I read Dr. Samuelsson’s writings that "Jesus did not die on cross". And here is what Dr. Craig says about that:

Similarly, Dr. Samuelsson’s contention is that the Greek terminology used in the New Testament like stauros (cross) and stauroo (crucify) doesn’t enable us to infer that Jesus was crucified on a cross rather than on some other sort of frame. It could have been shaped like the English alphabetical letter “T,” or “X,” or “Y,” or “I.” None of this calls into question the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion (understood as his being nailed to some sort of wooden frame until expiration), nor the reliability of the Gospel accounts of his execution.

Can someone tell me, is there any Biblical account or verse that would indicate something about Jesus being nailed to a CROSS or to a POLE?

  • Impalement was the preferred method of the Assyrians.
    – swasheck
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 14:41
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    P.S. I will happily rescind my vote by simply referencing a verse that says Jesus died on a cross. Perhaps it seems asinine but there should really be a verse.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 16:53

4 Answers 4


Restricting oneself to the most literal of meanings is often wrong in any language. We cannot simply say "what does this word mean at its root?" We must go on to ask "how was this word used in this verse?"

That the preferred form for a Roman cross was indeed a vertical stake with a crosspiece is well established in history. Stauros could mean "cross" more than 100 years before Jesus. There are several lines of evidence which show that Jesus died on a cross and not a pole.

While one famous argument against the cross is that the description of the cross isn't used for several hundred years after Christ, specifically that Constantine introduced it, Justin Martyr describes the cross several times in his Apologies (ca AD 155):

And again the same prophet Isaiah, being inspired by the prophetic Spirit, said, "I have spread out my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people, to those who walk in a way that is not good. They now ask of me judgment, and dare to draw near to God." And again in other words, through another prophet, He says, "They pierced My hands and My feet, and for My vesture they cast lots." And indeed David, the king and prophet, who uttered these things, suffered none of them; but Jesus Christ stretched forth His hands, being crucified by the Jews speaking against Him, and denying that He was the Christ. - First Apology, Chapter XXXV

Had Justin believe Jesus died on a stake, he would not have linked these verses together. If he thought Jesus had died upon a stake, he would have described it as Jesus stretched up his hands not stretched them out. Even before Justin, The Epistle of Barnabas had reasoned the same way (that his hands were stretched out to the side in fulfillment of prophecy). However, he is even more explicit in his second apology.

"God does not permit the lamb of the passover to be sacrificed in any other place than where His name was named; knowing that the days will come, after the suffering of Christ, when even the place in Jerusalem shall be given over to your enemies, and all the offerings, in short, shall cease; and that lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted was a symbol of the suffering of the cross which Christ would undergo. For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb." - Second Apology, Chapter XL

Further, in chapter LX, he compares the instrument of crucifixion to the sail on a Roman boat (which had a cross piece), to a person with their hands stretched to the side, and to a vexilla (the Roman standard used to carry the banner in procession. It had an upright piece and a cross piece to which the banner was attached).

Another writer, Tertullian clearly identifies the use of a cross in his writings dating from A.D. 190-220. He also shows that the difference in a cross and stake was expressible.

"You hang Christians on crosses (crucibus) and stakes (stipitibus); what idol is there but is first moulded in clay, hung on a cross and stake (cruci et stipiti)? It is on a patibulum that the body of your god is first dedicated" (Apologeticus, 12.3).

"For this same letter TAU of the Greeks, which is our T, has the appearance of the cross (crucis)" (Apologeticus, 3.23.6)

Ireneaus (ca AD 170) wrote that the implement of Jesus' death had five ends: two longitudinal, two latitudinal and a fifth to support the weight of the victim (Adversus Haereses, II, 24, 4). Both latitude and longitude shows that the implement was a cross and not a stake.

The amount of time Jesus and the others took to die also indicates a cross. The goal of crucifixion was to publicly shame the convicted and serve as a warning for others. Death on a cross takes a long time. However, death on a stake is much faster (examinations of WWII experiments show that death on a stake was finished in an hour at most). However, Pilate marveled that Jesus was already dead (Mark 15:44). However, the other two convicts were not and their legs were broken to speed the process (John 19:31,32). Had it been a stake, that would not be necessary.

Historically, it is known that the Romans used crosses with cross pieces in the first century. The JAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 255; Copyright 1986, American Medical Association states:

Although archaeological and historical evidence strongly indicates that the low Tau cross was preferred by the Romans in Palestine at the time of Christ, crucifixion practices often varied in a given geographic region and in accordance with the imagination of the executioners, and the Latin cross and other forms also may have been used.

Primary source material also shows that the crosspiece was used by the Romans prior to Christ. Dionysius of Halicarnassus says,

"A Roman citizen of no obscure station, having ordered one of his slaves to be put to death, delivered him to his fellow-slaves to be led away, and in order that his punishment might be witnessed by all, directed them to drag him through the Forum and every other conspicuous part of the city as they whipped him, and that he should go ahead of the procession which the Romans were at the time conducting in honour of the god. The men ordered to lead the slave to his punishment, having stretched out both hands and fastened them to a piece of wood (tas kheiras apoteinantes amphoteras kai xuló prosdésantes) which extended across his chest and shoulders as far as his wrists, followed him, tearing his naked body with whips" (Roman Antiquities, 7.69.1-2)."

