A Dictionary of the Bible, Dealing With Its Language, Literature And Contents, Including the Biblical Theology, in New Testament usage:
"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?
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:
- His death paid the ransom to buy back life for those exercising faith.
- Wearing the instrument of his death around your neck is idolatry, and it's insulting.