Thursday, October 20, 2016

Did Jesus die on a cross?


The old expression "The Greeks had a word for it" is very literally true. They have, for example, not one but four different words for "love."


There are two words used in the original Greek bible to describe the implement of Jesus' death. Yet nearly every English bible says that Jesus was killed on a "cross", and the verb form says that he was "crucified."

 The two Greek words in question are stauros (pronounced Stou-ros or stavros) and xylon (pronounced ksee-lon).  Here's what Greek scholars say about those two words: 

Strong’s Greek Dictionary:

4716. Stauros
"A stake or post (as set upright), i.e. (specially), a pole or cross (as an instrument of capital punishment) Appears 28 times in the NT."

The Anchor Bible Dictionary defines "Crucifixion" as:
The act of nailing or binding a living victim or sometimes a dead person to a cross or stake (stauros or skolops) or a tree (xylon)"

The New Catholic Encyclopaedia:
"Crucifixion developed from a method of execution by which the victim was fastened to an upright stake either by impaling him on it or by tying him to it with thongs..."

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines "Crucifixion" as:
"The method of torture and execution used by the Romans to put Christ to death. At a crucifixion the victim usually was nailed or tied to a wooden stake and left to die..."

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
"Stauros denotes, primarily, an upright pale or stake. On such, malefactors were nailed for execution..."

A Dictionary of the Bible, Dealing With Its Language, Literature And Contents, Including the Biblical Theology, in New Testament usage:
"[Stauros] means properly a stake…"

Hastings' Dictionary Of The Bible states:
"The Greek term rendered 'cross' in the English NT is stauros, which has a wider application than we ordinarily give to 'cross,' being used of a single stake or upright beam as well as of a cross composed of two beams."

The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980
"The Greek word for 'cross' (stauros) means primarily an upright stake or beam, and secondarily a stake used as an instrument for punishment and execution. It is used in this latter sense in the New Testament."

The Catholic Encyclopaedia
"The cross originally consisted of a simple vertical pole, sharpened at its upper end."

The Classic Greek Dictionary, Greek-English and English-Greek:
"'stauros': ...an upright pale, stake or pole; in plural, a palisade."

The Companion Bible, Appendix 162:
"In the Greek N.T. two words are used for 'the cross' on which the Lord was put to death: 1. The word stauros; which denotes an upright pale or stake, to which the criminals were nailed for execution. 2. The word xulon, which generally denotes a piece of a dead log of wood, or timber, for fuel or for any other purpose. It is not like dendron, which is used of a living, or green tree, as in Matt.21: 8; Rev.7: 1, 3; 8:7; 9: 4, &c. As this latter word xulon is used interchangeably with stauros it shows us the meaning of each is exactly the same. The verb stauroo means to drive stakes. Our English word 'cross' is the translation of the Latin crux; but the Greek stauros no more means a crux than the word 'stick' means a 'crutch'. Homer uses the word stauros of an ordinary pole or stake, or a simple piece of timber.[footnote, Iliad xxiv.453. Odyssey xiv.11] And this is the meaning and usage of the word throughout the Greek classics. It never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but of always one piece alone. Hence the use of the word xulon (No.2 above) in connection with the manner of our Lord's death and rendered 'tree' in Acts 5:30."

Other scriptural evidence: 

  Is there other evidence within the Bible itself that can help us know how Jesus was killed? As it turns out, there is.

As noted above, at Acts 5:30, Peter declared that Jesus was "hanged upon a tree (xylon)." Acts 10:39 and 13:29 also use the same expression, that Jesus was 'hanged upon a tree.' Most Bibles so translate the phrase. 

 Where else does the Bible use that word xylon

Matthew 26:55 "Did you come out to arrest me with swords and sticks (xylon)?" 

 Luke 23:31 "If they do these things when the tree (xylon) is green, what will they do when it withers?"
Acts 16:24 "...they locked their feet into the stocks (xylon)."
Galatians 3:13 "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (xylon)."
1 Peter 2:24 "He carried our sins up to the tree (xylon)."
Revelation 2:7 "...the tree (xylon) of life in the midst of the garden." 
Revelation 18:12 "...every vessel made of costliest wood (xylon)..."
Revelation 22:2, 14 "...tree (xylon) of life..." 

Of the 20+ occurrences of stauros in the Greek New Testament, most Bibles consistently render the word "cross." 

But, not so fast: the 70 Jewish scholars who translated the hebrew old testament into Greek shortly before Jesus' day also had access to the word stauros. Did they render it "cross"?

