What is the shape of the cross of Christ? Did Jesus die on a stake?
- Author: Carlos Martins Nabeto
- (3rd revised edition: 2020).
- Translation: Bruno Valadão
– “The Peace be with you all !!! I am a Catholic and I have a question: the other day, Jehovah’s Witness friends suggested to me that the Catholic Church lies, saying that the cross as we know it is not true, that Jesus was killed on a stake. I refuse to believe that the Catholic Church lies and I know that there must be some explanation for this. Please answer me so that I can defend our Church and our faith. This is already the second Apologetics website I write to. It was very difficult to hear those things and not have a proper answer. I count on your help! God bless you all! Thank you, Deborah Azevedo ”(São Paulo-SP).
Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Protestant sect that only appeared in the 19th century (where were they before this?), like to talk a lot and “research” little. In fact, their personal research stops at what his own magazines and books claim, which they memorize especially to promote “cheap proselytism”, from door to door, for the benefit of their denomination. They thus employ the detestable “parrot spirit” method …
Now, their strictly peculiar doctrines (denial of the Holy Trinity, denial of the divinity of Jesus, prohibition of blood transfusion, prediction of the “exact” date of the end of the world, etc.) make even other Protestant denominations refuse to recognize him. the title “evangelical” or “Protestant”. Other than that, you don’t have to be an expert to know what they want – as if that were possible! – correct the Holy Scriptures (obviously, so that they can support your particular unorthodox beliefs), which is why your Bibles (the infamous “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures” [NWT]) have hundreds and hundreds of verses that “do not match” with what appears in other Bibles, whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant or Jewish (in the latter case, as regards the Old Testament)…
This is the case, for example, of the “instrument” that was used to bring about the death of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior… ALL Christians – Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants – categorically claim that Jesus died on the cross (legitimately argued) its form: ‘commissa’ or ‘immissa’); then the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their credulity based on that NWT, come to affirm the opposite (including passing over History and Archeology), defending the idea that the instrument used was a “torture stake”…
As former Jehovah’s Witness David A. Reed explains, “according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the cross is a pagan religious symbol adopted by the Church when Satan, the devil, took control of ecclesiastical authority. The cross had nothing to do with Jesus’ death, as Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that he was nailed to an upright pole without a horizontal beam. Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor the cross and new converts are expected to destroy any crosses they may have, rather than simply disposing of them” (“Jehovah’s Witnesses Refuted Verse by Verse”, ed. Juerp, 5th edition, 1994, p.13).
And the same author adds further:
- “Denying that Jesus died on the cross is a basic doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, witnesses consider anyone who believes in the cross to be a ‘false pagan blessed’. Instead, the Watchtower Society teaches that Jesus was nailed to a ‘torture stake’ – a vertical pole, like a flagpole, with no horizontal beam. Wherever the word ‘cross’ is mentioned in other Bibles, the New World Translation uses the term ‘torture stake’. The illustration of the Lord’s death in his books shows Jesus with his arms placed together, just above his head, with a single nail nailing both hands to the stake” (idem, p.78).
With the expression “the cross is a pagan religious symbol adopted by the church when Satan, the devil, took control of ecclesiastical authority”, Reed alludes to a “widespread urban legend” among Protestants, including non-Jehovah’s Witnesses (and that our Apostolate has already had the grateful satisfaction of refuting and clarifying several times) that, with the arrival of Constantine to the Roman imperial power (AD 313), the Christian Church (understand: the Catholic Church) would have paganized, from then on adopting non-Christian customs, including the cross itself to replace the “torture stake”.
Now, if this were true, then it would not be possible, then, to find references to the cross or the sign of the cross before the year 313 AD. But this is not the case … Quite the contrary, we find explicit references to this matter in renowned Christians like Tertullian Carthage (+220 AD; v. De Corona Militis 3), Hipólito de Roma (+235 AD; v. Apostolic Tradition 42) and the Acts of the Martyrs (2nd / 3rd centuries). Indeed, the cross of Christ, as we recognize it in Catholic environments, was indeed the full conscience of the early Christians (and not that Jehovist “stake of torture”).
