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': 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 xylon, 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 xylon 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 xylon (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?"
Galatians 3:13 (KJV) "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." 

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 created the Greek translation the Hebrew Old Testament known as the Septuagint, shortly before Jesus' day, also had access to the word stauros. Did they ever use it to describe a "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 implement 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, whose body was displayed on a stauros, wasn't hung on a cross. 

The words "cross" and "crucifixion" come 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. Greeks were great with words.

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, a cross, 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.
Please feel free to leave a comment. For another of my columns on this subject, click here.
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Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at can help support this page by purchasing a book.


  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

    1. Good point however Constantine adopted this almost 400 years later when the use of the word stauros may have been commonly accepted as “cross” instead of its original form making the cross argument easy

  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).

    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.

    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).

    Companion Bible by E. W. Bullinger


    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

    1. Hi Jeff, please contact me about this. jimspace3000 at yahoo . com


  3. You make yourself sound very convincing. However, MY Strong's dictionary says: "from the base of 2476; a stake or post (as set upright), i.e. (specially), a pole..." You discount Bullinger, instead leaning on 'conventional wisdom.' I don't need to comment on that.

  4. I was catholic, later in the years l became a Christian. Protestant. Since l recall, a many years? We have many religions. It's like a puzzle. We try to fit in the pieces. Where we are at comfort. I pray for wisdom,understanding. There are times where l need to be strong and go to right religion. Help me Father, in the name of JESUS CHRIST.......

    1. Good morning Danny my name is Robert Ramirez and would like to talk to you if you want about finding the tru religion, I'm one of Jehova's witness and like you I prayed to God to help me and look I found it call me if you want me to explain the true Bible teachings

    2. Hi Robert Ramirez.
      I am one of Jehovah's witnesses as well. Nice meeting you!

    3. my name is Beverly. I am one of Jehovah witnesses as well. I've studied and used several Bible versions and did a lot of research to fine the truth and with the help of daily prayer and research I became one of Jehovah witnesses. and my research has never stopped and and the more research I do the more I know I'm where I need to be.

  5. It is simple the new American Bible translated from the original Languages by MEMBERS OF THE CATHOLICS Biblical Association of America tells us .... ACTS 10:39 and 40 “ We are witnesses to all that he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem . 40 They killed him, finally, hanging him on a TREE, only to have God raise him up on the third day and grant that he be seen,

  6. The cross can be compared to a country's flag. If you make a comment against the cross, it's like burning the flag. However, if one takes the time to research the origin of the cross, you will find that the cross was not used as a crucifixion device in Jesus' time. When someone becomes emotionally involved, as with the flag or the cross, attempting to reason on the facts, becomes nearly impossible.

  7. John 3:14,15 to Nu 21:8,9 for discussion.

  8. The cross came from the ankh. It’s enlightening when you actually do research and find that so much of Churchianity is based on paganism. But that was prophesied as well.

  9. Yes I also did the same research and found out that the cross is pagan. And stauros is only a stake, a pole. I know people are so emotionally attached to this symbol of cross, but still in exodus 20:4,5 God does not want us to worship any symbol or person or thing or animals. Being attached to it using it in worship is not appropriate. Why would someone use it as a blessing or when praying, when It was used to kill Jesus? I don’t think using the cross is even logical to be used in a worship. Besides the fact that stauros is not a cross but only a stake, and only started by a pope. It is only a tradition. We know Jesus abolish many religious traditions, as it only complicates things and make people suffer and confused on what is really important — example, why people is focused much on using a cross, People use cross, sign cross when praying, worshiping it like a sacred thing, without even researching or understanding what is the meaning behind it, like a traditional thing. and while people use it and getting attached to it, they don’t pretty much understand Jesus ransom which is the most important. They forgot what Jesus wants.. abolish religious traditions, and directly call on God in prayer through him and not through using any cross signs or symbols. Jesus said those who want to worship God should worship him in TRUTH and in SPIRIT. (John 4:24)

  10. To me this shows how man has corrupted the Bible. The main symbol used by Christians is fake. I would think they would not want to lie about "Jesus".