No. At Esther 7:9 we find the story of Haman erecting a 50-cubit-tall stauros on which he planned to hang Mordecai, on which he ended up being hoisted himself. Was this stauros a cross? Bibles variously render the account there as "pillar, tree, gallows." None render it "cross." Why not? If the Septuagint translators rendered the word stauros, why shouldn't English translators render it "cross"? Why the inconsistency? 

The answer is obvious: Haman didn't die on a cross. 

Haman was hoisted up to the top of a telephone pole 75 FEET HIGH! The idea of attaching his body to a crossmember that far in the air is ludicrous. And there is simply no reference in the Esther account to a crossbar. 

And neither is there any reference to a crossmember in any account of Jesus' execution. 

The words "cross" and "crucifixion" comes from the Latin word crux, not the Greek stauros. Did the bible writers use stauros simply because there was no Greek word to describe a crossed piece of wood? Of course not. 

If Jesus was killed on an implement the Romans called a "crux", the Bible writers would have inserted the Latin word crux. There are numerous examples where the Bible writers used Latin names for things that weren't native to Judea: Census, Praetorium, flagellum, etc. Furthermore, Greek had words that translated the idea of crossing. Luke 16:26 says: "Those wishing to cross (diabenai) from here to you are not able." Acts 16:9 says "Cross over (diabas) to Macedonia and help us." If neither of those words worked, a writer could have simply made up a word, using elements of dia and xylon to convey the idea. Just as there are examples of Bible writers using Latin words there are also numerous examples of Bible writers making up new words as the need arose. For example, the Greeks had no word for humility until Paul attached the idea of "low" to the word for "mind" and came up with tapeinophrosune. 

Does it matter what you believe on this subject, or is it simply an interesting word puzzle? 


Ultimately, whether Jesus was nailed to a stake or a cross or an X, or was hit by a bus, what matters is this:

  1. His death paid the ransom to buy back life for those exercising faith. 
  2. Wearing the instrument of his death around your neck is idolatry, and it's insulting.

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 Bill K. Underwood is a freelance columnist and author of several books, including two novels - The Minotaur Medallion, and the best-selling Resurrection Day. Both are available in paperback here

2 comments:

  1. Many interesting points...thanks so much! But the fact that the cross was a pagan symbol adopted by Constantine to bring Christians and pagans together under his rule should give people pause, those who want to worship God "in spirit and truth." John 4:24

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  2. Actually Strong's Greek Dictionary has the definition as follows:
    4716 staurós – the crosspiece of a Roman cross; the cross-beam (Latin, patibulum) placed at the top of the vertical member to form a capital "T." "This transverse beam was the one carried by the criminal" (Souter).
    http://biblehub.com/greek/4716.htm



    Hastings Dictionary of the Bible on the cross:
    As used in the NT, however it refers evidently not to the simple stake used for impaling, of which widespread punishment crucifixion was a refinement, but to the more elaborate cross used by the Romans in the time of Christ. .. There remain of the four varieties of cross usually enumerated only two, between which the choice must lie. the Crux commissa or St. Anthony's cross shaped like a T, and consisting of a single upright post, across the top of which is fastened a horizontal cross bar; and the crux immissa or Latin cross in which the top of the upright shaft projects above the cross-bar as in the for we are most familiar.
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hastings/dictv1/Page_528.html



    The catholic dictionary the cross had a cross-beam:
    According to Roman custom, the penalty of crucifixion was always preceded by scourging (virgis cædere, Prudentius, "Enchirid.", xli, 1); after this preliminary punishment, the condemned person had to carry the cross, or at least the transverse beam of it, to the place of execution
    The cross on which Jesus Christ was nailed was of the kind known as immissa, which means that the vertical trunk extended a certain height above the transverse beam).

    http://newadvent.org/cathen/04517a.htm


    Companion Bible by E. W. Bullinger

    See http://www.withchrist.org/bullinger.htm

    Bullinger had a number of unusual beliefs and teachings. and was surrounded by controversy which seemed to differ for conventional Christian beliefs and practices . He would not be considered a reliable source.

    I think history and conventional wisdom would suggest a cross beam. The question does it matter needs to be taken to a deeper level. If you want to challenge popular history and common perception be careful. To go about bragging I have found another truth, a different truth, about God, the Bible, or history itself and make your appeal based on finding new truths seems to be very dangerous.
    It is true there are some mysteries in the Bible which can be revealed by a deeper understanding of the language or history, and scholars can construct tools to help understand and piece all the different pieces together.
    We must if we belong to Jehovah, stick as closely to the truth as possible, and avoid anything which could be considered false or deceitful.
    1 Peter 2:1,11 -- Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

    1 Peter 3:10 -- For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.

    James 3:1-2 -- Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

    2 Timothy 2: 1-2
    You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others

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