Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that Jesus died on an up-right torture stake with no cross-beam, whereas mainstream Christianity believe that Jesus died on an up-right torture stake with one or more cross-beams. Who is correct?
Matthew 27:42 in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, 2013 reads:
Others he saved; himself he cannot save! He is King of Israel; let him now come down off the torture stake, and we will believe in him.
However, Matthew 27:42 in the King James Version, 1611 is worded as follows:
He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
Can we get an answer from the original Greek word Staurus (σταυρός)?
Staurus when translated, simply means Stake. In all references in the bible of where Staurus is used, there is no clue as to whether the stake referenced had a cross beam. Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation has translated Staurus as Torture Stake, whereas most other bibles have simply translated it as Cross. The original Greek of the gospel stories of Jesus’ death neither confirm or deny that Jesus died on a stake or cross.
Can we get an answer from the historical record of how Roman’s crucified their enemies or criminals?
No. The Romans didn’t follow one particular method. The historian Josephus mentioned that soldiers, out of rage and hatred, would amuse themselves by nailing their prisoners in different positions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have one of Justus Lipsius’ illustrations in the Study Edition of their New World Translation depicting Jesus on an up-right pole. Is this not proof that Jesus died on a torture stake with no cross-beam? No this doesn’t prove anything because Justus Lipsius created 15 more illustrations of the same subject and 13 of those depict Jesus on a torture stake with a cross-beam. Why the New World Translation only depicts one image of Justus Lipsius’ may be a simple method of furthering their dogma.
What about archeological evidence?
There is none. All impalement devices were made of wood.
If there is no evidence one way or the other about how Jesus actually died, is it an important detail to be concerned about?
Not at all. The important thing is that Jesus died for the sins of those who believe in him. Whether he died on an upright torture stake with no cross-beam, one cross beam or two is irrelevant.
So why do Jehovah’s Witnesses debate the style of impalement tool?
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Christian religions’ use of the cross in literature, as symbols for use on churches, jewelry and elsewhere is a form of idolatry. This is the main reason that they do not believe that a torture stake with a cross-beam was Jesus method of impalement. In fact, they see it as a phallic image. But ask yourself, what is more phallic – an upright piece of wood with or without a cross-beam?