As if that were not enough, no serious encyclopedia – religious or profane – denies that Christ was killed on a cross by the Romans; rather, they claim it. Let us use only the profane here, as they are independent of an eventual “control” of the Catholic Church (as perhaps the Jehovah’s Witnesses would intend to accuse):
- “CROSS – An instrument of torture formed by two pieces of wood crossed, in which, in the past, those condemned to death were nailed. Object representing the cross of Christ, made a symbol of Christianity. // JESUS CHRIST – (…) Jesus appeared before the high priest of the Jews, Caiaphas, and then before the Roman Justice, represented by Pontius Pilate, who did not oppose his death sentence. Thus, Jesus, on Calvary, died crucified between two thieves (…)”(Digital Encyclopedia Koogan Houaiss, ed. HyperMedia, 2001).
- “CROSS – The sign of the cross, in various forms, predates Christianity and there are doubts as to whether it was a mark of identification and property or whether it corresponded to a sign of worship and veneration. In any case, it was as the symbol of the Christian religion that the cross acquired its deep mystical meaning. Types of cross: (…) The Christian cross took four fundamental forms: the ‘commissa’, in the form of a capital ‘t’ (T), also called ‘cross of tau’ (Greek letter) or ‘Saint Anthony’; the ‘quadrata’ or ‘Greek cross’, with four arms of the same size (+); the ‘latina’ or ‘immissa’, the bottom of which is longer than the other three (t); and ‘de Santo André’ or ‘decussat’, in the form of ‘x’ (X). (…) Although tradition holds that the tree on which Jesus died was shaped like a Latin cross, historical data seems to indicate that it was in fact a commissa cross. The cross in Christianity: the cross has a profound symbolism in Christianity and was its most representative sign since the early days, although it was sought not to expose it publicly. The sign of the cross, traced by Christians on the body with two fingers, was consigned already in the 3rd century by Tertullian. After Constantine’s edict in 313, which legalized Christianity, the cross, as well as the monogram of Christ – formed by the Greek capital letters X (khi or aspirated k) and P (rô) – soon reached popularity among Christians, as it is evident in artistic and funerary representations (…)” (Barsa Digital, ed. Britannica, 2000).
- “CROSS –  A torture instrument formed from two pieces of wood crossed, in which, in the past, those condemned to death were nailed.  Instrument in which Jesus Christ was entreated (in this case, capitalized).  Object that represents the Cross of Christ, symbol of Christianity. (…)” (Great Encyclopedia Larousse Cultural, ed. Nova Cultural, 1998).
- “JESUS CHRIST – (…) Considered blasphemous, he is subjected to a religious process and accused of conspiring against Caesar. He is crucified when Tiberius is the emperor of Rome and Pontius Pilate the procurator of Judea” (Almanac Abril em Multimídia, ed. Abril, 1995).
- “CROSS – There are four kinds of crosses:  The cross without a top (crux commissa or patibulata), which iconologists ordinarily call” T-shaped cross “or” in tau “, because it affects the shape of this letter; according to a tradition adopted by many archaeologists, the cross of Jesus Christ was a tau.  The cross with a top and four branches (crux capitata, crux immissa), composed of a vertical stem and a crossbar; there are two main varieties of four-branch crosses: the ‘Greek cross’ and the ‘Latin’; the latter form is that of a man extending his arms; it is also the one that is generally attributed to the cross of Jesus Christ.  The double cross, called ‘episcopal cross’ or ‘patriarchal’ or ‘Russian’ or ‘Lorraine’; this cross is often found in the Christian monuments of Attica, Morea and Mount Athos.  The triple cross, only used by the Sovereign Pontiff (…)” (Great Brazilian Encyclopedia of Consultations and Research, ed. Blini, 1994).
- “CROSS – An instrument of torment in Antiquity, composed of two timbers, one crossed in the other. Symbol of redemption for Christians (…)” (Encyclopedia Badem, ed. Iracema, 1976).
- “CROSS – In Antiquity, an instrument of torture. Crucifixion was the most painful and ignominious ordeal of the Eastern peoples, with the exception of the Jews; the Romans used it against ordinary slaves and criminals. As a symbol of Christ’s death, it is the sign of Redemption (…)” (TESE-Encyclopedia Universal Ilustrada, ed. Melhoramentos, 1976).
As can easily be seen, none of these encyclopedias cites the “thesis” of Jehovah’s Witnesses, not even from a distance, as a mere hypothesis or simple indication…
Of course, we could point out many other bibliographic sources, but what has been described above is already more than sufficient, such clarity and objectivity. In fact, the information collected – I repeat: taken from non-religious and non-Catholic bibliographic sources – shows:
a) That the cross was an instrument of torture used in antiquity, including by the Romans;
b) That this instrument was formed by two woods that crossed;
c) That the form of crossing could vary: + (immissa), T (commissa) or X (decussata);
d) That Jesus was, in fact, crucified on one of these forms of crosses;
e) That this fact has been known since the beginning, even before the religious freedom granted by Constantine;
f) That Constantine’s religious freedom made it possible for the cross to be presented openly and frequently to the world (that is, because it no longer implies a risk of death for Christians).
Therefore, for complete and absolute exclusion: JESUS DID NOT DIE IN A “TORTURE STAKE”, as Jehovah’s Witnesses stubbornly declare.
But not only that. The idea that Jesus was begged at a stake contradicts the very logic of the method described in the Bible … Yes, because, in theory, Christ could only have carried his cross to Golgotha in two ways:
1) Or he would carry the entire cross, that is, with its two beams (horizontal and vertical) already attached to each other;
2) Or I would just carry the shorter horizontal beam over my shoulders.
This is because, otherwise, if it had to take the vertical beam (“torture stake”), much longer, the only viable method would be to pull it (or drag it), as it would not have adequate support on the tree to use his shoulder as an aid (and although he could carry the vertical beam over his shoulders, the narrow streets of the Holy City would prevent him from doing so, unless he carried the beam walking “sideways”, which would certainly kill him by exhaustion before he even to get to Golgotha !!!). Such a possibility runs counter to the descriptions of transportation contained in the Gospels. Furthermore, as is well known, the horror of the torment of the cross consisted, precisely, in making the condemned to die – after long hours of indescribable suffering – by suffocation (or, perhaps, cardio-respiratory arrest).
But where could the strange idea of a “torture stake” come from that Jehovah’s Witnesses are so attached? It certainly comes from the Greek term “staurós”, which is used to designate the vertical beam that was planted (that is, fixed) at the place of torment. Thus, when the victim arrived at the scene with the horizontal beam (= scaffold or furcation) on his shoulders, he was nailed with open arms on this beam, raised and fixed on the vertical beam, thus forming a “commissa” cross (in the shape of a T) or “immissa” (in the form of +), depending on the position in which this horizontal beam was fixed: at the top or a little lower, perhaps for fixing the poster indicating the reason for the conviction.
In turn, the term “staurós” is quoted more than 40 times in the New Testament; and in ALL Bible translations – Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, with the exception of NWT – the word is translated “cross”. However, in 5 opportunities the term “csilon” is used, which literally means “wood, timber”, but it is also usually translated as “cross”, as it supports this understanding.
Now, “staurós” had the (ancient) meaning of “stake”, as we read in Homer, SIX CENTURIES BEFORE Christ, that is, when the cross was NOT yet known as an instrument of torture. LATER, when the cross is adopted in the Greco-Roman world for this purpose, the Greco-Roman writers refer to it by that same term, “staurós”. As for the term “csilón”, very little used, but also commonly translated as “cross”, as we have seen, it has a generic meaning and depends on Deuteronomy 21,22-23: here, in this passage, we do not speak of “stake”, but from “tree” (hence also to “wood” or “wood”), when it is transformed into a “natural instrument of torture”, where the condemned person is arrested (tied, nailed) until he dies.
As the term “stake” used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to translate the Greek “staurós” is so arbitrary and not very consistent with the form of torture, they were forced to add in their translation of the Bible [NWT] the complement “of torture”, whose the word is not found in the original Greek texts (see Matthew 27,40; Colossians 1,20 etc.).
