Should the Cross be the Real Symbol of Christianity

(John 19:17-22)

After being judged by Pilate Jesus was handed over to the Jews with a company of soldiers and led away to be put to death. He was loaded up with the beam to which He would be nailed and which he had to cart or drag to the place He would die. To the Place of the Skull or Golgotha.

Should this be the symbol of Christianity?

But there are questions about His method of death which need to be considered.

There is no doubt that Jesus was nailed to the beam of wood that He carried, and this was to be a death most painful and violent. But we cannot know for certain that Jesus died on a cross. So let us consider this question and try to gain some insight from the scriptures.

What does the Greek Say?

We need to go back to the scriptures in their original source, or as close as we can get to gain our first insight. Almost all modern English and other modern translations of the New Testament say that Jesus died on a cross. The basis of this is that the original Greek texts during the dark ages were translated from Greek into Latin and the word used was “crux”.

However the word in Greek that was translated as “crux” is in Greek, “storen” which is most frequently translated as a stake or stick. As far as I know the only modern translations that translate “storen” as stake are the Jehovah’s Witnesses bible.

Now first let me say that I am not a Jehovah’s Witness, and I have a number of issues with other aspects of what they believe. However on this particular point it seems they may be correct, or at least more accurate in their translation than most mainstream translations.

So while I am not discounting that Jesus may have died on a cross, the Greek text certainly can suggest other alternatives, in particular that He may have been nailed to a post or stake.

What Other Scriptures Are There?

Paul gave us an insight when he was speaking to the Galatian church regarding matters of the law and freedom from law. In Galatians 3:13 he shows us,

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”

Those who live under the law live under a curse. But Jesus took that curse upon himself by dying in the fashion that he did. Paul shows that he was hung up upon a tree, which certainly suggests he was hung on a structure of wood, but whether it was a stake or a cross is not certain.

Now it is clear that it was necessary for Jesus to die in this fashion, that is, to be hung up or nailed to a structure of timber so that this curse could be fulfilled and we could be redeemed from the curses of the law. But it is not clear that this had to be a cross, or any other particular form or structure. It was death upon the tree (wood or timber) that was important for the sake of the removal of the curse of the law.

Worshipping the Cross

Now we see a particular issue that is evident in the modern church today. A great many people wear crosses or crucifixes around their neck, or they adorn their churches, homes and cars with crucifixes believing this is a Christian thing to do. They believe they are worshipping The Lord by this practice and that it is somehow a holy and righteous thing to do.

Let me state now that there is no biblical or scriptural basis for this practice. In fact there are many reasons in the bible why we should NOT do this. I will not go into all of the details here, but let us consider just a few.

First under the Old Covenant one of the Ten Commandments stated that you shall not make for yourself a graven image or an idol and worship it. What is a crucifix, especially where it has an artist’s representation of the dead or dying Christ upon it? Is it not an idol or a graven image? This is exactly the kind of thing that the law forbade the people from doing. And no one can argue that the crucifix with or without an image of Christ upon it is anything but a thing of worship…but it is not of God.

Second, there are those who say we are no longer under the law so the Ten Commandments do not apply, and they would be correct. But do we reject the wisdom of God as He laid down in the law just because it no longer applies? And can we do the opposite of God’s law and expect to be accepted? Take another law. Thou shalt not kill. This also is one of the Ten Commandments, which we are no longer bound by since Jesus set us free from law. Does this mean we can reject conscience and reject what is right in the eyes of man and God and go out and kill someone for any reason? Of course not! So why would anyone think they can reject he rest of the wisdom in Gods law?

But let us also look at what the cross, tree, timber or stake, whichever you choose to consider is correct, and understand what it represents.

In the first place it is the method of torture by which The Lord was put to death. Even from a logical standpoint it does not make sense that this should be the object of worship for Christianity. But aside from that alone, there is a deeper issue relating to this matter that strikes at the very heart of Christianity.

Freedom from Law

I have already mentioned above that Jesus freed us from the Old Testament law. That is generally accepted by most Christians. But where does the law stand for Christians now that Christ has set us free? Paul gives us insight into this in Colossians 2:13-14 which says,

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,14 having cancelled the bond that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

In verse 14 we see that there was a bond that stood against us and this bond had legal demands. Anything of a legal nature pertains to the law and we know that all of mankind was born under the bondage of the law and remains there until they come to Christ and it is taken away.

So what we see here is that in Jesus’ death this bond of the law was nailed to the cross/stake when He died. Jesus passed through death and was resurrected into a new life, but the law could not pass through death and so remained nailed to the cross/stake. We know also that the law does not pass beyond death for Paul said in Romans 7:1.

Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?

So when Jesus set man free from the bondages of sin and the bondage of the law, He left the law nailed to the cross/stake. Is it realistic to believe then that The Lord would choose an object of suffering that also represents where He left the law after setting us free from it as being the mark, emblem or object of worship for His church?

Whom Do You Worship?

There are some that say we do not worship the cross/stake, but we worship Him who was on the cross/stake. But is this true?

Jesus died on the cross/stake and what we see on it is not who Jesus is or was but a dead body. Instead we really worship the risen Christ, not the dead body of Jesus nailed on that implement of torture. As Christians we know that you cannot visit the tomb of the founder of our faith for He lives. Jesus rose from the dead to give us life, and while it was through his death that He became the perfect sacrifice for our sins, it is in His resurrection that we receive life.

So is it reasonable to use a representation by the imagination of an artist that may look nothing like the real saviour as an object of worship?

In Summary

There is no biblical precedent for worshipping the cross or using the cross as an object of worship. In fact there are good reasons why we should NOT use it, or any other object, including fish signs and so on as representations of Christianity or as objects of worship.

The law prohibited using representations of things as idolatry and even though we are not under law in Christ, we do not ignore it for it is the wisdom of God.

At Christ’s death He left the law nailed to the cross/stake that He was killed upon. It is illogical then to consider that He would suggest that such a device of torture with the law attached to it should then be the representation of His church.

The object of our worship is the risen Christ, not the dead body so to use a representation of a dead person nailed to a cross is to misrepresent whom we worship and why. Our worship is in the life of Jesus, not the death and His promise to us is life, not death.

And finally the Greek word itself leaves much conjecture and speculation as to whether it was really a cross that He was put to death upon. There is no doubt He was nailed to a wooden edifice, but whether it was a cross or a stake is open to interpretation.

So I can see no justification in scripture, Greek, law or logic as to why we should use the cross to represent Christianity, let alone any other symbol.

The bottom line is we do not need to use anything to represent our worship of The Lord. Our worship is a spiritual worship and we need to worship God in spirit and in truth, as Jesus taught. The best advice I can give as to how we should worship are the words of Jesus himself in John 4 when he was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. They spoke among other things about the places and objects of worship of the Jews and Samaritans. Note John 4:20-24.

20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Although both the Jews and Samaritans had places and objects of worship, Jesus showed that both were meaningless and irrelevant. He said we must worship in the spirit and to do so removes the need for any physical representations of man for the purpose of worship. We do not need a crucifix or incense or fancy robes or special headwear or golden staffs and rods or anything else. Our worship is spiritual and what we need only is the spirit of God and a heart to obey The Lord in all things.

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