    1. Do a little more research friend. Everything on the internet isn’t true. Just someone’s thought.

  11. Lea very well commented, Jesus said you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
    Stauros/Cross, refers to one piece of timber not two. As such as a tree.
    Researching the definition can identified that.
    If you had a child shot by a gun would you were the gun around your neck?

    How do you think God feels, when you put things man made around your neck to idolize and don't give Glory to the true living God/Father who deserves our worship. Ps 83:18. Revelation 4:11

    The Father has feelings just like us.
    Jesus said the Father is greater than him, and came to do the Fathers will.
    Fathers will is that all will be saved if exercising faith in Jesus sacrifice not in images. We can pray directly to the Father through Jesus, dont need images to do so.

    Anonymous-Give Glory to the Father
    Read Gods word accurately, pray for Holy Spirit to find out what his will is, ask yourself how does he feel?

    1. there the name God/father in ps.83:18 & revelation 4:11

  12. Also the use of a Stake as tool of torture ending in death by self suffocation, would be much more effective that a cross.

    1. Yes I did see a documentary. It did show you can not die from hanging on a cross, you would died from thirst. But family members would've given them water just like they did with a spear and sponge with Jesus. Hanging on a up right stake eventually put pressure on your lungs.. Which results in suffocation. Think about it as well, there in a Desert where there is hardly any wood at all. Why use 2 pieces of wood on a criminal or murderer when you can only use one and suffocate them properly.
      The Devil was wise, and made idolatry with the cross. You don't think the DEVIL manipulated His way into some old priest and teachers, even Constitine himself, To implement a Idol "Cross" Satan took the opportunity to install the cross, Which was a pagan symbol,to lure pagan's is pagan's into Christianity. There were already crosses on top of pagan temples which he left so he could get pagans to convert to Christianity., To use crosses and rosaries to pray, brings in Idolatry in to one of our most sacred things "Prayer" Crosses and rosaries are Idolatry. Yaweh or Jehovah said go into a private room and pray in secret and He will repay you in secret.
      I also believe it's a slap in a face to God, Mat 23 :9. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. So why do you confess your sins to him. You confess to your father in private. You do not need someone to pray for you!. Dan 12:4 As for you, Daniel, keep the words secret, and seal up the book until the time of the end. Many will rove about, and the true knowledge will become abundant.”

      Also Rev: 18,19 “I am bearing witness to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll; 19 and if anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take his portion away from the trees of life and out of the holy city, things that are written about in this scroll.
      SO WHY DID THEY REMOVE GOD'S NAME OVER 7000 TIMES? Yaweh or Jehovah is his name. Names Our personal. And personal is very important in a relationship.. The Devil did this so we could not have a decent personal relationship.
      If we just met and all I called you was "Dude" That changes our relationship severely. Eventually you would stop me from calling your dude and say my name is "say Mike."
      That makes a more personal, and a phand if I wanted to call upon you, I would use your name Mike.
      Sorry I got off topic.. It's just something I wanted to say.

  13. There is graffiti found, dating to a few decades after Christ. It depicts Jesus on a T shape cross and bearing the head of a donkey. This is a poke at these new followers of Christ. I think it was a T shape and then they added a sign above his head giving it a modern cross symbol.

  14. The earliest picture showing Jesus’ crucified dates to a few decades after Christ.( not long after his death) It shows a man on a T shaped cross and bearing the head of a donkey. This was an obvious poke at these early Christians.
    After the soldiers would’ve placed the sign above his head displaying “Jesus King of the Jews”. This would’ve given it the normal Cross shape we see today.
    The Bible is a accurate historical work that can be trusted. If you are Christian like myself then you believe it is divinely inspired. Easy to trust. Thank you for the interesting debate. 👍🏻

  15. Stauros Stavros Stave Staff

    Stauros (or as the Greeks today will pronounce it: Stavros) is cognate with the words Staff and Stave in English. Greek is of the same Indo-European language group as (for example) English, German and Sanskrit.

    Just knowing this makes the connection between Stauros and an upright Stake easier to grasp.

    First recorded before 900; Middle English noun staf(fe), stafte, Old English stæf, stæb; cognate with Dutch staf, German Stab, Old Norse stafr staff, Sanskrit root stabh- “support”