And apart from all that, History and Archeology reveal that the Romans did not “crucify” (the term is even contradictory here!) Their condemned on stakes, but on crosses, long before the time of Christ; to give you an idea, in the year 71 BC six thousand rebellious followers of Spartacus were crucified. The cross, moreover, arrived in Palestine carried by the Romans in the days of Alexander Janeu (67 BC), king of Judah. It is even known that the Roman soldiers enjoyed themselves by varying their forms of crucifixion (cf. Flavius Josephus , “The Jewish War” 5,451; published in AD 77). Saint Andrew, brother of Saint Peter, was martyred on a Decussate cross (in the form of an X); Saint Peter, for his part, was crucified upside down in Rome in the days of Nero; during the takeover of Jerusalem, between AD 66/70, dozens of Jews were crucified in the most diverse positions. Such variation in the form of torture was only possible because the cross was composed of two timbers that combined in different ways (if it were only the “stake”, as Jehovah’s Witnesses want, there would be no great variation besides two: or the convict was arrested upside down, or upside down, which goes against all history!).
And so the horizontal beam was used in the crucifixion, that Christ himself, when revealing to Peter the way he would die, tells him (including in the infamous NWT!):
- “I tell you in all truth: when you were younger, you used to gird you up and walk wherever you wanted. But when you get old, you will EXTEND your hands and another [man] will gird you and take you where you don’t want to” (John 21,18; quoted according to NWT; emphasis added).
The word “extend” is only explained here by the fact that there is a second beam (horizontal) in addition to the first (vertical); it is precisely by extending the hands (and consequently the arms) that one can nail or tie the supplicant to the horizontal tree, leaving him “with open arms”; if the only beam in the torture instrument was the vertical, the victim would necessarily be fixed “with his arms placed together, just above his head” (as depicted in the drawings made by Jehovah’s Witnesses) and not “extended”.
And even if the “outstretched” were interpreted as “stretched”, as if the arms, even if joined together above the head, were nailed in the highest possible position in relation to the trunk of the body, as depicted by Jehovah’s Witnesses in one of their illustrated publications, we would have another problem here: only one single nail would be used to hold both hands simultaneously at the top. However, the Bible states in John 20,25 [any translation, including TNM]:
- “But he (Thomas) said to them (to the other Apostles): ‘Unless I see IN YOUR HANDS the sign of NAILS and put my finger on the sign of NAILS, and put my hand on your side (opened by the spear of the Roman soldier), I certainly will not believe” (John 20,25, cf. NWT; emphasis added).
Note the subtlety pointed out by the evangelist S. John: Thomas makes reference to the nail marks (NO PLURAL!) On Jesus’ hands (ALSO NO PLURAL!). Therefore, at least 1 nail for each hand !!! Indeed, Jesus died EVEN on a cross and not on a “torture stake”! The Bible of Jehovah’s Witnesses itself falls in contradiction with the doctrine professed by its faithful (or is it Jehovah’s Witnesses who fall in contradiction with their own translation of the Bible ??).
Therefore, the NWT translators have no use replacing the word “cross” with “torture stake” … Jesus really died crucified, with open arms nailed to the horizontal beam!
And more! Archeology also presents us with some very valuable evidence – prior to Constantine – demonstrating the total connection between Jesus, the Cross and Christianity, thus repelling the idea of the “torture stake” disseminated by Jehovah’s Witnesses:
– In the ancient Christian catacombs, symbols are found that resemble (conceal) the cross, such as the anchor and tau, or with anagrams arranged in the shape of a cross:
– The “inscription of Rufina”, preserved in the catacomb of St. Callisto, in Rome, contains an engraved ‘Greek cross’:
– In the Catacomb of San Genaro, in Naples, there is a fresco clearly depicting a ‘Latin cross’:
– The ‘Palatino graffiti’ features a character worshiping a man with a donkey’s head crucified on a ‘Latin cross’; together, there is the inscription “Alessameno adores his god” (and, in fact, there are records of pagans accusing Christians of worshiping an “ass-god”):
– In Herculano, a city that was destroyed by an eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, archaeologists found, in 1937, during the excavations, a modest small room that, in one of its walls, had the shape of a ‘Latin cross’. As S. Paul was in Pozzuoli (cf. Acts 28: 13-14), some decades before the eruption, a few kilometers from Herculan, it is quite possible that the house found was a domestic Church:
Note: all of this well before the “conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity”, which took place in 313 AD, the year in which radical sects (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses) point to the “beginning of paganization” of the Church by the same emperor ….
Therefore, as can easily be seen from the images above (and we could add several others well before the year 313 B.C.), Jehovah’s Witnesses have no serious basis for claiming that Jesus died on a stake. Therefore, they go in the opposite direction of what the Church, the Bible, Tradition, History, Archeology and even Logic reveals… All this just to counteract, to boast in their sectarianism…
Finally, be it in the “commissa” (T) or “immissa” (+) form, the fact is that Jesus died EVEN with open arms, ON THE CROSS, to save us, as the Catholic Church has always taught us, Mother and Master … NEVER the way Machiavellians want Jehovists.
It is good to say that the form “immissa” (+) enjoys the preference (and it really has a good probability of being it) because the Bible reports that on the head of Jesus there was the inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jews” (cf. Matthew 27,37; Luke 23,38; John 19,19). In any case, the “commissa” (T) shape is not completely discarded, it is also possible to fix a (small) sign over the head of the crucified, depending on the opening angle used to nail hands on the horizontal beam…
On the other hand, we suggest that you purchase the book “The Cross and the Crosses”, by Fr. Egion ed. Ave Maria, which provides a more in-depth study of the biblical terms used (“staurós” and “csilón”) and counters other Jehovist accusations related to this theme, in addition to addressing some other curiosities. By the way, as it is a “cheap” book, which costs around R$ 10,00 (ten reais), you could present these “Jeovista friends” with a copy. After all, as the Apostle S. Paul writes: “Discern everything and keep what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Who knows, contact with the Truth will not make you free? (cf. John 8,32).
I hope I have answered your question satisfactory.
* * *
PS – Due to an IMMENSE irony of fate, it appears that the magazines “The Watch Tower” published in the United States by Jehovah’s Witnesses, during the presidency of its founder Charles Taze Russell, carried on their covers the figure of a LATIN CROSS and a radiant crown. This means that Jehovah’s Witnesses have already respected the CROSS like all other Christians and the Apostles themselves. This emblem only disappeared as a result of the 2nd president, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, who did his best to erase every mark of his predecessor (of whom he was a disaffected) and even implanted the idea of the “torture stake”. Did your “Jehovah’s Witness friends” know this? The downside is that this emblem adopted by the so-called “Bible Students” was used by the Masonic Order of the Knights Templar… Note the photos below:
1) Cover of the magazine “The Watch Tower” of January 1912. In highlight (in yellow), the emblem of the “Latin cross and the crown”. Note that the “traditional cross” is printed on the covers of the main Jeovist magazine, which demonstrates that the invention of the “torture stake” was not professed by the first Jehovah’s Witnesses:
2) Detail of the cover of the magazine “The Watch Tower” of January 1912, expanding the “Latin cross between the crown” at the top left. In the upper right corner, the emblem containing the shield, helmet and three weapons belongs to the Masonic Order of the Knights Templar of the Great Camp (USA):
3) Masonic emblem of the “Latin cross and crown” emblazoned on the pyramid-shaped tomb of the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Russell, erected by the Watchtower Society itself:
4) A Masonic medal containing the “Latin cross and crown” emblem:
5) Masonic emblem of the “Latin cross and crown” printed in a 1994 Masonic magazine. It is also possible to find the very same emblem in the first publications of other “Christian-liberal” groups: Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Christian Science and Salvation Army:
6) The emblem of the “Latin cross and crown” in a Masonic lodge of the York Rite in Pennsylvania (USA):
The “other details” of this and other interesting cases about the JW’s can be found in the book “The Hidden Power behind Jehovah’s Witnesses” (Robin de Ruiter, ed. Ave Maria).
God be with you