Before Christ, crosses with crosspieces were known, used, and even preferred by Roman executioners


Every instance of the word cross in the New Testament--save for a couple instances of the word in the phrase cross over--is stauros, which has been a Greek masculine given-name for quite awhile (analogous, I suppose, to the surname Taylor being derived from tailor, Smith from [black]smith, Cooper from cooper, etc.

The cross to which our Lord was impaled by cruel spikes could have been in the shape of a capital T or a lowercase ┼. The X-shape or "pole" would seem to me to be out of the question. I favor the lowercase because the gospels tell us that a sign was attached to Jesus' cross bearing the words "The King of the Jews" (Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, and John 19:19), which suggests to me that the sign was affixed to the vertical part of the cross that extended above the horizontal part, as in the lowercase ┼. In Col 2:14 we read that the "crime" that we as sinful human beings committed was welshing on a debt we could never repay:

". . . having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."

Or in J. B. Philips' paraphrase, which makes the idea even clearer:

"Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross."

In other words, the sign that should have been placed above Jesus' head on the cross should by rights have been, "The sin-debt of all humanity, though innocent Himself."

  • Thanks for your answer. Could you please be more detailed about the gospels tell us that a sign was attached to Jesus' cross bearing the words "The King of the Jews" (Ma 27, Mk 15, Lk 23, and Jo 19). Something like including verses, not only chapter...
    – Jeremiah G
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 16:25
  • @GediminasJeremiahGudelis: Done! Thanks for your interest. Don Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 0:19
  • Thanks. I see now. As to expand your answer, this what I found, is related and nice to consider about. Luke 23:38 - According to PBSy; DVgSy add: "(written) in letters of Greek and Latin and Hebrew", to agree with John 19:20. Literally: "The king of the Jews this (one)". Greek: "Ho basileus' ton Ioudai'on hou'tos". Latin: "Hic est rex ludaeo'rum". Hbrew: "Ze'hu' me'lekh haiYehudhim".
    – Jeremiah G
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 3:58
  • The sign could have easily been affixed above the head and below the hands on just a vertical stake. The horizontal piece is not required for placement of the sign. John 3:14 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:" Moses lifted up the bronze serpent wrapped around a pole not cross. Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 4:43
  • @Breakskater: Possible, but not likely. The analogy between the serpent in the wilderness and Jesus's crucifixion is based on the phrase "lifted up," not pole/stake versus cross. We must not press the analogy to say things it does not intend to say. As for stake versus cross, I find unlikely that Jesus's arms and hands were stretched well above his head and nailed to the cross. Again, possible, but not likely. After all, Jesus carried the patibulum (the cross piece which attaches to the stake) to Mount Calvary. Why would he be forced to do this if he was to be crucified on an upright pole? Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 21:22

That Jesus was crucified on a cross, and not a pole, is clear from John 20:25b:

But he [Thomas] said to them [the disciples], ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

Note the plural, nails. With a pole, one nail would be sufficient; but with a cross, two are required.

(In the original Greek, the word is plural. ἥλων is a plural case of ἥλος; see Frank Luke's comment below.)

  • 2
    Bible scholar Jason BeDuhn made a study on nine of "the Bibles most widely in use in the English-speaking world", Professor of Religious Studies from Northern Arizona University, claimed that the NWT was not bias free, but that he considered it to be "the most accurate of the translations compared," and "a remarkably good translation." Here is the NWT John 20:25. I cant accept as a hard prove. What if it could be that there was more that one nail per hand?
    – Jeremiah G
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 20:37
  • @GediminasJeremiahGudelis: why use more than one nail per hand? Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 20:41
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    I don't know. It's just a thought. Maybe Jesus' hands wasn't together, yet on a torture stake. The point is, that nails being in plural doesn't stay as "clear"...
    – Jeremiah G
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 20:53
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    @GediminasJeremiahGudelis: ok, we will have to agree to differ. Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 21:00
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    The word is plural. ἥλων is a plural case of ἥλος.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 14:13

The Greek word means a pole or beam. But with limited information we cannot say anything furthur. The stake could have been fixed to an existing column to form a cross or a T, we simply don't know. Best to stick to the literal translation.

Other instances say it was a XULON which is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ETS meaning tree. The mob that took part in the arrest came to him with these same objects (with clubs). Now if XULON and STAUROS in this report means two different things, it could be that the XULON already stood there while the STAUROS was fixed to it. We don't know. The XULON could have been a tree in which case stauros would most likely have been an extra beam fixed most likely horisontally to a tree. Since I cannot imagine someone carry a tree in this instance. All speculation. Nothing for sure.

ps: Thomas' words can imply nails as in the nails that were driven thru the feet and hands, therefore does not support the cross theory.

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    "The stake could have been fixed to an existing column to form a cross or a T, we simply don't know. Best to stick to the literal translation." There is plenty of evidence from archeology and literature of the time to show that stauros was used to refer to the traditional cross.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 19:49

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