on our clothes and our shoes, at table, in going to rest, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.”
Hippolytus: “Do your best at all times to make the sign of the cross on your forehead worthily. This sign of the Passion is a tried remedy against the devil, provided you make it in the spirit of faith.”
Ephraim: “My son, mark all your actions with the sign of the life giving cross. Do not neglect that sign whether in eating or drinking or going to sleep or in the home or going on a journey.”
During the reign of the Emperor Constantine, he issued the Edict of Milan which proclaimed religious tolerance throughout the empire.
It was at this time that massive amounts of pictorial representations of the crucifixion entered into Christian iconography.
Since there was religious freedom, Christians were free to construct houses of worship in which they would freely depict the cross… unlike the time before Constantine when no such freedom existed and its proliferation was stunted massively.
The French scholar Jean de Savignac studied the 250 AD New Testament papyri in the Bodmer Collection. In his studies, he found when the word stauros (see reason #1) was written, it was written in a contracted form. In this form the “au” is omitted and the “tau” and the “ros” are superimposed.
Professor Kurt Aland furthered de Aavignac’s research to include other papyri collections and found the same.
What they discovered was the staurogram; it was used regularly in the early texts. The staurogram is an image with a horizontal crossbeam.
What the copyists of these early texts were conveying is self-evident.
Our last piece of evidence will knock this debate out of the park…
Read the Gospel of John, chapter 20, verse 25:
“The other disciples therefore said unto him (Thomas), We have seen the Lord. But he (Thomas) said unto them, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
As we described the popular depiction of the “torture stake” theory, the image is depicted as Jesus hanging from a vertical pole with both hands fixed together above His head with one nail, and His feet nailed together with a single nail.
The inference we see in the plain depiction of Scripture clearly explains the real shape of the cross that we have known for centuries… indeed from the first century.
I think I will continue to where my cross necklace.
| Rev. Daniel Gabriel |