QUESTIONS & RESPONSES
♦ Did Jesus die on a cross and is it appropriate to wear a cross?
On November 3, 2015, we received the following inquiry:
“Is the cross real? i.e. did Jesus die on a cross? The "torture stake" has always rankled with me and the reasoning behind the [organization’s explanation] does not sit right. A Christian would wear a cross as an identifying sign to others of their faith and as a mark of utmost respect to Our Lord not as a worship object but a daily reminder of that sacrifice. But I do need another’s point of view because I would not want to cause offense, just asking. ”
To the author, thank you for your email. The issue of whether Jesus died on a cross or an upright stake is an issue that has served no other purpose than to divide followers of Christ. It is a non-salvation issue that has no bearing on faith. Whatever way one believes Jesus died or which instruments were used, does not validate nor invalidate one’s faith in Jesus, nor does it in any way interfere with our hope for eternal life.
To us, it is also an illusory dispute, meaning that there is really no dispute at all. It is only a matter of not having a full understanding of the issue. According to what we have learned, there are different ways victims were crucified or impaled. To crucify means to affix to a cross. To impale usually means to pierce or skewer (often into the anus and out the mouth.) In modern times, impaling can also refer to being affixed to a pole, but the original word has the more gross connotation. Based on the Biblical record, we can say for a certainty that Jesus was not impaled in the truest sense. Thus, the other options are that he was either affixed to a pole or affixed a cross. Understanding how crucifixion were carried out in Jesus’ day will shed some light on why we call this a contrived and unnecessarily divisive issue.
During the time of crucifixions, there was often a place that was used almost exclusively for crucifixions. At that place, there may be one or several upright poles (probably the size of modern day telephone poles) that were already inserted in the ground. They were strong enough to hold a human body and durable enough to be reused as needed. In Jesus’ case, that place was called Golgotha, ‘the Skull Place.’ (Matthew 27:33)
There was also a cross that was used. This cross is of much lighter weight than the upright pole. It has a long beam, at least the length of the victim, and a shorter cross bar. Sometimes the victim had to carry his own cross to the site. In Jesus’ case, since he was so weakened after the beatings and lashings he had already suffered, the Roman soldiers compelled a man named Simon to carry Jesus’ cross. (Matthew 27:32)
When the victim arrives at the site, his cross is laid on the ground and he is laid upon his cross. His arms are tied to the cross beam and then his hands are nailed down. There is also a wood peg nailed about midway down the long beam that serves as a kind of seat to support the weight of the victim. The legs are also tied and bound to the cross and then his feet are nailed together with one long nail into the cross.
The victim, attached to his cross, is then hoisted up to the upright pole and his cross is nailed to the more study pole. The wooden peg and the bindings assure that the weight of the victim will not cause the hands to strip and the victim to fall to the ground. This assured a slow painful death that would serve as a warning to others.
Here’s an artist’s rendition of Jesus’ crucifixion to help you visualize this description. (Note that in this picture, instead of a saddle peg, this artist drew a pedestal block. Nevertheless, we believe you can get a good idea of how Jesus’ crucifixion was carried out.
According to this method of crucifixion, it appears that Jesus was both nailed to a cross AND hung on a pole. So you see why we say this dispute is illusory. There is no real or valid dispute. Both are correct, and not mutually exclusive. It is a case of people having incomplete knowledge. We find that many of the disputes between Christian sects are similarly illusory and based on incomplete knowledge.
Now, as to whether it is right or appropriate to wear a cross, we believe that is a personal decision, just as is the decision to wear any other item, insignia or emblem. It cannot be said that the cross itself is a pagan symbol since the evidence shows that Jesus did die on the cross. So any other objection to using or wearing a cross would be based on personal preference.
Many groups wear signs, insignia or symbols to designate their associations. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses have long worn badges when attending conventions hosted by the Watchtower organization. They are specifically told to wear the badges to advertise the conventions and let people know they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Recently, they have become fond of wearing the blue jw.org emblem to identify them and their places of worship as belonging to the Watchtower organization. Yet not one of them would say that their badges or their blue emblem are objects of worship. They view them as simply symbols for identification.
This is no different from Christians who choose to wear the cross to identify themselves as a Christian who belongs to Christ Jesus, not any particular sect or organization. Most are not worshiping the cross anymore than Jehovah’s Witnesses are worshiping their emblems. Thus, if someone decides that wearing the cross is wrong, then wearing the other symbols and emblems is also wrong. Only a hypocrite would condemn one and not the other.
The fact is, the symbol of the cross is a universally accepted symbol of Christ and Christianity. It is a silent way of acknowledging Christ and openly confessing union with him that speaks volumes! As Christians ourselves, we have no problem with the cross. In fact, when we see a person wearing one, we know that we can have a pleasant interchange of encouragement by acknowledging it or commenting on it. So rather than being an object that causes division, it can be an object that fosters unity. That is our view.