Impaled on a Torture Stake or Crucified on a Cross?

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus was crucified on a cross.  They believe that it is more accurate to say that he was impaled on a torture stake.  (1) The New World Translation translates the noun (stauros) “torture stake.”  For example, Philippians 2:8 reads, “he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake.”  (2) The New World Translation translates the verb (stauroo) “impale.” For example, Mark 15:20 reads, “And they led him out to impale him.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes use this difference to create doubt in a Bible student’s mind about things one thought that he knew.  If one is wrong on this point, what else could one be wrong about?

On what instrument was Jesus executed?  Let’s examine the Biblical words.  (1) Jesus died on a “xulon” (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24).  This is commonly translated “tree.”  The NWT translated it “stake.”  Here are some definitions: “1. Wood… that which is made of wood… 2. A tree” (Thayer); “Wood, a piece of wood, anything made of wood” (Vine’s).  “1. Wood… 2. Object made of wood” (BAG).  (2) Jesus died on a “stauros” (Matt. 27:32, 40, 42; Mark 15:21, 30, 32; Luke 23:26; John 19:17, 19, 25, 31; 1 Cor. 1:17, 18; Gal. 6:14; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 2:8; Col. 1:20; 2:14; Heb. 12:2).  This is commonly translated “cross.” The NWT translated it “torture stake.”  Here are some definitions: “1… an upright stake… 2. A cross” (Thayer). It refers to “a stake sunk into the earth in an upright position; a cross-piece was often attached to its upper part” (BAG).  “1. An upright stake… 2. An instrument of torture for serious offenses.  It may be a vertical pointed stake, an upright with a crossbeam above it, or a post with an intersecting beam of equal length” (Kittle’s TDNT Abridged).  These definitions seem to allow for a cross beam.

However, Vine’s does not.  It says, “denotes, primarily, an upright pale or stake… Both the noun and the verb stauroo… are originally to be distinguished from the ecclesiastical form of a two beam cross.  The shape of the latter had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as a symbol of the god Tammuz.”  This is sometimes cited by Jehovah’s Witnesses to not only deny the cross, but to associate it with idolatry.

What is the evidence for the traditional idea of a cross?  (1) certain ancient sources refer to the instruments of Jesus’ death being in the shape of the Greek letter tau.  These include: The epistle of Barnabas 9:8 cf. 12:22 (c. 150 – c. 215 A.D.), The Stromata book 6, chp. 11; Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240 A.D.), Adversus Marcionem liber 3, chp. 22.  (2) Thomas wanted the see the print of the nails (plural) in Jesus’ hands (John 20:25).  This is consistent with the use of the cross.  However, it does not rule out a stake.  One nail could be used for hands stretched above the head attached to an upright stake, though multiple nails could be used.  (3) The charges are said to have been placed above Jesus’ head (Matthew 27:37).  It does not say that they were placed above his upwardly stretched hands.  The language is consistent with the use of a cross.  However, admittedly, this language does not rule out an upright pole or stake.

The word “impale” certainly sets forth a different image in my mind.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses admit that Jesus was impaled with nails.  Though, they do believe that it is possible that he was impaled on the stake itself (Watchtower, October 15, 1969, wol.jw.org).  There is no Biblical evidence for this.

This, in my opinion is much ado about nothing.  Christianity does not stake (pardon the pun) its faith in the shape of the instrument used.  The Bible does not describe the shape.

What is important?  “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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2 Responses to Impaled on a Torture Stake or Crucified on a Cross?

  1. Pearl Tears says:

    HEBREWS 10:20 which he inaugurated for us as a new and living way through the curtain, that is, ((((……his flesh…..))))
    MARK 15: 37-38 But Jesus let out a loud cry and expired. 38 And the curtain of the sanctuary* was rent in two from top to bottom.
    Matthew 27:51
    51 And, look! the curtaina of the sanctuary was rent in two, from top to bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rock-masses were split.
    Luke 23:45
    45 because the sunlight failed; then the curtain of the sanctuary* was rent down the middle.
    HEBREWS makes it clear that the curtain was his Flesh…..
    and MATTHEW MARK and LUKE make it clear that the curtain was rent down the middle, torn in two from top to bottom….
    ALSO the reason they would break their legs is so that they would slide down and would be instantly killed.
    How? From the spear piercing their heart through and through their mouth or chest
    I think good evidence for this being the case is in
    JOSHUA 10:26-27
    #26And after that Joshua proceeded to strike them and put them to death and hang them upon five stakes,* and they continued hanging upon the stakes until the evening.
    #27 And it came about that at the time of the setting of the sun Joshua commanded, and they went taking them down off the stakes and throwing them into the cave where they had hid themselves. Then they placed big stones at the mouth of the cave—until this very day.
    BUT IF YOU LOOK UP…
    Vlad the Impaler…alot of Joshua storys sound similar to Vlad.
    Vlad employed extremely cruel measures to inspire fear in those who opposed him. He earned his nickname by impaling his enemies on stakes.
    Born in Transylvania as the second son of the nobleman Vlad II Dracul, he took the name Dracula, meaning “son of Dracul,” when he was initiated into a secret order of Christian knights known as the Order of the Dragon. (In Romanian, Dracul means “dragon.”)

    • Bryan Hodge says:

      I do not follow your reasoning. The veil of the temple separated man from the Most Holy place, which represented God’s presences. Jesus’ flesh stood between man and God. His death opened the way for us to be able to enter into the presence of God. Nothing implies that he was impaled. I am unclear what the words in Joshua have to do with Jesus’ death. Best wishes

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