Monday, April 17, 2017

What’s at stake

Please don’t be dismayed, but I’d like to share my Scriptural reasons why I no longer insist that Jesus died on a stake and not a cross:

First, according to secular descriptions of Roman executions, the condemned carried a patibulum (a T-bar or crossbar) to the permanent stake, called the stipes. Thus, Jesus’ torture stake may have been a horizontal beam that was attached to the top of the stipes. (This receives brief mention in the Insight book under “Impalement.”[1])

Second, Thomas at John 20:25 said “nails” for the hands and Matthew at Matthew 27:37 said the sign was above Jesus’ head. Now, these can be explained away in keeping with how Jesus is depicted on the stake in our publications. Thomas was counting nail marks for nails so it was actually one nail making two marks, and the sign is still above Jesus’ head regardless, with his hands and arms in-between. However, these solutions (and any others) are not completely satisfying due to their defensive posture—due to being crafted solely for defending the stake interpretation.

Third, Deuteronomy 21:22, 23 LXX uses xylon. So when xylon is used in Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29, and 1 Peter 2:24, would this be recalling its use in Deuteronomy 21:22, 23 LXX as a technical, legal term? (Galatians 3:13 has a direct quote applying it to Christ.) As the LXX predates Christianity, xylon would not be defining the exact shape of Jesus’ execution device.

Fourth, Jesus commanded us to “pick up” the torture stake (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) and Simon of Cyrene carried it behind Jesus. (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26 [The Roman soldiers placed it on him.]) Thus it could not have been a tree trunk or something long and heavy. The torture stake was carried, not dragged. (James 2:6 uses the different Greek word for “drag.”) Carrying the torture stake as opposed to dragging it is more torturous. I think this is a neglected distinction.

Jesus carrying his torture stake before collapsing.

Fifth, Jesus was able to converse with others in Luke 23:39-43 and John 19:26-27. Is a spread-out posture on a ‘T’ or ‘t’ with a long foot-rest more conducive for this? The linear postures in our publications would put greater stress on breathing and turning the head from side to side, making it harder to picture how these events occurred, even with the foot-rest (the suppedaneum).

In conclusion, Jesus’ torture stake was still transported to Golgotha, and Christians should not worship any replicas of what he died on. Most importantly, Jesus’ hands nailed to a patibulum attached to the deathstake still fulfills Deuteronomy 21:22, 23, and does not affect the value of the ransom sacrifice at all.

But please, I implore you, please do not get into debates defending the stake against the cross on the Internet or in person. I fear such discussions may amount to “debates about words.” (1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:14) This is a sin to avoid! Instead, our time is better spent explaining the meaning of Jesus’ sacrificial death. That is infinitely more important!

[1] The quotation being:
Tradition, not the Scriptures, also says that the condemned man carried only the crossbeam of the cross, called the patibulum, or antenna, instead of both parts. In this way some try to avoid the predicament of having too much weight for one man to drag or carry to Golgotha.
Yet, what did the Bible writers themselves say about these matters?
The weight is indeed an important factor at reconstructing the execution process, for carrying the torture stake had to torturous, not impossible. Aside from that, there is also the concern of taking historical information available to us into account.

See also: