Did Christ die on a cross or on a stake? Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, believe he was nailed to a stake. While it is true that in the Roman Empire both forms were practiced, with the execution of Christ it was not the case. The New Testament indicates that our Lord was nailed to a cross, not to an upright stake. Consider the following:
First, after the resurrection Christ told Thomas to put his fingers in the imprints of the nails in His hands1. Had he been nailed to an upright stake he would not have mentioned the “nails” – one nail would be enough to drive it through the hands crossed above overhead;
Second, though most dictionaries give the word “cross” (gr.: σταυρós) at least two meanings, e.g: “an upright stake” and “cross”2, it is not dictionary definition, but the context that ultimately determines the meaning of the word. So, what does σταυρós mean? Since the ancient times σταυρós has generally meant two elements crossing each other. Thus in modern Greek also the word “cross” not one, but two elements. For example, “intersection” in Greek is: dιασταυρωση, a compound word: dia+σταυρós. Now, what about the word “cross” in English? Think of the word “crossroad” or “intersection”. Does it mean a single road or two roads that meet or cross each other?
As we close our meditation about the dictionary meaning of the word “cross” let us always remember its meaning from theological standpoint. The apostle Paul boasted in nothing else except in the cross (Gal. 6, 14). Did he boast in the shape of the cross? Certainly he was not boasting in the shape of the cross, but in the magnitude of God’s mercy bestowed upon us in that cruel and seemingly godless instrument of torture. Therefore, when we talk about the cross, let us never lose sight of its purpose by indulging in fruitless legalistic debate about the shape of the cross.
1Jn 20, 25
2Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament. Hendricksons Publishers, Peabody Massachusetts 2000 p. 586.